“The oligarchic regime’s capitulation does not solve all then problems automatically. It requires political stability to re-launch the process of reforms and returning to a healthy dialogue with the EU and other foreign partners...”
Even if the oligarchic regime in Moldova successfully monopolized the political power during almost four years, it managed to oppose the remodeling of the political landscape by the coalition between ACUM and the Party of Socialists (PSRM) for only a week (June 7-14, 2019). The costs for keeping power by uninterruptedly abusing the Constitution and the state institutions increased exponentially, affecting drastically the internal and external approval of the Democratic Party and ascribing already irreparable negative attributes to it. The unity of the international community towards the legitimacy of the ACUM-PSRM government had an isolating effect on the Democratic leader, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. For the latter, the perpetuation and deepening of political crisis would have hampered the ensuring of safe withdrawal conditions, which he finally obtained to leave Moldova on June 14, 2019.
The similitude of the positions stated by the U.S., the EU and Russia concerning the legitimacy of the ACUM-PSRM government (IPN, June 9, 2019) fueled the perception of a trilateral agreement. In reality, these players supported a common objective – the alternation of power in Moldova and democratization of the political process in Moldova (NewsMaker, June 15, 2019). In other words, the intolerance to oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc coincided without requiring the three players to formalize the coordination of their steps.
The difference between Russia and the other two players – the U.S. and the EU – is that the first does not reject the existence of oligarchs as long as they show (geo)political loyalty and become controllable through political-economic arrangements (Foreign Policy, June 10, 2019). At the same time, the Western powers tend to accept the oligarchs from the Eastern neighborhood if they do not hinder the reform process (case of Bidzina Ivanishvili in Georgia and of Petr Poroshenko). However, the West fully dissociates itself from those who detonate the democratic institutions and the rule of law. This explains West’s negative reaction both in relation to the abuses of the power that reached an apogee in Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine in the winter of 2014 and in Moldova under the regime of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc at the start of June 2019. In a contrary way, Russia actively supported the pro-Russian Yanukovych and exploited Ukraine’s weaknesses, but joined in the foreign pressure against oligarch Plahotniuc.
Democrats’ attempts to negotiate a coalition government with the Socialists (February – June 2019), including by taking over the multi-vector foreign policy, were aimed at overcoming the external isolation (Daleko-Blisko, March 21, 2019). But the Democrats’ offer aimed at unfreezing the Moldovan-Russian dialogue was ignored by Moscow, which instead pleaded for the allying of the Socialists with the Bloc ACUM even for a short period of time ( ). The Russian side chose in favor of the democratization of Moldovan politics as this will inevitably lead to the fragmentation of the political spectrum and, respectively, to the intensification of Russia’s influence.
Democrats’ capitulation as a foreign objective for stabilizing Moldova
Vladimir Plahotnic’s decision to switch off the oligarchic regime on June 14 resulted from the actions of other players than Russia. On the one hand, Romania toughened up its viewpoint on the political-constitutional crisis in the neighboring country. This way, the President of Romania Klaus Iohannis requested the European Commission and the European Council to take urgent measures to solve the political crisis in Moldova (Mediafax, June 12, 2019). On June 14, presidential adviser Bogdan Aurescu was delegated to hold talks with political players in Chisinau (Presidency.ro, June 14, 2019). The conviction of the ex-leader of the Social Democratic Party Liviu Dragnea to three years in jail spoiled the image of the SDP government and, respectively, its capacity to support the regime of Plahotniuc. Also, the President strengthened his positions in Romania following the anti-corruption referendum validated during May 2019 European Parliament elections. The two political changes made the official Bucharest’s actions with regard to the political realities in Moldova more responsible.
On the other hand, the regime of Vladimir Plahotniuc was brought to an end following the intervention of decision makers from Washington. Representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau had discussions with representatives of the Democratic Party of Moldova led by Vladimir Plahotniuc not long before the decision to withdraw from power was made public (Unimedia, June 14, 2019). At the same time, ex-Speaker Andrian Candu travelled to Washington two days before the Democrats’ capitulation (NewsMaker, June 12, 2019). Such intensification of contacts shows that Plahotniuc tried to soften the position of the Americans and the conceding of power to ACUM-PSRM coalition was influenced by the dialogue with the U.S. Ultimately, the U.S. authorities (State.gov, June 14, 2019) and Romania as well welcomed the DPM’s decision to transfer the power. The EU and Russia later joined the positive appraisals of the peaceful transfer of power (NewsMaker, Presidency.ro, June 14, 2019). This way, the Democrats avoided falling into the disgrace of the West.
The contribution made by Romania, EU and the U.S. to the management of the Moldovan crisis is underpinned by several explanations. For Romania, which will hand over the rotating presidency of the EU at the end of June, the worsening of the situation in Moldova would have represented a major strategic failure. At the same time, the deepening of the crisis in Moldova would have become imminent if the mass protests scheduled for June 16 had been mounted, but they were annulled after the power was transferred to the new government (Gov.md, June 15, 2019). For this reason, the U.S. and EU had to act to prevent the destabilization of another Eastern country that already has territorial integrity problems (Transnistrian region). Seen in connection with the situation in Ukraine, the prevention of the worsening of the crisis in Moldova stimulated the Western forces to mediate, even if from behind closed doors, the Democrats’ withdrawal from power, which implied the leaving of Moldova by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc.
