On the map of the Republic of Moldova, Gagauzia is a region if not special than undoubtedly specific. In virtue of its ethnic composition and political preferences of locals and as an administrative unit with a special regime, the Autonomous Territorial Unit (ATU) from time to time comes into the focus of commentators and analytical centers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This southern region of Moldova is often included in geopolitical patterns as a weapon of Moscow against Moldova’s pro-European aspirations or as an example of pan-Turkish policy of Ankara. But the authorities in Gagauz-Yeri have the own view on this subject.
“Moscow seeks to put Gagauz in play against pro-Western Moldovan President,” says an article of the U.S. research center The Jamestown Foundation.
Other articles of this source cover also subjects that present Gagauzia as a “part of Russia’s geopolitical confrontation with Turkey” and as a field for promoting “pan-Turkish nationalism”.
The tangency point of such analyses is the comparison with the Transnistrian region and the allusions to separatism. For example, the Italian publication L’intellettuale Dissidente, in an article entitled “Unrecognized Gagauzia, justly notes that “Moldova’s destiny is indispensably related to what is happening in the Transnistrian region and in Gagauz-Yeri” and, because it does not want to be an exception, seasons the subject with the player from the East:
“Russia gradually weakness the grip for the first (Transnistria) and seems to be losing control over the other one (Gagauz-Yeri). But the control over these two regions is of vital importance: namely the presence of frozen conflicts and separatist phantoms guarantees control over Chisinau, hampering its movement towards the Euro-American orbit,” says the publication.
The analytical center Transeuropa based in Trento (South Tyrol, Italia) also regularly devotes attention to Gagauzia. In one of its articles, the ATU is presented as a region that is in the center of a difficult network of international relations and influences that spreads from Moscow to Ankara through Brussels”.
Schemes and reality
The treating of Gagauzia as a tiny ground of competition and interaction between Moscow and Ankara is not accidental. Such an approach derives from the events that date from the 1990s, which saw the apogee of the interethnic tensions between Chisinau and Comrat, when Russia and Turkey reserved the roles of the main partners of the region. The Gagauz referendum of February 2, 2014 on the choice of the foreign policy vector, especially in the context of the notable events that happened in the neighboring Ukraine in that period, also left an imprint.
Nevertheless, the focus on geopolitical schemes considerably narrows the view and prevents one from seeing the whole picture. To understand the real situation in Gagauz-Yeri, it should be noted that a number of players long ago started to dilute down the activism of Russia and Turkey in the region and this is not only the European Union. Multiple projects are implemented in the region with the support of the U.S. and, primarily, of Romania, which substantially contributes to the development of the region’s education system. The last example is the erecting of a new budding for the Romanian language lyceum “Mihai Eminescu” in Comrat.
The position of the authorities of Gagauz-Yeri, which officially promote the multi-vector external partnership, should also not be neglected.
This way, the report by the previous composition of the local People’s Assembly says that Gagauzia is a region that enjoys a multiplying effect from the mutually advantageous cooperation with the East and the West.
“Therefore, the mutual respect, partnership and cooperation in the foreign policy are our privilege and common heritage that will always be supported by the People’s Assembly of Gagauz-Yeri,” runs the document.
The fact that Gagauzia does not focus on one direction only and banks on the development of complex relations was confirmed for IPN by the head of the region’s Main Foreign Relations Division Vitalii Vlah.
“We are working on mutually advantageous relations with a lot of partners – we have the traditional ties with Russia and Turkey, with Azerbaijan. We have a lot of projects with a series of EU countries. Gagauzia is always open to those who come to us with good intentions and we are ready to work and become friends,” stated Vitalii Vlah.
The functionary noted the region’s authorities are not interested in political aspects within the cooperation.
“The agenda of our relations is depoliticized. We focus on humanitarian projects and economic cooperation,” said the representative of the Executive Committee.
In this connection, he expressed his regret at the fact that a similar approach in Moldova’s relations with the foreign partners cannot be seen at the national level.
A challenge for Chisinau
Polish expert Piotr Oleksy, who is specialized in the Moldovan issue and is well-familiarized with Moldovan politics, on the website of New Eastern Europe presumed that the ignoring by President Maia Sandu of the identify factor in her relations with the national communities, including the Gagauz one, can generate particular political risks for her.
The expert meant the risk of becoming trapped and of resorting to the rules of her opponents. In fact, there risks refer not only to the President. The issue is much broader and covers also the stability of the political system of Moldova on the whole. The events and decisions that increase the conflict potential between the central power and Gagauzia will only push the autonomous unit towards the role of geopolitical battlefield of which the region is trying to get rid. The question is if the national political elites are able to design a special approach to the relations with Gagauz-Yeri and how accepted this approach will be in Comrat.
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.