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November 29, 2016 No.
6696

Russia's Orbit - Part III - The New Pro-Russian President Of Moldova

On October 30, and on November 13, the first and second rounds of the Moldovan presidential elections took place. The pro-Russian and Euro-skeptic leader of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), Igor Dodon, was the victor with 52% of the votes.[1] Dodon's challenger, the pro-European reformer Maia Sandu of the Action and Solidarity Party, Igor Dodon claimed that the election was marred by numerous irregularities and requested that it be invalidated. About 1,000 demonstrators, gathered in the central square of the Moldovan capital of Chisinau to protest the presidential election outcome, chanting: "I refuse, I resist, I am anti-Socialist."[2] Dodon's election aroused concern in the European Union and Romania, whose political relations with Moldova have been complicated ever since Moldova attained independence in 1991.


Moldova on the map.
 

 
Demonstration against Dodon's election in Chisinau on November 14, 2016 (Source: YouTube)
 

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moldova's election results demonstrate broad electoral support for Dodon's platform of "bringing socioeconomic stability to the country and pursuing balanced foreign policy goals." Putin expressed his hopes for constructive dialogue and joint activity in promoting Russian-Moldovan relations in accordance with the bilateral Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation.[3] Putin invited Dodon to visit Russia and wished him success as Moldova's head of state.[4]

It is worth noting, that Moldova's pro-Russian separatist and largely Russian-speaking region of Transdniester will also conduct presidential elections on December 11, 2016. Transdniester broke away from Moldova in 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is an unrecognized self-proclaimed republic occupying a strip of land on the left bank of the River Dniester, and is officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic. In 1992, tensions with Moldova's central government escalated into armed conflict. On July 21, 1992, a cease-fire agreement was signed by Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin and Moldovan president Mircea Snegur. Following the agreement, a Russian peacekeeper contingent was stationed in the conflict area, where it has remained to this day.  


A 2014 picture showing Putin with Dodon, and former Moldovan prime minister Zinaida Grechany . (Source: Kremlin.ru, November 5, 2014)

Dodon: Three Main Issues Decided The Elections

In an interview with Russian TV journalist Vladimir Soloviev on the Russia 1 channel, Dodon said that he viewed Russia as a strategic partner and expressed euro-skeptic views. Dodon said that three main issues decided the elections:

·         First- the 2015-16 social demonstration in Moldova protesting the political corruption scandals.

·         Second - the unprecedented lack of confidence in euro-integration. Seven years ago, 70% of Moldova's population supported integration, whereas today, due to the economic crisis, only 35-40% of the population supports EU integration.

·         Third - public distrust of the authorities as 80% of the population believe that the government was moving in the wrong political direction.

Dodon explained that previously, pro-European political forces were in power, and this helped attract EU and US investments in Moldova. Dodon however claimed that the EU political and financial aid came with strings attached designed to advance the EU's own geo-political interests. Moldova's pro-Western politicians had done nothing to improve living conditions for ordinary people, and the West had supported a corrupt oligarchic system in Moldova. He also stated that the presidential elections victory is just an intermediary success, and called for moving up parliamentary elections so the pro-Western government could be replaced.[5]

Dodon stressed the importance of restoring ties with Russia and Moldova's participation in economic integration with Moscow and the Eurasian Economic Union. The restrictions on the import of Moldovan goods to Russia were introduced after Moldova began its rapprochement with the EU. Before Moldova initialed the association agreement with the EU in 2013, Moscow banned Moldovan wine. After it signed the associating agreement in 2014, Moscow extended the ban to fruit and vegetables as well.

