Located in Eastern Europe, Moldova is one of the former Eastern Bloc countries. Moldova, which has Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east, are of great importance in terms of the geopolitics of the region. This leads to a struggle of influence between the West and Russia over Moldova.
In this context, it is worth mentioning what instruments Moscow used against Chisinau. Most of the population of Moldova belongs to the Orthodox sect of Christianity. The Metropolitan of Moldova, which is also affiliated to the Moscow Patriarchate and is one of the two Orthodox churches in Moldova, is the largest church in the country. The other Orthodox church in the country is the Metropolitan of Basarabya, which is affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Church. However, it is claimed that 85% of the Orthodox in Moldova belong to the Metropolitan of Moldova of the Russian Orthodox Church. Therefore, Orthodoxy is one of the elements that ensure the continuation of Moscow’s influence on Chisinau.
Moreover, the “Transnistrian Question” between the two states plays an important role in shaping the future of relations. Transnistria, located on the Moldova-Ukraine border, declared its unilateral separation from Moldova in 1992. However, the Kshinev administration does not accept this separation request.
In this context, the region stands out with its Russian-backed separatist structure. Furthermore, Moldova’s dependence on Russian natural gas to a large extent has been another instrument used by Moscow on Chisinau. Moldova is dependent on Russian gas and electricity from the separatist region of Transnistria. This shows how important Transnistria is for Moscow. Russia can both exert military pressure and use its energy weapon against Moldova through the region. In other words, Orthodoxy, energy and the Transnistrian Question play a decisive role in increasing Moscow’s influence over Chisinau.
Moreover, the separatist Tiraspol administration has long made it clear that Transnistria is Russian and will one day be officially recognized. The presence of 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria since 1992 has led to the strengthening of Moscow’s position in the region. It is possible to argue that these units consist of two components. These are the “peacekeeping unit” that has been in the region for three decades and the Russian troops guarding the Soviet-era ammunition depot in the Transnistrian village of Cobasna, 2 km from the Ukrainian border.
Cobasna, which is said to be protected by about 1,500 Russian soldiers, is claimed to be home to the largest arsenal in Europe. Currently, this arsenal stores approximately 20,000 tonnes of weapons and ammunition, 57% of which are unusable or untransportable. Access to the area controlled by the Transnistrian administration and the “Russian peacekeeping force” is strictly prohibited. Therefore, Russia’s military presence in Transnistria is extremely important in terms of increasing its influence in both Moldova and Eastern European geopolitics. Furthermore, Moscow has the opportunity to directly threaten Kiev on the occasion of the region.
In particular, the Russia-Ukraine War, which began on February 24, 2022, has increased Moldova’s desire to join the European Union (EU). Moldova has been the scene of the struggle of pro-Russian and pro-Western governments in the country for many years. In this respect, Moldova’s official application for EU membership after the start of the war can be interpreted as a remarkable development. As a result of the war, the threat that Moldova perceives from Russia has increased. In this respect, the Chisinau administration has started to follow a policy aimed at strengthening its ties with Western international organizations. Therefore, it would not be wrong to say that the power struggle over Moldova has developed in favor of the EU with the war. In this context, Moldova applied for EU membership on March, 3 2022. On June 23, 2022, the EU granted Moldova as well as Ukraine the status of a “candidate country.”
As can be understood, the war has created a domino effect in the process of Moldova’s accession to the union. Moldova refrained from taking steps towards the EU until the war in Ukraine began. Chisinau’s energy dependence on Moscow also played an important role in this. However, with the war, the conjuncture in Europe changed and Moldova has taken the path of integration with the EU due to the threat it perceives from Russia. In particular, the fact that the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate status on the same date was in a sense a message to Russia.
On the other hand, Russia’s reaction to the EU’s decision has been harsh. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned that the granting of EU candidacy status to Moldova on June, 24 2022 would have negative consequences. Zakharova also argued that the decision was taken within the framework of the containment of Russia.
Nevertheless, on July 22, 2022, Vitaly Ignatyev, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Transnistrian administration, expressed his determination to ensure the independence of Transnistria and possible unification with Russia, and stated that Moldova’s becoming a “candidate country” for the EU ended all possibility of cooperation.
In this context, it is seen that the relations on the Moscow-Chisinau line have been strained with Moldova’s EU process. However, it should be underlined that Moldova does not consider membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), although they are different types of institutions. In this respect, Moldova wants to realize its integration with the West through the EU.
On the other hand, Moldovan President Maia Sandu stated on December 29, 2022 that her country wants to achieve EU membership by 2030. Given the war conjuncture in Europe, it can be foreseen that Brussels may accelerate Moldova’s accession process to the union. Thus, the EU will both take an important step towards the enlargement of the union towards Eastern Europe and try to make Chisinau implement the reforms it wants to take place in the country.
In conclusion, it can be predicted that the power struggle between the West and Russia over Moldova will continue. Unlike Ukraine, Moldova wants to ensure its integration with the West through the EU without bringing NATO membership to the agenda. With this policy, Chisinau wants to reduce the reactions that may come to it from Moscow.
 “Moldova’s Orthodox Churches Quietly Divided”, Religion Watch, https://www.religionwatch.com/moldovas-orthodox-churches-quietly-divided/, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).
 “Ukraine War Risks Repercussions for Transnistria”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, https://carnegieendowment.org/politika/87986, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).
 “The Largest Illegal Arms Depot in Eastern Europe”, Arnika, https://www.arnika.org/en/hotspots/moldova/the-largest-illegal-arms-depot-in-eastern-europe, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).
 “Moldova”, European Council Council of the European Union, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/enlargement/moldova/, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).
 “Russia says EU candidate Status for Ukraine, Moldova Will Have Negative Consequences”, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-eu-candidate-status-ukraine-moldova-will-have-negative-consequences-2022-06-24/, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).
 “Transnistria’s FM: Integration with Russia Remains Possible”, Associated Press, https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-moscow-peacekeeping-forces-european-union-0f1967d2b0952b010336dad08fbd3f56, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).
 “Moldova’s President Maia Sandu Wants to Join European Union By 2030”, Euronews, https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2022/12/30/moldovas-president-maia-sandu-wants-to-join-european-union-by-2030, (Date of Accession: 14.01.2023).