Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Perils of Talks on Russia's War in Ukraine

By Nataliya Bugayova with George Barros

Key Takeaway: The West is drifting toward empowering Vladimir Putin as he continues the illegal Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Putin’s priority in the December 9 Normandy Four talks with Ukraine, France, and Germany is not peace in Ukraine. Putin is positioning Russia to regain control of Ukraine’s decision-making, legitimize a revanchist foreign policy, and remove international constraints on his ambitions. Putin seeks to secure a renewed, exploitative gas deal with Ukraine and the legitimization of Russia’s proxies from the upcoming meeting. The West must ensure that Russia does not pressure Ukraine into compromising its sovereignty by conceding on either Donbas, where Russia is waging war, or Ukrainian energy independence. Putin’s success in Ukraine would not only put the future of Europe at risk – it would also empower Putin to accelerate his global campaigns.

The Kremlin’s Pre-Normandy Meeting Campaign

Russia has waged war on Ukraine since 2014. Russia, in concert with its proxies, continues its illegal occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and of territory in Ukraine’s Donbas region. The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany are expected to meet in Paris on November 9 regarding the conflict in Ukraine. Representatives from this group – the Normandy Four – have met on a number of occasions since 2014 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.[1] The talks stalled after the Normandy Four last met in 2016 as Russian-controlled forces continued to violate the ceasefire and the Kremlin continued to demand the legitimization of its proxies.[2]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has exploited Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s peace aspirations. Zelensky, in office since May 2019, made an election promise to Ukrainian voters: to achieve peace in Ukraine. Zelensky has called for talks with Putin since he won election in April 2019.[3] Putin responded to Zelensky’s overtures with a list of demands. The Kremlin pushed for Ukraine to accept the so-called “Steinmeier Formula.”[4] The proposal would grant Russian-occupied regions “self-governance” after they hold local elections. Zelensky also agreed to withdraw troops in three locations in Ukraine. Zelensky agreed to meet both demands despite major domestic backlash.[5]

Photo: Volodymyr Zelensky visits the frontlines in Eastern Ukraine, October 2019 (President of Ukraine).

Putin has made no meaningful concessions, continued to build pressure, and kept Ukraine on the defensive over the past six months. Kremlin-controlled forced have continued to launch daily attacks, killing two Ukrainian servicemen as recently as December 1.[6] Russia has expanded control over its proxies, indicating that Putin has no intention to cede influence.[7] The Kremlin-controlled, self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DNR) proposed extending its borders to the entire Donetsk region – more than half of which is controlled by Ukraine – in late November.[8] The Kremlin dismissed the idea of dissolving the DNR and the neighboring “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LNR). It took this position despite the premise of the Steinmeier Formula: that elections should be conducted under Ukrainian law, implying Ukrainian control over the territories (which are within Ukraine’s borders).[9] Russian-controlled forces delayed the disengagement in at least one of three locations by violating the ceasefire and restricted the movement of international observers.[10] Putin launched a disinformation campaign accusing Ukraine of stalling the peace process, and publicly questioned Zelensky’s ability to control his forces.[11] Putin tried to pressure Zelensky to disengage Ukrainian troops along the entire conflict line that lies entirely inside Ukraine’s borders.[12] The Kremlin has a history of applying pressure in advance of major talks. Russia launched some of its deadliest attacks against Ukrainian forces in 2014 and 2015 to compel former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to accept unfavorable Minsk I and Minsk II peace deals.

Putin also conducted outreach to key European leaders, attempting to exploit their desire to end the conflict in Ukraine. An end to the conflict – whether or not it delivers a credible peace – would provide an excuse for Germany and France to lift sanctions and reestablish economic ties with Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron, the host of the Normandy Four talks, has called for reengaging Russia and stated in November that Russia is not a threat to NATO.[13] German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin agreed during a call in November that Ukraine’s Donbas region should receive a “special status” – Putin’s central demand.[14]

The Kremlin continues to hold Ukraine in suspense ahead of the talks. The Kremlin’s representatives have urged attendees “not to set high expectations” for the talks, continued to obfuscate the agenda, and said that a planned one-on-one meeting between Putin and Zelensky might be “informal.”[15]

Ukraine is thus coming to the negotiating table weakened and with its sovereignty at risk.

The Stakes in Paris

Legitimization of Russian Intervention

A major risk for Ukraine and the West is the legitimization of Russia’s violation of sovereignty through military force and the resulting consequences. This risk will be realized if Russia pressures Ukraine to hold elections in Donbas or to grant special status to the region without Ukraine regaining full military and political control over its territory.

Putin has said that the special status issue will be central in the Normandy Four meeting.[16] The temporary Ukrainian law that provides Donbas with a limited autonomy expires on December 31, 2019.[17] Putin wants Ukraine to extend this law and eventually enshrine a much broader autonomy for Donbas in the Ukrainian Constitution. Putin also wants Ukraine to hold elections in the occupied territories that Russia can manipulate to retain control over its proxies. The Kremlin will insist that Ukraine satisfies political preconditions – elections – before Ukraine regains control over its border. This way the Kremlin can maintain control over its proxies in signature “hybrid warfare” fashion – by masking the proxies as local police, for example. Zelensky suggested on December 6 an idea to create a municipal guard in Donbas that would include representatives of Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the “non-combatant” elements of the LNR and DNR structures.[18] This concept is exactly the type of hybrid vehicle that the Kremlin would seek to hijack and exploit.

Any legitimization of Russian-controlled regions would irreversibly undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty. Putin would gain a permanent lever of influence over Ukraine’s policies. Russia might also attempt to use the precedent of Donbas as a model to push over time for the federalization of other regions in Ukraine. Major concessions to Russia will also fuel tension between Ukraine’s civil society and Zelensky. This tension could trigger an internal conflict in the most dangerous scenario, which would benefit the Kremlin. Ukraine would also lose leverage with Russia and the West if it voluntarily legitimizes Russian intervention.

Acceptance of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine would also legitimize Putin’s broader foreign policy vision. Russia would have established the principle that it can invade another country, manipulate the political environment, and force the country to submit to its power – all while claiming to support “peace” and presenting itself as a neutral arbiter. This will open an opportunity for Putin to legitimize its other illegal formations (e.g., in Georgia’s Abkhazia). It will create an international precedent that other countries can emulate.

Finally, submission to Russia’s hostility will empower Putin. Ukraine is a major dampener on Putin’s ambitions. Putin’s Ukraine campaign consumes a large number of the limited, high-quality assets Russia has for such interventions; drains Putin’s own bandwidth; and expends additional resources. Success in Ukraine will free up Putin’s resources and enable him to press his advantage elsewhere, from expanding Russia’s military footprint to undermining NATO to regaining suzerainty over the territories of the former Soviet Union.

Energy Dependence

Another core risk to Ukraine’s sovereignty is renewed Ukrainian dependence on Russian energy, which will likely become a topic of discussion in Paris. The Kremlin suggested at the last minute that Putin and Zelensky might discuss an existing Russia-Ukraine gas deal, which expires on January 1, at the Normandy Four talks.[19] Russia recently cleared the final procedural obstacle to the construction of its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. [20] The pipeline’s construction has been delayed, and Putin has claimed that Russia will continue using gas transit through Ukraine, but its eventual development would enable Russia to bypass the Ukrainian transit system.[21] The Nord Stream 2 project both weakens Ukraine’s position in the long term and strengthens Russia’s leverage over Europe.

