Ten forecasts for 2020: “Geopolitization” of the oligarchy in Moldova and EU-Russia rapprochement, Op-Ed



Both the vivacity of the European democracies and the strengthening of the neighboring ones will depend in 2020 on EU's mastery of learning how to govern the unpredictability...


Dionis Cenuşa

The unpredictability keeps its vitality in 2020, providing continuity to certain developments from 2019. The European Union navigates in a chaotic international order, where the credible multilateral cooperation remains thin. Therefore, the ability of the Europeans to stabilize their neighborhood and neighboring regions is diminishing. Brussels looks passively at the side effects resulting from the revival of authoritarian regimes, similar to the collapse of the Ukrainian passenger plane flight PS752, which was justified by Iran as a "human error" (Politico, January 11, 2020). The EU cannot put in order its own court, where the assault on the rule of law in Poland undermines the legal effectiveness of the European acquis. Neither influence on the allies has any results. The U.S. extra-territorial actions to sanction Nord Stream 2 or the annihilation operation of the Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq illustrate the contradiction between Trump's current unilateralism and non-violent collective pragmatism of the Europeans.

On the external front, the revisionist and inconsistent manifestations of the President Donald Trump create tension in the strategic-commercial transatlantic arrangements. And at the continental level, within the EU, the traditionalist anti-liberalism of the ruling parties in Hungary or Poland, as well as the British nationalism inspired by Brexit, are paralleling with the intertwining between the governments from the Western Balkan, and Eastern Partnership, and the regional authoritarian forces, such as Russia and Turkey.

Surrounded by authoritarian regimes in the East and Eurosceptic regimes on the border with the EU (Poland, Hungary), the Eastern Partnership associated countries prioritize the populist relationship between the leader and the citizens rather than the construction of functional and immune institutions to any political influence. The presidential, legislative and local elections in Moldova, Georgia and respectively in Ukraine, already scheduled for 2020, will demonstrate how severe the disagreements between the population and the political elites are. Moreover, in the case of Moldova, the voting will highlight the geopolitical polarization of the population.

The degree of fulfillment of the 2019 forecasts

Major trends in the EU and Eastern Partnership, including in Moldova, have become more nuanced. Half of the 2019 forecasts have materialized, albeit in a changed chronology or with a distinct intensity (IPN, January 2, 2019). The other half of forecasts was hit by the factor of surprise, such as the phenomenon of Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine, which modified the estimates.

In line with the forecasts, the improved dialogue with Russia and the balancing of the foreign policy reconfigured the European agenda of Moldova. This happened with the permissiveness of the ACUM bloc, occupied by the dismantling of the oligarchic system. In consequence, later than initially estimated, the political forces in ACUM bloc have moved to the opposition, from where they are preparing to counter-attack during the presidential elections. The Socialists plan to govern in the coming years with the assistance of the de-oligarchized Democratic Party. Even if the EU financial assistance was restored, it was partial and was ensured by the brief mandate of former Prime Minister Maia Sandu.

In the non-Moldovan context, some forecasts have been fulfilled too. Thus, from a political point of view, the EU has refrained from any harsh criticism of the oligarchic government in Georgia. The gentle perceptions of Europeans have contrasted with multiple breaches of the Georgian government, such as the problematic appointment of judges, repeated police abuses or public protests against the mixed system. The EU's harsh pragmatism, determined by already chronic security threats, mattered more than the exigency of the good governance ((1TV.ge, November 27, 2019).). Also, the Eurosceptic forces have advanced during the European parliamentary elections in May 2019, but far from being enough to block the formation or activity of the European Commission. The crisis of the rule of law has remained visible at the European level, evolving further in Malta and Poland. Accordingly, the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat resigned (Euronews, January 12, 2020), and the intentions to subordinate justice in Poland led to transnational protests by European judges (Guardian, January 12, 2020).

At the same time, contrary to the estimates, the acceptable performance of Romania in the rotating presidency of the EU prevented the failure of the Romanian Social Democrats, anticipated both in Brussels and in Bucharest. The attempt to neutralize the anti-corruption instruments mobilized the opposition, the general public and civil society, split the Social Democrats and sent them to the opposition. At the same time, Brexit remained unaddressed due to the incoherence and weakness of British political leaders, unable to unite the population around an optimal and legitimate exit scenario. Increasing the presence of Eurosceptics in the European Parliament has not inspired their consolidation inside the governing coalitions in the Member States. On the contrary, they have reduced their influence (Italy, Austria), while the solidarity in sanctioning Russia for interference in Ukraine has been extended to 2020. The electoral promise to end the Donbas war has entrenched Zelensky in a risky dialogue with the Kremlin, which maintains a high degree of militarization of the controlled separatist regions.

The ten forecasts for 2020

The developments in 2020 will be highly marked by the feeling of political, cultural and geopolitical polarization on a European scale. The main forecasts take into account the Moldovan and European political fluctuations.

1. “Geopolitization” of the oligarchy in Moldova. Both the interest of the Socialists in attracting Russian investors into the national economy, as well as the legacy of previous poor governments, inserts the geopolitical factor in the anti-oligarchic discourse. The revising of the contracts managing Chisinau International Airport by "Avia-Invest", at the end of 2019, brought to the attention the Russian oligarchs. Behind "Avia-Invest" is the offshore entity "Komaksavia Airport Invest" Ltd, which belongs to the Russian oligarch Andrei Gonchearenko (Tribuna, January 9. 2020). Another episode of permeation by the influence of the Russian oligarchs represents the investments of Igor Chaika, the son of Russia’s prosecutor general, in the media sector. Thus, he is controlling half of the actions of the company "Media Invest Service", responsible for the retransmission of the pro-Kremlin TV station - Pervîi Kanal – in Moldova (ZDG, December 29, 2019). The opposition has iniatiated legislative steps to protect the strategic assets of dubious investments, by invoking the European legislation (PAS, January 9, 2019).

