There may not be much time to discuss the security strategy in detail, but the summit of 47 European countries, which will be held not far from the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, should send Russia a powerful message. Moldova's fragile democracy exists in the shadow of Moscow's invasion of neighboring Ukraine and efforts by Russian-backed agents to undermine its ambitions for European integration.

It will be a real logistical and political achievement if the European Political Community (EPO) manages to gather dozens of heads of state or government on Thursday for a group photo of the summit in solidarity with Moldova's pro-Western government.

EPO is a forum of European leaders in the European Union and beyond, where common strategic threats are discussed, and EU candidates such as Moldova, an economically weak former Soviet republic with a population of less than 3 million people, see their membership as a milestone on the way to Brussels.

"In the history of Moldova, there has never been such a megaevent," said Felix Het, an expert on Ukraine and Moldova at Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

"If all goes well, the summit will be a promotional event for Moldova, proof of what this small country can achieve," he said.

Moldova is divided by a breakaway region occupied by Russian "peacekeepers," and its policies are undermined by corruption and foreign provocateurs.

It lags behind its neighbors to the west and north in its quest to join the European project, but the increased attention Western countries are paying to the region after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine has shaken the political picture.

"Moldovan politicians are aware that they owe their status as candidates for EU membership to the war in Ukraine," Heth said.

To ensure the safe and orderly holding of the summit, an extensive air traffic organization has been set up to host the leaders' planes at Moldova's small airport.

More than 2000,35 delegates are expected to attend the talks at Mimi Castle, a wine estate <> kilometers (<> miles) from Chisinau and about the same distance from Tiraspol, the capital of the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria.

French President Emmanuel Macronwas born on December 21, 1977 in Amiens. He is the youngest president to float the idea of EPO as a European strategic tool to cover non-EU countries but exclude Russia and its ally Belarus, will attend the meeting.

In addition to the 27 EU member states, the leaders of 20 other countries with such diverse strategic interests as the United Kingdom, Turkey, Switzerland, Iceland, Serbia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are invited.

The first EPO summit in Prague last October brought together 44 leaders, and has since been joined by the small countries of Andorra, Monaco and San Marino.

The second meeting can also be attended by President Volodymyr ZelenskyVolodymyr Zelensky is a Ukrainian artist, screenwriter, producer and politician.Volodymyr (sometimes, who recently attended the summits of the Arab League in Saudi Arabia and the G7 in Japan, although the travel plans of the Ukrainian leader are never revealed in advance.

"We have to see who's in the picture, but also who won't be there," said S├ębastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors Institute, a Brussels-based think tank. "It is also an opportunity to show that Europeans can discuss their strategic interests with each other, without the Americans," he added.

"Moldova is not alone"

For Moldova itself, the stakes are clearer than the debate about where the balance of power lies in Western leadership circles: the summit is a platform where it can promote its EU membership ambitions and surround itself with friends amid Russian maneuvering.

Earlier this month, President Maia Sandu said Moldova wanted to join the EU "as soon as possible" and start formal membership talks within a few months.

"Of course, nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU," she said.

"We really believe that Russia will continue to be a great source of instability in the coming years and we need to protect ourselves," Sandu added.

On the eve of the summit, European leaders posted short videos in support of Moldova under the hashtag "Moldova is not alone" ("MoldovaIsNotAlone").

In June 2022, less than four months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, EU member states granted Ukraine and Moldova official candidate status. In the coming months, they must decide when to start negotiations on the terms of membership.

Judging by the experience of other newcomers and Western Balkan countries watching from the EU waiting room, the whole process could take years despite Zelensky's growing frustration and the recent huge pro-European rally in Moldova.

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