The first round of the Bashkan election held in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia – a region where the Russophile political sympathies are dominant – generated a predictable result. None of the eight candidates who competed in the first round represented the pro-European parties of the Republic of Moldova. With a voter turnout of 57.8% of the total electors in the region, the Gagauz people sent to the runoff the candidate backed by the Party of Socialists, Grigori Uzun and the candidate supported by the Șor Party, Yevgenia Guțul. Both of the parties and both of the candidates are of peremptory pro-Russian orientation.
One agent in Comrat, but target is entire Moldova
In such conditions, regardless of the result of the runoff vote, the Kremlin will have its agent in Comrat and this means more profound attachment by the political class in Gagauzia to the political agenda of Moscow. The Gagauz region not only remains a neuralgic zone of Moldova society, but the perspective of destabilization of the Republic of Moldova coming from this region starts to more evidently crystalize. The inclusion by the Moldovan authorities of Vladimir Putin in the list of persons who are undesirable in the Republic of Moldova cannot remain without a response from Moscow and, more than probable, Comrat will play a role in the formulation of this response.
For now, Moscow will be preoccupied, during the period between the two rounds of voting, with the necessity of lessening the rivalry between the two pro-Russian groups in Gagauzia, represented by the Party of Socialists and the Șor Party whose candidates will compete in the runoff vote. In fact, the struggle for the post of Bashkan of Gagauzia has evident connotations for the Dodon grouping that is behind Grigori Uzun and for the Șor grouping that is behind the other candidate, Yevgenia Guțul, for the privilege to be in Moscow’s good graces regarding financial and political assistance. So, the stake of the election in Gagauzia is much greater than the post of governor in Comrat. The big target is Chisinau and the entire Republic of Moldova in the perspective of destabilizing it by the factor of the fifth pro-Russian column, which will retract after the election of the new Bashkan of Gagauzia.
Third place also matters for future success
If we judge by the logic of the election campaign conducted in Gagauzia, it becomes clear that the role of the Kremlin’s favorite in election was assigned to independent candidate Viktor Petrov, in whom a lot was actively invested. The operation to engage in this candidate’s election campaign of the head of Tatarstan Rustam Minnihanov alone shows the extent of Moscow’s preferences. Apropos, to promote the candidacy of Petrov, they even resorted to the split of the Party of Socialists from which MP Vasile Bolea was “extracted” as the head of the electoral staff of the candidate preferred by the Kremlin.
But Moscow’s favored candidate achieved only the third score. However, this score in the created situation should not be ignored. The third place is a good result. This practically becomes a real chance of victory for the candidate to whom Petrov’s votes will go in the runoff. Most probably, Petrov, for his votes in the runoff, will ask the post of speaker of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia. In case of such a scenario, Petrov will most probably support Uzun in the runoff as the Socialists have a large group of deputies in the People’s Assembly.
Victory will determine who the Kremlin’s favorite is
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the victory in the election in Gagauzia is of extreme importance for Șor and Dodon. The victory will determine who the Kremlin’s favorite is and this will increase the chances of survival of Șor and Dodon, who both face jail terms. It’s true that Șor was already sentenced, while Dodon is waiting for a sentence. Furthermore, Șor’s party will be probably outlawed in the near future and the recent arrest of Marina Tauber makes the perspectives of the party of Șor, who fled to Israel, even more problematic.
Even if at the moment, Dodon and his candidate look to be preferred in the runoff, especially if the Kremlin instructs Viktor Petrov to support Grigori Uzun, Șor will not yet give up. The position made public by officials in Moscow about the protests mounted by the Șor Party in Chisinau points to powerful lobby by this grouping at the Kremlin. But the street protests staged by Șor’s grouping weren’t sufficiently efficient and this can lead to a revision of the Kremlin’s support for this grouping, especially after a definitive sentence against its leader is pronounced.
Șor and Dodon to duel in runoff
What happened does not mean that the Kremlin will oblige Șor to give up the struggle for the post of Bashkan in favor of Dodon’s protégée. Even if Șor has fewer chances of success, he will yet fight and will throw all his resources in Gagauzia. In the first round of voting already, the largest sum of money for the election campaign was spent by the candidate supported by the Shor Party Yevgenia Guțul. Her campaign cost seven times more than the campaign of Grigori Uzun, the candidate backed by the Party of Socialists, and even more than the campaigns of all the candidates taken together.
Therefore, it is not clear which of the two candidates will win. It should be clear that not Guțul and Uzun, but rather Șor and Dodon will compete in the runoff for political survival and for the own freedom and this struggle is not for Gagauzia and for its future, but for the survival of two corrupt politicians accepted by Moscow for the mission to destabilize the Republic of Moldova.
Case when one kindergarten matters more than all kindergartens
The electoral results in Gagauzia do not match at all the geopolitical component of the economic assistance that comes to the region from outside. Over the last decade, more than €40 million in European funds was used in Gagauzia for different projects to develop the region. The European funds went to build and repair kindergartens, schools and other public institutions and many of the inhabitants of Gagauzia started to have running water and alternative energy. The Government of Romania repaired most of the kindergartens in ATU Gagauzia and invests in building a new block of “Mihai Eminescu” Lyceum in Comrat. Moreover, with the EU’s support, a business support hub was opened in Comrat to facilitate the export of local products to the European market.
It’s true that the Russian Federation offers economic support to the region even if this assistance is in general three times smaller than the European assistance. But Moscow invests mainly in educational, cultural projects, controlling also the multitude of TV channel that are broadcast in the region in Russian. This way, the people of Gagauzia opt for closer relations with Russia because they see it and hear it on TV, where Europe is defamed, even if it ensures the largest part of the wellbeing of the Gagauz people. For example, Tatarstan invested in the construction of only one kindergarten in the region, as opposed to Romania, which renovated most of the kindergartens in Gagauzia. However, owing to the information policy, the people of Gagauzia are sure that the assistance comes from Russia, while Europe, in particular Romania, is regarded with suspicion and even with enmity by most of the Gagauz people.
What can state policy of the Republic of Moldova do?
The election in Gagauzia confirmed a cruel and known truth about the position of loser of the pro-European government in Chisinau and the European partners in the fight for the minds of the Gagauz minority in the Republic of Moldova. Without well-planned information policy, it is hard to obtain beneficial solutions that would change the perception of the people of Gagauzia and would significantly reduce Moscow’s influence in this region. The investment policy in the autonomous unit should also be cardinality changed, according to the principle “more investments for more loyalty to the European civilization choice”. Time has come to create in the government an administrative subdivision that would promote the state policies in this problematic region of the Republic of Moldova, by simultaneously examining the opportunity of keeping for the Bashkan of Gagauzia the status of ex-officio member of the central government. Only by complex and well-thought-out measures at the level of state policies, the state of the collective mentality in the region that is mostly populated by Gagauz ethnics can be remedied in favor of interethnic peace and social cohesion in Moldovan society.
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.