Moldova Participates in Rapid Trident 2017
From September 8th to the 23rd, the multinational exercise Rapid Trident will take place at the International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv, Ukraine. According to the U.S. Army Europe’s website, these maneuvers will involve approximately 1,800 personnel from 14 nations: Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Italy, Georgia, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The exercises are regarded as a response to both the Russian-led exercise Zapad, which is almost simultaneously taking place in Belarus from September 14 to the 20th, as well as the conflict in Ukraine.
While there is plenty of geopolitical analysis to go around regarding the timing of both exercises and their short and long-term geopolitical ramifications, it is important to highlight the participation of one nation in Rapid Trident 2017: Moldova.
There are four facts that make the participation of the landlocked country, which borders Ukraine, in these exercises significant:
- Article 11 of Moldova’s constitution states that the country is “permanently neutral” and “shall not allow the dispersal of foreign military troops on its territory.”
- The country’s tumultuous governments, best exemplified by the fact that President Igor Dodon is a supporter of the Russian Federation, while Prime Minister Pavel Filip, is more pro-West (namely approaching the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
- Chisinau still depends on Russia for energy and remittances from Moldovan citizens working there.
- Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region hosts a number of Russian troops.
The decision to send Moldovan troops to Rapid Trident was criticized by President Dodon, who reportedly banned this order on September 5th, stating “we do not accept involvement by Moldovan servicemen in military exercises beyond the national borders.” Days later, on September 8th he posted a statement on Facebook further explaining his position. He also called for the Defense Minister Gheorghe Galbura to be fired for this deployment.
Nevertheless, the president’s role is largely symbolic in Moldova so said veto has no actual political weight. Hence, the troops were deployed and it is doubtful that Minister Galbura will lose his job. In fact, Prime Minister Filip has already declared his support for the deployment: “no one wants an unprepared and weak army,” he reportedly stated.
As for the troops themselves, it is worth stressing that we are not talking about a large deployment. According to the Moldovan Army’s website, the contingent consists of 57 troops from two units, 22nd Peacekeeping Battalion and “Moldova” Brigade, led by LTC Alexandru Marcuta. Rapid Trident will reportedly convene some 1,800 troops, hence 57 is not a particularly significant number; nevertheless it will be an important opportunity for the Moldovan troops to train with fellow European (and U.S.) militaries. The Moldovan army explained how “the exercise aims to develop the level of interoperability, to consolidate the defense capacities, and to promote the National Army image on international level for future participation in peacekeeping missions.”
Moreover, this deployment serves as an example of the current close ties between Chisinau and the West. Moldova has reportedly participated in Rapid Trident since 1996 and there have been other recent defense-related developments. For example, Moldovan troops participated in the 2015 maneuvers in Smardan, Romania, alongside troops from Romania, the U.K. and the U.S. Additionally, in 2017 the Moldovan government reportedly allowed NATO to install a civilian office in the country, a move drastically condemned by President Dodon. (The author has been unable to verify if said office has in fact been opened). PM Filip met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on 30 March 2017.
It appears that Chisinau is attempting to befriend the West regarding defense affairs without violating its own constitution, which calls for neutrality. A NATO civilian office or participation in multinational exercises abroad with the aim of training troops to operate in peace operations – Moldova’s most notable deployment abroad is its presence in the KFOR peace force in Kosovo since 2014 – does not violate the letter of the law, but arguably the spirit. It will be interesting to see how the Moldovan government continues to attempt to maintain some sense of neutrality in an increasingly tense region and a divisive political situation domestically.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.