The executive director of the Platform for Security and Defense Initiatives (PISA), Natalia Albu, spoke in the interview below about the need for the Republic of Moldova to invest in defense in the context of the Russian militarism in Ukraine and the region. We have talked with Natalia Albu about the risks, and threats but also forecasts in the area of security and defense for the current year. Read the interview with the security expert below:
-The year 2023 promises to be at least as bloody on the Ukrainian front. There are voices of military analysts who even anticipate an increase in fighting. How could an eventual intensification of the fighting in Ukraine impact the Republic of Moldova?
-This year brings no prospects or perceptions of an immediate resolution to the violent situations taking place in Ukraine. As for the perception of danger from Ukraine, it is still there. We could say that, depending on how the actions in Ukraine develop, we could talk about a danger of medium intensity in the longer term.
Russia still maintains its initial vision of this military invasion in Ukraine, and we see that it will not reduce the intensity of its actions. Ukraine is resisting, but for the Republic of Moldova, at the political level, there is more talk about the country’s defense needs. We no longer have these fears in society to talk openly about support with military equipment.
In 2022 there was more talk about non-lethal equipment, but now we see a tendency to discuss the need to strengthen the relationship with the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO). If we were to analyze the policies and programs recently debated at the public level regarding the Government’s national development program for 2023, we can notice that the elements related to the security sector reform and the adoption of certain internal crisis management procedures also refer to the security sector and defense.
Violations of our airspace have exposed our vulnerabilities in the air defense capabilities. There are many initiatives in this regard and we see that the society does not show reluctance or fear regarding the necessity to strengthen the army.
-We know that the defense budget was increased by 70 percent for the year 2023. Where this money could be used as a matter of priority to increase the defense capabilities?
-The figure of the budget allocated to defense has amounted this year to 0.55 percent of GDP, but if we take into account the neutrality status, an allocation of 2 percent of GDP would be needed to develop the national army over time.
The gradual increase from 0.55 percent and even up to 2 percent is an indicator showing that concerns towards the military sector are very important in the current security environment. On the other hand, you also need to be credible to donors. We have support from the EU through the European Peace Facility. We have bilateral partnerships with Germany and the USA, but we also need to prove that we are a credible partner that seeks to strengthen its domestic financial capacity through contributions to the defense budget.
In general, this budget will be used to strengthen Moldova’s anti-aircraft defense capabilities and equip military subunits with air surveillance equipment. It is also important to produce the gradual increase of the military forces through the contract. Apart from provision of equipment, we need trained human resources.
There is a need to develop a modernized and socially attractive package for the military. Now, this package is not very attractive in order to contract soldiers at the sergeant and private levels. The public policies developed earlier were very attractive for this category of soldiers. However, over time, the new budget law and other actions led to the diminution of this social package.
Even though it would seem that the defense budget is increasing, a big part will be largely used to increase attractiveness and development of the national military.
The need for defense investment
-We know Germany has sent three Piranha armoured personnel carriers and another 19 are on the way. Can we expect similar aid with military equipment from other countries as well, and where could it come from?
-Yes, there has been a lot of talk about the provision of military equipment by Germany, specifically the provision of these Piranha-type armoured vehicles, some of which are produced in Switzerland, which is a neutral country. This equipment comes to complement and replace the old one, which cannot be repaired and used. We are talking about the equipment from the 60’s – 80’s.
We need to explain to the citizens that this is not about militarization and preparation for war, rather about proactive actions by the army. The nature of wars is changing and so are the threats, so this equipment will contribute to the development of the national military. On the other hand, we have a new tool, namely the European Peace Facility which is a programme launched in 2021-2022 to enhance the defence capabilities of partner countries in the EU’s neighbourhood.
There are programmes and agreements, which will be implemented at the national level, regarding the provision not only of non- lethal equipment, part of the EUR 7 mln package announced in 2022, but also of equipment that will come in the next 36 months in the form of logistics elements such as armoured personnel carriers, medical equipment, etc.
Also, the cyber defence is very important for the defence sector. This together with staff training will also be ensured through this programme in partnership with the EU. We can see now that the Ukrainian military is also having certain military exercises in the EU to be able to handle this equipment.
