“The invariably tough and unfriendly position in the management of the Transnistrian conflict, including with provocative military exercises held in concert with the armed forces of the separatist regime, is one of the “litmus papers” that should be taken into account when we want to better understand Russia’s political sincerity to pass to a better phase of the Moldovan-Russian relations...”
The President of Russia Vladimir Putin paid compliments and made promises to Moldova and even “flirted” with it. “We consider the Republic of Moldova one of the priority partners in the CIS area,” the Kremlin leader stated in the recent meeting with the President of Moldova Igor Dodon. He confirmed his words by promising to abolish the customs duties on the export of a number of Moldovan goods in the near future, to provide US$ 1 billion for infrastructure projects and to ease the fate of a large number of Moldovan migrants. There are several internal and external reasons for such a rather visible shift in the Moldovan-Russian relations that had been cold for many years already. But there are also doubts about the sincerity of the intention of the “Eastern strategic partner” whose essence was underscored in the title above.
Interest is key
The main reason for such a change is electoral in character and we do not have to attribute a univocally negative meaning to this aspect. Elections will take place in the Republic of Moldova soon and these will decide who will govern Moldova next, while Russia has a sufficiently natural interest in having a more cooperative partner in the person of the Moldovan administration than the current one. Almost all Moldova’s partners from the East to the West have such a kind interest. It matters if the given interest does not run counter to Moldova’s interest and legislation.
In these elections, Russia openly banks on the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova and its informal leader President Igor Dodon, as it banked on the PCRM-Vladimir Voronin duo in other periods. Not accidentally, the future benefits offered or promised by Vladimir Putin are related to the “personal contribution” and “personal requests of the President of Moldova”. In this regard, the electoral character of the announced changes is not even hidden. Igor Dodon stated trenchantly that the customs duties that are to be eliminated at the start of next year will be imposed again in half a year if the government in Moldova is not replaced.
The selective character of the measures announced by Russia, together with the temporal one, also confirms the electoral character of these measures. It goes only to particular categories of Moldovan goods and particular business entities of Moldova that are suspected of being close to the PSRM-Dodon circles. The significant extension of their number is not practically possible owing to the heavy bureaucratic mechanism that needs to be engaged and of the reduced period of time that remained available. But in any conditions, it is good that at least a part of the producers will be able to gain more as a gift horse is not looked in the mouth, surely if this is not a Trojan Horse.
Exclusive area of interest and exclusive benefits
The short period of Vladimir Putin’s “exceptional gesture” made “at the request of the President of Moldova” is justified by the fact that the systemic changes necessitate the involvement of the governments of both of the states that for now or already do no communicate. Let’s skip the fact that the inverse “systemic changes”, when customs taxes were introduced despite the free trade agreement existing in the CIS area and bans were imposed on the most important Moldovan goods, occurred without communication between governments, but we should deduce another reason of the metamorphosis announced in Russia’s attitude to Moldova from here.
And this reason is: the Moldovan Government left the Moldovan-Russian relations in the exclusive care of President Igor Dodon and the PSRM. These benefit from exclusive advantages, especially electoral, ideological ones and of another kind.
Plus-minus suspension of President
The case examined in the given analysis conspicuously illustrates the pluses, minuses and the risks of the non-cooperative and even tense relations between the Government of Moldova and the presidential institution. On the one hand, the government benefits from the restricting of the powers and maneuvering space of the President as a political opponent. The repeated suspension from office of this in particular situations is an unprecedented act of harshness not only in the history of the Republic of Moldova, even if it is dictated by important political reasons, in the government’s opinion. On the other hand, by diminishing his powers, the President is automatically freed from obligations and responsibilities before society. This way, the government and the ruling party PDM remain responsible for all the real or artificial problems that will have a weight in the same elections. The list of these problems can be easily identified in the last documents of the European partners, in the opposition’s speeches and even in the dialogues of the people on the street and in the kitchen. For example: unjust justice, lack of progress in restrung the stolen US$ 1 billion and punishing those to blame, democratic backsliding like the invalidation of the Chisinau mayoral elections, etc.
Who is responsible and for what, who will answer and for what?
The President of this county answers for nothing of these and, in general, for nothing real. Only the government answers for everything. Instead, the President is free to act in such spheres as the spiritual, humanitarian, ideological, political and other areas that do not necessitate material investments and big responsibilities, but approved considerable benefits. The government assumed great, unilateral and slippery responsibilities for salaries and roads, health and education, costly sports complexes, etc... Maybe the high popular approval rating of the President, which is much higher than the rating of the government and the ruling party, derives from the government’s agreement on the separation and cooperation of powers in the state? Maybe the opportunities for the Russian Federation to act through this widely opened gate in Moldova, electorally, spiritually, ideologically, propagandistically and politically, also derive from here? This gate is left to the discretion of one “goalkeeper” because the government focused on more material areas of life, which are sometimes too material. One of the few exceptions refers to the government’s efforts to counteract the propaganda in the East, but the effects here are also minimal or even inverse owing to the domestic propaganda with which the foreign one is replaced and owing to the evidently propagandistic character of the actions to combat foreign propaganda.
