In the U.S. we are witnessing firsthand the new hybrid warfare of the 21st century — cyberattacks, disinformation, financial shenanigans, social media manipulation and corruption — a combination of weapons for which the West has yet to find an effective defense. There is, however, one small country that has found a way to deal with this plethora of threats and actually find a way forward.
Moldova, the small former Soviet republic wedged between Ukraine and Romania, has gone through multiple cycles of boom and bust on its quest to become a developed, free, secure, market economy. Corruption in most Eastern European countries is well established and pervasive, a giant sucking hole swallowing up growth and prosperity. It has been no different in Chisinau. And like Ukraine, Moldova’s struggles are vastly complicated by a giant neighbor to the east that will do anything in its power to prevent its onetime republic from being pulled into the West’s orbit, never to return.
Moldova, geographically isolated and small, has two “breakaway” regions, Transdniestria and Gagauzia. In Transdniestria, there are a few thousand Russian troops and a massive Soviet ammunition depot. The two sides fought a war over the future of the enclave in the early 1990s. Tensions are still thick.
However, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel at the end of the first decade of this century, when a liberal government took over from eight years of Communist Party rule. Some analysts even dared to bestow the geopolitical kiss of death, calling Moldova a “success story.”
But it all came crashing down a few years later when it was discovered that almost $1 billion had been stolen from the banking system, one fifth of Moldova’s financial assets. The scheme was years in the making and had the markings and expertise of a foreign intelligence service operation. Confidence in the Moldovan government plummeted, making both multinational donors and ordinary Moldovans furious. The success story was revealed to be a stunning failure. Worse yet, the crisis had the effect of dimming the pro-European Union trajectory the country was on and boosting support for the “Russian way” — which, of course, was the whole point of the exercise, most likely hatched in Moscow.
However, a near-miracle has occurred since 2014, when the EU and others cut off financial aid, thought to be vital to the poorest nation in Europe. A new government was sworn in, led by the Democratic Party (PDM) and, under severe pressure, managed to pull Moldova out of the depths in a very quick period of time.
The PDM launched investigations, arrested the perpetrators of the massive fraud, including the former prime minister, and secured some important convictions. Moldova has declared financial war on Russia, nationalizing the shares of the Russian-owned banks involved in the fraud. It has reformed its electoral code to make it harder for pro-Russian parties to seize power. The government is passing new media reforms to make a dent in the deluge of Russian propaganda that is pouring across its borders and into the kitchens of its citizens.
In short, Moldova has done an amazing job battling the active measures of Russian security services looking to destabilize the country.
It’s a small country, but Moldova is situated right on the fault line between East and West, with Romania, a NATO ally, on one side, and Ukraine involved in its own conflict with Russia.
Moldova deserves Western attention and support. Elections are next year, and if pro-Russian parties are able to squeak out a win, all of the progress will be lost. Even a couple of trips by a high-profile American official would mean a lot to these people right now in their fight.
Moldova, with an abundance of courage and just plain guts, has taken on the Russian bear and survived. America could learn a lot from the Moldovan model.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.