Putin is trying to dilute Ukraine’s leverage by bundling the issues of energy and “peace” talks. Ukraine currently has a strong negotiating position despite the Nord Stream 2 pipeline advances. Ukraine has worked diligently to reduce its dependency on Russian gas and has gained room to maneuver.[22] Russia stands to lose revenue from gas sales and influence from the non-renewal of the contract. Russia, for example, also depends on Ukraine to deliver on its energy deals in Moldova, where Putin has a major ongoing effort to regain influence.[23] Russia also wants Ukraine to drop international arbitration claims against Russian gas giant Gazprom. Gazprom owes Ukraine $3 billion.[24] Ukraine’s additional outstanding claims against Gazprom total about $22 billion.[25]

Putin might present Zelensky with an empty concession on Donbas to secure a new energy deal on Russia’s terms.[26] The Kremlin is aware of the domestic pushback to Zelensky’s efforts to reach a deal with Russia (Ukrainian civil society members and military veterans are already preparing a major rally post-Normandy Four talks if Zelensky concedes to Putin).[27] Russia would then use a new energy deal as a major vehicle to rebuild its influence in Ukraine over time. ISW forecasted that Russia would attempt to regain its influence through economic vehicles during Zelensky’s presidency.[28]

What Can the West Do?

The West – including Normandy Four group members Germany and France – must ensure that Russia does not pressure Ukraine into compromising its sovereignty at the talks. Putin has been setting favorable conditions for these talks, but he has a number of vulnerabilities. The West has an opportunity to counter the Kremlin’s aggression and support Ukraine’s sovereignty in a number of ways:
  • Empower Ukraine to Dismiss Bad Deals. The West should provide Ukraine political cover to walk away from a deal that would surrender its sovereignty without being labeled as a “spoiler of peace” – false framing that the Kremlin continues to employ.
  • Reinforce Red Lines. The West should reinforce Zelensky’s original demand to reestablish the Ukrainian government’s full control of its borders before implementing political steps, such as elections.[29] The West should bolster Ukraine’s position that it is not possible to enshrine a “special status” for Donbas in Ukraine’s Constitution – and support Kyiv in defending the principle that Russian interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs, including the contents of its constitution, is unacceptable. The West should also help prevent the Kremlin from exploiting Ukraine’s ongoing decentralization reforms to mask Russia’s efforts to federalize Ukraine.
  • Deny Legitimacy. Western leaders should call out the Kremlin for what it is: a belligerent and not a mediator in the Ukrainian conflict. Putin does care about the perception of his legitimacy and invests resources in cultivating this perception. Being viewed as a legitimate actor is key to Putin’s core objective: to position Russia as a great power. The West should deny Russia international legitimacy until it changes its malign behavior. Conversely, the West should amplify the reality that Ukraine is legitimately defending its borders and its sovereignty against unprovoked and illegal Russian aggression.
  • Preserve Ukraine’s Leverage. Putin is bundling discussions regarding energy supplies with the Normandy Four talks to weaken Ukraine’s negotiating position. The West should deny this linkage and instead preserve Ukraine’s strong negotiation hand. The West should not push Ukraine to extend the existing law (expiring December 31) that provides limited special status to the DNR and LNR entities. The Kremlin’s proxies derive legitimacy for their regional autonomy in part from this law. The law’s expiration provides Kyiv a degree of leverage.
  • Leverage Sanctions. The West should not underestimate the value of sanctions against Russia, the importance of which Putin is intentionally downplaying. Sanctions, while they have not changed Putin’s intent, have dampened Russian aggression and raised the costs required for Putin to keep his inner circle and Russia’s population content. Putin is investing resources in a campaign to lift sanctions imposed following Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. The West should hold firmly its position that it will maintain and even strengthen these sanctions until Russia changes its behavior.
  • Demand Concessions. The West should insist that the complete and verifiable dissolution of all Russian-controlled armed forces and political entities, including the DNR and LNR, precedes any discussion of the “special status” issue. The West should help Ukraine push back on additional Russian demands to withdraw Ukrainian troops. Zelensky has established an unambiguous intent to move towards peace. The West should demand real concessions from Russia as a precondition to any further steps from Ukraine.

