Much of Moldova’s military equipment dates back to Soviet times and is in urgent need of replacement, Defense Minister Anatolie Nosatii said said RFE/RLadding that the funds allocated by the government for defense, although small, are important for its severely underfunded and poorly equipped army.
Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 when it declared independence. It shares a long border with Ukraine and has been home to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the beginning of Moscow’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has about 1,500 troops in Moldova’s Moscow-backed separatist region of Transnistria, a piece of land between Moldova and Ukraine.
“About 90 percent [of our military equipment] is of Soviet origin and dates from the 1960s-1980s …. You cannot modernize a ZIL-131 [military truck] or an anti-aircraft system from the 1970s,” Nosatii said.
President Maia Sandu’s pro-European government accelerated its EU bid after Russia invaded Ukraine and was granted candidate status alongside Ukraine in June.
Moldova’s armed forces are composed of 6,500 professionals, while 2,000 conscripts are recruited annually for compulsory military service. The military also employs 2,000 civilians as support personnel.
Nosatii told RFE/RL that the 0.5 percent of gross domestic product that the government allocates to defense — about $25.5 million — while small, is still very important for the implementation of modernization projects.
Nosatii also spoke about the equipment shortages that the Moldovan military is facing due to insufficient funding.
The Defense Ministry only partially covers the contents of the so-called “emergency backpack” that contract soldiers, who make up the bulk of Moldova’s armed forces, are required to keep ready for unexpected situations, Nosatii said.
Nosatii, who was appointed defense minister in Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita’s reformist government in August last year, told RFE/RL that his ministry’s current priority is to provide each member of the armed forces with one of these individual first-aid kits.
Moldova has been working with foreign partners, including NATO, in efforts to supply first-aid kits to its military personnel, Nosatii said.
In addition to the first aid kit, the emergency backpack must also contain personal items such as underwear, socks, gloves, a wool hat, food and a flashlight, Nosatii said. The state can only partially cover the cost of such equipment.
“For example,” Nosatii told RFE/RL, “if the state provides four T-shirts [for daily usage] but the backpack must be enough for seven days of operation, the rest of three or more t-shirts must be bought by the soldier.”
Nosatii said that while the supply of equipment to Moldova’s small military is a constant underlying problem, the ministry has received help from Moldova’s external partners.
“You can’t ask a soldier to do his duty if he doesn’t have what he needs, if he’s cold, if he doesn’t have military equipment or if he’s forced to buy it himself,” Nosatii said.
The military equipment donated by Moldova’s western partners this year consists of protective equipment such as helmets, anti-aircraft jackets, waterproof and winter clothing.
Earlier this month, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht visited Moldova and said Berlin is ready to deliver drones and other military equipment to Chisinau.
Lambrecht also said the Bundeswehr is ready to provide military training to Moldova.
She said Berlin is also aware of the importance of supporting Moldova amid energy shortages resulting from the war in Ukraine.