Last month’s political unrest and violent protests in Moldova have led to an interesting, and controversial, proposition from Romania: the EU nation is offering passports to up to one million Moldovans to prevent the implementation of “a new Iron Curtain” on the border of their historically close neighbor.

  Chisinau’s central post office has been swamped by crowds for the past few weeks, causing alarm within the EU at the new policy.

The BBC explains the recent law changes:

Around 1,000 people a day have come to the post office in the past few weeks, since Romania changed its citizenship law to speed up procedures for Moldovans, following the violent anti-government riots that erupted in the former Soviet republic last month after a disputed election.

The change was initiated by President Traian Basescu in an unusual tit-for-tat move after his Moldovan counterpart, Vladimir Voronin, accused Romania of backing the protesters, expelled its ambassador and re-introduced visa requirements for Romanians.

Mr. Basescu, who made the “Iron Curtain” comment, has estimated that there are 650,000 envelopes, some enclosing several applications, piling up at the Romanian embassy in Chisinau; Romania had previously only approved a few thousand requests for citizenship per year.  Moreover, the new offer has initiated something of a passport war with Russia, who seems to be winning.  The BBC notes that although more than 100,000 Moldovans already hold Romanian passports, even more are believed to have Russian citizenship, especially in the breakaway Transnistria region.

EU law allows member states to grant citizenship to anyone they like, but this has not spared Romania criticism from its fellow EU states.  The BBC noted that senior EU diplomats have called the offer unwise, risky and destabilizing.  They worry that up to a million impoverished migrants could enter Europe through the new policy.  A separate BBC report captured the sentiments of another EU diplomat who found it hard to see how the passport offer would contribute to the stability of Moldova, while it would certainly not win any sympathy for Romania from other EU members.

Romanian Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu has attempted to qualm fears, reassuring EU members that decisions will be on a case-by-case basis, with many people not qualifying.  Other Romanian diplomats believe the piles of envelopes will quickly thin because many Moldovans have not properly completed the complex application procedures.

The issue will certainly come up on Thursday when the EU launches its “Eastern Partnership” initiative, which is meant to create closer ties with the ex-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.  Nevertheless, the Financial Times reports:

The Eastern Partnership is a vessel rocking from side to side even before it starts its voyage.  It appears unlikely that Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Voronin, the presidents of Belarus and Moldova respectively, will bother to show up in Prague for the launch. Nor, it seems, will this week’s summit be graced with the presence of all 27 EU national leaders.

Radio Free Europe confirmed that Voronin is indeed not attending the summit, sending instead his Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan.  Voronin argues that he must stay in Chisinau to tackle the recent political crisis.  He is also apparently unhappy with the limited EU offer of enhanced cooperation, which falls short of promising eventual EU membership to the summit’s participants.  The RFE report even states that Voronin once told Russian media that the Eastern Partnership is directed against Moscow and an attempt to create new spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.

Yet again we see Moldova as a torn state, indecisive as to whether its loyalties belong with Russia or Romania and the EU.  Romania, for one, appears happy to participate in this tug-of-war.  Nicu Popescu of the Financial Times seems to agree with the Romanian decision, arguing that, “The EU faces the prospect of Moldova becoming a Russian political satellite with hundreds of thousands of EU citizens subject to a repressive regime. The EU has never faced such a dilemma.”

But, with little to no support for Romania’s new citizenship policy, it is questionable how many of the promised one million passports (a quarter of Moldova’s population) will be issued.

Valerie Nichols is a web editor at the Atlantic Council.