In recent years, Moldova has made notable steps to improve its democratic institutions and combat corruption. President Maia Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) have spearheaded wide-ranging reforms and backed a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases. Moldova has also made strides toward greater integration with the European Union (EU). In 2022, the country applied to join the EU and in June of that year was granted “Candidate” status, alongside Ukraine. The EU supplied Moldova with a list of nine recommendations for further improvements to democratic institutions and the rule of law in the country, which leaders in Chisinau have pledged to fulfill.
At the same time as Moldova attempts to strengthen its democracy and bolster its ties with the West, it remains under persistent threat from Russia. Russia has attempted to stoke unrest in Moldova, interfere in its domestic politics, and leverage its supply of energy resources to the country. Russia further maintains a garrison of roughly 2,000 troops in the Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria. Beyond the direct threat of Russian influence operations, Moldova also faces the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war has contributed to significant increases in prices for food and energy. Furthermore, more than 800,000 refugees have entered the country since February 2022, and roughly 100,000 remain in the country still.
Against the backdrop of opportunities and challenges facing Moldova, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing featuring senior U.S. and Moldovan parliamentary leadership to explore how the United States can continue to support Moldova in its democratic reform agenda, continue its anti-corruption efforts, and achieve durable security for itself and the region.
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Bischof testified about the state of U.S. support for Moldova. He emphasized that Moldova stood “on the frontline of our strategic priorities for Europe,” and praised the country’s recent efforts to implement reforms. Mr. Bischof highlighted that the Biden administration remains committed to supporting Moldova’s efforts to address the effects of the war, bolster its democratic and economic resilience, and achieve its goals of EU integration. To that effect, he noted that the administration has devoted $628 million to the country since February 2022.
Mr. Bischof also detailed the risks that Russia poses to the country’s security. These come both from influence operations and from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen several Russian incursions into Moldovan airspace. He emphasized that the administration has increased its security assistance to Moldova nearly tenfold in recent years to assist the country in safeguarding itself against Russian aggression.
The President of Moldova’s Parliament, Igor Grosu, then testified about the country’s resilience in the face of hybrid threats from Russia, its ongoing commitment to continue reforms, and its determination to achieve EU ascension. Mr. Grosu stressed that Moldova has worked tirelessly to ensure peace and stability in the country amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and under a broad spectrum of hybrid threats from Russia.
Mr. Grosu thanked the United States for providing crucial support to help Moldova withstand threats from Russia and work toward fulfilling the country’s reform agenda. He also emphasized the need for continued support, including through legislation such as the “Euro-Atlantic Solidarity and Major Democratic Ally Act of 2022,” which would allow for greater U.S. Moldova defense cooperation. Mr. Grosu further stressed that, against the destabilizing backdrop of Russia’s war, continued support for Ukraine was also essential support for Moldova. Doina Gherman, the Chairwoman of the Moldovan Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee underscored this sentiment, imploring members “not to uncouple Moldova from Ukraine because a safe Ukraine is a safe Moldova, and a safe Ukraine is a safe Europe.”
Amb. (ret.) William Hill, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center gave the final testimony. He stressed that although Moldova’s reform agenda was moving the country in a positive direction, progress will take time. Amb. Hill also highlighted the numerous challenges and threats that Moldova currently faces but observed that the present moment also offers opportunities. In particular, he suggested that recent successes in negotiations surrounding Transnistria and changing dynamics of Russian influence in the region opened a window for a resolution of the conflict. Mr. Hill urged the Sandu government not to miss this opportunity.
Members expressed their support for Moldova’s reforms and condemned Russia’s malign attempts to exert influence over the country. They also questioned the witnesses about the extent and impact of current U.S. support to Moldova and inquired into the most effective ways that the United States can continue to support a secure and democratic Moldova moving forward.