Thank you so much. I'm glad that I have enough time to brief you a little bit on the developments in Moldova in terms of, first of all, the security threats to my country, and also to the entire region.
Mr. Chairman, vice-chairs, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, I'm truly honoured to be speaking today in front of this esteemed committee. May I first and foremost thank the chair for giving me this opportunity to speak. It was just a day ago that my foreign minister wrapped up his very productive visit to Canada. It was such a privilege and honour for us to have a chance to speak with Chair Fuhr about what concerns Moldova. It's out of that meeting, actually, that this idea has come up and, Chair, again thank you so much for offering me this opportunity to speak.
Perhaps you already had the chance to look at the maps I have provided, so that you perhaps have already noticed how tiny Moldova is compared to its neighbouring countries. This is a very important factor from the geographical and geopolitical standpoint. After regaining its independence in 1991, as a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Moldova was admitted to membership of the United Nations in 1992 as a sovereign and independent state. However, tensions between the newly created Moldova and the eastern region of Moldova, which is called Transnistria—it's just situated on the border with Ukraine—have arisen. The reason why Transnistria was so anxious about the developments in the early 1990s was that it was that region that actually was against breaking away from the Soviet Union and disappearing, and so did the Soviet Union.
Since then, a short military war has broken out, which lasted a few months. We then, in July 1992, were able to secure a ceasefire agreement between Moldova and the Russian Federation, which kept its forces on the territory of Transnistria at that time under the pretext that they were safeguarding a huge stockpile of munition dating back to the Second World War.
We have managed to secure that ceasefire agreement. Twenty-six years later, Russian military forces, the so-called operational group of the Russian forces, remain stationed on the territory of Moldova in that Transnistrian region. Its presence on the Moldovan territory is illegal and contrary to the UN charter, the OSCE founding document, international law, and the Moldovan constitution, which prohibits the stationing on its territory of foreign troops without the consent of the host country.
Who would have thought that after gaining its independence almost three decades ago, it would still have to struggle for its integrity, independence, and sovereignty, and that instead of focusing on economic and democratic transformations and on building a functional democracy, I would say, my country continues to be exposed to multiple threats to its sovereignty, independence, and national security?
The breakaway region claims independence and international recognition, but with the exception of the three breakaway countries in the post-Soviet area, namely Georgian South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh, the international community has not recognized the independence of these self-proclaimed states.
This secessionist regime is heavily supported by Moscow financially, politically, and militarily. The region is home to over 1,400 Russian troops belonging to the Russian operational forces. As I mentioned, I don't want to create confusion between the Russian operational forces and the so-called peacekeeping forces, which include Russia, Moldova, representatives of the Transnistrian secessionist regime, and 10 observers from Ukraine. They do not comply, actually, with either OSCE standards or UN standards for peacekeeping.
I don't want to create confusion between the two forces. There are 1,400 Russian operational forces stationed in this territory on the pretext that they have to safeguard 20,000 tonnes of ammunition dating back to the Second World War. It was, by the way, the biggest stockpile of ammunition in eastern Europe. It continues to be this way.
By the way, for most of this ammunition, we don't have access to it and we cannot even make an inventory of the state of it. We don't know how much of this could be transported or how much should be destroyed on the spot because it cannot be removed. We don't have that information. The OSCE mission in Moldova also does not have access to this stockpile.
Although the Russian Federation has repeatedly committed to withdrawing its troops from the region and respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova, the situation is very different. Despite all of my country's previous attempts to convince Russia to withdraw its troops and to comply with its international obligations undertaken at the Istanbul OSCE summit back in 1999, its troops and ammunition are still there.
Furthermore, the Russian operational group conducts joint military exercises with the paramilitaries of the Transnistrian region on a regular basis, which are even increasing in intensity. Only last year they conducted more than 300 joint military exercises in Transnistria against any provisions of the international law and against any provisions of the ceasefire agreement. Further, Russia continues to enlist recruits among the local population in Transnistria into its army and launched a massive campaign of handing out Russian passports to the region's population in its attempt to stretch out the so-called Russian world abroad. It's obvious why they're doing it: they want them to have this legitimate right to defend the rights of Russian citizens.
The presence of the Russian troops and ammunition on the Moldovan territory poses serious threats to the region, disregards the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova, and undermines the international efforts aimed at the peaceful resolution of the Transnistrian conflict. The threat of escalation and further destabilization of the security situation in the country and the neighbouring countries, especially Ukraine, is very high.
