"No one can prevent PAS and PCRM MPs, not even the renegade Dodon and PSRM MPs, from setting an unwavering course for the country's foreign policy, by enshrining the European vector into the Constitution. It would be an extraordinary test of political consistency for former President Vladimir Voronin and his party…"
The 30th anniversary of the USSR's dissolution and the proclamation of the independence of the former Soviet republics provided an opportunity to reflect on regional politics in Eastern Europe. President Maia Sandu's participation in the Crimea Platform Summit in Kiev and the organization of the quadrilateral meeting, Moldova-Poland-Romania-Ukraine, in Chișinău, reconfirmed the cornerstones of Moldova's foreign policy. To the great regret of geopolitics enthusiasts, Moldova's current foreign policy is not very different from the one pursued under President Vladimir Voronin and the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM). It is true that the regional political context has changed over the years, but the rhetoric and actions of Presidents Maia Sandu and Vladimir Voronin are very similar. In this sense, we can talk about consistency in Moldova's foreign policy.
In order to make the case for the return to a consistent foreign policy, it is worth mentioning that on April 22, 2005, President Vladimir Voronin convened the GUUAM summit in Chișinău. The event was attended by the Presidents of Georgia - Mikhail Saakashvili; Ukraine - Viktor Yushchenko; Azerbaijan - Ilham Aliyev; Romania - Traian Băsescu; Lithuania - Valdas Adamkus. The latter two presidents were observers to GUUAM. The summit was also attended by: the US delegation, led by Stiven Mann, Senior Adviser for Eurasia at the State Department; OSCE representatives led by Jan Kubis, OSCE Secretary General; and several foreign ambassadors accredited to Moldova, which lent weight to the summit. During the summit, the following issues were discussed: the need to strengthen the rule of law in the participating countries; regional security, including energy security; regional economic cooperation; European integration; cooperation with NATO, etc.
The GUUAM framework proved to be rather narrow for promoting a collective regional policy. To this end, the Community of Democratic Choice (CDC) Forum was convened in Kiev on December 2, 2005. The CDC Forum was attended by President Vladimir Voronin, along with the leaders of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Macedonia, Slovenia and Georgia. The leaders of the nine countries agreed on the need for economic cooperation and for strengthening democracy within the CDC framework. President Vladimir Voronin launched the ideas of setting up a Parliamentary Assembly of the CDC and of "uniting the markets and the resources" of the participating states. These two ideas would contribute to EU integration. The initiative has been dubbed the Three Seas Initiative - the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. A similar initiative, also called the "Three Seas" - Baltic, Black and Adriatic - was launched ten years later. Recently, President Maia Sandu, in a meeting with the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, expressed her wish for Moldova to join the new Three Seas Initiative (3SI) in the near future, which the Polish leader supported. In this context, for the sake of truth, we must recognize that President Voronin was the first one to promote Moldova's regional integration in various platforms.
From the above, it is clear that Moldova's foreign policy vector, especially concerning regional interests, was already defined in 2005. Moreover, we were able to see for ourselves that the GUUAM summit, convened in Chișinău by President Voronin, was more representative and had a much greater potential regional impact than the quadrilateral meeting recently held by President Maia Sandu on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the declaration of Moldova's independence.
In fact, just a few days after the GUUAM summit, on April 26, 2005, an international conference called "Moldova and Europe: strengthening ties'' was convened in Chișinău, with the support of the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe (SPSEE). The conference sought to draw the attention of the European Union (EU) to the discrepancy between Moldova's limited capacities and the complex objectives of the Moldova-EU Action Plan, signed by Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on February 22, 2005. The conference was attended by President Vladimir Voronin; by the special coordinator of the SPSEE, Erhard Busek; by the Deputy of the Directorate-General for External Relations, Michael Leigh; by the IMF's chief negotiator for Moldova, Thomas Richardson; and by officials from Germany, Romania, Ukraine, etc. This laid the foundations for international financial assistance to Moldova after its leadership had advocated for the country's European course.
Therefore, the actions currently undertaken by President Maia Sandu are nothing more than an attempt to rehabilitate the relations which the leaders of the so-called Alliance for European Integration (AEI) destroyed through the politicization and corruption of the legal and regulatory institutions of the state. These institutions have subsequently been used for nefarious purposes, such as the organization of the notorious laundromat, the theft of the billion, the concession of the International Airport, etc. The reform of these institutions is currently the most difficult task facing the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) and President Sandu. There are high expectations and hopes that they will succeed, as well as fears that they will not.