[1]Minsk II Protocol was signed at the Normandy Format meeting in February 2015. The Minsk II Protocol contains a package of measures aimed at de-escalating conflict levels in Donbas. The Minsk II Protocol includes several security and political provisions. These include establishing a ceasefire, mutual withdrawal of heavy weapons, reestablishment of Ukrainian government’s control over Ukraine’s border, amnesty for Donbas militants from criminal prosecution, and a special status in Ukrainian law granting regional autonomy for the DNR and LNR. The Minsk II Protocol has several Kremlin-preferable preconditions. The main aspect the Kremlin exploits is the Minsk II Protocol’s lack of an implementation plan. The Kremlin demands that the political preconditions, such as elections and permanent special status, are satisfied first. Such a course of action would legitimize its proxies and undermine Ukrainian sovereignty.
[2] The Normandy Four last met in Berlin in October, 2016. After that meeting, Kremlin-controlled forces continued to violate regularly a ceasefire in Donbas and refused to negotiate in good faith with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Poroshenko and Putin’s fundamental disagreement was over the sequencing for implementing the Minsk II Protocol’s provisions. Putin argues the political provisions (Donbas special status and local elections) should be implemented first. This would legitimize the Kremlin’s proxies in Ukraine and undermine Ukrainian sovereignty. Poroshenko pushed back and demanded that the security provisions (a sustained ceasefire, the full withdrawal of Russian military assets, and the Ukrainian Government’s reestablishment of control over Ukraine’s border) be implemented first.
[3] “Zelensky’s first steps as president in case he wins election runoff – media,” UNIAN, April 10, 2019, https(:)//
[4] Zelensky agreed to the so-called “Steinmeier Formula” on October 1 that risks holding elections in Donbas on Russian terms. Thousands of Ukrainians have since been protesting in Kyiv against what they view is a capitulation to Russia. The formula – at least in its current form – provides no mechanism for the verified withdrawal of Russian forces from Donbas during the elections. The presence of Russian troops precludes a legitimate vote. The Kremlin claimed that it does not have control over the DNR and LNR on October 7 in response to a question about the Kremlin’s willingness to guarantee the disengagement of its proxies. This feint indicates the Kremlin’s unwillingness to guarantee disengagement of its forces. The Kremlin might create a veneer of compliance using its signature hybrid tactics. For example, it may order some of its proxies to temporarily stand down or leave the territory, but the majority of the Russia-controlled forces will likely stay. This plan also ignores Russia’s control of the information space in Donbas that would influence any vote. Nataliya Bugayova, “Russia in Review: Putin Advances in Ukraine and its Neighboring States,” The Institute for the Study of War, October 15, 2019.
[5] “Thousands in Kyiv Protest President's Plan for Local Elections in Eastern Ukraine,” Voice of America, October 6, 2019,
[6] [“Details about the Deaths of SBU Spetsnaz in Donbas Emerge,”] Lenta, December 5, 2019, https://lenta(.)ua/vyyasnilis-obstoyatelstva-gibeli-na-donbasse-ukrainskih-spetsnazovtsev-iz-sbu-alfa-30723/.
[7] Nataliya Bugayova, “Russia in Review: Putin Advances in Ukraine and Its Neighboring States,” The Institute for the Study of War, October 15,2019,;[“Fighters from 'DNR' and 'LNR' Created a New Cross Border Concern,”] Lenta, August 8, 2019, https://lenta((.))ua/boeviki-iz-dnr-i-lnr-sozdali-novyy-transgranichnyy-kontsern-20873/; [“‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ Combined the Railways in the Concern ‘Railways of Donbass,”] Antikor, August 19, 2019, https://antikor(.), [“The Russian Federation is Preparing Occupied Donbas’ Banking System for Integration – InformNapalm,”] Gordon, August 21, 2019, https://gordonua(.)com/news/war/rf-gotovit-bankovskuyu-sistemu-okkupirovannogo-donbassa-k-integracii-informnapalm-1210939.html.
[8] [“Pushilin Commented on the Passage of the DNR Law on Borders,”] RIA Novosti, November 29, 2019, https://ria(.)ru/20191129/1561764355.html.
[9] [“Pushkov Commented on Kyiv’s Demand to Dissolve the DNR and LNR,”] RIA Novosti, October 16, 2019, https://ria(.)ru/20191016/1559836500.html; [“Putin Spoke about the Steinmeier Formula,”] RIA Novosti, November 14, 2019, https://ria(.)ru/20191114/1560957297.html.
[10] “OSCE Daily Report 259/2019,” Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, November 1, 2019, https((:))//
[11] [“Putin: Zelensky Can Not Provide Withdrawal of Forces and Weapons from Donbas Because of Nationalists,”] TASS, October 11, 2019, https://tass(.)ru/politika/6988942.
[12] [“Putin Called for the Withdrawal of Troops Along the Entire Front Line in Donbas as Soon as Possible,”] Ukraina, November 15, 2019, https://ukraina(.)ru/news/20191115/1025679793.html.
[13] Mike Brest, “Macron says Russia is no longer NATO's enemy,” Washington Examiner, November 29, 2019,
[14] [“They Want a Special Status for Donbass: What Putin and Merkel Agreed on has Become Known,”] Obozrevatel, November 15, 2019, https://www.obozrevatel(.)com/abroad/putin-pogovoril-s-merkel-pro-donbass-novosti-mira-segodnya.htm.
[15] [“Putin Gave a Negative Outlook on the Normandy Meeting,”] Zik, November 30, 2019, https://zik(.)ua/ru/news/2019/11/30/u_putina_dali_negativnyy_prognoz_otnositelno_normandskoy_vstrechi_947507.
[16] [“’There is Nothing to Talk About’ Without the Law on Donbas Special Status, at the "Normandy Four" – Putin,”] Ukraina, November 15, 2019, https://ukraina(.)ru/news/20191115/1025680515.html.
[17] If the special status is not renewed by Ukrainian Parliament (the Rada) on December 31, 2019, the existing special status law is nullified via the sunset clause. Ukraine first adopted a law providing special status to the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in October in 2014. The law granted the DNR and LNR limited regional autonomy, self-determination in cultural and linguistic policies, a guarantee of amnesty for Russian proxies from criminal prosecution that the Kremlin demanded in the Minsk II Protocol. The Kremlin frames these political concessions as the necessary minimum requirements to resume diplomatic contact with Ukraine on the war in Donbas. The law on special status had a three-year sunset clause. The Rada passed a law on October 4, 2018, to extend Donbas special status’ sunset clause to December 31, 2019.
[18] [“Zelensky Proposed Creating of a ‘Municipal Guard’ in Donbas. The Kremlin Reacted,”] NV UA, December 6, 2019, https://nv(.)ua/ukraine/politics/zelenskiy-hochet-sozdat-municipalnuyu-strazhu-na-donbasse-reakciya-rossii-novosti-ukrainy-50057788.html.
[19] [“Putin Plans to Discuss a Gas Contract with Zelensky in Paris – Peskov,”] 112 Ukraine, November 11, 2019, https://112(.)ua/politika/putin-planiruet-v-parizhe-obsudit-s-zelenskim-gazovyy-kontrakt-peskov-516753.html.
[20] Stine Jacobsen, Vladimir Soldatkiv, “Nord Stream 2 clears major hurdle as Denmark OKs gas pipeline,” Reuters, October 30, 2019, “Russia won’t stop gas transit through Ukraine when Nord Stream 2 becomes operational – Putin,” RT, December 6, 2019, https://www.rt(.)com/business/475192-russia-nord-stream2-ukraine/.
[21] “Russia won’t stop gas transit through Ukraine when Nord Stream 2 becomes operational – Putin,” RT, December 6, 2019, https://www.rt(.)com/business/475192-russia-nord-stream2-ukraine/.
[22] Andriy Kobolyev, CEO of Ukraine’s state-owned gas operator Naftogaz, praised Ukraine’s energy independence from Russia on November 26. Kobolyev noted that Ukraine went from being "more than 90 percent" dependent on Russian gas in 2013 to not importing any Russian natural gas since 2015. Ukraine’s domestic gas production satisfies approximately two-thirds of Ukraine’s gas demand, with the remainder imported from over 65 companies from 18 different European suppliers. “Naftogaz CEO Touts Ukraine’s First Receipt Of U.S. Liquefied Gas,” Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, November 27, 2019,; [“Ukrainians Will be Offered the Insurance on the Gas Prices: What Does it Mean,”] Hvylya, November 22, 2019, https://hvylya(.)net/news/digest/ukraincam-predlozhat-strahovuju-cenu-na-gaz-chto-jeto-znachit.html.
[23] Russia needs Ukraine’s gas transit system to supply Moldova. Russia promised a significant gas discount to the new government in Moldova. Starting on January 1, 2020, Moldova will receive Russian gas at $173 per thousand cubic meters compared to the current price of $235. This is a 26% price reduction and will impact Gazprom’s income. Russian gas exports to Moldova depend on transit through Ukraine’s gas transit system. Russia’s logistical methods for gas export to Moldova are limited without Ukrainian transit. Ukraine offered Moldova’s state gas operator Ukrainian gas if Gazprom’s gas transit contract is not renewed. Nataliya Bugayova with Mason Clark and Andre Biere, “Russia in Review: the Kremlin Reverses Setbacks in Moldova,” The Institute for the Study of War, December 6, 2019,
[24] “Ukraine’s Naftogaz Pledges to Press on with Russia’s Gas Talks,” Reuters, November 25, 2019,
[25] Russia and Ukraine’s state-owned gas operators, Gazprom and Naftogaz, have been in deadlocked negotiations since September 2019. Ukrainian officials have signaled the Ukrainian Government is prepared for the potential end of gas transit with Russia. Ukraine stopped importing Russian gas for domestic consumption in 2015. Gazprom and Naftogaz have not been able to agree to renew their contract because Gazprom demands Ukraine must drop all its claims in international arbitration. Naftogaz previously said it would only drop its pending claims against Gazprom (which currently total $22 billion) if Gazprom presents incentives equivalent to the same value, such as those that could result from a lucrative long-term gas transit deal. Ukraine is not willing to nullify the $3 billion in damages Gazprom already owes Ukraine. Ukrainian officials argue that backing away from its claims makes is “not economically feasible,” as it means forgoing the $3 billion in awards already granted to Ukraine. “Naftogaz to Push Forward with Gazprom Legal Claims Despite Transit Warning,” S&P Global, November 13, 2019,
[26] The Kremlin demands Ukraine nullify the $3 billion in damages Gazprom already owes Ukraine over breeches in contracts and the pending $22 billion in pending international arbitration. The Kremlin also maintains Ukraine’s Antimonopoly Committee must annul its fine on Gazprom for alleged abuse of its dominant position and Naftogaz must withdraw its application to the European Commission to initiate an investigation against Gazprom for foul play. Stuart Elliott, “Gazprom makes official proposal to Ukraine's Naftogaz for 1-year gas transit deal,” S&P Global, November 18, 2019, https://www.spglobal(.)com/platts/en/market-insights/latest-news/natural-gas/111819-gazprom-makes-official-proposal-to-ukraines-naftogaz-for-1-year-gas-transit-deal.
[27] [“Tents and Sandwiches at Bankova: What for Maidan against Capitulation is being Prepared Against Zelensky,”] Depo.Ua, December 6, 2019, https://www.depo(.)ua/ukr/life/v-ochikuvanni-zradi-na-normandskiy-zustrichi-yak-v-kievi-gotuyutsya-do-tretogo-maydanu-201912061075415.
[28] Nataliya Bugayova, “Ukraine's New President: The Stakes for Ukraine and the West,” Institute for the Study of War, April 22, 2019,
[29] Oleksyi Vinogradov, Tetyana Yakubovych, [“The border should be ours,”] Radio Liberty, October 2, 2019,

