Chairman of the Parliament of Moldova Igor Grosu has announced the nation’s withdrawal from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Will Moldova succeed in making a final break with Russia?
Ever since the war in Ukraine began, diplomats have warned of the risk of Moldova being “next” in the Kremlin’s sights.
A series of well-orchestrated pro-Moscow protests earlier this spring in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, demanded the overthrow of the country's democratically elected president, Maia Sandu, who has taken a firm pro-Western stance.
Since its attack on Ukraine, the Kremlin has sought to destabilize the ex-Soviet country. The small republic of 2.6 million inhabitants is sandwiched between Ukraine and NATO member Romania and has few military resources to oppose Moscow.
What it does have are trade and diplomatic arms at its disposal. On Monday, Moldovan Parliament Chairman Igor Grosu announced the country’s imminent exit from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which today also includes Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.
The move makes official what has been the country’s de facto distancing from the CIS, which was created in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
For more than three decades, the CIS has served as an essential Kremlin lever of control and influence over the former Soviet republics. Thus, no doubt, Moldova's withdrawal from the Commonwealth would sure to be met with strong resistance from the Kremlin, as well as from pro-Russian forces inside Moldova itself.
In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the CIS in response to Russia's aggression in 2008. Ukraine, for its part, never signed the founding Charter, so was not a full member of the Commonwealth; nevertheless, in 2019, the International Monetary Fund removed Ukraine from the list of its participants.
The CIS question
Grosu, chairman of the Moldovan Parliament, said the decision to leave the CIS came after consultations with President Sandu, the ruling party and ordinary citizens. The reasons he laid out for the decision were a blunt assessment of his country’s status vis a vis Moscow.
"After 30 years, it became clear that the presence of Moldova in CIS structures did not help us solve the Transnistrian conflict, withdraw the Russian army from the territory, or protect us from economic embargoes in the most difficult times.
“Being in CIS did not protect us from the energy blackmail in the middle of winter, from threats and official statements hostile to the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova. Being in the CIS did not protect the member states from military attacks, war, and illegal occupation of sovereign territories.
Moldova's withdrawal from the CIS is more of a symbolic step.
After one of its founding states, the Russian Federation, barbarically attacked another founding state, Ukraine, occupying territories and killing its citizens, this organization can no longer be called a community," Grosu said. "We can no longer sit at the same table with the aggressor state."
Still, the withdrawal process will be long and politically charged, as there is in fact no singular national position on the issue in Moldova — and on relations with Russia in general. The Socialist Party of Moldova has condemned Grosu's statement and promised to start a campaign for the preservation of membership of Moldova in the Commonwealth.
Grosu has spoken clearly
Reaction from the Kremlin
Grigory Karasin, a Russian CIS committee member, condemned Moldova's intention to leave the CIS Assembly. "The current administration is playing a political game called "I pledge allegiance to the West,” said Karasin. "We will take serious decisions, but not through public interviews and statements."
That of course raises the question of what action Moscow will take. It may continue to agitate through pro-Russian forces in the country, Vladimir Putin could decide to launch direct attacks on Moldova or could opt for economic pressure.
Experts in Russia and Moldova note that Moldova's withdrawal from the CIS is more of a symbolic step, compared to the ties between member states — particularly on the trade front.
Alexander Slusar, the former vice-president of the Parliament of Moldova said untangling the web of agreements will be complicated. “Unfortunately, Russia "privatized" many processes in the CIS,” he said. “Besides, we have separate agreements on free trade with Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. They were signed back in the 90s, and many were useful because Russia was still weak and did not politicize these issues."
Indeed, politics has overtaken economics across much of the region. The winds were changing in Moldova with the 2021 election of Sandu, who wanted to distant the country from Russia. Moscow’s Feb. 24, 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which shares a long border with Moldova, hardened the divide and raised the stakes.
Just last week, European Union foreign ministers approved funding for a civilian mission to help Moldova resist interference from Moscow. The EU says the mission aims to send a “political signal” to Russia that the EU supports Moldova.