In his last televised pre-election confrontation with pro-European candidate Maia Sand, Dodon said that once elected,  he would make his first official visit to Russia, where he would discuss opening the Russian market to Moldovan producers and the plight of Moldovan labor migrants in Russia. Dodon said: "Without the Russian market, Moldova's economy will not survive."[6] However, the Russian media cautioned that Dodon's intent to ease Russian-Moldovan relations would encounter opposition from Moldova's parliament and government that are still controlled by the Democratic Party. That party is associated with the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc and its leaders are unsympathetic towards Russia.[7]   


Dodon interviewed by Russian TV journalist Vladimir Soloviev (YouTube.com)

Moldova-EU Relations

During the electoral campaign, Dodon pledged to cancel the association agreement with the EU[8] to facilitate Moldova's  joining the Eurasian Economic Union. After the election Dodon backtracked and explained that Moldova cannot afford to cancel the EU agreement. Radio Romania International commented as follows: " Aware that half of the electorate that had voted for [Dodon's] opponent, pro-European reformer Maia Sandu, would not tolerate a brutal reversal of the foreign policy vector, Dodon says that the republic [of Moldova] does not need [to become] what he called a Ukrainian 'waste land'hinting at the large-scale demonstrations which in early 2014, triggered the collapse of the pro-Moscow [Yanukovych] regime in Kiev and the instatement of a pro-Western administration. However, he demands that the European Union replace the free trade regime stipulated under the association agreement with an asymmetrical trade regime, which would enable the Republic of Moldova to export goods on the community [single] market without paying customs dues."[9]  

Moldova-NATO Relations

Dodon said that he will insist on the resignation of Moldova's Defense Minister Anatol Salaru, who wants Moldova to abandon its neutrality status and join NATO. Dodon amplified: "Under the constitution, the president can decree the dismissal of a government member. It is possible for a minister to resign at the prime minister's initiative and by a presidential decree. But the president is the supreme commander-in-chief of the National Army, so, I will insist on the earliest resignation of such a person as Salaru."

Dodon accuses Salaru of violating Moldova's constitutional neutrality by urging the country to  join NATO. The Russian news agency Tass wrote: "[Salaru] sanctioned military drills with the participation of NATO countries on the territory of [Moldova]. Apart from that, he called on NATO to help transform the peacekeeping operation in Transdniester involving Russian, Moldovan and Transdniesterian forces into an international mission of civil monitors. Several days ago, the Moldovan defense minister said he had agreed with his Ukrainian counterpart, Stepan Poltorak, to draft a joint plan for the  withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons from Transdniester, which would provide for the establishment of a 'green corridor'across Ukrainian territory for them. Dodon's Party of Socialists has twice launched parliamentary initiatives to have Salaru dismissed.. Aside from allegedly violating the constitution, the party accuses the defense minister of large-scale embezzlement. The pro-European parliamentary majority refused to back the Socialists'move out of fear of a possible split in the ruling coalition."[10]

Dodon also plans to exclude Liberal Party leader Mihai Ghimpu from the Supreme Security Council.

Moldova-Romania Relations - Dodon: Washington Wants To Achieve Moldova-Romania Unificaton

After the elections, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said that Dodon should exercise his mandate with 'wisdom and balance'. Iohannis'communiqué read: "The Romanian President reaffirms...the firm support of our country for the European path of the Republic of Moldova and highlights Romania's support for the further development of the bilateral Strategic Partnership for European integration of the Republic of Moldova and for the continuation of the bilateral cooperation between the government and the local authorities in the Republic of Moldova, in line with its citizens' expectations."[11]

However, Dodon's presidency could provoke a deterioration of Moldova's relations with Romania. Radio Romania International stated that Dodon already threatened to proscribe organizations that seek unification with Romania, to strip certain Romanian nationals of their citizenship, and change Moldova's national flag, which is almost identical to the Romanian one.[12]

However, Dodon recently stressed that his rhetoric is neither anti-Romanian, nor anti-Unionist (i.e. against the union of Romania and Moldova).[13] In February 2016, Dodon accused Washington of organizing a plot to unite Moldova with Romania in 2018. Dodon said: "Now, the Americans have another plan, much more scaring, called 'the Union 2018,'which is the unification of the Republic of Moldova with Romania to mark one century from the Great Union of 1918 [i.e. the union of Bessarabia with the Kingdom of Romania that happened in 1918]."[14]

