Foreign Policy Blogs

On Biden's Moldova Visit

On Biden's Moldova Visit

Joe Biden made a pit stop in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, during his recent trip to Europe. On paper, the visit was designed to acknowledge the people behind the tiny former Soviet satellite’s minor color revolution (and some say first Twitter revolution) in 2009.

But nothing happens in Eastern Europe without a Russian subtext, and so it is that the Russians have expressed some vexation over Biden’s visit — in particular, over Washington’s decision to suddenly thrust itself into negotiations between Moldova and its heavily Slavic breakaway territory, Transnistria (which though only about the size of Spokane County, Washington, has over 500,000 people).

“We can handle it without the Americans,” the head of the Duma’s foreign relations committee told Time, though he also compared managing Transnistria to trying to hold a suitcase without a handle.

Transnistrians have in fact proclaimed their independence from Moldova, but this has not been recognized by any country, including Russia. However, the region does host a Russian army division, and a principal Russian gas artery to Moldova also runs through the territory. In 2005 the Russians played landlord and cut off supplies during a pricing dispute.

The stakes here are more or less comparable to the ones for the Crimea in Ukraine and Abkhazia and Ossetia in Georgia: small but significant provinces of Russian support constantly antagonizing governments trying to break free from Russian influence and curry favor with the West and the US.

But as the Time piece observes, given that President Obama has made a Russian reset a cornerstone of his foreign policy, the U.S. is unlikely to intervene too forcefully. Thus it is difficult to read more into Biden’s visit than an acknowledgment of Moldova’s desire to Westernize.