Friday, December 6, 2019

Iraq Situation Report: November 15 - 28

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is assessing the ongoing unrest in Iraq and its effects on political-security dynamics. The Iraq Situation Report (SITREP) series summarizes key events and likely developments to come. This set of Iraq SITREP maps covers the period November 15 - 28, 2019.





Russia in Review: The Kremlin Reverses Setbacks in Moldova

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW mailing list.

Authors: Nataliya Bugayova with Mason Clark and Andre Briere

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin is reversing setbacks it experienced in Moldova in recent years. Moldova paused key bilateral cooperation mechanisms with Russia over the last three years and expelled numerous Russian officials. Moldova’s Constitutional Court suspended the powers of the Kremlin-backed Moldovan President Igor Dodon five times in 2018.[1] The Kremlin has managed in the past six months to restart all key bilateral mechanisms with Moldova, sign several new deals, and host the Moldovan prime minister in Moscow after a seven-year hiatus. President Dodon secured control of the cabinet of ministers, Moldova’s security services, and the capital in November. The Kremlin achieved this progress by sidelining two competitors to its interests in Moldova – oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc in June 2019 and pro-European Prime Minister Maia Sandu in November 2019 – in a phased campaign. The Kremlin has not yet solidified its gains; it will require significant resources to maintain its position. Russia is nevertheless making progress in forcing Moldova back into Russia’s orbit. A successful Russian effort in Moldova, which shares borders with Romania and Ukraine, would expand pressure on NATO. Russia would leverage its dominance in Moldova to build on its campaign to assert influence in Ukraine. Russia also seeks to legitimize its military intervention in Moldova’s Transnistria region and set a precedent for the legitimization of its interventions elsewhere.

Moldovan President Igor Dodon forced Prime Minister Maia Sandu to resign on November 12. Kremlin-backed Dodon successfully facilitated a no-confidence vote against Sandu’s government and ended the coalition between his Socialist Party (PSRM) and Sandu’s pro-European ACUM party.[2] Dodon called for the vote after Sandu attempted to alter the procedure for appointing the general prosecutor. Sandu was likely trying to limit Dodon’s influence over the process.[3]

Dodon formed a minority government two days after the no-confidence vote. Ion Chicu, a former Dodon advisor, became the new prime minister.[4] Dodon secured 27 votes from the Democratic Party (PDM), led by exiled oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. PDM conditioned its support for Dodon’s plan on “a state program we consider acceptable” and support for PDM’s desired domestically focused projects.[5] Dodon likely agreed to these conditions and may have given PDM members additional assurances to secure their votes. For example, Dodon could have promised not to push for prosecution cases against PDM members. Dodon’s PSRM nominated former PDM deputy Alexander Stoyanoglo as the prosecutor general on December 2, a move that may have been intended to help secure PDM support.[6]

Dodon has successfully expanded control over power structures. Dodon controlled the presidency prior to November 12, while his associate Zinaida Greceanii became the speaker of the parliament in June. Dodon now controls the cabinet given that his former aides occupy most cabinet positions.[7] Pavel Voicu, a former personal advisor to Dodon, replaced Sandu’s associate Andrei Nastase as minister of internal affairs, expanding Dodon’s control over the Moldovan security services. Victor Gaiciuc, another Dodon advisor, became minister of defense. Gaiciuc has said publicly that he admired the “courage” of Kremlin-controlled forces in Eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2016.[8] Several other new cabinet members are former Dodon appointees.[9] Dodon has secured influence over Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, as the city’s voters on November 4 elected PSRM candidate Ion Ceban to serve as mayor.[10] PSRM also won several seats in local elections on November 3.[11]

The newly formed government is a second victory for the Kremlin in Moldova this year and likely a planned phase in Russia’s campaign to regain influence there. Russia faced major setbacks in Moldova in recent years. The Kremlin managed to start turning the tide in June 2019 by facilitating a Moldovan parliamentary coalition between the ACUM and PSRM parties.[12] A nominal alignment with the West likely helped Russia legitimize its political client, Dodon. This brokering allowed Russia to achieve two goals: eliminate a key competitor to its interests, the formerly exiled oligarch Plahotniuc, and preserve Dodon’s power.

The Kremlin then likely shifted to sideline Dodon’s rival Sandu. Russia and Dodon likely assessed an opportunity to weaken Sandu and form a new cabinet expanding Dodon’s power. That perceived opening was the primary trigger for the no-confidence vote targeting Sandu. Control over the prosecutor general’s office, the ostensible basis for the vote, was important to Dodon but likely a secondary motivation. Dodon likely had an agreement with his eventual coalition government partner PDM even before the no-confidence vote given the speed with which PDM – formerly a rival to Dodon’s party – embraced Dodon’s agenda. 

