France to help secure Moldova airspace amid increased Russian pressure


France will assist Moldova in reinforcing the security and sovereignty of its airspace, providing equipment and counseling. 

On September 25, 2023, Sébastien Lecornu, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces conducted a historic visit to Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, marking a historic milestone as the first-ever visit by a French defense minister to the country. The purpose of this visit was to “reaffirm France’s unwavering support for Moldova.” 

During his diplomatic mission, Lecornu signed a letter of intent with his Moldovan counterpart, Anatolie Nosatîi, that laid the foundation for strengthening defense cooperation between the two nations. One of the main focuses of the bilateral cooperation will be to reinforce the air defense capabilities of Moldova.  

The first step will be the acquisition of a Ground Master 200 (GM200) multi-mission medium-range radar system, manufactured by the French company Thales, and designed to detect low to high-altitude air targets including missiles, artillery rounds, or drones.  

The GM200 has a surveillance range of 250 kilometers (155 miles) and can be used to engage targets within a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) when combined when an air defense system such as the Aster 30 SAMP/T (also known as MAMBA). The same equipment was provided to Ukraine as part of France’s military support to the country in its defense against Russia.  

Additionally, Lecornu announced that France would conduct an audit of Moldova’s air defense capabilities. This audit will serve as a comprehensive assessment of Moldova’s existing air defense systems, with the aim of identifying areas for improvement and enhancement.  

“For several months, our teams have been working together to define a much stronger, more concrete, and fundamentally oriented cooperation on the defense of your sovereignty and the stability of the Republic of Moldova”, said Lecornu.

As it stands, the Moldovan Air Force possesses limited capabilities due to its relatively small size and budget constraints. It operates a small fleet of Soviet-made aircraft, including helicopters and transport planes. Moldova’s President Maia Sandu has repeatedly called upon NATO nations to provide her country with air defense systems. 

Anatolie Nosatîi (right) and Sébastien Lecornu (left) signing a letter of intent. (Credit: Ministry of Defense of Moldova)

Moldova, a neighbor under increasing pressure 

Since the onset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moldova, its neighboring country, has repeatedly faced threats to its safety. Its airspace has been traversed multiple times by cruise missiles launched from Russian warships in the Black Sea, targeting Ukrainian cities. Debris from a Russian missile intercepted by Ukrainian air defense even fell upon the Moldovan village of Naslavcea on October 31, 2022. 

But Moldova also fears for its sovereignty, a threat exacerbated by the Russian military presence in the breakaway territory of Transnistria. 

On March 1, 2022, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko unveiled a map to his security council that depicted multiple Russian attack routes within Ukraine, including one specifically aimed at Moldova. 

Among the feared scenarios reported by both Ukrainian and Moldovan intelligence services, Chisinau International Airport (KIV) could be taken over by Russian forces and used as a bridgehead to launch an attack on both Moldova and western Ukraine. 

In an interview with local TV, Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicu Popescu revealed that the Moldovan authorities have been prepared to sabotage the runway of Chisinau International Airport since the first days of the invasion of Ukraine. 

The successful capture of Prague Airport (PRG) was central to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. A similar tactic was attempted but thwarted during Russia’s initial offensive on Ukraine, targeting Hostomel Airport (GML) located in the vicinity of Kyiv. The battle that ensued caused the destruction of the Antonov An-225 Mriya, the world’s largest aircraft. 

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