-President Maia Sandu has stated recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos that she had asked the strategic partners of the Republic of Moldova for anti-aircraft defence systems. Can such help materialize?
-If these actions are integrated in the National Army Development Programme for the years 2023 - 2025, there are already trends or confirmations regarding support in the field of airspace security. External partners who want to strengthen the region are interested in equipping the Republic of Moldova with air defence systems to ensure their own security.
Although this neutrality status is being discussed, it also does not bring security guarantees. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the Republic of Moldova participated for the first time, other aspects were also discussed, such as the financial support package related to inflation in the country or the energy security. All the above require foreign assistance. It just depends on its shape.
War and propaganda
-How do we see the Republic of Moldova in 2023 from the point of view of information security? Could the pro- Russian propaganda amplify in the Republic of Moldova? What measures could be taken to reduce this phenomenon?
-Russian propaganda as an element of Russia’s hybrid warfare in the region will not diminish or decrease in intensity. This will continue, because the Moldovan society remains divided on the country’s development path.
There are also differences in the perception of vulnerabilities by the authorities and the society at large. People expect immediate results and from this perspective the intensity of propaganda will maintain and will partially succeed. We saw the propaganda during the COVID- 19 pandemic, then in the case of the suspension of the licenses of certain TV stations. The Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) has also taken certain actions on punishing the people who use hate speech, promote phobias and messages of war.
Attempts are being made to adopt legislation on combating malicious information coming from outside. I am talking about this package of laws discussed very intensively at the end of last year regarding additional powers for the Security and Intelligence Service in this area. It is becoming clearer now that there is a need to combat propaganda.
It is not enough to just combat this misinformation by shutting down websites or TV stations, there is a need for measures to counterbalance such actions. The informational space which was blocked should somehow be occupied so that it is not used again by those forces who want to destabilize the situation in the country.
That is why we must focus on strategic communication and there are already programmes and initiatives to develop this segment.
-How important will the reforms with regard to the Security and Intelligence Service be? Can SIS function as a genuine Western-style intelligence institution, or does it still have Soviet-type reminiscences?
-There is an imprint of Soviet nature in the SIS management culture. There is a perception that the institution was controlled by the intelligence services of the Russian Federation. This problem also reflects on the other institutions that are part of the security and defense sector. However, there is an intention to modernize an strengthen SIS in order to work in the national interest.
The main issue discussed in the above-mentioned draft laws on increasing the SIS powers is the security mandate that would allow SIS to act by avoiding the bureaucratic procedures until a criminal action is initiated for the SIS to take actions. Especially in the case of propaganda, fake news, or hate speech. If these legislative packages pass the Parliament, then the SIS will be allowed to act immediately. An organizational culture is needed so that, over time, we reach the level of operation of the special services of other countries.
-Can we expect events to be orchestrated by Moscow in the separatist region of Transnistria, but also in the UTA Gagauza? How prepared should the authorities be to prevent destabilization in these regions?
-Largely, this danger existed also last year. With the intensification of Russian military actions in Ukraine, I do not think that Russia’s agenda for the Republic of Moldova has disappeared. The vulnerability of the Republic of Moldova regarding the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict and that in the Gagauzia region remains. It will always exist, and so will the danger of exploiting these vulnerabilities.
Chisinau’s preventive actions should be taken through soft tools. We see this with regard to energy security and the policies pursued by Chisinau in this regard in relation to the right bank of the Dniester, in order not to allow Russia to destabilize the situation through direct involvement.
On the other hand, we have Gagauzia, where Moscow used this autonomy to undermine the Government’s actions, especially when it comes to European integration.
As in other sectors, more decisive steps are needed to promote the European integration. Many people from those regions do not know what happens in the country, because they do not speak Romanian and English to read or watch relevant news. They are influenced by the news coming from the Russian Federation.
The year 2023 will be a complex one for the Republic of Moldova, because it will have to integrate the needs of the EU integration process in all segments. This refer also to the defence and security. And this should also take into account the UTA Gagauzia.