Christopher Booth

Can Moldova resist Russia’s embrace?

As they mark their independence this weekend, Moldovans say our security is bound up with theirs

The Cathedral of the Nativity, Chisinau

At the Cathedral of the Nativity, in the middle of Moldova’s capital Chisinau, many of those bowed in prayer before the icons are visitors to the country. Few among them know how long they must stay.

The orthodox liturgy plays out across the surrounding park through loudspeakers, tempering thundery late August heat with the surging tones of the choir. Finally, as the church empties, the members of the congregation emerge to cross themselves, then lower their heads at the door, before returning to what for now passes as normal life. Many are refugees, and for them genuine normality can only be a distant imagining. Rain suddenly falls.

A reliable way to upset a Moldovan is to describe the country as ‘the poorest in Europe’. It’s not a self-image anyone would wish to project. Nor is it any longer true: the war in Ukraine has made that country poorer yet.

Instead, it is as hosts of the highest per capita number of displaced Ukrainians that people here would naturally, and truthfully, like to be thought of. Moldova has taken on a colossal burden that would otherwise fall upon countries further west.

But while GDP figures are left unspoken, it remains true that a hobbled economy gives Moldova little room for false steps in a straitened neighbourhood. If across Europe we are concerned at the prospect of a chilly winter, think of this country’s 100 per cent dependence on Russian gas, and an inflation rate approaching 35 per cent. The vulnerability to Kremlin caprice is abject.

Moscow certainly has a several trump cards in its hand, and has now begun to play them. Moldova’s Transnistria region is in essence a Russian proxy. A ‘peacekeeping’ garrison of Russian troops has been deployed there since a short civil war in 1991 led to the formation of an unrecognised breakaway statelet.

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