Graphic: The Kremlin's Adaptations in Moldova [13]

The Kremlin is moving rapidly to secure its gains in Moldova. The Kremlin launched an outreach campaign targeting Moldovan officials following the new government’s formation.
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev hosted newly appointed Prime Minister Chicu in Moscow on November 20 – the first visit by a Moldovan prime minister to Russia in seven years. Medvedev expressed hopes to recover the opportunities “lost between Moldova and Russia over the last few years.”[14]
  • Moldova and Russia signed several deals during Chicu’s visit. The Kremlin plans to lend Moldova $500 million to finance transportation infrastructure projects.[15] Russian Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key executive officer on Moldova, said that Moldova will buy Russian gas at $173 per thousand cubic meters starting January 1 2020 – a 26% decrease compared to the current price.[16] Russia plans to expand the list of duty-free goods exported from Moldova, and issue thousands of permits to Moldavan exporters to deliver goods to Russia.[17] Chicu also said that Moldova might “pause” its cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if the IMF is not flexible with its terms.[18] The Kremlin would welcome such a break, given that Moldova’s cooperation with the IMF helps integrate the country into the West. Diminished funding from the IMF could increase Moldova’s dependency on Russia.
  • Russian Ambassador to Moldova Oleg Vasnetsov initiated a meeting with Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban on November 13 – just days after Ceban was elected.[19] Ceban met with Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin in Russia on November 28.[20] Ceban asked Sobyanin for support with municipal and investment projects to help develop Chisinau. Russian Deputy PM Kozak also met with Ceban to discuss Chisinau’s cooperation with other Russian cities.[21]
  • Another Dodon ally and Speaker of Moldova’s Parliament Zinaida Greceanii attended the Council of Independent States (CIS) Interparliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg on November 20-22 after a two-year gap in Moldovan participation.[22] CIS is a largely Russia-led intergovernmental organization focused on cooperation between several former Soviet states. Greceanii expressed Moldova’s interest in more active work within CIS and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.[23] Dodon also stated that Moldova is considering joining the Russia-led Eurasian Development Bank on November 29.[24]
  • Dodon praised Russia’s proposal to destroy its ammunition depot in the separatist region of Transnistria as a step in the right direction towards settlement of the frozen conflict.[25] Dodon stated on November 22 that Gazprom should annul Transnistria’s $6.2 billion gas debt to Russia if the conflict is resolved.[26] Dodon is likely setting conditions in the information space to legitimize the acceptance of a permanent Russian military presence in Transnistria and a potential special status for the region.
  • Russian Security Council Chief Nikolai Patrushev signed a cooperation plan on November 21 with the national security councils of several former Soviet states, including Moldova.[27] This agreement is a component of Russia’s effort to regain control over Moldova’s security structures.
Russia’s recent outreach builds on the previous phase of the Kremlin’s campaign to regain influence in Moldova. The Kremlin moved equally fast to secure political influence during the previous window of opportunity in June 2019 when it facilitated a coalition between PRSM and ACUM. Russian officials announced that relations between Russia and Moldova were “unfrozen” on June 24.[28] Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu put a three-year military cooperation plan between Russia and Moldova on the table in August – a development that was hard to imagine even a year ago.[29] Moldova lifted a ban on Moldovan officials traveling to Russia in June.[30] Several bilateral cooperation mechanisms between Russia and Moldova resumed work after a three-year pause. Moldovan Speaker of the Parliament Greceanii chose Russia as the destination of her first foreign visit in June.[31] Moldovan companies signed several agreements with Russian businesses in September.[32] Dodon and Greceanii discussed in July the need to abolish the existing ban on Russian broadcasting in Moldova.[33]


Russia will attempt to advance its campaign aggressively while Dodon, its preferred political actor, retains expanded powers and faces fewer obstacles. The Kremlin will tailor its investments toward integrating Moldova into Russia’s formal and informal structures, and helping Dodon deepen his influence. The Kremlin will likely prioritize strengthening control over Moldova’s security services and national security establishment now that Dodon controls the ministries of defense and interior. Moldova is still considering the military cooperation plan with Russia proposed by Shoigu. Both the newly appointed minister of interior and minister of defense met senior Russian officials, including Shoigu and Patrushev, in recent months.[34] The Kremlin will leverage its new cooperation plan between the Moldovan and Russian national security councils to advance its security influence.

The Kremlin will attempt to legitimize its military intervention in Moldova and reintegrate Transnitria as a permanent lever of control. Dodon attempted to assure the West and Moldova that he does not plan to federalize Moldova but is considering a special status for Transnistria.[35] Russia likely aims to integrate Transnistria back into Moldova to expand the voting base for its interests without giving up its control and its force presence. Russia will regain dominant influence over Moldova’s decision-making if it succeeds in this effort. Russia’s success would also establish the principle that it can invade another sovereign state, manipulate the political environment to its advantage, and force the country to accept its version of peace. This would set an international precedent that the Kremlin will leverage in its efforts to solidify special status for the Kremlin-controlled, self-proclaimed “republics” in Ukraine.

The Kremlin will push Moldova to expand cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and CIS. Russia granted Moldova observer status with the EEU in 2017 to keep Moldova engaged. Yet Moldova has not actively participated in the EEU’s activities since then as the previous government prioritized cooperation with the EU.[36] Russia’s long-term goal is Moldovan membership in the EEU, which Dodon expressed support for in the past. The rapid shift towards the EEU is likely politically unattainable for Dodon, however, especially in advance of the 2020 presidential race, as more Moldovans prefer joining the EU than the EEU.[37] Dodon has previously stated his intent to cancel Moldova’s existing association agreement with the EU, but later softened his rhetoric and expressed commitment to the EU association agreement. Moldova’s Prime Minister Chicu also that stated Moldova will honor its international agreements.[38] Russia will thus likely push for a free trade agreement (FTA) between Moldova and the EEU. An FTA falls short of full membership in the EEU. The Kremlin is using the FTA vehicle to expand the EEU globally as Russia’s initial push to engage countries through formal membership failed. Russia will continue to signal nominal alignment with the West but use it as a cover to gradually integrate Moldova without triggering a major political backlash. Russia will leverage institutions like the Eurasian Development Bank in this effort. It will also double down on its interparliamentary cooperation with Moldova and try to push through various “legislative harmonization” initiatives through this framework.[39]

The Kremlin will invest further to support Dodon, who has expanded but not yet solidified his grip on power. Russia is prioritizing investments in areas that will help Dodon secure broader support, such as in energy, infrastructure, and trade. Dodon is already championing Russian infrastructure loans as a means of creating employment opportunities for Moldovans.[40]

Russia will also double down on its information campaign to discredit Sandu. Dodon is already framing Sandu as incompetent during her five months as prime minister. Dodon blamed Sandu for deliberately provoking a crisis to distract from her “erroneous and ineffective” policies.[41] Russia has focused on a similar campaign in Ukraine, where the Kremlin sought to discredit Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ahead of the 2019 Presidential Election in Ukraine.[42] Russia will increase its efforts to regain a media presence in Moldova as Dodon prepares for presidential elections scheduled to take place in 2020. The Kremlin will likely attempt to pressure Moldova to lift the existing ban on Russian broadcasting.

