Tuesday , July 16 2024

Interview with H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova, Andrei Popov

 

 

“I am sure that opening a fully-fledged Embassy (Greek Embassy in Chișinău) will significantly contribute to bolstering our relations and will bring our countries even closer. It will also

represent an important sign of political support for Moldova.

The historical site (of one of the houses where Alexandros Ypsilantis was staying preceding the launch of the Greek Revolution) exemplifies so well the special historical bond between Moldova and Greece.”

 

GDL: Moldova’s relations with Greece are based on century-old ties between the two peoples. How can the recent visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic to Moldova be a catalyst for a new impetus in bilateral relations?

AP: Indeed, the Republic of Moldova and Greece enjoy very good and friendly relations that are rooted in a very long tradition of friendship between our peoples. Our capital city of Chisinau was one of the places from where, along with Iasi and Odesa, the leader of the ‘Filiki Eteria’, Alexandros Ypsilantis, started the Greek War of Independence in 1821 that led to the liberation of Greece. One of the houses where Ypsilantis was staying in the weeks preceding the launch of the Revolution was the Chisinau home of his fellow member of the ‘Filiki Eteria’, Michalis Katsikas. Today this is the oldest preserved house in Chisinau.

Symbolically, right after her arrival to Moldova on February 28th, the President of the Hellenic Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, paid a visit to this historical site that exemplifies so well the special historical bond between Moldova and Greece.

Greeks had to fight hard for their liberty and, therefore, they understand well the strive of other nations for independence and freedom. Greece was among the first countries that recognised the independence of the Republic of Moldova proclaimed on August 27th 1991. Although over the last 32 years our bilateral relations have been developing in a positive manner, with no contentious issues on the agenda, at the same time there is still a lot of unfulfilled potential for strengthening and expanding our cooperation, particularly in the fields of energy, trade, investments, tourism and cultural exchanges.

In this respect, the recent visit to Moldova of President Sakellaropoulou – the first such visit since 2004 – represented a continuation of the intensified political dialogue following the meetings that President of Moldova, Maia Sandu, had with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis two months ago in Davos and with President Sakellaropoulou in July last year in Athens.

Regretfully, this visit had to be cut short, as immediately after her meetings with her Moldovan counterpart and with Prime Minister Dorin Recean in the morning of March 1st, President Sakellaropoulou flew to the site of the train accident in Tempi. President Sandu personally conveyed to President Sakellaropoulou her condolences and started the joint press conference with a minute of silence in the memory of the victims of this terrible tragedy.

Our President also accepted the invitation to pay a Official Visit to Greece, that we have to thoroughly prepare, in particular by holding in the coming months the 4th session of the joint intergovernmental commission. On June 1st, Moldova will host the second Summit of the European Political Community at which we also expect the participation of the Greek leadership, along with other 45 invited heads of state and government.

As President Sakellaropoulou announced in Chisinau, Greece is currently examining all options for opening its diplomatic presence in Moldova. So far, we are covered by the Embassy of Greece in Bucharest, Moldova being one of the very few European countries where Greece still doesn’t have an Embassy. In fact, we are the only EU candidate country and the only one from the wider Black Sea region without a Greek Embassy on the ground. I am sure that opening a fully-fledged Embassy will significantly contribute to bolstering our relations and will bring our countries even closer. It will also represent an important sign of political support for Moldova.

 

“Bilateral relations (between Moldova and Greece) have been developing in a positive manner, with no contentious issues on the agenda, at the same time there is still a lot of unfulfilled potential for strengthening and expanding our cooperation, particularly in the fields of energy, trade, tourism and cultural exchanges.”

 

GDL: The visit came at a difficult period for the region, a year after the war against neighbouring Ukraine. This war naturally affects the wellbeing and security of Moldova. How is your country coping with these terrible circumstances?

AP: While, of course, nothing compares to the sufferings of our Ukrainian neighbours, however, Moldova is arguably the second most exposed and most affected country by the Russian aggression. When a year ago, after occupying the Ukrainian city of Kherson, Russia was trying to advance towards Mykolaiv and the Russian tanks were less than 200 km from the Moldovan territory. That was closer than Alexandroupolis is from Thessaloniki. Without the EU or NATO protection and with the Russian troops still illegally stationing in the separatist Transnistrian region of Moldova, we felt threatened and vulnerable.

After last fall Ukraine succeeded to liberate Kherson and as long as it keeps the front line far from our borders, we believe that there is not an eminent military threat to Moldova. However, we do face a lot of hybrid threats, cyber-attacks, fake bomb alerts and a lot of propaganda. We also had a series of paid protests instigated by fugitive Moldovan oligarchs who work together with Russia trying to bring violence on our streets and destabilise the political and economic situation. In spite of this pressure, we managed to keep the country stable and the situation under control.