On March 2016, thousands of people demonstrated in the streets if the Moldavian capital Chisinau, calling for Moldova's reunification with EU-member Romania. The demonstrators stated that reunification with Romania would imply joining the EU and that would be the way to fight corruption in Moldova. In October 2016, a rally took place in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, calling as well for Romania's reunification with Moldova.[15]

The head of the Bucharest-based Center for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning, Professor Iulian Chifu, said: "We are talking about a different reality when it comes to the Republic of Moldova. This was a rift state to begin with, and Igor Dodon's election is not the best news for Bucharest, considering his past, his election rhetoric, and his electoral platform. However, we are talking about good neighborhood, a neighboring state, as well as a government and parliament that continue to be pro-European, even if President Dodon wants early elections and wants to take over power completely. We should ponder over the next period how the policies of these two states lie, but again, as long as there is continuity for the big actors, there is little probability to see things that powerful."[16]  

Russia's Deputy PM Rogozin: 'Preexistent Extreme Westernism [In Moldova] Is Discredited'

On July 5-6, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited Moldova, after two-year interval. The visit was an opportunity to present to Chisinau a "road map" towards the restoration of trade and economic relations between Russia and Moldova. However, he complained that Moldova's government was interested only in having Russia remove certain trade barriers, using the word "embargo" to describe Russia's ban on Moldova's products.

During the official visit, Rogozin explained to the Russian newspaper Kommersant how Russia would want to restore trade and political relations with the Moldova. Rogozin said: "What do we need? We need to have Moldova as a friendly state, participating in economic integration with Russia and the Eurasian Community, and we need Moldova to consistently follow the policy oriented towards removal of huge political, economic and other disagreements, including those with the left bank of the Dniester [i.e. Transdniester]. Because there are not only half a million our compatriots living there, but also 200 thousand Russian citizens, and we will have to fight for them and defend them in every way. That is why, despite the low weight of Moldova in the entire complex of Russia's relations with the outside world, there are some really deep scratches here that make us keep the Russian bandage in place."[17]  


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (Source: Kommersant.ru)
 

Concerning Russian military interests in Moldova, Rogozin said: "Moldova is a country with a conflict on its territory - the Transdniester conflict. Talking about the need to change the form of the peace-keeping mission now is a grave mistake [in July 2016, Moldova talked about replacing the Russian peacekeeping forces in Transdniester with an international mission of civil observers under UN's control];[18] it's nonsense, because the status of the peace-keeping mission is the last business in the long line of affairs we will have to touch upon in our relations...If Russia has to keep its military contingent and its peace-keepers far from its own territory, especially given that we have to support them over the head of Ukraine with its hostile government, it means that our interests in Moldova are serious enough. And these interests are connected to the blood that was spilled here. And we will do everything so that blood would not flow in the Dniester again."[19]  


The Transdniester region.
 

Discussing Moldova-EU relations, Rogozin stated already back in July: "The tone has clearly changed. There are no more stupid - excuse me for being so blunt - and sweeping statements to the effect that tomorrow Moldova will join the European Union and therefore it does not need anybody anymore; this is definitely not happening now. Plus our colleagues have another heavy anchor attached to their feet - it is the statistics of trade relations both with Brussels and with Moscow. All their hopes for easy victory, for fast advance to the heights they had in their sight, evaporated. Trade relations with Russia dropped by 40%, and with the  EU - by 20%... I think that it is evident that the preexisting rampant Westernism is discredited, and the people who come to power in Chisinau now have more ties to business, to the real economy. These people, if they have come to stay, by virtue of their education and life experience cannot take risks the way the extreme Westernists did. That is why a balanced position of Moldova in its relations with Russia and the West is a critical necessity, and any political fore that aspires to power will realize it."[20]  