Driving causes of foreign policy
There is no doubt that, viewed through the prism of education, life and work experience, ideological preferences, etc., Presidents Maia Sandu and Vladimir Voronin are radically different. However, we can see for ourselves that, despite the differences, the foreign policy positions of the two presidents practically overlap. This begs the question: why do two such different presidents - Voronin and Sandu - show practically overlapping positions on the country's foreign policy priorities? The answer is on the surface and it stems from their reactions to the policy pursued by the Russian Federation in the region.
At the time of the GUUAM summit in Chișinău in April 2005, President Vladimir Putin addressed the Russian Federal Assembly, saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. This statement foreshadowed the Russian Federation's subsequent actions towards the former Soviet republics - exerting economic and political pressure to keep them within its sphere of influence; introducing economic embargoes; supporting separatist regimes in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine; the 2008 war in Georgia; the war in Donbass and the annexation of Crimea in 2014; open support for the dictatorial regime in Belarus, etc.
Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that, some 15 years later, the actions of Presidents Vladimir Voronin and Maia Sandu concerning regional policy are similar down to the details. For example, Moldova decided to adopt a common stance with the EU on the 2008 war in Georgia, aligning itself with the European Parliament resolution and the declaration of the French EU Presidency released on August 8, 2008, at the extraordinary meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council. In this regard, Moldova's position was outlined in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration press release, issued on August 11, 2008, which reads: "The European Union expresses its deep concern over the violent clashes in South Ossetia (Georgia) and calls on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and to resume negotiations without delay, in order to allow for a political settlement of the crisis, while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia". After looking at Vladimir Voronin's government's reaction to the war in Georgia, it is clear that President Maia Sandu did the same when she signed the Joint Declaration of the Crimea Platform, alongside EU Member States representatives and representatives of other influential states. In other words, in matters of regional security, Moldova has aligned itself with the EU.
The similarities between the positions of Presidents Voronin and Sandu manifested themselves in the most unexpected ways. On March 1, 2005, President Vladimir Voronin awarded the Special SPSEE Coordinator, Erhard Busek, with the Order of Honour "as a token of high appreciation for his outstanding merits in the work of integrating the Republic of Moldova into European structures and for his substantial contribution to promoting the country's favorable image on the international arena". After a confusing 16-year period of denial, President Maia Sandu also awarded the Order of Honour to the EU Ambassador to Moldova, Peter Michalko, "as a token of high appreciation for his constant support, on behalf of the European Union, for democratic values and for our country's democratization efforts and for the dynamization of Moldova's integration process into the European space...". This example of two virtually identical phenomena inspires optimism for the country's development vector.
These parallels are relevant in the context of the reaction of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) to the attendance of President Maia Sandu to the Crimea Platform proceedings and the endorsement of the Final Declaration. The PSRM leaders, Igor Dodon and Zinaida Greceanîi, as prime minister and first deputy prime minister, were in full agreement with the foreign policy promoted by President Voronin between 2005 and 2009. Nowadays, they are worried over the foreign policy promoted by Maia Sandu, considering it anti-Russian. This metamorphosis can be explained by the fact that PSRM was a supporter and one of the political beneficiaries of Russia's annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass. Thus, while being part of the Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists (BECS), PSRM is in fact questioning the policies promoted by PCRM in 2005-2009. No wonder that during the party's 16th plenary session in September 2020, PCRM leader Vladimir Voronin gave a fitting appraisal to his PSRM counterpart Igor Dodon - a renegade who assumed the mantle of "Moscow's hand" but was unable to deliver on any electoral promises during his 2016-2020 presidential term. There's your cleavage in Moldovan politics.
Under the pressure of circumstances, Moldova's foreign policy, especially its regional policy, is acquiring a mature profile, marked by consistency. It is important that this consistency is reflected in policies and attitudes of different periods, promoted by completely different governments, initially by PCRM and now by PAS. The fact that the two parties have reacted and acted, in practice, in a similar way to the challenges facing our country, is the best proof that the current foreign policy promoted by President Maia Sandu is an appropriate one, driven by objective needs.
Although PCRM and PAS are fundamentally different in many respects, the two parties could make a fundamental contribution to strengthening Moldova's European course. According to the PAS cabinet agenda (see page 40): "a key foreign policy priority will be integration into the European Union by advancing and deepening political and economic relations with the EU..." On the other hand, PCRM leader Vladimir Voronin convinced his voters in the recent election campaign that without the EU, Moldova cannot develop: "Thirty years ago there was no talk about European integration. Now this must be reflected in the Constitution. We must determine how to develop, in the context that different governments come and go with different development plans". In such circumstances, no one can prevent PAS and PCRM MPs, not even the renegade Dodon and PSRM MPs, from setting an unwavering course for the country's foreign policy, by enshrining the European vector into the Constitution. It would be an extraordinary test of political consistency for former President Vladimir Voronin and his party.