In Moldova we understand particularly well that Ukraine is fighting not only for their, but for our liberty as well. We are very grateful to Ukraine for this fight, but also to all countries, including Greece, that are helping Ukraine to resist and hopefully to win.

On its part, Moldova is showing an active solidarity with Ukraine. One example in this respect is the assistance and shelter offered to those over 650 thousand Ukrainian refugees who entered Moldova fleeing the war. Some 85 thousand of them remained in Moldova, being mostly hosted by Moldovan families, while the State provided them with food, medical assistance, access to education and the labour market.

Another negative impact of the war rests with the disruption of trade routes and the sharp deterioration of the already difficult socio-economic situation. Gas and electricity tariffs registered a 7-fold and, respectively, a 3-fold increase, while inflation last year was more than 30%. As our energy system is closely interlinked with Ukraine, so every missile targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure affects Moldova, leading on a number of occasions to electrical energy blackouts. Moreover, six Russian missiles have crossed our air space and the debris of several other rockets felt in different parts of Moldova.

 

“In order to strengthen our defence and security capacities, and without prejudice to our neutrality status, we have stepped up our cooperation with partners, both bilaterally, but also with the EU and NATO. The Government has the duty to prepare for the full spectrum of risks and scenarios. And in these endeavours, Moldova is not alone and we thank all our partners for their valuable support.”

 

GDL: According to the Constitution, Moldova is a military neutral country and has been since 1994. Does your Government need to change its neutral military stance within the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

AP: Moldovan constitutional neutrality was proclaimed in 1994 in conjunction with the ban for any deployment of foreign troops on our soil. By making this linkage we had hoped that it would help us solve the Transnistrian conflict and ensure full withdrawal of Russian troops. This didn’t happen. In violation of our neutrality, Russia continues to illegally keep about 1,500 of its troops and 20 thousand tonnes of munitions in the Transnistria region of Moldova.

When the Russian invasion started, we realised that it was not neutrality, but the heroism of the Ukrainian army and Ukrainian society that was protecting us, while our own army was very week and heavily underfunded.

Therefore, in order to strengthen our defence and security capacities, and without prejudice to our neutrality status, we have stepped up our cooperation with partners, both bilaterally, but also with the EU and NATO. The Government has the duty to prepare for the full spectrum of risks and scenarios. And in these endeavours, Moldova is not alone and we thank all our partners for their valuable support.

 

“We see the full integration into the European Union as the only chance to survive as a democracy and to restore the people’s trust in our country’s future.”

 

GDL: Greece opposes any anachronistic, neo-colonial and revisionist policy of any aggressive States and fully supports the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Moldova within its internationally recognised borders. What steps is your Government implementing in order to find a peaceful and sustainable solution to the Transnistria issue?

AP: In spite of the changed regional security context, we are firmly committed to exclusively peaceful means for finding a comprehensive and sustainable solution to this conflict, based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova within its internationally recognised borders and without undermining the European perspective of the Republic of Moldova.

The chances of achieving such a solution will largely depend on when, where and how the war will end. Here, I would also like to emphasise the importance of full withdrawal of Russian troops and ammunition in accordance with International Law and OSCE commitments.

This separatist conflict has been hampering our development for more than three decades. It had at its origins Moscow’s attempt to prevent Moldova from leaving the Soviet Union and, after we became independent, to keep Moldova in its sphere of influence. This is the most important factor that prevented the settlement of this so-called frozen conflict.

As there are no ethnic or religious contradictions between the people on the two sides of the Nistru/Dniestr river, it would have been long ago solved if it was not for the adverse negative external influences. As my father originates from the Transnistrian region, I have many relatives and friends there, and can testify that this conflict is sustained artificially.

Since 2005, negotiations have been taking place in the 5+2 format, that includes OSCE, Russia and Ukraine as mediators and EU and US as observers. As long as Russia is waging its war of aggression against Ukraine, it is hard to imagine how negotiations in this format can resume. In the meantime, the main platform for interaction with Tiraspol is in the 1+1 format of chief negotiators, backed by a dozen sectorial working groups. We are also engaged in a pragmatic dialogue with the Transnistrian de facto administration in order to solve current problems and make sure this conflict doesn’t escalate.

In parallel, we maintain a very favourable regime of trade for Transnistrian businesses, that over the years has led to a complete reorientation of the region’s exports to the EU market. We also encourage people-to-people contacts, confidence building initiatives, joint projects and promote the freedom of movement across the internal administrative line.

 

“Despite all crises, we are making sustained efforts in areas of justice reform, fighting corruption, strengthening institutions, improving business climate, strengthening our energy and economic resilience.”

