The signs of “vaccine diplomacy” in Moldova: Romania’s advantages over Russia.

Moldova, Chisinau: A photograph of a health worker made by Alex Iordache vandalized in the Cathedral Park.
© Pierre Crom

“At the background of Russia that is limping, Romania can articulate a robust “vaccine diplomacy “, which, in addition to increasing its popularity among Moldovan citizens, will contribute to diminishing Russian influence …”

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health crisis in Moldova has stood out due to the high rate of infection and mortality, which places it in the list of the most active sources of infection in Eastern Europe. But, in addition to the multiple failures related to the management of the pandemic, the country has become a case study where the competition between two “vaccine diplomacies” can be observed, rather hidden than overt, but also unequal — between Romania and Russia. While each of them pursues antagonistic historical-geopolitical interests in Moldova, the COVID-19 crisis has also elucidated a radical difference in their approach towards Moldova.

Compared to the pro-active position, with palpable results, from the side of Bucharest, Moscow’s reaction to the pandemic in Moldova was belated, with a much lower contribution. In several respects, Romania has even surpassed EU assistance, which in turn has been noted for its considerable support to Moldova — in the form of medical equipment, (macro-) financial assistance, facilitating vaccine donations through the COVAX platform. Nevertheless, European assistance is not part of this comparative analysis that examines Romania and Russia’s actions in Moldova — from the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 to the distribution of the vaccine, starting in February 2021.

Both during the government of the pro-Russian Socialists, led by Igor Dodon and even more so after Maia Sandu took over as president (at the end of 2020), Romania maintained a pragmatic position on health care for Moldova. Russia’s calculations did not include the provision of any consistent assistance to Moldovan during the pro-Russian forces were in power throughout 2020 (See Table). On the one hand, Moscow’s efforts at the time were focused on the highly selective use of health care (masks, tests, doctors, etc.) to fragment EU unity and discredit it in the Western Balkans — Italy and Serbia, respectively (IPN, April 2020). On the other hand, if Russia had substantially helped Moldova, then it would have set a costly precedent for its budget, generating requests for assistance from other post-Soviet countries, especially within the Eurasian Economic Union.

Source: Author’s compilation
Moldova, Chisinau: A man sells flowers. © Pierre Crom
Moldova, Transnistria (Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic), Tiraspol: Local residents wait for a bus on Suvorov square. © Pierre Crom



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Subjectio examines influences exercised by the West and Russia in Southeast and Eastern Europe.