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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Chișinău Diary

This once hidden and obscure Eastern European city is now blossoming, with a huge level of European investment and international interest due to its serving as the principal gateway into the war in Ukraine.

Firstly let us Anglicise the name of the capital of the Republic of Moldova. We will call it Chisinau, for ease of spelling. Chisinau is an unusual city in many respects, principally because of its history as one of the principal towns in a noe-forgotten corner of Europe called Bessarabia. Bessarabia is a region where Romanian, Ukrainian and Turkic people met, amidst a series of mountains and rivers, geographical divides, that at various times amounted to shifting political borders.

Intriguingly, Chisinau must be one of the few capital cities through which no river runs. However there is a very substantial reservoir to its northwest, with a small tributary river that runs to the city's boundaries. Chisinau's location derives from the fact that it sits upon a plateau amidst a mountainous area.

At the end of the nineteenth century Chisinau had become a refuge for Jews escaping European pogroms and was almost 50 per cent Jewish. At that point its total population was about 100,000, and hence the city was in large part a Jewish creation for those hiding from persecution. Unfortunately Romanian and Soviet pogroms and Nazi anti-Semitism collectively drove the Jewish population out of Chisinau during the twentieth century.

In the twentieth century Bessarabia was a region where fascism met communism in World War II; very roughly, the mountainous border between Romania and Moldova (these two peoples are ethnically the same and their languages virtually identical) marked the furthest point west that the Red Army achieved in her conquest of Nazism and Nazi occupied territory. Bessarabia was annexed from pre-war Romania by the Soviets pursuant to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on 1939. Romania, supported by the Nazis, then invaded what is now Moldova and ultimately the Red Army expelled the Romanians and Nazis.

Romania was self-liberated by its own communist movement, much as was Romania's westward neighbour Yugoslavia, whereas what is now Moldova was liberated by the Soviet Union.

Both Romanian and Moldovan people had a rough time of it in the second half of the twentieth century, in consequence of their different methods of liberation. Romania's fate was to become a communist-fascist mixture under the notorious autocracy of the Ceaucescu family, until their notorious execution on 25 December 1989. Moldova was to become a satellite state of the Soviet Union, indeed the only Soviet Socialist Republic not to have a direct border with Russia. The provincial town of Chisinau would become the capital of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova, and her administrative centre.

What then happened was that Chisinau, formerly subsidised from Moscow by the great Soviet machine, fell into penury and chaos, along with the rest of Moldova, as an independent state in the 1990's. A short but bloody war secured the de facto independence of Pridnestrovia / Transnistr in 1992, making Moldova's second city of Tiraspol the capital of a Russian-protected parastate hanging off the side of Moldova.

Images of contemporary Chisinau.

Moldova more or less bumped along the economic bottom, while preserving political peace, with a faltering EU accession process (Moldova's 2020 GDP per capita, at approximately USD4,000, is the lowest in Europe bar Ukraine), until she became the centre of attention in February 2022 as war broke out in her enormous neighbour as Russia invaded Ukraine.

Initially, everyone thought that the colossus of the Russian army was going to swallow up Ukraine fairly quickly and comprehensively. However as we now know the war didn't work out like that. Russian special forces bungled an effort to capture the Ukrainian President early in the war and aborted chaotically a monumental movement of armour from Belarus intended to encircle and capture the capital Kyiv. Russia never really managed to dominate Ukraine or even disrupt her internal logistics; her roads and railways all kept on working throughout the war to date.

Russia's strategy then moved to seizing a southern corridor from the city of Donetsk in the east, all the way to Odessa in the west, with the intention of joining that land bridge up to Tiraspol and Russian-dominated Pridnestrovia.

