The ongoing war in Ukraine has brought renewed attention to the Eastern Europe. It has strained relations between Russia and the post-Soviet states like Moldova and Georgia. Moldova is a small landlocked country neighbouring Ukraine that found itself at a critical juncture during this regional turmoil. Despite its small size, Moldova holds strategic importance for both Russia and the European Union (EU) due to its location and historical ties with the former. The presence of Russian influence in Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova, further complicates its relations with Russia. The war has served as a catalyst for Moldova to reassess its foreign policy options and further deepen its integration into the EU. This viewpoint explores the impact of Ukraine war on Moldova and its relations with Russia. It further looks into prospects and challenges of Moldova's accession to the EU following the Ukraine war.
Ukraine war’s impact on Moldova
The war in Ukraine has impacted Moldova significantly across various sectors. Moldova received over 700,000 Ukrainian refugees and of which, more than 100,000 have been staying in the country while others have crossed over into the EU[iii]. With a relatively small population of roughly 2.6 million people,[iv] Moldova has received the largest influx of refugees in per capita terms of all the countries[v]. The Government of Moldova made special provisions for refugees coming in from Ukraine. It has approved the implementation of Temporary Protection status for all Ukrainian refugees for a period of one year[vi]. The Government established the Single Centre for Crisis Management, provided medical assistance and ensured access to education for children[vii].
The crisis in Ukraine also had political implications on Moldova. As the war broke out in Ukraine, this led to territorial insecurity in Moldova regarding Transnistria. It is a breakaway region along Moldova-Ukraine border where Russia has maintained military presence since 1992[viii]. Transnistria is inhabited mainly by ethnic Russians similar to Donbas region in Ukraine. Moldova feared that Russia could occupy Transnistria like Donbas using majority presence of ethnic Russians as a pretext. Moreover, Moldovan President Maia Sandu has also accused Russia of political interference in the country. She claimed that Russia planned to destabilise situation in Moldova and change the government[ix]. In March 2023, Moldova's General Police Commissariat pointed out that Russian intelligence services used opposition protests to destabilise the country[x]. In Moldova, there has been distrust of Russia since Ukraine war which has worsened ties between both the countries.
Russia also cut energy supplies to Moldova which further deteriorated bilateral ties. Moldova has been almost fully dependent on Russia for its energy needs. Before the eruption of war, Moldova imported 100% of its natural gas and 99% of its oil from Russia. It was dependent on a single power plant in Russian-controlled Transnistria for 80% of its electricity. Russia’s Gazprom has 51% share in Moldovagaz, the country’s natural gas monopoly[xi]. In the wake of Ukraine war, Russia-owned Gazprom substantially reduced gas flows to Moldova leading to an energy crisis in the country. It led Moldova to seek alternative energy supplies from the EU member states[xii].
In the trade sector, Russia has been a major partner for Moldova, but Moldova is now more dependent on the EU for trade than Russia due to Ukraine war. Before the conflict began, Moldova’s total trade with Russia accounted for 1.33 billion USD in 2021[xiii]. At the same time, Moldova’s trade with EU member states totalled almost four times at 5.06 billion USD[xiv]. In 2022, Moldova’s trade volume with EU member states increased to 6.9 billion USD by 136%. At the same time, Moldova’s trade volume with Russia stood the same as pre-war levels[xv]. Ukraine war prompted Moldova to reduce its dependency on Russia while seeking an alternative in the EU to mitigate adverse impacts on its economy and energy security due to the Ukraine war.
EU’s policies for Moldova
EU has tried to integrate Moldova in accordance with its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), first outlined in March 2003 by the European Commission. Moldova is also a part of the ENP’s eastern regional dimension, the Eastern Partnership (EaP) launched in 2009.
After the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, the EU intensified integration efforts with Moldova. The EU and Moldova signed an Association Agreement (AA) for “stronger political association and economic integration” in June 2014. It included a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), opening the access of the EU market to Moldovan businesses and products, and visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Moldovan citizens[xvi].
After the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, Moldova sought an ever-deeper integration with the EU. Moldova applied for EU membership on 3 March 2022 and was granted candidate status on 23 June 2022. The EU also supported Moldova in improving its energy resilience. The EU synchronised the electricity grid of Moldova with the Continental European Network and pledged energy support packages of almost 300 million Euros. The EU’s Energy Community Secretariat has also put in place an Energy Rescue Scheme for Moldova to modernise its energy sector and make it more resilient to future challenges[xvii].
