Europe’s security is at stake in Moldova – POLITICO

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Europe's security is at stake in Moldova – POLITICO
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Maia Sandu is the President of the Republic of Moldova.

Three decades ago, Moldovans chose freedom and democracy over authoritarianism. And today, we are moving resolutely towards the European Union.

But with Russia’s brutal aggression against our neighbor Ukraine, our country now faces dramatic costs and heightened risks threatening to derail our chosen path, weakening Europe’s security.

Moldova is a vibrant democracy in what has become a dangerous neighborhood.

Over the past year, we have built stronger institutions, fought corruption, and supported post-pandemic recovery. As a result, our economy grew by 14% in 2021; we jumped 49 on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index; and our anti-money laundering rating has been upgraded by the Council of Europe.

In recognition of our implementation of difficult reforms in a difficult geopolitical context, the EU granted Moldova candidate status for membership last June. But instead of reaping the benefits of deeper European integration, Moldovans are now struggling to cope with an acute energy crisis, severe economic downturn and massive security threats.

Many, if not all, European countries currently face severe energy pressures, of course – but ours are existential. The legacy of almost total dependence on Russia for gas and electricity, and the failure of successive governments to diversify supplies, now threatens our economic survival.

In November, Russia’s bombardment of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, alongside Gazprom’s halving of natural gas exports, knocked out electricity from our old sources of imported electricity.

In response, the government enacted energy austerity measures and switched some industries to alternative fuels. Longer-term energy security measures, including an electricity interconnection with Romania, will yield results, but only in a few years.

Friends and partners also provide support to the best of their abilities.

Romania, our good neighbor and staunch supporter, stepped in, with electricity exports now accounting for around 80% of Moldova’s current consumption. Meanwhile, during a recent visit to Chișinău, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced new aid to help ease Moldova’s crisis, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development threw a lifeline to fund the emergency gas supply.

Today, French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting a meeting of the Support Platform for Moldova, an initiative led by France, Germany and Romania.

The forum aims to mobilize much-needed support ahead of what is likely to be a precarious winter. Moldova is seeking to finance its gas and electricity purchases from new sources and to support the social schemes of the most vulnerable, which will help cushion price increases. Over the past 12 months, the price of gas in our country has increased sevenfold, while the price of electricity has quadrupled. This winter, Moldovans will likely spend up to 65% of their income on energy bills.

If we can light and heat the homes of our country and ensure that schools and hospitals can keep running and the wheels of the economy keep turning, that would mean that Moldovans – alongside Ukrainians – have no no need to seek shelter elsewhere in Europe during this upcoming cold season.

Even before winter fully sets in, the energy crisis and the economic fallout from the war next door are already having a significant impact on people’s lives, the country’s economy and our future growth. Inflation is approaching 35%; prices soared; trade routes are disrupted; and investor sentiment weakened. As a result, the economy is expected to contract.

Meanwhile, Russia’s proxies and criminal groups have joined forces to exploit the energy crisis and fuel discontent. They hope to foment political unrest. Using the full spectrum of hybrid threats – including fake bomb threats, cyberattacks, disinformation, calls for social unrest and undisguised corruption – they strive to destabilize government, erode our democracy and jeopardize Moldova’s contribution to the wider security of Europe.

Our vulnerabilities could weaken Ukraine’s resilience, as well as the stability of the rest of the continent.

Although we are Ukraine’s most vulnerable neighbour, we also secure its second longest border, after the one it has with Russia. Over these 1,222 kilometres, Moldova is a frontline state in the fight against arms, drugs and human trafficking.

Since the start of the war, we have worked hard to maintain stability in the separatist region of Transnistria, which shares a border of more than 450 kilometers with Ukraine and where 1,600 Russian soldiers are illegally stationed. We managed to calm the situation.

We also provide critical supply routes to and from Ukraine — a significant portion of Ukrainian trade, including grain, passes through Moldova.

In addition, our country has hosted more than 650,000 refugees since the first days of the Russian invasion. So far more than 80,000 of them have chosen to stay, and we are preparing to welcome more in winter, should they have to flee a military escalation or a lack of heat, electricity and water. .

Europe and Ukraine need a strong Moldova. Strong enough to support Ukraine during the war. Strong enough to maintain peace and stability in our region. Strong enough to shelter refugees. And strong enough to become a natural hub for the reconstruction of southern Ukraine after the war.

Just as Russia must not be allowed to win in Ukraine, its hybrid techniques must not be allowed to succeed in Moldova. We will do our part to defend European values ​​despite the hardships imposed on us. The price is heavy and we are ready to bear the burden.

But we cannot do it alone.

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