Fear of mass protests and political post-crisis calculations
The simultaneous mobilization of the supporters of the Socialists and ACUM to the protests planned for June 16 could have amplified the domestic pressure on the Democrats. Given that the PSRM-ACUM tandem won almost 60% of the votes cast in the elections of February 2019 (830,000), their protests could have easily reached the proportions of the protests of 2015-2016 – 100,000 people. Not the possible size of protests alarmed yet Vladimir Plahotnic, but rather the fact that these would have taken place in an electoral context when the legitimacy of the new government that consists of the anti-corruption opposition usually has a clearly superior moral and political power.
A rerun of the traumatizing post-electoral events of April 2009 in Moldova was becoming an inevitable direction for which the Democrats were heading and this would have annulled any privilege or possibility of surviving politically and of eventually returning to the game. For these reasons, to avoid the use of violence, the immediate alleviation of the situation and the transfer of power to the PSRM-ACUM coalition was the only West-supported solution acceptable to the Democrats.
The political post-crisis calculations of the Democrats could have resulted from the fact that the new government is at a fragile crossroads. Firstly, the new executive has a tight agenda full of socioeconomic problems that will necessitate practically the whole available energy and attention. The speed at which the reforms will be corrected and re-launched will determine Moldova’s capacity to regain access to European assistance. The second delicate circumstance that should be overcome by the new government is the political coexistence in the Moldovans legislature where the majority formed by the PSRM and ACUM didn’t lose its artificial character and is vulnerable until there is no authentic and functional efficient coordination mechanism (secretariat for government coalition). The third important aspect is related to the liberalization of the electoral process promoted by the PSRM-ACUM coalition and whose consequences are unpredictable. The Socialists will have to soon confront Renato Usatyi whose return to politics can be already prefigured. The vacuum that will appear flowing the de-monopolization of political power will lead to the revision of the political landscape and to a competition for the next local, parliamentary and presidential elections. At the same time, the new political conditions and the disappearance of the common enemy could diminish the consensus inside ACUM. Such an uncertain political context offers the Democrats time for restructuring their clientelism networks without definitively renouncing the active presence on the Moldovan political arena and its influencing. These could aim to destabilize the ACUM-PSRM coalition, including with such initiatives as no-confidence motions against President Igor Dodon, who can be accused of promoting the interests of Russia.
European reforms and dialog with Russia
The re-launch of the European integration after the Democrats’ leaving will be faster than the improvement of the dialogue with Russia. The list of priorities includes the unfreezing of the political dialogue with Brussels and fulfillment of the technical and political conditions neglected by the Democrats. Also, the setting of the date of local elections, including in the capital city, by Parliament will enable to end the polemics concerning the fraudulent annulment of the results of the mayoral elections held in Chisinau in 2018. The improvement of the relations with the EU will be simplified by the fact that the ministries that can help resuscitate the European agenda are managed by apolitical representatives that came from the diaspora – Nicu Popescu (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration), Natalia Gavrilița (Ministry of Finance) and Vadim Brânzan (Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure).
Even if Russia expresses its readiness to develop constructive relations with the new government of Moldova (MID.ru, June 15, 2019), the decision of the Government led by Maia Sandu will be unable to overlook the commercial sanctions imposed by Moscow, the manipulation of migration policies to the detriment of Moldovans or the Russian presence in the Transnistrian region. The structural deficiencies existing in the Moldovan-Russian relations will necessitate an able prioritization of the subjects that should be addressed and the commercial and energy sectors could prevail in the agenda.
The reforms that help implement the Association Agreement with the EU can be done in parallel with the development of balanced relations with Russia, but only if the Moldovan interests are protected. Also, any rapprochement with Russia will imply the tempering of the anti-Russian rhetoric inside ACUM, which contains harsh positions on the negative impact of the Russian influence on Moldova through the monopoly in the energy sector or the support for Transnistrian separatism.
Instead of conclusions...
The oligarchic regime’s capitulation does not solve all then problems automatically. It requires political stability to re-launch the process of reforms and returning to a healthy dialogue with the EU and other foreign partners. The displaying of political will for adopting the delayed or truncated reforms will bring the moment of the unblocking of European assistance closer.
At the moment of de-oligarchization, the PSRM-ACUM government will have to contribute to strengthening the institutions by restoring professionalism and political independence. The government will need a dynamic legislative body that adopts the decisions from the European integration agenda where ACUM could bank not only on the Socialists, but also on the Democrats who become an important parliamentary opposition force (30 MPs).
The plenary improvement of the relations with Russia, which until now were reduced to dialogues with President Dodon, is a difficult mission where the safeguarding of the Moldovan interests should be raised to another level. The Russian authorities’ sincerity will be tested when the Moldovan authorities will seek the extradition of Ilan Shor, who was convicted of the banking fraud and who found refuge in Moscow after the fall of the oligarchic regime.
As long as there was a common enemy - Vladimir Plahotniuc - ACUM chose to ignore the Russian factor. That’s why the disappearance of the oligarchic regime will reveal how superficial the geopolitical discrepancies between the government headed by Maia Sandu, on the one hand, and Speaker Zinaida Grechanyi and President Igor Dodon, on the other hand, are.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.