First deployment on the edge of a war zone: EU sends Frontex to Moldova

In just a few days, the Republic of Moldova could command units of the EU border force, the deployment is already being prepared. However, a status agreement currently being negotiated with the government in Chisinau would have to exclude operations in Transnistria, where Russia has stationed military forces.

The EU Commission and the member states in the Council want to conclude a so-called status agreement with the government of the Republic of Moldova in an urgent procedure. Subsequently, the EU border agency Frontex is to send units for „migration management“ to the border with Ukraine there. This is according to the Commission’s press release of yesterday, Thursday.

Both the Commission and the Council are working at full speed on the planned deployment, and only yesterday the ambassadors of all EU member states were informed about it in a special meeting. Before negotiations for a status agreement with Moldova can begin, the Council must give the Commission a mandate to that effect. The Commission has submitted a proposal for this in an urgent procedure.

EU finances equipment for border surveillance

Only with a status agreement Frontex is allowed to conduct operational missions in a country outside the European Union. The Commission concluded the first such accord with Albania in 2019, followed later by Montenegro and Serbia. Senegal could soon become the first African country to agree to a Frontex mission on the basis of a status agreement; „technical negotiations“ have reportedly already begun. Similar plans, but no talks yet, exist for Morocco.

The Republic of Moldova has itself asked for the Frontex mission, and preparations on its design have already begun. After the conclusion of the status agreement, the Frontex units will be deployed under the direction of the Moldovan authorities. Among the envisaged tasks, the Commission mentions „registration and border control“, but this also includes border operations. In 2008, the Commission and the Moldovan government already concluded a working agreement, which, among other things, allows for cooperation in the field of training.

With the deployment of the EU border police, EU accession, as the Moldovan government applied for last week in view of the war in Ukraine, should become more tangible. So far, there is only an association agreement; it is supposed to bring the country up to EU standards. To this end, the Commission has already financed numerous measures to improve border controls and border surveillance in Moldova. In the „EU4Border Security“ project, the authorities are receiving new equipment for monitoring the approximately 2,000 kilometres of land borders with 74 border crossings. Other funds come from the annual EU Action Programme for the Eastern Neighbourhood.

„Frozen conflict“ Transnistria

The status agreement is to be based on a model agreement drafted by the Commission after the experiences in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia. It regulates, for example, executive powers, the use of weapons and the full immunity of deployed officers from prosecution in the country of deployment. However, the agreement with Moldova must deviate from this in one essential point. According to the press release, the Commission is also aware that the Frontex operation would take place at a „border with an active war zone“. This refers to Ukraine. However, Moldova is also home to the self-proclaimed and internationally unrecognised Transnistrian Moldovan Republic, which has been supported by Russia as a „frozen conflict“ since 1990.

Transnistria with border crossings under responsability of EUBAM Moldova.

Transnistria is not under the control of the Moldovan government in Chisinau. Russia has reportedly stationed more than one thousand soldiers in the region east of the Dniester River.Should the Russian government also take Odessa in the war against Ukraine, additional troops would be stationed less than 100 kilometres away from Transnistria. Observers also warned that Russia could plan a „corridor“ from Odessa to Transnistria.

Therefore, the status agreement with Moldova will probably exclude a deployment in Transnistria. However, Frontex could continue to cooperate with the EUBAM border assistance mission for Moldova. With this „technical advisory mission“, the EU wanted to support Moldova’s and Ukraine’s efforts to manage their common border and settle the Transnistrian conflict. For more than 16 years, the headquarters of EUBAM Moldova was in Odessa.

Schengen states should also participate

Usually there are several months between the conclusion of a status agreement and its implementation. For Frontex to be deployed immediately, the Council would have to decide on the provisional entry into force of the treaty. In the end, the EU Parliament must also give its consent. If the Schengen states of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein also want to participate in the Frontex operation, their governments must conclude their own agreements with the Republic of Moldova.

Frontex wants to increase its deployment in Romania by 150 officers and 45 patrol vehicles and transfer troops of the „Standing Corps“ from other locations to the region. Some of them are to be stationed at the Moldovan border. It is obvious that this is a preparation for the deployment in the Republic of Moldova.

Presumably, individual member states will also send personnel to Moldova. According to media reports, the German Federal Police has already sent 200 officers to the Ukrainian border in Romania and Poland. This is about three times the number of federal police officers otherwise deployed in Frontex missions every day.

Image: The Frontex director just visited the troops in Romania, where the „Standing Corps“ is being prepared for deployment in neighbouring Moldova (Frontex).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.