Thursday, April 30, 2009

An Opportunity, not a Crisis

The reality of what is going on in Moldova appears to be finally dawning on the EU. After years of propping up the Communists and believing their fairy-tales about wanting to integrate in the EU, the totalitarian nature of the PCRM regime is now well understood.

The question for Europe is how to respond. The tradition EU approach is to try to 'manage' crises by using diplomacy and other forms of soft power. The problem is that soft power doesn't work on totalitarians. They will simply ignore EU pressure, ECHR rulings & ICJ indictments, all the while entrenching their rotten regime and making the lives of ordinary Moldovans even more miserable.

A 'crisis management' approach will also be a disaster in geopolitical terms. Without strong action from the EU, the Russians will notch up yet another victory in their undeclared war against western interests and influence (after Georgia, Manas airbase, the missile shield). This will embolden them to continue, with the next project being the reorientation (or possibly destruction) of Ukraine.

Europe needs to think a lot more creatively. More than 70% of Moldovans favour integration into the European Union, and, contrary to Western European fears, they will make good Europeans. They are not free-loaders and are prepared to work hard to get ahead. The EU should offer Moldova candidate status (alongside the western Balkan group) in return for a truly fair political settlement in the country (new elections run under EU auspices to ensure democratic norms are met, including editorial independence for the state media). To make this offer sweet enough for the communists to accept, amnesty from prosecution could be offered in return for confessions to crimes committed (a la South Africa's Truth & Justice Commission)

If this offer is not accepted by the regime, tougher measures will need to be taken. ICJ indictments for human rights abuses, asset freezes, travel bans. Even the military option should remain on the table, being justified on humanitarian grounds and on the grounds that constitutional order has broken down.

The EU should also take this opportunity to lance the festering boil of Transnistria. Transnistria needs to be either reintegrated into Moldova or given to the Ukraine in return for former Moldovan territories in the Bugeac on the Black Sea. The continuing presence of the Russian 14th Army in the territory is a threat not just to Moldova but to the entire CEE region. If candidate country status is extended to Moldova, the EU will have more freedom to act in settling the Transnistrian conflict, as this will now be situated on its future territory. Once again here, there are a series of measure that could be used to resolve the conflict. Once again, the military option needs to be left on the table as a last resort.

These are tough proposals that will send shivers down the spine of some of Western Europe's weaker-kneed governments. The alternative, however, is worse - continuing concessions in the face of Russian expansionism, to the point where Germany and Italy once again become Russia's "near-abroad".

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