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Balancing on the Shoulders of Giants: Moldova's Foreign Policy toward Russia and the European Union


  • The authors thank Anna Gregg, Andreas Johansson, Paul Kubicek, Irina Nicorich, and the anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful comments on the manuscript. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Fulbright Foundation and the Institute of International Relations of Moldova (IRIM). All errors are the authors's.


“Soft balancing” has emerged as a way to reconcile realist theory with the lack of hard balancing behavior against US hegemony. Scholars continue, however, to disagree on the concept's utility and causes. Consistent with its realist roots, scholars have primarily focused on power imbalance and external threat to security as causes of soft balancing. This article analyzes Moldova's major foreign policy shift in the mid-2000s. It argues that this was a clear example of soft balancing and that it adds several important insights into the causes of soft balancing. While the power imbalance and external threat from Russia were persistent throughout Moldova's post-independence history, the country only adopted a soft balancing strategy once Russia posed a threat to the internal stability of the government and changes in EU policy created a permissive international environment for the strategy. Moreover, we argue that the domestic political environment played a key role in enabling the adoption of this strategy. This article therefore diversifies the analysis of the causes of soft balancing and provides a theoretical answer for the puzzle of Moldova's pro-Western turn in 2003.