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Transition: retrospectives and perspectives

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Chapter III. External Relations

The Evolution of Foreign Policy
Iurie Leanca

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs created in the aftermath of the declaration of independence by the Republic of Moldova in 1991 inherited the institutional and conceptual weaknesses of the so-called Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. The new ministry failed to define clearly Moldova's foreign policy priorities and strategic partners, and opted for a multidimensional foreign policy of balancing between East and West. Two major internal problems, the Transdnistrian conflict and the presence of Russian troops on Moldovan soil later enforced this trend.

The performance of the Moldovan diplomatic corps to date is assessed through the prism of Moldova's bilateral relations with its neighbours. Relations with Russia are singled out as decisive both for Moldova's foreign policy and its domestic situation, given Moldova's economic dependence on Russia and Russia's strategic interest in the ex-Soviet area as defined in its "near neighbourhood" doctrine. The protracted presence of the 14th Russian Army on Moldovan soil, Russia's direct involvement in the Transdnistrian conflict and its overt support for the secessionists have seriously hampered the development of civilised relations between the two states.

Moldova's relations with Romania have been marked by the latter's inability to connect Moldova to the European integrationist processes in the early post 1991 period, and the failure of both states to define their relationship in a Basic Treaty.

Faced with similar past and aspirations, Moldova and Ukraine proceeded smoothly in their relations, and concluded a bilateral Treaty on good neighbourhood early on. Yet, despite Ukraine's positive role of balancing Russia's influence in the post-Soviet area, Moldova's relations with Ukraine grew tense over time largely due to Ukraine's unilateral pursuit of interests in its border disputes with Moldova and its biased involvement in the Transdnistrian conflict.

The USA has played a key role in Moldova's inclusion in SECI, the US Plan for South Easter Europe and the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, as well as in the internationalisation of the Transdnistrian conflict. By contrast, Moldova's relations with the European Union (EU) Member States initially saw a lack of strategy on both sides. As Moldova made explicit its intention to join the EU, its relations with the EU countries took a positive turn, as expressed in their increased support for the conflict resolution efforts in Transdnistria. Yet relations have developed primarily on a bilateral basis, particularly with such countries as Germany and France; Moldova has lacked the clarity of objectives and firmness in its pro-European course to secure a long-term, solid relationship with the EU.

In a survey of Moldova's current foreign policy the author notes that the first months of communist government in the aftermath of the March 2001 elections saw continuity and pragmatism as well as positive developments in Moldova's relations with Romania, new prospects for solving the Transdnistrian conflict, and new opportunities on the international arena opened up by Moldova's adherence to the World Trade Organisation and the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe. Yet, soon these positive trends turned backwards and serious tensions arouse in Moldova's relations with Romania and Ukraine, followed by Moldova's external reorientation towards Russia and the Eurasian economic space and the consequent weakening of its European commitments. In addition, the communist government has recently expressed support for a solution to the Transdnistrian conflict that envisions the federalisation of the Moldovan State. This largely criticised solution domestically is backed both by Russia and the US, and is looked at by the author in the post 9/11 context of "redefining areas of interests".

Referring to the prospects of Moldova's foreign policy, the author discusses the advantages and disadvantages of two alternative directions, i.e. integration into either the post-Soviet space or the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Of these two, the latter option only could fully ensure Moldova's security, stability and modernisation. The author suggests a number of short and middle term measures to be taken in order to achieve this objective. Internally, these presuppose a targeted institutional and legislative development and preparation; externally, these envisage seeking recognition of the legitimacy of Moldova's claims to European integration and a deeper involvement in regional initiatives, particularly in the ones carried out within the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe.

Moldova needs to make special efforts at ensuring its security in the post 9/11 world, give up the no longer viable "permanent neutrality" status for that of "a country outside any blocs", and set itself the objective of joining NATO. The key short-term objective on Moldova's security agenda is the full withdrawal of Russian military forces from the Moldovan soil.

Moldova's bilateral relations with its neighbours need urgent revision as well, particularly the ones with Romania, which is to be "the locomotive of Moldova's anchoring to the European structures". Moldova's relations with Russia need to be reconsidered and Moldova has yet to assert the principles of a balanced relationship, mutual respect and non-intervention in this difficult but utterly important relationship.

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