Lest anyone think Vladimir Putin had developed a soft side, Moldova is ready to disabuse him of that notion.
Fresh off his diplomatic humiliation of the United States, successful stripping of Armenia from closer ties to the European Union, intimidation of Ukraine via trade war, and the sudden decision by Georgia’s Prime Minister to announce that the Eurasian Customs Union may be a good idea after all, Putin’s public health chief, Gennady Onishchenko, announced a ban on Moldovan wines for the usual, trumped-up reasons of health and safety. “We don’t intend to act as a nanny for the Moldovan economy,” he said, before returning to script and making noises about technical concerns.
Exactly no one is fooled by this, the latest series of reminders to the Eastern Partnership states that Russia would very much like its empire back, please, starting now. Nascent trade wars with Ukraine, Lithuania, and now Moldova have been complemented with a flex of diplomatic muscle in Armenia. Georgia’s Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia and is widely seen as pro-Kremlin, had to walk back remarks supportive of Georgia joining the Customs Union — an idea that is wildly repellant in a country still smarting from Russia’s occupation of its breakaway provinces and yet entirely consistent with Ivanishvili’s close relationship with Moscow.
Moldova, which has been experimenting with a constitutional crisis this year, is currently following the Georgia model of Russian interference in its breakaway province of Transdniester, yet has the advantage of closer geographic proximity to Europe and a much greater likelihood of successfully beginning the long road to Europe than Georgia did in 2008. It is for this reason that Russia is complementing the donation of Russian passports to Moldovans in Transdniester as a prelude to armed invasion with an attack on one of Moldova’s principal exports.
As with Ukraine, Putin is testing Europe’s resolve to see its expansion plans, and the dreams on which it was made, stand. Moldova’s Foreign Minister has made the rounds all but begging Europe to step up its import quotas on Moldovan wines, and seeking to strengthen ties with Washington. With the Association Agreements with Ukraine and Moldova set for November, she is racing Putin’s next round of punishment.
The question on everyone’s mind is whether Europe has developed the steel to defend its interests, or if Putin is about to take yet another easy victory or two on his way to reconstructing his empire.
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