 

GDL: Greece has devoted attention to the European perspective of Moldova and always supports the country’s accession to the EU without reservations and the granting of EU Candidate Status to it. What are the EU aspirations of the people of Moldova?

AP: For 20 years, European integration has been a strategic objective of Moldova and its people.

An important landmark on this path took place in 2014, when, during the Greek EU Presidency, Moldova signed the Association Agreement with the European Union and our citizens received a visa free travel regime to the Schengen area. Last June, together with Ukraine, we obtained the EU candidate status. Our next goal is to open EU accession negotiations, hopefully by the end of this year, based on accelerating reforms and full implementation of EU recommendations.

Greece has first-hand experienced the positive transformational impact of EU membership and is among the strongest supporters of the EU enlargement process. We value very much this position and rely on Greece’s continues support for our European path.

The way the EU has managed to find joint solutions and to support its Member States during the pandemics and in alleviating the impact of the energy crisis represents another strong argument why we want to become Members of the EU.

Despite all crises, we are making sustained efforts in areas of justice reform, fighting corruption, strengthening institutions, improving business climate, strengthening our energy and economic resilience.

We want to succeed in building a modern and competitive country, a country where institutions and justice work in the interests of citizens and not in the interest of corrupt groups. We see the full integration into the European Union as the only chance to survive as a democracy and to restore the people’s trust in our country’s future.

 

“Implementing European reforms and modernising the country requires a lot of effort and focus. No more time and energy to waste in futile debates exploited for propaganda purposes.”

 

Ambassador Popov recently hosted at his Residence a tasting of Moldovan wines and traditional food, symbolically showcasing the Purcari ‘Freedom Blend’ wine – a unique and courageous blend made out from the three indigenous grape varieties from Moldova/Rara Neagra, Georgia/Saperavi and Ukraine/Bastardo. Pictured above: The Ambassadors of Georgia David Dondua, Slovakia Marcela Hanusova, Estonia and Mr. Karin Rannu, Lithuania Lina Skerstonaite, Romanian Charge d’Affaires Adriana Ciamba, the Ambassadors of Moldova Andrei Popov, Latvia Ieva Briede and Poland Artur Lompart.

GDL: In March the Parliament of Moldova renamed the official language of the country from Moldovan to Romanian. Why was this decision taken now and what is its significance?

AP: Like Cypriots speak the Greek language, Austrians – German, Americans – English, people in the Republic of Moldova and Romania also speak the same language – Romanian. The name ‘Moldovan language’ represents a relic of the Soviet past when Moscow was trying to artificially separate us with Romanians, in spite of our common language, history and culture.

To somehow justify the claim that we speak two different languages, they even changed the script from Latin to Cyrillic. Just imagine how absurd it would be for French or Italian – part of the same Romanic group with Romanian – to be written in Cyrillic letters.

As for the return to its natural Latin script, we did it even before our independence on 31st August 1989 (the date that for the last 33 years has been our second national day – the Romanian Language Day).

But as for the name of the language, the restoration of the scientific and historic truth took us much longer. The March decision of the Parliament to formally change the name from ‘Moldovan’ to ‘Romanian’ is meant to finally put an end to endless political speculations and to allow us instead to concentrate on substantive issues.

Implementing European reforms and modernising the country requires a lot of effort and focus. No more time and energy to waste in futile debates exploited for propaganda purposes.

 

“There are still about 20 thousand Moldovans for whom Greece has become their second home. These people have integrated very well into the Greek society and are binging their contribution to the development and prosperity of the country that was so good to them. They are a true living cultural bridge between our two countries.”

 

GDL: The strengthening of relations between the peoples of Moldova and Greece depend to a large degree on the Greeks who live in Moldova and the Moldovans who turned Greece into their second home. What initiatives should be undertaken to strengthen bilateral and cultural relations in all areas of mutual interest?

AP: Greece was among the first countries that received with open arms tens of thousands of Moldovans who left their country in search of a better income to provide for their families.

Although after the economic crises in Greece many of them returned to Moldova or re-immigrated to Western Europe, there are still about 20 thousand Moldovans for whom Greece has become their second home. These people have integrated very well into the Greek society and are binging their contribution to the development and prosperity of the country that was so good to them. They are a true living cultural bridge between our two countries and we appreciate very much the support provided to them by the Greek State.

The Moldovan diaspora in Greece is organised in several active associations that hold regular cultural events, preserving and showcasing for the Greek public our rich traditions.

Several months ago, an important Social Security Agreement between Moldova and Greece entered into force, that gives the possibility to Moldovans who legally work in Greece to get their pensions based on cumulative contributions made both in Moldova and Greece. We have also finalised negotiations on the Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Driving Licenses that should be signed in the near future.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

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