However after an early seizure of southern Ukrainian territory proximate to the Crimean peninsula, that the Russians had already annexed in 2014, and a bloody bombardment of the Azov riparian city of Mariupol, Russian military efforts to seize a southern Ukrainian corridor petered out and it became clear that she would not get further than the south-central Ukrainian port city of Kherson seized peaceably at the beginning of the war. At the time of writing Russians and Ukrainians are in the midst of fighting for Kherson, and probably razing the city to the ground in the process. The prospect of Russia getting past Kherson, through Nikolaev, and as far as Odessa and ergo to the Moldovan / Pridnestrovian border, at the time of writing seem to be zero.

Nevertheless a fear arose, both amongst Moldovans and amongst the international community more generally, that if Russia did create her south Ukrainian corridor then she might seize not just Transnistr but the rest of Moldova as well. Hence Chisinau became an international hotspot, with everybody concerned about it. And now it is suddenly flooded with foreigners and money, and all the prices have gone sky high (by local standards).

Here are a number of observations we would like to make about Moldova's political future.

  1. The perceived threat of Russia towards Moldova has had consequences quite prejudicial to Russian interests. The enormous influx of international community officials is now accelerating Moldova towards European Union membership.

  2. Moldova is a small country, of a mere 2.6 million people (of which some 520,000 live in Chisinau), and her acquisition into the European Union fold will be a fairly cheap exercise by the standards of EU enlargement. Russian aggression in Ukrainian has catalysed a process that otherwise would have taken a lot longer and at a meandering pace. Now we may anticipate Moldovan accession to the EU by say the end of 2024.

  3. The pro-Russian communities in Moldova, in particular the Gagauzians (a unique community of Turkic Christian Orthodox people with their own language that is similar to Azeri and a peaceful

  4. The same will take place with regard to the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic (Transnistr), once the Russian military presence there, no longer tenable in light of Russia's military stalemate in southern Ukraine, has been summarily driven out. We have already written about this.

  5. Moldovan internal infrastructure, in particular her near-uniformly appalling roads, will be reconstructed with European Union funding, creating an increased sense of common economic national interest.

  6. Moldova has a number of areas of secondary industry that can be developed into a European capitalist model, in particular textiles, clothes, food and drink.

  7. Moldova has already proved herself a far more successful liberal democracy than has anarchy and corruption ridden Ukraine. Her political direction, which permits of a free press, tolerably fair elections and open and tolerated political dissent, is very much to Moldova's credit.

  8. Moldova's route on the transit of Russian gas heading westwards - the only remaining transit route of substance now Russia herself has scuttled her own two Nord Stream pipelines to Germany - places her in a powerful strategic position to control Russian gas revenues into Europe and to take commissions on the same via Transnistr. In time it will emerge that Russia's destruction of her own gas routes to Germany has proved a major strategic blunder. That is because it places all the emphasis on Transnistr. But there is no way Russia can continue to control Transnistr unless she seizes the entirety of the southern Ukrainian territorial corridor, which she has proven herself unable to do.

  9. Put another way, Russia's gamble in permanently cutting off Nord Stream will end up proving a game of Russian Roulette with all six cylinders loaded. Russia does not have the control over Moldova that she thought she was going to.

  10. Moldova's constitution provides for her militarily neutrality, and that no foreign troops may enter her soil. In time, this principle will be abandoned first de facto and then de jure, as EU financial and political influence leads naturally to NATO membership.

Moldova is one of the most exciting countries in Europe right now. Due to Russian strategic blunders in the war in Ukraine, the European Union is motivated to take action which by its standards, as the biggest free market zone in the world, is pathetically cheap: absorbing Moldova into EU institutions. If it could be done quickly and workmanlikely in Romania, then the same is true in Moldova which in many ways, due to her smal size, is a much easier creature to handle.

Moldovans understand that sister Romania's GDP per capita (2020) is circa USD13,000, and they aspire to this monumental increase in wealth: Romania is now the richest country per capita in the Bessarabian region. Hence Moldovans will put aside their artificial ethnic and political differences in the interests of common pan-European wealth and institutional reform.

Viva Moldova! To hell with imagined plans for Russians; invasion; they may never have been seriously considered anyway. For Moldova, the only way is up.


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