Russia’s campaign in Moldova has vulnerabilities, however. Dodon does not have full support in the parliament and is dependent on a former rival party, PDM. Sandu’s ACUM openly opposes Dodon. PDM’s support for Dodon against ACUM was a transactional rather than a principled alignment with Dodon. There is no guarantee that PDM will vote for policies that do not directly benefit its interests or if the West is able to change PDM’s calculus. Russia will thus likely have difficulties passing major legislation in the short term. Russia will therefore focus on the aforementioned operational goals while it works to rebuild its influence networks and Dodon’s power.

Dodon will need to deliver for multiple constituencies to maintain political support. There is no guarantee that Dodon and his cabinet will be effective. Dodon raised the bar for his own performance by framing Sandu as an incompetent leader. Dodon and Chicu also made a number of ambitious promises, including a goal to increase social spending, raise pensions and salaries, complete justice system reform, attract investment, and fix roads throughout the country. Russia will need to increase its financial investment to help Dodon’s fulfill these promises to his constituencies and to generate concrete results from Dodon’s government work. Russia also needs to rebuild its influence over the information space – which Russia might not be able to do at the required speed – to provide political cover for Dodon’s potential failures.

Sandu could potentially come back as a strong opponent in the 2020 presidential race. Sandu may be temporarily weakened, but she can leverage the narrative of being the only non-corrupt candidate who did not attempt to cling to power and did not back down on judicial reform efforts. There is also a possibility in the future of an alliance between PDM and ACUM that could significantly change the balance of power.

Finally, Moldova’s political landscape is more nuanced than a simple “pro-Russia” and “pro-West” bifurcation. Dodon has a domestic political agenda and seeks to balance relationships with Russia and the West. Dodon has recently reinforced his commitment to the EU association agreement. Moldova also benefits from Western aid and trade, while a larger portion of the population – constituencies that Dodon cannot ignore – prefers the EU over the EEU.

Russia will likely expand its military posture in Moldova if the Kremlin succeeds in solidifying its gains in Moldova. This outcome would put additional pressure on NATO and Ukraine. ISW assessed previously that the Kremlin is working to expand and potentially link its military influence across states in its closest orbit – within and among Belarus, Moldova, and the members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.[43] A special status in Transnistria will de facto legitimize Russia’s principle of illegal military intervention in a sovereign state, which would set an international precedent. Success in Moldova will accelerate Putin’s efforts to regain dominant influence in Belarus and Ukraine. The Kremlin is using Moldova as a test case of its ability to legitimize its clients via nominal alignment with the West. It is also testing a blueprint it could use in other places, most immediately in Ukraine.