Hurdles in Moldova’s accession to the EU
Despite significant progress, there have been multiple factors withholding Moldova’s accession to the EU. Moldova’s aspirations have been hindered by the EU’s “enlargement fatigue”, unwillingness of some of the EU member states to admit new countries. It is primarily driven by economic concerns. Member states have concerns that a less developed country like Moldova will be a drain on EU resources. Moreover, there are also concerns regarding efficiency of Moldova’s government institutions.
Any country wishing to join the EU must conform to the Copenhagen criteria. It should have stability of political institutions, a functioning market economy and ability to effectively implement rules and policies of the EU law[xviii]. The EU has appreciated Moldova’s progress on the political criteria. However, widespread corruption still remains a major hurdle. The European Commission has made Moldova’s accession to the EU conditional on institutional reforms and “de-oligarchisation” of public life which have not been satisfactory as yet[xix]. Moldova also faces challenges in joining the EU without resolving frozen conflict zones like Transnistria. The EU would not accept the presence of Russian troops within its territory if Moldova becomes a part of it.
The impact of the Ukraine war has been felt by Moldova across various sectors, mainly mass migration and energy insecurity. As Russia cut down on gas supplies and strengthened Moldovan government’s opposition, its relations with Moldova worsened. Moldova sought an alternative in the EU and intensified its integration efforts. For its part, the EU granted Moldova a candidate status. Moldova also has access to the EU market and Schengen area. However, Moldova’s accession to the EU is still hindered by lack of institutional reforms in the government and the unresolved Transnistria issue.
*Aditya Chauhan, Research Intern, Indian Council of World Affairs, Sapru House, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views are of the author.
[i] Accessed on 18 July 2023, https://www.britannica.com/place/Moldova#/media/1/388005/206588.
[iv] Population, total - Moldova, The World Bank, Accessed on 26 July 2023, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=MD.
[viii] Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, Peacekeeping operation in Transnistria, Accessed on 26 July 2023, https://eng.mil.ru/en/mission/peacekeeping_operations/more.htm?id=10336232.
[ix] Russia's plans to destabilize situation aimed at changing power in Chisinau - president says, Moldpres, 13 February 2023, Accessed on 26 June 2023, https://www.moldpres.md/en/news/2023/02/13/23001132.
[xi] Suriya Evans-Pritchard Jayanti, Moldova needs an energy overhaul, Atlantic Council, 7 June 2023, Accessed on 30 June 2023, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/moldova-needs-an-energy-overhaul/.
[xii] Commission for Emergency Situations Intervenes with New Measures to Ensure Moldova's Energy Security, Government of Republic of Moldova, 23 December 2022, Accessed on 30 June 2023, https://gov.md/en/content/commission-emergency-situations-intervenes-new-measures-ensure-moldovas-energy-security.
[xiii] External trade by Indicators, Sections and chapters according CNG, CIS countries and Years, National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova, Accessed on 27 June 2023, https://statbank.statistica.md/PxWeb/pxweb/en/40%20Statistica%20economica/40%20Statistica%20economica__21%20EXT__EXT010__serii%20anuale/EXT010700.px/table/tableViewLayout1/?rxid=b2ff27d7-0b96-43c9-934b-42e1a2a9a774.
[xiv] External trade by Indicators, Sections and chapters according CNG, EU countries and Years, National Bureau of Statistics of The Republic of Moldova, Accessed on 27 June 2023, https://statbank.statistica.md/PxWeb/pxweb/en/40%20Statistica%20economica/40%20Statistica%20economica__21%20EXT__EXT010__serii%20anuale/EXT010800.px/table/tableViewLayout1/?rxid=b2ff27d7-0b96-43c9-934b-42e1a2a9a774.
[xv] International trade in goods of the Republic of Moldova in December 2022 and in 2022 as a whole, National Bureau of Statistics of The Republic of Moldova, 17 February 2023, Accessed on 27 June 2023, https://statistica.gov.md/ro/comertul-international-cu-marfuri-al-republicii-moldova-in-luna-9539_60309.html.
[xvi] EU-Moldova relations - factsheet, European Union External Action, 16 November 2021, Accessed on 27 June 2023, https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/eu-moldova-relations-factsheet_en.
[xvii] European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), European Commission, Accessed on 28 June 2023, https://neighbourhood-enlargement.ec.europa.eu/european-neighbourhood-policy/countries-region/moldova_en.
[xviii] Accession criteria (Copenhagen criteria), Publications Office of the European Union, Accessed on 28 June 2023, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/EN/legal-content/glossary/accession-criteria-copenhagen-criteria.html.
[xix] Opinion on the EU membership application by Moldova, European Commission, 17 June 2022, Accessed on 30 June 2023, https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/es/qanda_22_3801.