CHISINAU -- In a move likely to increase tensions with the Kremlin, Moldova has distanced itself further from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) this week by revoking key agreements with the Russian-led intergovernmental organization.
On May 15, the speaker of the Moldovan parliament, Igor Grosu, announced that Moldova will initiate its withdrawal from the CIS's Interparliamentary Assembly, which facilitates cooperation among member parliaments and, according to the organization's website, "serves as a guide in the development and convergence of legislation of the countries of the community."
This, Grosu said, was "a first step" for Moldova's withdrawal from the CIS. "We can no longer sit at a negotiating table with an aggressor state," he said, alluding to Russia's war on Ukraine. Two days later, on May 17, Moldova's pro-Western government approved the termination of two agreements, one regarding the delivery of goods between member states and another concerning border protection.
Chisinau has been distancing itself from the CIS for a while, with Grosu's ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) believing that cutting ties with the organization would enable Moldova to work toward aligning its policies with the European Union, before eventually joining the bloc. But with Russian interference in Moldovan politics said to be intensifying in recent months and a pro-Kremlin domestic opposition, attempting to leave the CIS will be far from straightforward and instead presents another geopolitical tightrope Moldova must walk.
After the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, members of the Moldovan government spoke about the possibility of leaving the CIS, although in May 2022, the country's pro-Western president, Maia Sandu -- who has not attended any meetings of CIS heads of state since she became president in 2020 -- affirmed that the country would not leave the organization.
At the start of 2023, the PAS announced that the country would revoke some of the 300 or so agreements between Moldova and the CIS. Then, in February, Chisinau recalled its representative to the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly, saying that the delegate wasn't needed, as Moldova wasn't very active in the CIS.
Another snub came in April, when the Moldovan government revoked the CIS agreement regarding the activities of Mir, a Moscow-led TV and radio company that broadcasts in Russian across the CIS. Speaking at the time, government spokesman Daniel Voda said that Moldova "will no longer finance propaganda and disinformation," a reference to the channels' coverage of the Ukraine war.
More agreements between Moldova and the CIS are likely to be revoked. The Foreign Ministry told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service on March 20 that the process of rescinding the agreements was complex but that the government had identified a number of cooperation deals that it deemed "unnecessary and inappropriate to be kept in force for the Republic of Moldova...in accordance with the norms of international law and the provisions of national legislation."
'A Body For Russian Influence'
Founded in 1991 after the break-up of the Soviet Union, many participating states initially saw the CIS as a useful forum for economic and political cooperation and the facilitation of trade. The CIS also coordinates election monitoring in its members states, along with combating security challenges and threats. But the organization has been waning for years, with reduced participation and some of its members wary of Russian dominance.
Under the pretext of harmonizing the legislation of its member states, the former Moldovan ambassador to Russia, Anatol Taranu, told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service that the CIS's Interparliamentary Assembly "is nothing but a body through which the Russian Federation tries to influence the legislative activity in the CIS area."
There are currently nine full member states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan and Ukraine are so-called founding states but not full members, and Kyiv stopped participating after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 before withdrawing all its representatives in 2018. Georgia left the organization after its 2008 war with Russia.
For some of Moldova's 20 delegates to the CIS's Interparliamentary Assembly, especially those from the pro-EU ruling party, the organization has been anemic for years, and their participation has diminished. Natalia Davidovici, a deputy from the PAS and also a delegate to the Interparliamentary Assembly, said that since she was elected to the Moldovan parliament in 2021, she had not participated in any meeting or session of the assembly.
"There was no collaboration in this forum. This procedure [of leaving the Interparliamentary Assembly] is a formal one, because we are not working in this structure. Now we are just noting a fact, because we have not collaborated with this structure for two years," Davidovici told RFE/RL.
Vasile Bolea, a deputy for the opposition, pro-Russian Moldovan Socialist Party (PSRM) and another delegate to the CIS assembly, said that he did not participate in last year's assembly because of "logistical problems." There were no more flights to Russia, he said, adding that the Chisinau parliament refused to pay for his travel.
The aim of Moldova's current leaders to distance themselves from the CIS and move closer to the West is a precarious endeavor, and one that could only exacerbate strains between Moscow and Chisinau.
With President Sandu attempting to move Moldova westward out of Russia's orbit, in June 2002, Moldova was granted EU candidate status. And while Moldova is not aiming to join the NATO military alliance, as neutrality is enshrined in its constitution, Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said in November 2022 that that didn't have to translate into self-isolation, demilitarization, or indifference toward world affairs.
None of this has pleased Moscow. Earlier this year, a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin's Human Rights Council, Aleksandr Brod, said that Moldova "continues to adopt the worst Russophobic characteristics of the West." In a January interview with TASS, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second CIS Department, Aleksei Polishchuk, said that Moscow expected that Moldova will remain a member of the CIS and continue to participate in its bodies.
"The CIS is often associated by Moscow with the so-called Russian world," former Ambassador Taranu said. "If the Republic of Moldova were to leave the CIS, it would indirectly declare that it does not belong to the Russian world and has no intention of being in the geopolitical space influenced by the Russian Federation."
Tensions between Chisinau and Moscow have ramped up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, with fears that Russia could expand the war to Moldova, where up to 1,500 Russian troops are based in the breakaway pro-Moscow Transdniester region. The Moldovan government has been critical of Russian aggression in Ukraine, with Sandu saying in May 2022 that Crimea, the Donbas, and Kyiv are all part of Ukraine.
On February 13, Sandu announced that the Kremlin was planning a coup in her country, claiming that Ukrainian intelligence had flagged details of an alleged plot, accusations that the Kremlin denied. More recently, according to leaked U.S. military documents seen by RFE/RL's Russian Service, the Wagner mercenary group that operates alongside Russian troops in Ukraine was involved in alleged Kremlin-led efforts to whip up civil unrest in Moldova.
Whether or not Moldova will leave the CIS is unclear, especially with domestic political parties split over the issue.
The pro-Russian Socialists have said that Moldova will not survive if it loses its status as a full member of the CIS, as it will be unable to strengthen political, economic, social, and spiritual ties with countries in Eurasia. The other main opposition parties, the Moldovan Communist Party and the Shor Party, are both supportive of Russia and want to stay in the CIS.
Asked by RFE/RL about the benefits that participation in the Interparliamentary Assembly brings to Moldova, Socialist deputy Bolea said: "I don't know what advantages we will gain by leaving the assembly, but it will certainly bring more negative consequences than positive ones. We will not be looked on favorably by the representatives of the other countries that are part of the CIS."
The Socialists argue that the decision to leave the CIS can only be made by calling a referendum. The party has also announced a national campaign "to preserve the membership of the Republic of Moldova within the CIS." Those in favor of Moldova staying in the CIS say that leaving the organization could mean dire economic consequences for Moldova and a disruption of trade with countries of the former Soviet Union.
The Moldovan public also seems split on the benefits of CIS membership, although there is a paucity of polling data on the issue. An April poll from the Moldovan-based polling company iDATA shows that 40.6 percent of Moldovans would want to quit the CIS, while 41.2 percent would want to stay.
Taranu says that revoking the agreement to participate in the Interparliamentary Assembly is a first step in the process of Moldova leaving the CIS, a demonstration of the government's seriousness of intent. But don't expect anything to happen any time soon.
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Dorin Recean, who has previously called the CIS an "inefficient organization," said that Moldova's exit from the CIS "could take years" and that the authorities would make sure that revoking agreements with the CIS didn't adversely affect Moldova's citizens. And if Moldova did attempt to move even closer to the West, he warned, Moscow was unlikely to let Chisinau leave the CIS quietly.