[1] “Moldovan Constitutional Court Suspends President For Fifth Time,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 18, 2018,
[2] Dodon’s PSRM party and the PDM party previously led by Plahotniuc supported the no-confidence motion, while ACUM boycotted the vote and the minority Sor party abstained, passing the motion with 66 of 101 votes. Alexander Tanas, “Moldova’s Fledgling Government Brought Down by No Confidence Vote,” Reuters, November 12, 2019,; [“Moldovan Parliament Passes Vote of No Confidence in Sandu Government,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 12, 2019, https://sputnik((.))by/politics/20191112/1043216670/Parlament-Moldovy-vynes-votum-nedoveriya-pravitelstvu-Sandu.html.
[3] The Moldovan Cabinet of Ministers, led by PM Sandu, announced a planned amendment authorizing the PM to nominate candidates for the Prosecutor General position to the High Council of Prosecutors before approval by the president on November 6. Sandu and Justice Minister Olesea Stamate claimed PSRM members on the selection panel would “rig” the appointment of a new Prosecutor General in order to ensure a political appointee, necessitating an amendment changing the process. Sandu likely viewed the elimination of PSRM control of the Moldovan prosecution system as a necessary condition for further anti-corruption efforts. [“Maia Sandu’s Government Fell: 63 Deputies Vote of No Confidence,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 13, 2019, https://ru.sputnik((.))md/infographics/20191112/28178068/pravitelstvo-maia-sandu-palo-63-deputata-vyrazili-votum-nedoveriya.html; Madalin Necsutu, “Moldovan Socialists Topple Govt in No-Confidence Vote,” Balkan Insight, November 12, 2019,; [“Sandu Went to the World – That She Suggested that the Coalition Not Break Up,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 11, 2019, https://ru.sputnik((.))md/politics/20191111/28160602/sandu-poshla-na-mirovuyu-chto-ona-predlozhila-chtoby-koalitsiya-ne-raspalas.html; “Moldova’s Fledgling Government Brought Down by No Confidence Vote,” Reuters, November 12, 2019,
[4] [“The New Government of Moldova,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 14, 2019, https://ru((.))
[5] [“Will Democrats Support Chicu’s Candidacy as Moldovan Prime Minister,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 14, 2019, https://ru((.))
[6] Julia Semenova, [“A New Prosecutor General Appeared in Moldova,”] Deutsche Welle, November 29, 2019 https://www(.)
[7] Corneliu Popovich, a former advisor to Dodon, was named Minister of Education. Fadey Nagachevsky, a former party lawyer for PSRM, was appointed Minister of Justice. Aureliu Ciocoi, Dodon’s former Ambassador to Germany and former adviser for foreign policy, was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs & EU Integration. Viorica Dumbraveanu, the new Minister of Health, Labor and Social Protection, was formerly Dodon’s advisor on the same issues. Ion Perju, Dodon’s former advisor on agro-industrial and public administration issues, was named Minister of Agriculture. Sergey Pushcuta, the new Vice Premier, Minister of Finance, was a financial advisor to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin (Communist Party) in 2009. Fadey Nagachevsky, the new Minister of Justice, was a PSRM lawyer and former advisor to Speaker of the Parliament Zinaida Greceanii (PSRM). Of the ten new key ministers seven are former presidential advisors, two are former Dodon appointees, and the last one was a PSRM lawyer and adviser to Zinaida Greceanii. [“Everything About the Ministers of Ion Chicu’s Government,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 27, 2019, https://ru(.)
[8] [“Moldovan Defense Minister Gaiciuc: Militants in the Donbass are Heroes, and the APU Will Never Defeat Them,”] Dialogue UA, November 19, 2019, https://www((.))
[9] Anatol Usatii, the new Minister of Economy and Infrastructure, was appointed by Dodon for his former position as Deputy Minister for Regional Development. Alexandru Flenchea, the new Deputy Minister for Reintegration, was previously appointed to be the head of the Bureau for Reintegration Policy. [“Everything About the Ministers of Ion Chicu’s Government,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 27, 2019, https://ru(.)
[10] “Socialist Ceban Elected New Mayor of Chisinau in Runoff,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 4, 2019,
[11] PSRM won the most regional centers out of all of Moldova’s political parties. PSRM won eight regional centers, primarily on the northern and eastern borders. PSRM took control in Briceni, Ocnita, Soroca, Floresti, Criuleni, Chisinau, Anenii Noi, and Gagauzia. “Socialist Ceban Elected New Mayor of Chisinau in Runoff,” RFERL, November 4, 2019,; [“Most Municipalities and District Centers, Won by PSRM, PN, and Independent Candidates,”] Unimedia, November 4, 2019, https://unimedia((.))info/ro/news/4aff2a7f6f32c831/infografic-cele-mai-multe-municipii-si-centre-raionale-castigate-de-psrm-pn-si-candidatii-independenti.html.
[12] Plahotniuc’s PDM party, which opposed the Kremlin largely to protect its own business interests, lost its parliamentary majority in February 2019. Russian Deputy PM Dmitry Kozak directly urged PSRM to enter coalition with the pro-EU ACUM. Plahotniuc fled Moldova under Russian and Western pressure in June 2019 after failing to use his influence to force Moldova’s courts to declare the new coalition government unconstitutional. Darina Regio and Nataliya Bugayova, “Russia in Review: Opportunity in Moldova,” Institute for the Study of War, June 24, 2019,
[13] This is the sourcing for the Moldova graphic.
  1. “Moldova Official: Russia Meddling in Presidential Race,” VOA News, October 4, 2016,
  2. Matthias Williams, “Moldova Bars Officials from Visiting Russia Citing "Abuse" Campaign,” Reuters, March 9, 2017,
  3. “Moldova Declares Russian Deputy PM Rogozin Persona Non Grata,” RFE/RL, August 2, 2017,
  4. Matthias Williams, “Exclusive: Russian Diplomats Expelled from Moldova Recruited Fighters – Sources,” Reuters, June 13, 2017,; “Moscow Threat as Moldova Expels Five Russian Diplomats,” BBC, May 30, 2017,
  5. Madalin Necsutu, “Moldova Extends Entry Ban on Russian Journalists,” Balkan Insight, November 29, 2017, https((:))//; “Two Russian TV Film Crews Refused Entry To Moldova,” Tass, February 19, 2019, https((:))//
  6. Liliana Barbarosie and Robert Coalson, “Banning Russian TV, Moldova Is Latest Hot Spot Fighting Kremlin Disinformation,” RFE/RL, February 1, 2018,
  7. “Prime Minister Of Moldova Calls For Withdrawal Of Russian Troops From Transnistria,” Tass, February 17, 2018, https((:))// 
  8. “General Assembly Adopts Texts Urging Troop Withdraw from Republic of Moldova, Strengthening Cooperation in Central Asia,” United Nations Press Office, June 22, 2018,
  9.  “Moldova Mulls New Gas Contract with Romania, Not Russia,” AP News, August 21, 2018,
  10. “Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia to Create Platform for Studying Russia’s Influence on Population in Occupied Territories,” Ukrinform, November 14, 2018, https://www((.)) 
  11. [“Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Open Dialog Case Published,”] MoldPres, December 17, 2018, https((:))//
  12. “Moldovan Court Suspends President in Political Standoff,” U.S. News, September 24, 2018,; “Moldovan Constitutional Court Suspends President for Fifth Time,” RFE/RL, December 18, 2018,
  13. Darina Regio and Nataliya Bugayova, “Russia in Review: Opportunity in Moldova,” Institute for the Study of War, June 24, 2019,
  14. [“Medvedev and Dodon had a Constructive Conversation,”] Sputnik Moldova, June 21, 2019, https(:)//
  15. [“Dodon met with Kozak, Patrushev, and Karasin,”] Igor Dodon Facebook, June 24, 2019,
  16. [“Zinaida Greceanii Spoke at a Meeting of the State Duma of the Russian Federation,”] Arguments Facts, June 27, 2019,
  17. [“Dodon Promised to Appoint Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Commission of Russia and Moldova,”] NOI Moldova, June 21, 2019, https((:))// 
  18. [“Sergei Shoigu's Visit to Moldova Proved That An Unofficial Tripartite Contract Is Valid,”] Vedomosti Moldova, August 29, 2019, http://www((.))
  19. Мikhail Kosov, [“Moldova-Russia: Reloading Relations,”] Komsomolskaya Pravda, September 24, 2019. https(:)//
  20. [“Meeting with President of Moldova Igor Dodon,”] Kremlin, September 7, 2019, http(:)//
  21. [“Russia and Moldova signed eight agreements under the MREF,”] Izvestiya, September 22, 2019, https((:))//; [“What Ended the Second Russia-Moldova Economic Forum,”] Sputnik Moldova, September 22, 2019, https://ru((.)); [“Partnership Without Borders: Results of the Second Moldovan-Russian Economic Forum,”], September 22, 2019, https(:)//
  22. [“Moldovan Parliament Voted To Resign Sandu Government,”] Tass, November 12, 2019, https((:))//
  23. [“Moldovan Government Swore Oath: What the New Prime Minister Said,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 14, 2019, https(:)//
  24. [“Moldovan Prime Minister Pays First Visit to Moscow: Agenda and Plans,”]Sputnik Moldova, November 11, 2019, https(:)//
  25. [“Gazprom Cuts Gas Price for Moldova by 26%,”] NV Ukraine, November 21, 2019, https://nv((.))ua/biz/markets/cena-gaza-rossiya-snizila-cenu-na-gaz-dlya-moldovy-novosti-mira-50054804.html; “Moldova’s New Cabinet Sets Course for Mending Strategic Relations with Russia — President,” Tass, November 20, 2019, https://tass(.)com/politics/1091311.
  26. [“Zinaida Greceanii Met in St. Petersburg with Valentina Matvienko,”] Accent TV, November 21, 2019, http(:)//
  27. [“Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev Holds Bilateral Meetings With Secretaries Of Security Councils Of Several CIS Countries,”] Security Council of the Russian Federation, November 20, 2019, http(:)//
  28. “Moldovan President Invites Putin to Visit Chisinau,” Tass, November 21, 2019, https(:)//
  29. “Moldova, Eyeing Russia Loan, May 'Pause' Cooperation with IMF: PM,” Reuters, November 26, 2019,      
[14] [“Medvedev at a Meeting With Chicu: ‘I Hope That Moldova and Russia Will Be Able To Catch Up All The Same Opportunities’,”] Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 20, 2019, https://www((.)); [“Sputnik Exclusive: Prime Minister Ion Chicu On How Negotiations Were Held In Russia,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 20, 2019, https://ru((.))
[15] [“Chicu: Moldova Will Soon Turn Into A Large Construction Site,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 20, 2019, https://ru((.))
[16] [“Kozak: The Price Of Russian Gas For Moldova From 2020 Will Drop To $173 Per Thousand Cubic Meters,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 20, 2019, https://ru((.))
[17] [“Dodon Said That The Russian Federation Is Ready To Expand The List Of Non-Taxable Goods From Moldova,”] Tass, November 20, 2019, https://tass((.))ru/ekonomika/7166513; “Moldova’s New Cabinet Sets Course For Mending Strategic Relations With Russia — President,” Tass, November 20, 2019, https://tass((.))com/politics/1091311; [“Moldovan Prime Minister Summarizes The Visit To Moscow,”] Gagauziya Radio Televizionu, November 21, 2019, https://grt((.))md/news/2019/11/21/%D0%BC%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9-%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%BC%D1%8C%D0%B5%D1%80-%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%B4%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%BB-%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%B8-%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%B8/.
[18] Alexander Tanas and Pavel Polityuk, “Moldova, Eyeing Russia Loan, May 'Pause' Cooperation With IMF: PM,” Reuters, November 26, 2019,
[19] Alexander Isaev, [“ Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban Meets With Russian Ambassador to Moldova,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 11, 2019, https(:)//; [“Ceban Met With Russian Ambassador To Moldova,”] Ion Ceban, November 13, 2019, https(:)//
[20] Oxana Serban, [“Ion Ceban and Sergei Sobyanin Agree to Renew Cooperation Agreement Between Chisinau and Moscow,”] TV 8 Moldova, November 29, 2019, http(:)//; [“We Will Adopt Many Projects: Ceban Told Sputnik About His Visit to Moscow,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 29, 2019, https(:)//
[21] Andrey Petrik, [“How Moscow Will Help Chisinau: Ceban and Sobyanin Meet in Russia,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 28, 2019, https((:))//
[22] [“Moldova Is Ready For Active Work Within The CIS and EAEU,”] Rhythm of Eurasia, November 22, 2019, https://www((.)); Alexander Isaev, [“Zinaida Greceanii Met With Valentina Matvienko At The IPA CIS Session,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 21, 2019, https://ru((.))
[23] [“Moldova Is Ready For Active Work Within The CIS and EAEU,”] Rhythm of Eurasia, November 22, 2019, https://www((.))
[24] The Eurasian Development Bank is a regional development bank established by the Kremlin in 2006. Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are the member states. [“Dodon: Moldova Will Discuss The Possibility Of Joining The Eurasian Development Bank,”] Eurasian Development Bank, November 29, 2019, https(:)//
[25] “Moldovan President Says Russia Has Made 'First Step' Toward Troop Withdrawal,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 2, 2019,
[26] [“Moldovan President Proposes To Annul Transnistria's Gas Debt Of $6.2 Billion,”] Interfax Ukraine, November 22, 2019, https://interfax((.))
[27] [“Secretary Of The Security Council Of The Russian Federation Signed A Cooperation Plan With Colleagues From The CIS,”] Rhythm of Eurasia, November 21, 2019, https://www((.))
[28] [“Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation: From Today, Bilateral Relations are Unfrozen,”] Sputnik Moldova, June 24, 2019, https((:))//
[29] [“Dodon: Russian Ministry of Defense is Preparing a Plan of Cooperation with the Defense Department of Moldova,”] Publika, August 27, 2019, https://ru((.))
[30] [“Moldova Lifts Ban On Russia Trips For Deputies And Officials,”] Radio Sputnik, Sputnik Moldova, July 29, 2019. https(:)//
[31] Zinaida Greceanîi, [“Zinaida Greceanîi Addressed Deputies of the Russian State Duma.”] Sputnik Moldova, June 27, 2019. https(:)//
[32] [“MREF-2019: The First Agreements Between The Regions of Russia and Moldova Are Signed.”] Sputnik Moldova, September 20, 2019, https(:)//; [“Partnership Without Borders: Results of the Second Moldovan-Russian Economic Forum,”], September 21, 2019, https(:)//
[33] [“Dodon Will Seek to Restore the Broadcasting of Russian Television Channels,”] Ren, July 31, 2019, http://ren(.)tv/novosti/2019-07-31/dodon-budet-dobivatsya-vosstanovleniya-veshchaniya-rossiyskih-telekanalov.
[34] [“Sergei Shoigu Handed Over To Pavel Voicu The Combat Banners Of The Soldiers Who Liberated Moldova,”] Sputnik Moldova, August 24, 2019, https://ru((.)); [“Secretary Of The Security Council Of The Russian Federation Signed A Cooperation Plan With Colleagues From The CIS,”] Rhythm of Eurasia, November 21, 2019, https://www((.))
[35] Madalin Necsutu, “Romania Opposes Federal Solution to Moldova’s Transnistria Problem,” Balkan Insight, September 26, 2019, https://balkaninsight((.))com/2019/09/26/romania-opposes-federal-solution-to-moldovas-transnistria-problem/.
[36] “Moldova Granted Observer Status In Eurasian Union,” Euractiv, April 19, 2017, https://www((.))
[38] [“First Statements By Prime Minister Ion Chicu - What Will The Government Do,”] Sputnik Moldova, November 14, 2019, https://ru(.)
[39] Nataliya Bugayova and Darina Regio, “Russia in Review: Diversifying Foreign Policy Tools”, Institute for the Study of War, October 1, 2019,
[40] [“Russia will provide Moldova a loan for infrastructure projects,”] Novosti, November 21, 2019, https(:)//; [“Russia Will Provide Moldova With $ 500 Million For Infrastructure Development,”] Eurasian Choice of Moldova and Transnistria, November 21, 2019, https(:)//
[41] Dmitry Olishevsky, [“Dodon Spoke to the Press Regarding the Resignation of the Sandu Government,”] Parliamentary News, November 12, 2019, https://www.pnp((.))ru/in-world/dodon-obratilsya-k-presse-v-svyazi-s-otstavkoy-pravitelstva-sandu.html.
[42] Nataliya Bugayova and Darina Regio, “Russia’s Long View on Ukraine’s Elections,” Institute for the Study of War, April 3, 2019,
[43] Nataliya Bugayova and Mason Clark, “Russia in Review, Military Exercises as Geopolitical Tools,” Institute for the Study of War, September 4, 2019,

