The October 16 videoconference that involved the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia Maria Zakharova pursued the goal of persuading us that the Moldovan-Russian relations are negatively affected by the internal political situation in Moldova. To be convincing when answering participants’ questions, the Russian diplomat provided a broader assessment of the processes in the Republic of Moldova: “We follow all the processes, analyze them and try to develop complex bilateral relations with this state despite those internal political processes, in parts contradictory, and those contradictory statements made not only by politicians, who are politicians to do so, but also by senior government officials. Even if this is not simple, given the diametrically opposed statements that frequently come from Chisinau.”
Such a kind of appraisal, contrasted with the potential of the two states – the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation – is designed to persuade us that the authorities of Moldova, in general the political class, have an unreasonable behavior in relation to Russia. This way Moldova causes harm to itself by its inappropriate domestic and foreign policies. Surely, this is an implicit, induced conclusion, but it is also supported by Maria Zakharova’s attitude to the multilateral partnerships developed by the Republic of Moldova: “there is no problem if the Moldovan-Russian partnership is developed simultaneously with the relations with unions, either European or from the former CIS area, global organizations or other states. But the unconstructive position of the European institutions that want Moldova to decide whether it is “with them or with someone else” definitely does not generate dynamism in the Moldovan-Russian bilateral relations.”
Without doubt, the representatives of the Russian Federation are now trying to keep up appearances by saying that Russia didn’t oppose the multidimensional integrationist processes. But we still feel the effects of the bans imposed by Russia on Moldova before the EU Summit of Vilnius, where the Association Agreement between the Republic of Moldova and the European Union was to be initialed. In this regard, the measures taken by Russia were preventive and discouraging as they were imposed on September 10, 2013, over two months before the EU summit of November 28-29, 2013. We also remember the motivation of President Vladimir Putin to discourage the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine from initialing and, respectively, signing association agreements with the EU – anticipation of an eventual flow of re-exports of European products on the Russian market under a free trade regime liber, through the countries that signed the DCFTA: “If our neighbors accept the liberalization of the customs regimes with the EU, Ukraine’s market will inevitably be invaded by high-quality products at low prices that will eliminate the Ukrainian products from the own market... In such conditions, the member states of the Customs Union should take protection measures”. And the protection measures followed immediately:
- On September 10, 2013 already, only three weeks after President Vladimir Putin expressed his hypothetical concerns, Russia’s consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor suspended the import of Moldovan wines, invoking the low quality of the alcoholic beverages supplied by Moldova;
- On July 21, 2014, Russia decided to ban the import of fruit and vegetables from the Republic of Moldova. The Russian authorities declared they found the harmful Oriental moth in consignments of fruit. The non-observance of the goods marking and identification norms was invoked in the case of cans;
- On August 1, 2014, the Government of Russia decided to introduce customs duties on the import of goods from Moldova. The decision took effect on September 1, 2014. The duties were set at the level of the common customs duty used in the Customs Union. Taxes were introduced on 19 positions, including meat, vegetables, fruit, grains, flour, sugar, sunflower seeds, beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks, ethyl alcohol, furniture. These were the consequences of the warnings about the “protection measures” that will be taken if it turns out that the Association Agreement affects the Russian economy.
Similar measures were applied in relation to Ukraine. It should be yet noted here that Russia’s partners from the Customs Union – Belarus and Kazakhstan – opposed the initiative to introduce customs duties. It is curious that Russia’s partners didn’t estimate as dramatically the hypothetical dangers of the eventual re-export from countries that signed association and free trade agreements with the EU. The curiosity is especially evident in the case of Moldova if we take into account the fact that Russia’s trade with Moldova at that moment represented only 0.2% of the total volume of foreign trade and the danger of undermining the Russian economy as a result of the re-export under the free trade regime definitely had to be scientifically argued, highlighting also illegal schemes.
The curiosities do not yet stop at Russia’s welcoming of Moldova’s multilateral integrationist efforts. The point is that particular internal political forces of Moldova became involved in this process. Thus, the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) tried to justify the cascade of bans imposed by Russia on Moldova. Instead, President Vladimir Putin accepted to have a picture alongside the leaders of the PSRM not long before the campaign prior to the elections of November 30, 2014. Evidently, the Russian leader didn’t call on the Moldovan citizens to vote for the PSRM. They were just shown, through the electoral posters of the PSRM, whom this supports. In the videoconference of October 16, 2018, the Russian official, Maria Zakharova, assured us that it will happen similarly from now on.
Currently, Russia’s retouched position expressed by Maria Zakharova is shared by President Igor Dodon. Earlier this year, the President of Moldova made a series of statements at the summits held in St. Petersburg, Crans Montana, Yerevan etc., which note that “the national interests make us build a balanced economic policy. Cooperation amid a number of integrationist projects is a great benefit for our country. Moldova has free trade agreements with the European Union, with the Commonwealth of Independent States.” This is exactly what the EU urged us to do in 2013, before the Vilnius Summit.
Drawing conclusions on the videoconference that involved Maria Zakharova, we cannot overlook the fact that the dramatic events in Ukraine started in October 2013, after Russia issued warnings as to the imposition of bans on the post-Soviet republics that intended to sign association and free trade agreements with the EU. We can now only deplore the state of degradation of the regional situation that includes Moldova. The regional context worsens dramatically also owing to the schism inside the Orthodox Church caused by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. In this connection, a question can be put to the Russian authorities – why the UK managed to build a Commonwealth of Nations with the involvement of 53 states, with about 1/3 of the world’s population, while the Russian Federation is on the verge of losing hope that it can ever build what it calls the Russian World? Or this probably happens because it subjects the former Soviet republics to pressure instead of helping them?