2. The pro-EU discourse returns to the forefront. The endless inclinations of the President Igor Dodon to the East will encourage the opposition, represented by former Prime Minister Maia Sandu, to use the pro-European discourse to attract the Moldovan votes in the presidential elections of autumn 2020. Abundance of the Socialists’ diplomacy towards Moscow, including due to the celebration of Russian year in Moldova, can overdose the public space with antagonistic geopolitical content. Additionally, the slowdown in European financing will intensify the desperate searching for alternatives in the Eurasian space.

3. Mobilization of the pro-unionist forces. The weakening of the Moldovan-Romanian political contacts, in parallel, with the strengthening of the pro-Russian rhetoric of the Socialists, can solidify the “unionist” movement. Public support for the idea of ​​reunification with Romania is already approaching 35% (Daily, December 17, 2019). Competing in the 2020 presidential elections against Igor Dodon can create bridges of open cooperation between conventional pro-EU forces and “unionist” parties, which will result in the normalization of the “unionism”.

4. Parallel dialogues with Romania. Although in many areas, such as energy, Moldova will keep open its cooperation with Romanian side to cultivate energy autonomy (3DCFTAs, January 10, 2020). Politically, the bilateral official relations will be suspended. While the Romanian authorities will insist on the harsh conditionality towards the central authorities in Moldova, it may be tempted to dialogue with the political opposition, civil society or local administrations not affiliated with the Socialists.

5. Populism of the reformers in the Eastern Partnership. The reforms in Ukraine are moving forward, but at the expanse of the monopolization of the executive and legislative power by Volodymyr Zelensky. This undermines the role of the parliamentary opposition, and the public's participation in decision-making is replaced by aggressive communication through social networks, in order to maintain popularity at the highest levels (Open4Business, September 18, 2019). In a similar style, the populism of the reformists will prevent changes in Armenia, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan will slow down or fully abandon critical reforms aimed at justice, domestic violence or environmental protection (Eurasianet, Octomber 14, 2019) during 2020.

6. Diversifying the pro-EU opposition against non-liberal regimes in Europe. The reaction of judges in Romania, Portugal, the Netherlands or Bulgaria against the preparing of the Polish government to eliminate the independent voices from the judiciary will confirm the new trend of diversification of pro-European actors in 2020. The same thing is signaled by the "Free Cities Pact", formed by mayors the capitals of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, against the Eurosceptic populism of the central authorities (BalkanInsight, December 20, 2019).

7. Complicated relations between the UK and EU. Boris Johnson's victory in the early 2019 parliamentary elections provides the political stability needed to materialize Brexit. EU’s abandonment will start in January 2020, but the transition period will take another 11 months. Complication of the dialogue may result from the Johnson’s pushing for of a trade agreement before the final exit from the EU (BBC, January 8, 2020). The sensitivity of the negotiations around the 2021-2027 European multi-annual budget, of about EUR 1.3 trillion, can be regarded by the British leaders as a favorable context to obtain some advantages when negotiating a new ambitious post-2020 bilateral partnership.

8. Popularizing the historical revisionism. In 2020, during the 75th anniversary of the defeat of fascism, the Kremlin will be actively involved in the revision of history. This opportunity is appropriate to connect Vladimir Putin's image of a victorious past, questioned by a present in which Russia is associated with high corruption, territorial aggression or hybrid attacks. Already, at the end of December, Vladimir Putin blamed Poland for the outbreak of the World War II (TheAtlantic, January 5, 2019). Also, the Russian leader challenged the correctness of the decisions from the Soviet times regarding the formation of the borders of the Ukrainian entity (BBC, December 19, 2019).

9. The EU-Russia rapprochement. Zelensky's dedication to obtaining a ceasefire in Donbas has already created the first conditions for EU-Russia rapprochement. In 2020, Germany will not abandon the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which it sees as minimizing the risks of gas supply. Russia's gas politicization seems to worry less than the instability of the countries that transit the delivery of the Russian natural gas. In the shadow of the developments in North Africa and the control of the flow of migrants, French leader Emmanuel Macron will add substance to the Russian-French talks about creating a European security architecture with Russia.

10. Spread of anti-US and anti-China sentiments. The extra-territorial actions initiated by Donald Trump on security or the economy will energize the political request for greater autonomy from the U.S. This trend will have serious repercussions on transatlantic dialogue if Trump is re-elected in 2020. At the same time, the efforts of European governments to prioritize the security of data management technologies and strategic infrastructure will spread dislike of Chinese investment in installing 5G technologies (TheBrusselsTime , January 12, 2020). As a result, China's presence can (re-)orient itself towards economies in the European neighborhood or in the Eurosceptic countries within the EU, where democratic regimes are weaker or withdrawing.

Instead of conclusions...

The breaking of the self-reproduction of the liberal democracies and the respective production of nationalist-traditionalist decisions create the risks of lowering drastically the ceiling of the rational-Eurocentric solutions.

At the same time, the disorder of the rule of law, the digital insecurities, the climate urgency or the activism of the authoritarian state forces in the region demands dedication, integrity and courage from the EU, not withdrawal.th the vivacity of the European democracies and the strengthening of the neighboring ones will depend in 2020 on EU's mastery of learning how to govern the unpredictability.

Dionis Cenuşa
Dionis Cenușa is a political scientist, researcher at the Institute of Political Sciences at Liebig-Justus University in Giessen, Germany, MA degree in Interdisciplinary European Studies from the College of Europe in Warsaw.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
Follow Dionis Cenușa on Twitter

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.

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