Discussing Moldova-Romania relations, Rogozin mentioned that upon his arrival in Moldova, he received a text message on his mobile, stating "Welcome to Romania". Rogozin commented: "I read the SMS and I proceed from what I read. I start looking into the window, to see where I have arrived. What if there is an emergency and we have landed in Bucharest? So, this is a question of Moldovan politics. If they want to be part of Romania, it's better to let Transdniester go amicably, the easy way; if they don't want to be part of Romania, if they want to remain a sovereign state, a smart state that will protect all its citizens, then they will need years, but those years will not be wasted in vain. They will be used to restore Moldova's territorial integrity...I may say whatever I wish, so may any other politician, but the fact remains the same, and it is undeniable even for the most fervent advocates of unification with Romania. If Moldova makes a step towards Romania, Transdniester will fall out on this steep curve."[21]  

Rogozin: Talking About Returning Transdniester To Moldova 'Recalls The Japanese Talking About The Return Of The South Kuril Islands'

Discussing Moldova relations with the pro-Russian separatist region of Transdniester, Kommersant correspondent Vladimir Solovyov mentioned that the former Prime Minister, Valery Strelets, when he stopped being Prime Minister, said that if Transdniester had agreed to return to Moldova, Chisinau wouldn't have been ready, because there was no plan for that contingency. To that, Rogozin answered: "If we count the years that have passed since Transdniester became autonomous, it's almost 26 years, which is more than one generation; a new generation has grown in Moldova, which does not know Transdniester, does not consider it 'theirs', does not understand what re-integration means. And a new generation has grown in Transdniester, which does not see anything interesting in Moldova either. They are interested either in Russian citizenship and working in Russia, or in being a labor migrant in the European Union. There are young men who strive to obtain European citizenship. So, if we keep sitting on the fence watching the constant change of governments in Moldova, some more time will pass and then this problem will disappear by itself. These two territories will simply cease to have even a minimal number of features that could unite them in one state. And all the talks about returning this territory to Moldova recalls the Japanese talking about the return of the South Kuril islands. They perform this ritual talk, but they understand that in reality it's impossible."[22]  

Kommersant's correspondent remarked that Rogozin always differentiates Transdniester from the right-bank Moldova in his words, telling the deputy PM that he talks about [the capital and administrative center of Transdniester] Tiraspol with warmth, but about Chisinau rather coldly. Rogozin answered the correspondent that he does not feel that way and that he should not "provoke" him on this subject. Rogozing then added: "The problem is of another kind. Naturally, I am irritated by crazy people who may appear in any country's politics, including Moldova. I am irritated by some people on the Russian political scene, that's normal. I have my principles, I am Russian, I am not some cosmopolitan. That's why when I speak of such people in Moldova's politics, I speak coldly." The Kommensant correspondent insisted that Russia helps Transdniester and does not help the right-bank Moldova. "The bias is obvious. In Transdniester there are construction projects, social facilities, and in Moldova - nothing of the kind," said the correspondent.

Rogozin answered: "As far as I know, Moldova is not in a state of isolation and economic blockade...We understand that if we don't help Transdniester, it will not manage on its own. Without Russian aid, Transdniester will not survive, I am absolutely convinced of this. As for Moldova, it will survive, because it is not isolated. In fact, we help the people of Transdniester a lot, but Moldova also gets significant help from Russia. It's quite obvious. Labor migration - just think how much money in foreign currency is added to the budget of Moldova from 700 thousand labor migrants." The Kommersant correspondent remarked that this can be "hardly called help," since those 700 thousand labor migrants work and earn money. Rogozin then commented: "And what do you think we are, a revolving door for migrants? We can make any decisions that are related, for example, to diversification of labor migration. Or, vice-versa, to welcome some people more than others. We want Moldovans to work in our economic entities, we think that they are close to us in their views, faith, joint traditions of living in the same state. And we will never do anything to hurt them; I always take care to ensure that in our Russian part of the intergovernmental commission the issues of migration are always raised in a positive way. Therefore, talking about help, it is great help when the absolute majority of labor migrants have chosen Russia with their head, their hands and feet, their labor. Paradoxically, despite this labor migration, certain political forces in Moldova are starting to turn in the opposite direction."[23]  

