This is the conclusion Maria Udrescu, a reporter for the Belgian newspaper ’La Libre’, has reached following an exclusive interview with Minister Ana Revenco. The discussion took place in Brussels, during Minister’s participation in the 3rd Danube Security Conference. Please see below the English version. The original interview can be accessed here.
Since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine on Februarie 24, 2022, Moldova has been under pressure. ‘Ukraine is in the first line of Russia’s conventional war. But we are in the second line, in front of another, non-conventional war of Moscow’, summarised Ana Revenco, Minister of Internal Affairs of Moldova. Within the pro-European government from Chisinau, she is the one who bears the responsibility for ensuring public order and security, border and migration management and fight against organised crime. So many areas deeply affected by the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine and by Russia’s destabilisation strategies. Ana Revnco, who attended the Danube Security Conference in Brussels, gave an exclusive interview for ‘La Libre’, describing the situation in her country, which remains determined to resist Russia and continue its European path.
Last Saturday, the Black Sea grain export deal was extended for 120 days. Russia is talking about 60 days, questioning the fate of this initiative that facilitates world grain exports despite Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports. How did this blockade affect Moldova at the beginning?
Everything that used to be carried via the Black Sea has been redirected to land routes. From Ukraine to Poland, from Ukraine to Moldova and Romania, to the European Union. For us, this has meant an unprecedented pressure on our border crossing points, on our infrastructure, on our roads. We are talking about heavy traffic, traffic jams, with lines of trucks up to 25 km long… However, this context also increases the risk of cross-border crime (drugs, human trafficking, etc.).
Maintaining Moldova’s trade (not only grain) is at stake, as well as that of Ukraine. We have acted, for example, by negotiating with Romania and Ukraine to launch new border crossing points. However, despite this agreement (at the Black Sea), there are constant queues on the roads, at border crossings, at loading and unloading centres. And harvest time is almost here. The pressure will increase, again, queues, nervousness, blocked business, artificial costs, price increases, delivery delays and anxiety for everyone.
And this situation plays into Russia’s hands…
Russia is using this situation as a control tool, as a negotiating leverage. On the contrary, the development of alternative routes and the interconnection of transport routes (with the EU) would increase the cost of the war for Moscow, as it would reduce its influence, its ability to use blackmail, including on Brussels. We will do whatever is necessary to foster this connection. The only Moldovan port accessible to seagoing ships is Giurgiulesti on the Danube. In the current context, it has become a strategic point via which more and more goods pass. To what extent is this a challenge for the country?
Russia is waging a hybrid war. If it succeeds – and it has succeeded several times – to establish a pro-Russian government in Chisinau, the aim would be to keep not only Moldova isolated but the whole region, and to put pressure on Brussels. This objective also concerns the port of Giurgiulesti. Russia could intervene by blocking flows on the Danube via Giurgiulesti. We are therefore talking about Moscow’s direct access to the Black Sea.
It is a commercial issue, for grain transport, but also a geopolitical and military one, in the war context. It would be a way (for Russia) to get closer to NATO bases on the eastern flank. A multitude of interests are at stake around Giurgiulesti, which is a junction between Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. And let’s not forget the environment, which is being affected by increased transport flows. If all these flows – which may increase pollution levels – on the Danube are not properly managed, we could face an ecological disaster for flora and fauna.
Could management capacities be improved?
Yes, but resources are needed. Moldova’s budget has been drained to cope with the crisis caused by Russian energy blackmail. Gas bills have increased fivefold, and fuel prices have risen in a very short period. Last year, we had inflation of over 30%. In order to keep people on their feet, the government provided massive compensations and had to resort to foreign aid. But this has meant no investment in the economy.
This is exactly Moscow’s aim…
This is how a hybrid war is generated: by blackmailing food security, energy, mobility, migration… One example: the country’s airspace is half closed because of security risks. Transport routes are fewer. Some operators are withdrawing from the market. The impact on the pace of the economy is already being felt. To this we can add the false bomb threats, which often occur at Chisinau airport. It allows people to travel, to establish connections, negotiate, sign contracts or receive investors. A false alert means a temporary stoppage of these activities to verify the threat, it implies cancelled flights, people who think twice before traveling by plane. Some choose land routes, but these could also be blocked. It creates anxiety, nervousness. Add to this the (Russian) disinformation, which says that this situation is caused due to the incapacity of the Moldovan government, by its European choice. The message is: “If you listen to us, Moscow has the solution”.
Moldova faces “manifestations” orchestrated by Russia to destabilise the country. What is the current state of play?
These so-called protests have been going on for four months, every weekend, sometimes even during working days.
The transportation of these groups is organized, funded, people are paid. This has been demonstrated due to our investigations, we have seized millions of US dollars, Euros, MDL. These events are not a genuine manifestation of the right to freedom of expression: this right is being instrumentalised by Russia. People specially trained by Russian intelligence are brought to Moldova to create groups of provocateurs. They also target children, people with mental health problems, elderly people, and bring them into the front line and push them towards law enforcement representatives. They throw stones or other objects into buildings, but also into police officers. All of it – to escalate violence, to point the finger at the Police. And to call for early elections so that a pro-Russian government could be established.
In the meantime, the stakes remain to de-focus the government from the country’s development, to put constant pressure on law enforcement bodies, and to drain our energy and resources. But this strategy has not been successful. So, this year, they have changed their tactics: riots are not only being organised in the capital. They block more roads. They intervene even more in daily life. They create the impression of chaos.
How does Moldova, known as the poorest country in Europe, cope with this pressure?
We have changed the modus operandi to promote horizontal cooperation between our services (migration, border management, fight against crime, etc.) towards key objectives. We have developed our risk anticipation and analysis capabilities, which have saved us so far. We direct all our resources where the greatest security, human and financial risks exist. That is why we need analysts, analytical software, communication networks for sensitive data, etc.
While resources are limited…
The need to strengthen the resilience of Moldova, and therefore of the European Union, remains. Since we cannot hire additional staff – and this is not necessarily the most efficient method – we may compensate by using technology. Video surveillance equipment, ID verification devices, vehicles with around-view cameras… We have asked the EU Member States to support these, by helping us develop our technological capacity.
Are you getting this support quickly enough?
Mechanisms come slower than we would like. But the first batches of aid have started to arrive. It is important to stress that this is not just about Moldova’s security, far from it. Please consider that the more Russia suffers losses in Ukraine, the more it invests in the unconventional war in Moldova to gain a strategic negotiating position. We are a guarantor of regional security. We help Ukraine through our resistance, we contribute to the security of Europe. However, our resilience also depends on the resilience of the population, which needs authorities that inspire confidence, stability, a sustainable economy, prospects.
The European perspective is even more real now since Moldova has been granted the EU candidate country status.
We are pursuing our goal: to build a free country, with fair elections, where people trust authorities which put people’s interests in the first place, a country with decent justice. Since the country’s independence, Russia has constantly intervened to isolate us. More than ever, we need economic support, for small and medium-sized enterprises, to support local jobs, which also generate revenues to the national budget and therefore investment in development projects.
Over the past twelve months, we have managed to maintain a relatively safe, stable security environment. What Russia is still managing to do, unfortunately, is to create an insecure psychological environment. But we have shown resilience. For 31 years, Russia has been telling us: ‘You can do nothing without us, without Moscow’. Sure, we can.
An interview by Maria Udrescu, journalist in charge of covering EU affairs, for ‘La Libre’