Despite Historical Ties, Moldova Unlikely to Follow Romania’s Path

View of the Ștefan cel Mare boulevard in downtown Chișinău, Moldova, April 7, 2009
View of the Ștefan cel Mare boulevard in downtown Chișinău, Moldova, April 7, 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

Unlike my colleague and friend Irina Staver, my culture and native language are not Romanian. I am an expatriate living in the neighboring Republic of Moldova, a country with close cultural and historical ties to Romania.

Yet I have observed with great interest the parallel evolutions of these two countries. A number of similarities thus spring to mind, so that I might be able to draw from the current Romanian context a few lessons for Moldova. Read more

Moldova’s President of Smoke and Mirrors

Presidents Igor Dodon of Moldova and Vladimir Putin of Russia deliver a joint news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, January 17
Presidents Igor Dodon of Moldova and Vladimir Putin of Russia deliver a joint news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, January 17 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Moldova’s new president is no friend of liberal democracy. Igor Dodon, who came to power in December, enjoys basking in the glow of Vladimir Putin and his entourage. Read more

Battles and Breaks

Russian president Vladimir Putin gives a speech in Belgrade, Serbia marking the seventieth anniversary of the city's liberation in World War II, October 16, 2014
Russian president Vladimir Putin gives a speech in Belgrade, Serbia marking the seventieth anniversary of the city’s liberation in World War II, October 16, 2014 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

While the world was looking at the Russian military campaign in Syria, Russia may have scored a victory in Europe: the government of Valeriu Streleț in Moldova was toppled by a vote of no confidence initiated by pro-Russian parties in the Chișinău parliament. Meanwhile, opposition protesters clashed with police in Montenegro’s capital and the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, visited Moscow. It seemed as if Russia had been on a winning streak. But in reality, Vladimir Putin has too many battles to fight and his own strategy — if there is one — put him under pressure. In fact, Russia is winning only where it does not have to have a strategy. Read more

Communists Back Pro-European Coalition in Moldova

Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici of Moldova in Chișinău, February 2015
Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici of Moldova in Chișinău, February 2015 (Shok)

Dependent on the Communist Party for its majority, Moldova’s new government may have to downplay its interest in deepening ties with the rest of Europe.

Parliament voted in a new administration in Chișinău on Wednesday, led by the former businessman Chiril Gaburici. His Liberal Democratic Party won 20 percent support in November’s election, placing it behind the pro-Russian Socialist Party which got 21 percent support.

The Liberal Democrats failed to renew their alliance with the Liberal Party but still govern in coalition with the Democratic Party. Both are centrist and pro-European but do not command a majority in parliament between them. They needed the Communists to keep them in power.

The Communists ruled Moldova before it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike the more radical Socialists, they claim to support integration with the European Union but seek to revise Moldova’s trade agreements with the bloc to shield farmers from competition.

However, Communist Party voters tend to be more sympathetic to Russia and many switched to the Socialists in last year’s election as tensions between Russia and the West mounted over the standoff in Moldova’s neighbor, Ukraine.

If the Socialists do well in local elections that are likely to be called in July, that could raise pressure on the Communists to pull their support from the pro-European coalition.

Russia has hurt Moldova’s economy by banning meat, vegetable and wine exports after the country signed an association agreement with the European Union last summer that put it on a path to membership.

The trade and visa agreements with the European Union have helped buoy the economy but Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Pro-Europe Parties Lose Support in Moldova, Maintain Majority

Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leancă speaks with Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, in Chișinău, May 13
Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leancă speaks with Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, in Chișinău, May 13 (The Council of the European Union)

Parliamentary elections in Moldova on Sunday showed support for Prime Minister Iurie Leancă’s shift toward the European Union and away from Russia but the ruling pro-Western parties were nevertheless on course to lose several seats as a result of their inability to tackle corruption.

With 85 percent of the votes counted on Monday, the outcome also showed the country eying its former Soviet master with the Communist and Socialist Parties, both of which advocate closer relations with Russia, winning 18 and 21 percent support, respectively.

Russia has hurt Moldova’s economy by banning meat, vegetable and wine exports after the country signed an association agreement with the European Union this summer that put it on a path to membership.

A similar association agreement sparked this year’s unrest in neighboring Ukraine. When former president Viktor Yanukovich unexpectedly pulled out of the treaty talks late last year, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the decision. Yanukovich resigned in February and Russian troops moved into the Crimean Peninsula the next month. After it formally annexed the territory, which headquarters its Black Sea fleet, the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria requested similar admission into the Russian Federation.

Transnistria is wedged between Moldova and Ukraine and home to half a million people. Moldova does not appear to have either the capacity or the intention of recovering the territory while Russia has ignored the region’s request for annexation.

The Communists, who led Moldova until it became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, do support integration with the European Union but seek to revise the country’s trade agreements with the bloc to protect farmers from competition.

The Socialists, whose leader split from the Communists in 2011, are the only ones unambiguously in favor of strengthening ties with Russia at the expense of Europe. They also advocate the interests of Moldova’s 9 percent ethnic Russian minority.

However, the two left-wing parties fell short of a majority to govern. A continuation of Leancă’s coalition, which would have a five-seat majority under the preliminary results, seemed more likely.