Rogozin: 'It's As If [Local Oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc] Is A Former Bad Guy Who Became A Good Guy Because He Caved In To The Great America'


Vladimir Plahotniuc (Source: Protv.md)

The Kommersant correspondent mentioned that when Rogozin arrived to the Chisinau airport, he was greeted with slogans "Invader" and other epithets. Solovyov added: "But Moldova itself is called 'an invaded state' by European politicians. It is thought that Moldova is ruled by the controversial oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who is behind the Prime Minister Pavel Filip and the Deputy Prime Minister Octavian Calmic." Rogozin then said jokingly that those who screamed "Invader" confused him with Plahotniuc.

Vladimir Plahotniuc is a Moldovan oligarch and he is considered to be a sort of éminence grise behind the Democratic Party, which rules the country. Plahotniuc's name has been connected to accusation of corruption.[24]

Rogozin stated: "If there is any invader here, it is definitely not I. Let them look for invaders within themselves. I repeat, I know various people but I am not inclined to give them any evaluations, including negative ones. People tend to change. We shall see; if there are pragmatic and cynical puppeteers - and they may have different names - who thought it necessary to set Moldova on a more pragmatic course, we will react to that as well." The Kommersant correspondent then added: "In Washington, Mr. Plahotniuc is treated as a real decision maker, as opposed to Filip or Calmic and other cabinet members." Rogozin answered: "We do not want to know such subtleties. We prefer to deal with the official leadership." Commenting further on Plahotniuc, Rogozin said: "Criminal Moldova, naturally, worries us. We cannot negotiate with frauds and renegades. Americans can. To Americans, if it's their lowlife, it's their lowlife. It's as if he's a former bad guy who became a good guy because he caved in to the Great America [referring to Plahotniuc, who visited Washington in May, 2016]."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Dodon began his political career in the Moldovan Communist Party and became an MP in 2009. He subsequently bolted the Communist Party in the Parliament and joined the Socialist Party of Moldova (PSRM). The Romanian Insider wrote: "[Dodon] began his political career during the regime of the Communist Vladimir Voronin, the third President of Moldova from 2001 until 2009 and the First Secretary of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova since 1994. Dodon has always been open about his preference for Russia, even to the detriment of a relationship with the European Union. In 2014, he said that Moldova should give up the Free Trade and Association Agreement with the EU to end the blocking of exports of agri-food products from Moldova to Russia." Romania-insider.com, November 14, 2016.

He also said he would continue Moldova's relations with the European Union.

[2] Romaniajournal.ro, November 14, 2016.

[3] The treaty of friendship and cooperation between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova was signed on November 19, 2001.

[4] Kremlin.ru, November 14, 2016.

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBW8kU5L2OY

[6] Romania-insider.com, November 14, 2016.

[7] Tass.com, November 15, 2016.

[9] Rri.ro, November 23, 2016.

[10] Tass.com, November 18, 2016.

[11] Romaniajournal.ro, November 14, 2016.

[12] Rri.ro, November 18, 2016.

[13] Agerpres.ro, November 25, 2016.

[14] Dodon gave the interview to the Russian media outlet Komsomolskaia Pravda. Romaniajournal.ro, February 5, 2016

[15] Romania-insider.com, October 24, 2016.

[16] Rri.ro, November 18, 2016.

[17] Kommersant.ru, July 7, 2016.

[18] Talking at the NATO Summit in Warsaw, Moldova's Defense Minister, Anatol Salaru, said: "During the last 25 years the Russian army has been present on Moldova's territory... We request to support our initiative concerning the transformation of the peacekeeping mission in the Transdniester region into a multinational civil mission. We also insist on drawing out the armed forces and equipment of the Russian Federation from Moldova's territory according to the international obligations." Uatoday.tv, July 10, 2016.

[19] Kommersant.ru, July 7, 2016.

[20] Kommersant.ru, July 7, 2016.

[21] Kommersant.ru, July 7, 2016.

[22] Kommersant.ru, July 7, 2016.

[23] Kommersant.ru, July 7, 2016.