Building of balanced relations both with the West and with Russia is an internal objective of the forces that struggle for political power in Moldova. The Moldovan government with pro-EU sympathies pursues an identical goal. An article signed by the leader of the Democrats Vlad Plahotniuc (Foxnews, January 7, 2017) highlights a parallel between the restoration of the U.S.-Russia relations, announced by Donald Trump, and Chisinau’s plan for reconciliation with Moscow. The article describes the political view of the current government, in which the European integration is a priority, as is the rebuilding of the political-economic relations with Russia. The ruling parties show once again that they are guided by internal political calculations, the geopolitical realities in the region being fully omitted.
About dependence on Russia
Owing to the historical inheritance, Moldova keeps different forms of dependence in relation to Russia. This is also proven by the permanent oscillation of the voters between the East and the West. The diplomatic move derives from the pragmatic interest in the European state functioning model and, respectively, from the rather illusory perceptions of the Russian model that is unsustainable without a non-democratic political regime and a petro-economy (based on the export of hydrocarbons).
The European integration is a very useful instrument for correcting the excessive dependence on Russia and its perverse consequences (commercial embargoes), first of all by strengthening the functionality of the Moldovan state. The actions of the pro-European government towards the EU met with broad counteractions on the part of Russia (trade sanctions, denigrating information campaigns, etc.), carried out with a view to increasing the political and economic costs of the political class with pro-EU views.
Diversification of foreign trade by entering the EU market or by interconnections with the European energy system via Romania can only diminish the influence of the Russian factor. It is practically impossible to fully eliminate the dependence on Russia for objective economic, political and security reasons. That’s why the political desiderata that promise this are nothing but sheer populism.
For practical reasons, for the ex-Soviet countries that are members of the CIS, the combination of a more intense dialogue with the EU and maintaining of positive relations with Russia is also inapplicable. The latter opposes any extension of the European inference further than the EU’s current Eastern external borders. On the one hand, the EU is seen as a natural counterweight to the Russian influence, exercised in the region by forcedly extending the Eurasian Economic Union (case of Armenia in Southern Caucasus). On the other hand, the European model contains risks to the whole Russian political system that is profoundly corrupt and is built on a “façade” democracy and with legitimacy deriving from the de facto annihilation of critical thinking among the Russian people. So, the success of the European integrator in the Eastern Partnership countries greatly depends on Russia’s benevolence and tolerance of the EU’s presence in the region. Anyway, Russia’s success in boycotting the European integration is proportional to the inefficiency and corruption level of the political class in the EaP countries.
Multi-course foreign policy intentions of Chisinau
The article signed by the president of the Democrats Vlad Plahotniuc is first of all a form by which this wants to distinguish himself, using issues of international interest, such as the Russia-U.S. dialogue. The article also describes the geopolitical strategy of the government and of Plahotniuc’s party in relation to the West (the U.S. and the EU) and Russia. It is evident that the government wants to gain advantages from Trump administration’s promise to improve American relations with Russia. The lessened confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, promised by Trump and wanted by Plahotniuc, should start with the abolition of the economic and political sanctions. But these are the product of Russia’s destabilization actions (militarization and propagation of separatism, annexation of territories) aimed against Ukraine. As long as Russia does not implement the Minsk Agreement, the discussions about the elimination of sanctions are dangerous and can stimulate more aggressiveness on the part of Russia. But this thing is obviously overlooked by Plahotniuc, who definitively excludes the Ukrainian factor from his geopolitical calculations.
Repeatedly, Plahotniuc returns to the idea of a Moldova that is a bridge between the East and the West. In practice, Russia does not accept intermediaries in its relationship with the West, which this wants to be from equal to equal. That’s why the assumption of the role of “bridge” is equally unpractical and unserious, given the conflicts generated by an increasingly anti-West Russia.
The article correctly notes that most of the Moldovans have pro-EU sympathies and, simultaneously, are not anti-Russia. The problem resides yet in something else. Russia considers that Moldova’s movement to the EU is aimed against it, from a broader geopolitical perspective. That’s why the arguments and evidence that prove the inoffensiveness and utility of the European integration do not really matter for Russia. Moldova, as Ukraine and Georgia, is considered a vulnerable zone in the sphere of Russian influence. To remedy the situation, the European integration should be slowed down at the start and then fully abandoned in each of these countries, if Russia does not manage to change the EU from inside by ensuring the ascent of pro-Russian and Euro-skeptical populists in the course of 2017 (France, the Netherlands, Germany). Finally, this can lead to the tempering or even stopping of the export of the European model in its Eastern neighborhood. Inevitably, the state of “fatigue” among the East-European citizens will grow, fostering further Euro-skepticism.
It is evident that Vlad Plahotniuc wants to highlight the pro-European aspirations of the government following the winning of the presidency by the declared pro-Russian Igor Dodon. In this regard, the article reminds of the symbolic powers of the President, which hinders this from influencing effectively the foreign policy. The goal is not only to assure the foreign partners that Moldova will not change the European course, but to rather show that the Democrats are pro-West.
Finally, the article signed by Vlad Plahotniuc revives the old discussions about the multi-course foreign policy, but suggests no viable solution that would take into account the geopolitical view of Russia for which the European integration into Eastern Europe is something incompatible, or even an existential problem.
Instead of conclusion…
The government of Moldova says it is faithful to the European course and Western values, but has also an accentuated interest in good relations with Russia. But this does not explain how the Western values wanted in Moldova can be reconciled with a reanimation of the dialogue with Russia, which makes enormous efforts to counteract them. In the game for multi-course foreign policy, both the pro-EU and pro-Russia political forces lose the sense of geopolitical reality, where Russia wants to scrap the European project in the form in which it is now.
So far the dependence on Russia was used by this for destructive purposes. Never the Russian factor has played a positive role in advancing particular reforms, or at least in promoting a viable solution to the Transnistrian conflict, which has been exploited by Moscow for 25 years already. Against this, the European factor claims to be a promoter of positive changes demonstrated by concrete development projects. In both of the cases yet, the corruption of the political class fuels the deficiencies of the dependence on foreign factors. The shortage of upright political forces in Moldova for now does not enable the EU to count on reliable transformation agents. This is one of the explanations for the robbing of the banking system under the rule of parties with pro-EU sympathies, but with behavior typical rather of the Russian political class.
Surely, Russia is an important sales and employment market and exporter of hydrocarbons. However, many Moldovans work in the EU and the U.S. and Moldovan goods are supplied there too. The difference is that neither the EU nor the U.S. uses Moldova’s dependence to limit its sovereignty, opposing thus reforms.
Lastly, for Moldova it is essential that the dependence on foreign factors is measured, while the noxious one is fully eliminated. To maximally and positively benefit from the influence coming from outside, Moldova needs a transparent, integral and democratic political class that is primarily absent.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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