The standoff in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and the central government in Kiev is far from resolved. But whatever its outcome, NATO needs to take urgent measures to deter Russian military intervention in Moldova and reinforce its security guarantees to NATO members Bulgaria and Romania. These two countries are no less vulnerable to Russian pressure than the NATO members to their north, namely Poland and the Baltic states. In addition, Bulgaria and Romania’s strong support is needed to advance Western goals in the Balkans, the Caspian region and Central Asia. Ideally NATO would reassure Moscow that Moldova will not soon join the alliance while augmenting NATO’s collective ability to defend Bulgaria and Romania from external aggression.
The conflict in Ukraine has once again highlighted the security dilemma faced by Moldova, perhaps the most pro-Western country in Europe that remains outside both the NATO alliance and the European Union. Moldovans face serious impediments to deepening ties with both organizations. As with Ukraine and Georgia, Moscow manipulates Moldova’s separatist movement to influence the country’s foreign policy. In particular, Russia keeps more than 1,000 soldiers in the breakaway region of Transnistria, one of several “frozen conflicts” that date back to the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—the largest multinational security institution in Europe with 56 members, including all NATO countries as well as Russia and other former Soviet republics—is the lead organization responsible for resolving the Moldova situation. Since 1993, the OSCE has had a mandate from its members “to promote a resolution of the conflict based on Moldova’s territorial integrity.” Since 2005, the OSCE has joined a multilateral conflict-negotiating framework for Moldova that includes the two Moldovan parties—the Republic of Moldova and Transnistria; the three international mediators—Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE; and the U.S. and EU as observers. However, the so-called 5+2 process has made little progress; the talks have occurred irregularly, involved only some of the parties and often proceeded on an informal basis, without the authority to make binding legal commitments.