Moldovan governments have consistently advocated for an unconditional withdrawal of the Russian troops from our territory, as their stationing is not based on any legal framework or consent of the host country. It is therefore my particular pleasure and honour to voice from this important rostrum, my government's high appreciation for the solidarity Canada has shown towards Moldova's endeavours to promote a UN General Assembly resolution on the complete and unconditional withdrawal of foreign military troops from the territory of the Republic of Moldova.
Canada has recently taken the decision to co-sponsor that resolution, the first country to have decided to do so. It triggered, by the way, a response from other countries, and today we have nine co-sponsors of that resolution. It will be debated on June 22—so pretty soon. Hopefully, it will give us the possibility of raising the issue at this high level, although of course we cannot envisage the outcome, because Russia certainly has taken serious steps to prevent that resolution from being moved.
In addition, Moldova remains highly vulnerable to hybrid threats to its energy, information, and cybersecurity, which confirms the need to boost the country's defence capabilities. With about 6,500 active-duty military personnel, the Moldovan army remains quite untrained and underequipped compared to the 7,500-strong, Moscow-backed Transnistrian force, not including, of course, the Russian operational troops stationed in that region.
Last year, the pro-European and pro-western Moldovan government adopted its national defence strategy. It includes, among other things, a commitment to increase training of the Moldovan military to take part in international peacekeeping operations. The Moldovan peacekeeping battalions are currently carrying out their mission in Kosovo. It is the 22nd Battalion. Previously, under NATO command, we participated in the peacekeeping operations in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. We are prepared to consider sending our battalion to Mali as well.
Furthermore, the Transnistrian conflict continues to impact negatively, overall, Moldova's political, social, and economic development. In addition, a general state of uncertainty as to what the country's future would look like generates distrust among large groups of the population in their government, and the democratic transformations they've been aspiring to polarizes their society and forces an outflow of the population from the country.
It is, therefore, important to remain committed to the reform agenda undertaken by my country under the association agreement that we signed with the European Union in 2014. The association agreement provides for a political association with the European Union and full economic integration. Under this agreement, we signed free trade agreements that same year, in 2014. We have an even more experience trading with the European Union than with Canada, so if you need help, just give us a signal.
The Moldovan government is well aware of the importance of domestic reforms, of course. I see here two critical strategic goals: a profound systemic modernization of the country by embracing democratic values, ensuring the rule of law and an independent judiciary, on the one hand; and on the other, by encouraging free entrepreneurship, supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises, and continuously investing in training and education as key sectors of economic growth.
Concurrently, restoring mutual trust between both banks of the Dniester River, showing to the population of Transnistria the benefits of a closer co-operation with Europe, combined with a clear strategic direction of development and a European integration perspective for the country, can bring these deliverables so much needed in this society. The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea also carry major risks for Moldova. At the same time, Russia may at any time open up a second front to the west of the Ukrainian border, which proves how much the security of both Moldova and Ukraine are intertwined.
It is, therefore, of paramount importance for the two neighbouring countries to work closely together towards addressing more efficiently these threats. The Moldovan government continues to support Ukraine in its efforts to overcome the crisis in Donbass and to solve the Crimea problem through political and diplomatic means in order to restore peace and regain Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Republic of Moldova condemned the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation and supports Ukraine's efforts to resolve the separatist conflict in Donbass based on the Minsk accords.
A good example of such co-operation is the joint Georgia-Moldova-Ukraine Inter-Parliamentary Assembly—it was actually created last week—for the purpose of creating a common front to more efficiently withstand the security threats. It was also created with a view to moving together to get closer to the national objective of my country, closer to EU full-fledged membership.
Also, a joint Moldova-Canada border and customs control launched together with the EU border assistance mission occurred last year. We really believe that we will be able to gain full control of the border between Moldova and Ukraine, especially on the Transnistrian segment.
That border with Ukraine stretches 405 kilometres. Having a more advanced dialogue with the European Union through the implementation of the association agreements, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia aspire to a full-fledged membership of the European Union. As in the case of Georgia and Ukraine, Moldova has made its strategic choice: European integration. In fact, this is not merely an option for our countries; it is a vital necessity.
We hope that in this important and—without exaggeration—crucial time for our countries, our partners and friends, the European Union, Canada, and the U.S., will show their continued solidarity and support. Therefore, we warmly welcome recent signals coming from Canada about its openness to view our three countries through a single regional lens, and to adopt accordingly a common regional approach. I wish to assure you of my government's willingness to engage more actively in this important dialogue with the Canadian government.
I will perhaps stop here in order to allow for more communication with you, and I thank you.