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Syria Situation Report: November 20 - December 3, 2019

By ISW's Syria Team and Syria Direct

The following Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map summarizes significant developments in the war in Syria during the period November 20 - December 3, 2019. Key SITREP events include protests against the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran in Southwest Syria, pro-Assad regime forces' missile attack on an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, and large-scale anti-ISIS operations in Eastern Syria.

Click the image to view an enlarged version of the map.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Syria Situation Report: November 6 - 20, 2019

By ISW's Syria Team and Syria Direct

The following Syria Situation Report (SITREP) Map summarizes significant developments in the war in Syria during the period November 6 - 20, 2019. Key SITREP events include Iranian proxy rocket attacks targeting the Golan Heights, local backlash in Northern Syria against joint Russian-Turkish patrols, and ISIS attacks in Northeast Syria.

Click the image to view an enlarged version of the map.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Russia Expands Air Presence in Northeast Syria

By: John Dunford

Key Takeaway: The U.S., Russia, and Turkey continue their competition for influence in Northeast Syria. Russia expanded its rotary-wing basing in Northern Syria under the terms of a deal it brokered with Turkey regarding the Syrian-Turkish Border on October 22. Russia established a permanent rotary-wing headquarters and support structure at Qamishli Airport on November 14 and its attack helicopters began overflying its joint patrols with Turkey in Northern Syria. Russia also likely intends to deploy new air defense systems to Qamishli, allowing it to constrain further the freedom of movement of the U.S. in Eastern Syria. Meanwhile, the U.S. expanded its ground patrol routes to villages west of Qamishli. The U.S. will thus likely come into closer contact with the growing number of pro-regime forces - including Russians - based in and around Qamishli.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Iraq Situation Report- November 8-14

By: Brandon Wallace

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) is assessing the ongoing unrest and its effects on political-security dynamics in Iraq. The Iraq Situation Report (SITREP) series summarizes key events and likely developments to come. This SITREP update covers the period November 8-14, 2019.