“Out of sight, out of mind”
Another possible, but not mandatory reason for the changes announced by Russia could show that this country feels obliged to abandon the policy of harsh pressure applied in relation to the Republic of Moldova, in the earlier used forms. Ultimately, the Moldovan government and Moldovans in general weren’t brought to their knees by all kinds of bans, penalties and restrictions. The need made them look for other markets for their goods, more predictable and more expensive than the Russian market, and they primarily managed to. Evil brings good and it is not known if Moldova wound have found it if it hadn’t been put in a force majeure situation. Russia ultimately helped modernize the economic process and not only in the Republic of Moldova. Badly or hardly, but the process started, as a high-ranking Soviet official said.
Maybe Russia’s promise to essentially increase the number of scholarships provided to young people from Moldova should be regarded in the same context. During the independence years of Moldova, this figure was very low compared, for example, with the number of scholarships offered by Romania and some of the Western states in the same period. In the absence of opportunities on the part of Russia, the Moldovan young people oriented mainly to the Western education area. As they say, out of sight, out of mind. It is not yet clear which country lost more in this regard – Moldova or Russia?
Trade bridge or bridgehead?
We could also presume there are international components that made Russia class Moldova as “one of the priority partners in the CIS area”. For example, Moldova could become one of the ways by which Russia could diminish the impact of the Western sanctions imposed against it owing to its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Surely, slightly in a different formula, but this was one of the central messages of the Moldovan-Russian economic forum that was held in Chisinau in September. According to known Moldovan economic exerts, Russia is interested in investing US$ 1 billion a year in Moldova because the latter has an open market with the East and the West too. Russia could do this to avoid Western sanctions: “They want to make investments here, will produce and this production will be exported to the West. Jobs will be created here with Russian funds and taxes will be paid”.
Moldova in the role of “new Transnistria”?
The Ukrainian element in the new eventual policy of Russia in relation to Moldova should also be taken into account. The restoration of good relations with the official Chisinau could enable Russia to present the Moldovans as “good boys” against “the Ukrainian bad boys” as when there are more “bad boys” than “good boys” among the former Soviet republics, the international community easier reaches the conclusion, unfavorable to Russia, that this is (also) to blame for the creation and maintenance of hotbeds of tensions in different areas of the world. Moreover, a loyal Moldova could also serve Russia as a bridgehead in relation to Ukraine in the attempts to incline the balance of the political-military disputes with the neighboring country in its favor. According to the same scenario, Moldova could be assigned the role of a “new Transnistria”, which is played by the real Transnistria in relation to Moldova.
Billions with déjà vu
These are all normal things for the Russian Federation and its interest. However, judging by the previous experience in the relations with this country, which wasn’t always favorable or was almost always unfavorable, we can seriously doubt the fact that Russia’s new proposals are clearly beneficial to Moldova and if they can become a favorable reality or can remain an electoral myth as earlier.
For example, President Igor Dodon speaks about one more US$ 1 billion that the Russian Federation could offer Moldova for repairing roads. President Dodon said he discussed with President Putin the possibility of obtaining massive support for infrastructure projects from Russia: “The access to this support, which will consist of a loan and grant aid, offered by the Russian Federation, the Eurasian Union, is a very clear perspective for the Republic of Moldova.” But history already knows the story of a US$ 1 billion promised by Russia to the Party of Communists and Vladimir Voronin before the parliamentary elections of 2009, but this money didn’t reach Moldova as someone else came to power then. Respectively, we can understand that the Russian billions have a strictly political purpose and are not mandatorily related to the intention to help Moldovan society one way or another. Unlike the Western partners, which prefer to work with the Republic of Moldova regardless of the government elected by the Moldovans at different stages, even if those governments disappointed a lot and the current government is a conclusive example. For example, for particular reasons the EU stopped the porvision of the macro-financial assistance of €100 million that the government was to manage, but extended or even intensified the social projects intended for local communities and particular areas. The Americans, who also formulated reservations in relation to the current government, behave in a similar way.
The distrust in the sincerity of the Russian policy in relation to Moldova comes also from the general experience showing that Russia is not used to give and offer too much to the former Soviet republics, but rather likes to take or to force, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova being pertinent examples. For Moldova, the main indicator in this regard is the invariably tough and unfriendly position in the management of the Transnistrian conflict, including with provocative military exercises held in concert with the armed forces of the separatist regime, which is one of the “litmus papers” that should be taken into account when we want to better understand Russia’s political sincerity to pass to a better phase of the Moldovan-Russian relations.
Valeriu Vasilică, IPN