SU-30SM, SU-35S, and SU-34 flying in formation - Sputnik International, 1920
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NATO Drills in Moldova: West Tightens Grip Amid Tensions Around the Country

© Sputnik / StringerSoldiers from Moldova and Norway during the Rapid Trident-2016 international military exercise at the Yavorivsky training ground, Lvov Region
Soldiers from Moldova and Norway during the Rapid Trident-2016 international military exercise at the Yavorivsky training ground, Lvov Region - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.04.2024
The poorest country in Europe between 1991 and 2015 is getting more and more “courtship” from the West. For the moment, however, the “bonuses” are limited to promises of EU membership and joint military drills with NATO members.
The 19-day-long military drills in Moldova are taking place during a period of tension in local and regional politics. In them, special troops from the US and Romania are finessing their “cohesion” with the Moldovan elite units named Fulger, Scorpion and Pantera.
The Joint Combined Exchange Training-2024 (JCET-2024) military exercises kicked off on April 1, with two battalions of special forces from the United States and Romania. The drills will be conducted not only in the nation’s capital of Kishinev, but also on the Moldovan army’s polygons in various parts of the country. So, citizens have been warned not to get worried if they see tanks, APCs and other heavy armor on the roads.
Ivan Skorikov, the head of the Ukrainian department at the Moscow-based Institute of CIS Countries, sees in the drills some muscle-flexing on the part of the three main Western actors – the United States, the EU and the military bloc of NATO. In an interview to Sputnik, he reminded that both the US and Romania are members of NATO, and Moldova was given the status of an official candidate for membership in the EU in 2022.
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Vladimir Bruter, an expert at the International Institute for Humanitarian and Political Studies, opines that NATO wants to put under its control all the countries that lie between the alliance and Russia. Moldova, a former Soviet republic located next to the conflict zone in Ukraine, is one of the few such countries.
“Moldova is a territory that is sort of caught today between the formal West and Ukraine, and the West is not going to leave it in the grey zone," Bruter told Sputnik.
According to him, the aim of these exercises is to integrate Moldova into Western formats, because "Russia traditionally has quite serious positions in Moldova, and they also need to be eliminated. Therefore, from the Western point of view, there should be no Russian positions in Europe.”
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Bruter belives that Moldova will be used in NATO interests regardless of its official status. According to the country’s Constitution adopted in the 1990s, Moldova is a neutral country that can’t join military blocs. However, since the end of 2020, when the current pro-Western President Maia Sandu came to power, it set itself on an anti-Russian course, moving closer to NATO and the EU.
In terms of territory, Moldova is a small East European state sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Its geographical position makes it a classical “grey zone,” with the width of 100-150 kilometers between its western and eastern borders.
In Bruter’s opinion, the Western strategists do not need to force Moldova to have as many NATO bases as neighboring Romania. However, the US and NATO will insist on control over Moldovan infrastructure.
“Right now they [the West] are interested in strategic objects. For example, in a railroad, which [runs through] Moldova and is used for transporting military materials to Ukraine,” Bruter said.
However, Russia warned that an anti-Russian moves will come at a cost for Kishinev. "The West, despite the neutral status of Moldova… continues to get Moldova involved in the conflict in Ukraine,” Maria Zakharova, the official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in August 2023. “We warned the official Kishinev about the disastrous consequences of such steps.”
The U-turn that Moldova made after the country’s socialist president Igor Dodon lost an election to pro-European Sandu, is opposed by many in Moldova, according to recent opinion polls. Until recently, Moldova got from Russia subsidized gas supplies and other economic bonuses. And many ask the question: what will Moldova get in return for its loyalty to the West?
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So far, the bonuses are mostly formal ones, such as the aforementioned status of an EU-candidate and the “start of membership negotiations” announced with much fanfare by the chairwoman of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in November 2023.

“It is symbolic that von der Leyen announced the start of negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine simultaneously,” noted Skorikov. “So, the message from Brussels is that Moldova and Ukraine will be marching into the EU hand in hand and if they join, they will join together. But look at Ukraine. I would not bet on a speedy membership for that country or any other that would like to join in pair with Kiev.”

In autumn this year, Moldova is going to have a presidential election, which many see as a referendum on the country’s pro-Western course.
In Bruter’s opinion, Sandu remaining in power is almost guaranteed, because the West will support her candidacy: “The West will not allow her to lose this election. The West 'wins' elections for her.”

“Sandu may get 30-40 percent of the vote, mostly the people who put their hopes on Moldova’s integration into the EU and possible merger with Romania,” said Ivan Skorikov from the Institute of CIS countries. “But people who would prefer a pro-Russian orientation are no less numerous in Moldova, they probably even have a majority. Their problem is the absence of a leader. A candidate representing Moldova’s persecuted Gagauz minority could be such a figure. Former president Dodon and [the fugitive leader of the Shor party] Ilan Shor both have party structures that could support such a Gagauz candidate.”

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