Neutrality of the Republic of Moldova – from Transnistrization to Finlandization

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Author: Ion Tăbârță

Neutrality is a legal concept of modernity, stipulated in the content of the declaration of the Vienna Congress of 1815, by which the signatory parties recognized and guaranteed the permanent neutrality of the swiss confederation. Legally, the concept of neutrality is based on the Hague Convention of 1907. In a broad sense, the institution of permanent neutrality represents the non-participation of a state in wars carried out by other states.

In the 19th century, several european states declared their neutrality, but this did not protect them from their involvement in World War I. A classic example is the violation of Belgium’s permanent neutrality by Germany in 1914. Most of the European countries, declared neutral, were invaded from abroad despite their declared neutrality. In addition to Belgium, in the two global conflagrations, the status of neutrality did not ensure their security in such neutral countries as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, the Baltic States, which were occupied by Nazi Germany and the USSR.

Due to the fact that it does not guarantee security against a possible aggression from the outside, after the Second World War, the number of states that declared their permanent neutrality has reduced considerably. In addition to Switzerland, the status of permanent neutrality was declared by Sweden, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Malta.

After the end of the “cold war”, these countries adopted a flexible position towards the policy of neutrality, they perceived it more in military terms. With the exception of Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Malta wich became members of the European Union, but not of NATO. Basically, Switzerland is the only state in Europe with permanent neutrality validated by international treaties.

The neutrality of Austria and Finland was a consequence of World War II, imposed by the USSR in negotiations with former Western war allies. When Austria gained independence in 1955, the USSR insisted on its State Treaty stipulating the neutrality status in order to guarantee that Austria would not join NATO. This law is still in force today, being amended by constitutional amendments allowing Austria to accede to the European Union in 1995.

The Finnish case was a special one during the “cold war”,  because Finnish neutrality had a particular form in international relations. After the war, the Soviet Union imposed on Finland a peace treaty by which it restricted its sovereignty in domestic politics, its foreign policy being dependent on the USSR. In international relations, such type of neutrality was called finlandization.

The declared neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is a special case, because foreign troops are installed on its territory. Although Article 11 of the Constitution, adopted in 1994, provides for the proclamation of the permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova and that on its territory the deployment of military troops of other states is not allowed, the Russian Federation has never complied with this internal constitutional norm of our state,  keeping their troops on the left bank of the Dniester during all our independence. So, the permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is not guaranteed at international level, it being adopted more than political naivety at the beginning of its state independence. In 1994 in Chisinau, it was believed that this constitutional provision would lead to the creation of an international mechanism that would force Russia to withdraw its troops from the left bank of the Dniester. But the Republic of Moldova did not consider that a neutrality status is not only proclaimed, but conquered. The neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is only an internal one, without any external value. It does not provide guarantees of national security of the Republic of Moldova in the context of regional and international events.

At the beginning of the 21st century, in the circumstances of NATO and EU enlargement to the east, Russia returned to the concept of neutrality applied by the USSR in the post-war period. The declared neutrality of some post-soviet states, such as the Republic of Moldova, is promoted by Russia internationally to stop the expansion of NATO and the EU to its borders.

In its interpretations, Moscow conceives the neutrality of the post-soviet states in terms of the concept of finlandization applied to Finland during the “cold war” – external dependence on Russia. In this way, the Kremlin wants to create a mechanism to ensure that states in the post-soviet area will not focus on foreign policy towards the western suprastate unions, especially NATO.

Russia appealed to the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova at the NATO summit in Bucharest, in April 2008, when it was discussed about a possible invitation to negotiations for Ukraine and Georgia to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Putin “partially forgave Voronin’s sins” after the November 2003 Kozak episode, only that he declare from the NATO forum that the Republic of Moldova is a neutral state and does not want to join this organization.

On September 26, 2019, from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly, President Igor Dodon asked the international community for the de facto recognition and observance of the neutrality status of the Republic of Moldova, arguing this desire through the objective and absolute priority of solving the Transnistrian problem, which it is achievable only if the status of military neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is maintained. As an example, Dodon presented Austria’s military neutrality. Prior to the statement from the UN Tribune of the Head of State, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova adopted on March 31, 2016 the Declaration on the inviolability of the sovereignty, independence and permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova. [1]. [1] According to this document, the permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova is a guarantee of maintaining peace and stability, both inside and in the region as a whole. The statement was supported by the deputies of PCRM, PSRM and PDM. The authors of the initiative motivated the need to adopt the declaration by the frequency of actions that challenge the statehood and the moldovan people.

On the other hand, this statement does not mention the real threats faced by the Republic of Moldova, such as territorial separatism or the presence of russian troops violating their declared neutrality. Incidentally or not, the Parliament adopted the statement immediately after the visit made by the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grigori Karasin, in Chisinau and Tiraspol. It is noteworthy that not once  Karasin said that the Transnistrian region is a part of the Republic of Moldova to which must have special status.

The latest political developments highlight the fact that, for some time, Russia is playing a regional geopolitical game. Permanent or new military neutrality does not provide additional guarantees for the security of the Republic of Moldova, but is used by Russia for its geopolitical purposes. First of all, by promoting the concept of neutrality, Russia wants to have an assurance instrument that Moldova will not integrate into certain western structures, especially in NATO. Secondly, the neutrality of the Republic of Moldova should serve as a favorable environment for negotiation  between Chisinau and Tiraspol on the status of the Transnistrian region within the Moldovan state.

In November 2003, Russia tried to stop the expansion of NATO and the EU to the east by, “refreshing” the Kozak memorandum. More than 15 years after that episode, Russia gave up front actions on Transnistrian settlement, acting subtly, with great flexibility. The transfer of accents in the subject of neutrality of the Republic of Moldova – from permanent to military – is not accidental.

In the context of the latest regional developments is outlined the idea that Russia would be willing to give up the settlement of the Transnistrian issue in terms of the Kozak memorandum, in exchange for the acceptance of the Western of the finlandization of the Republic of Moldova.

The price paid by Chisinau for the return of the Transnistrian region in its constitutional field is the  external dependence of the Republic of Moldova on Russia and the status of military neutrality of Moldova to represent the geopolitical consensus between west and east of the big international actors

[1] Parliament of the Republic of Moldova. Decision no.47 of 31.03.2016 for the approval of the Declaration of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova regarding the inviolability of the sovereignty, independence and permanent neutrality of the Republic of Moldova

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