A high-level summit in Moldova offers an opportunity for the West to send a strong signal of support to Chisinau, the capital of a landlocked country between Ukraine and EU member Romania that fears Russian expansion, a senior Moldovan diplomat told The National.
Leaders of EU institutions, the bloc’s 27 countries and 20 allies – potentially including Turkey’s newly re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – will gather on Thursday in Chisinau for the second European Political Community (EPC) summit.
The meeting was launched after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the behest of French President Emmanuel Macron, with the aim of assembling like-minded political leaders for informal discussions that exclude Russia and Belarus.
“It’s important for our citizens and the region to show that the region is not left alone,” said Moldova’s ambassador to the EU Daniela Morari.
“It’s one thing to take decisions in Brussels and it’s one thing to take them a few hundred kilometres away from the war.”
Moldova, a small country of 2.6 million people, fears destabilisation attempts from Russia, which controls the region of Transnistria – a sliver of its territory near its border with Ukraine – since Chisinau proclaimed independence from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Moldova used to be entirely dependent on Russian gas. The country’s largest power plant is in Transnistria, which Russia has historically used as leverage on Chisinau’s energy sector.
But Moldova was quick to transition after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last February. By the following month, it had connected to the European electricity grid, requested to join the EU and accelerated its diversification of power supply.
“It was the first winter in our history that we entered with some gas reserves,” said Ms Morari.
“It was also the first winter when Moldova was not dependent on Gazprom gas and the first winter when gas entered the country from the West, not the East.”
The country, one of Europe’s poorest, has received strong support from Brussels, including €250 million ($267 million) in financial aid in November.
Polls show a majority of the population wants to join the bloc. On May 21, more than 75,000 people gathered for a pro-EU rally organised by Moldova’s President Maia Sandu and attended by the European Parliament’s president Roberta Metsola.
Speaking to The National, an EU official described Ms Sandu as a “great politician who knows what’s at stake and is pushing through reforms despite pressure from oligarchs and from Russia”.
As a show of solidarity, European leaders have been posting short videos on Twitter ahead of the EPC meeting with the hashtag #MoldovaIsNotAlone.
“On June 1, Moldova will be the beating heart of Europe,” said European Council President Charles Michel last week.
“You will open the doors of your beautiful country to 50 European leaders, 50 friends of Moldova. This is a historic moment for your country and for your people.”
Ms Morari said organising the EPC was an honour and a challenge for Moldova, which has never hosted a high-profile event of such scale.
Three micro-states – Saint-Marin, Andorra and Monaco – have been invited as well as those who attended the first summit in Prague in October.
“We will do our best to be good hosts and offer this platform for leaders to discuss and take important decisions for the continent,” said Moldova’s ambassador.
By hosting the EPC, Moldova aims to “allow leaders to take decisions as close to the context we are living in”, she added.
“Moldova’s reality shows the importance of strengthening Europe’s interconnectivity.”
Close ties with France
France has made “absolutely major” contributions in helping Moldova organise the summit by sending protocol missions to Chisinau, as well as communication and security support, French government officials said.
This has been bolstered by what the officials describe as a “relation of trust” between Mr Macron and Ms Sandu, who has visited Paris three times since February last year.
Mr Macron travelled to Moldova last June for the first visit to the country by a French head of state in more than two decades, shortly before the EU granted Moldova candidate status.
“The Moldovan government realised that the war in Ukraine played an important role in accelerating history,” said Florent Parmentier, secretary general of the French research institute Cevipof, affiliated to Sciences Po in Paris.
“It’s a country that’s both very anxious due to serious risks of destabilisation from Russia and also has the feeling that, finally, Europe understands and sees Moldova,” said Mr Parmentier, a Moldova expert who has made several recent trips to the country as it prepares for the EPC.
“We have to recognise that Moldovan officials have been working really hard over the past months to get ready for the EPC,” he added.
At the EPC, leaders are expected to focus on Europe’s energy and security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine. They will also work on increasing connectivity, including possible announcements about student exchanges and data roaming.
The EPC seeks to differentiate itself from other regional high-level summits by its flexible format. Heads of state are not required to issue negotiated statements or deliverables and can meet in person to discuss whatever they wish.
Moldova also wants to seize the moment to make announcements for the benefit of its citizens, said Ms Morari.
Non-lethal defence equipment, mainly bomb disposal kits as well as medical and cyber defence items, is expected to be delivered to Chisinau before Thursday’s summit.
The supplies are funded via a special EU fund mostly used for military aid to Ukraine – the European Peace Facility.
The EU’s civilian mission to Moldova, which aims to enhance its security sector, will be inaugurated on Wednesday.
“For us, it’s important to work with the EU on strengthening our security and defence,” said Ms Morari.
“It’s a milestone in our co-operation.”