Moldova Next? Voters Asked to Choose Between Europe, Russia

Polish prime minister Donald Tusk welcomes his Moldovan counterpart, Iurie Leancă, in Warsaw, September 9, 2013
Polish prime minister Donald Tusk welcomes his Moldovan counterpart, Iurie Leancă, in Warsaw, September 9, 2013 (KPRM/Maciej Śmiarowski)

Moldovans are asked to choose between further integration with the rest of Europe or better relations with their former Soviet master, Russia, in parliamentary elections on Sunday. The stark choice is reminiscent of recent events in Ukraine where large demonstrations in favor of closer relations with Europe brought down the government and prompted Russia to back a separatist insurgency in the southeast.

“If before everyone thought it was possible to adapt and find a stable balance between East and West, now, I think, voters really must make a choice between East and West,” Romania’s former foreign minister, Teodor Baconschi, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in an interview.

Prime Minister Iurie Leancă’s pro-European parties are at 49 percent in the opinion polls. But his Liberal Democratic Party is neck and neck with the Communists. Both are polling at 21 percent support.

Although the Communist Party that led Moldova until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is generally considered pro-Russian, it is internally divided. Rather it is the mainstream Socialist Party that looks likely to make the most significant gains. It not only favors closer relations with Russia; the party advocates the interests of Moldova’s 9 percent ethnic Russian minority.

An alliance between the two left-wing parties would be complicated. Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon split from the Communists three years ago. He may be more likely to enter into a coalition with the centrist Democratic Party, even if it currently supports Leancă’s government and Moldova’s integration with the European Union.

Moreover, the Communists and Socialists are likely to fall short of a governing majority without the pro-Russian Patria party. It was disqualified from running by the country’s election commission on Thursday which said it had illegally used “foreign funds” to finance its campaign. It was polling at around 12 percent support.

Although most Moldovans favor the government’s pro-European policy, they are also disenchanted with its poor record in fighting corruption.

Economic growth has been volatile. After 7.1 and 6.4 percent growth in 2010 and 2011, the economy contracted .7 percent in 2012 before recovering the following year and expanding 8.9 percent. Figures point to lower growth this year.

Trade and visa agreements with the European Union have helped buoy the economy but Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe.

It has also been hit by Russian import restrictions on meat, vegetables and wine, enacted after Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union this summer that put it on a path to membership.

A similar association agreement with Ukraine sparked its standoff with Russia. When former president Viktor Yanukovich unexpectedly pulled out of the treaty talks late last year, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest the decision. Yanukovich resigned in February and Russian troops moved into the Crimean Peninsula the next month. After it formally annexed the territory, which headquarters its Black Sea fleet, the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria requested similar admission into the Russian Federation.

Moldova does not appear to have either the capacity or the intention of recovering Transnistria, an enclave on its border with Ukraine that is home to half a million people.

Transnistria looks similar to the self-declared “people’s republic” in eastern Ukraine which have received military support from Russia. However, Russia does not appear to have stepped up support for Transnistria in recent months. It altogether ignored the region’s request for annexation.

Moldova and Russia also recently signed a new contract for natural gas supplies. Like many states in Eastern Europe, Moldova depends almost entirely on Russian gas. But that might change.

A new pipeline with Romania, partially financed by the European Union, was inaugurated last year and is supposed to help provide up to a third of Moldova’s gas requirements by the end of 2014.

Russia Formally Annexes Crimea, Transnistria Requests Same

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff, watch a military parade in Moscow, June 22, 2012
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff, watch a military parade in Moscow, June 22, 2012 (The Presidential Press and Information Office)

President Vladimir Putin formalized his country’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea on Tuesday when he signed a treaty that returned the peninsula to Russia.

A day earlier, lawmakers in the Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria requested similar admission into the Russian Federation.

Putin announced the annexation in an address to a joint session of parliament in Moscow’s Kremlin, days after an overwhelming majority of the Crimea’s population had voted in favor of joining Russia.

Denounced by Ukraine’s government and Western nations as illegitimate, the referendum saw almost 97 percent of Crimeans voting to become Russian with turnout at 83 percent.

The majority of the peninsula’s residents are ethnic Russians but 12 percent are Tatars, the native population that was deported en masse to Central Asia by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1944 on suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. They have been returning since the Soviet regime collapsed in 1991 and many boycotted the plebiscite that gave them no choice of remaining part of Ukraine with a high degree of autonomy.

The city of Sevastopol, which headquarters Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, is likely to be admitted into the Russian Federation as a separate entity with a status similar to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Russian lawmakers are expected to ratify the treaty later this week.

Russian troops entered the Crimea in late February after Ukraine’s elected president, Viktor Yanukovich, was deposed following months of protests against his decision to pull out of an associated agreement with the European Union in favor of deeper ties with his country’s former Soviet master, Russia. Putin has denied sending troops but vowed to protect Russian speakers and Russian interests in a region that was part of the Russian Empire for almost two centuries before Soviet leaders transferred it to Ukraine in 1954, then a Soviet satellite state.

Russia’s annexation of the Crimea appeared to have rekindled separatist sentiments in another former Soviet republic, Moldova. Some 200,000 of its citizens living in the eastern region of Transnistria broke away from the country in 1990. While Russia has not formally recognized its independence, it has some 2,000 troops stationed there and many Transnistrians also hold Russian citizenship.

In 2006, 97 percent of Transnistrians voted to join Russia in a referendum.

Moldova, which did sign an association agreement with the European Union late last year, warned Russia on Tuesday that annexing Transnistria would be a “mistake.”