The Model Partner is Fading Away

BERLIN/CHISINAU | | moldawien

BERLIN/CHISINAU (Own report) - In Southeast Europe, Berlin and the EU are facing a setback in their power struggle with Russia. The Republic of Moldova, once the EU's "model for Eastern Partnerships" - that has been officially associated with the EU since July 1, 2016 - is slowly fading away from Berlin and Brussels' influence. Once pro-Russian President Igor Dodon assumed office, in December 2016, the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) granted observer status to this small southeastern European country. According to recent polls, Dodon's pro-Russian party could expect a clear majority in next year's parliamentary elections. The perspective of a comprehensive rejection of the EU and full admission to the EAEU would no longer be ruled out. This development is the result of Berlin and Brussels' having relied on despised oligarchs, to insure their influence in the Moldovan Republic. One of these, currently in control of the government, seeks to maintain power by changing the voting laws.

EAEU Observers

In mid-April, incumbent Moldovan President, Igor Dodon - elected in December - announced that, from now on, his country is a member with observer status of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia are full members of the EAEU. In March, Dodon called on the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council to accord the Republic of Moldova observer status. Politicians of the nominally EU-oriented government protested this initiative.[1] According to the Moldovan Republic's constitution, it is the parliamentary supported government, rather than the head of state, who is responsible for the country's foreign policy. It is still open, whether and when this country will actually join the Eurasian integration.

Two Election Defeats

It had already become clear that the Moldovan Republic's foreign policy orientation would change, as well as that of its breakaway - unrecognized - Transdniestrian Republic. Politicians had won in both the Moldovan presidential elections in October 2016 and the corresponding elections in Transdniestria in December, who do not have cooperation with Berlin, Brussels and Washington among their top priorities. The Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova's [PSRM) candidate Igor Dodon, won in the first (October 30) and second (November 13, 2016) rounds of the elections. Dodon had campaigned on a platform of joining the Eurasian Economic Union, recognizing Crimea as Russian territory, and the unifying Transdniestria with the Republic of Moldova within a federation. The CDU-dominated European Peoples Party (EPP) had intervened in the election campaign to try prevent his victory. An EPP staff member had joined the election campaign staff of Dodon's strongest rival, the neo-liberal, pro-EU politician Maia Sandu, in spite of her Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) not being an EPP member.[2] It was no surprise that Vadim Krasnoselsky of the Renewal Party of the internationally unacknowledged Transdniestria would win the December 11, 2016 elections to head of state. He - like Dodon - is on a pro-Russia course.

First Trip

Igor Dodon's first trip, as Moldovan President, was to secessionist Transdniestria, where he met with the new President Krasnoselsky, the victor in Transdniestria's presidential elections in December 2016. The recognition of official documents beyond the internationally non-recognized borders was among the topics, they discussed.[3] Dodon has made the solution of the Transdniestria conflict one of his top priorities. If Transdniestria would join the Moldovan Republic, it would sustainably change the electorate. For the foreseeable future, this would possibly insure a pro-Russian majority.

First State Visit

Moldova's president chose Moscow for his first regular state visit. On this occasion, he recognized Transdniestria's state debt to Russia's Gazprom monopoly. This shift in Moldova's 25 year long policy of refusing recognition, has suddenly raised Moldova's debt to Russia thirteen times - from US $500 million to US $6.5 billion.[4] In contrast to the past ten years of pro-western governments, Dodon has not demanded that Russian troops be withdrawn from Transdniestria, as part of a peaceful solution.[5] These new foreign policy accents indicate a clear departure from Moldova's previous EU-oriented course.

Anti-EU Majority

Even though the Moldovan Parliament is still under the control of parties, banking on the EU Association Agreement - which took effect July 1, 2016 - and even a possible EU membership, this balance of forces could considerably change in the next elections. According to the latest opinion polls, the PSRM can expect 54 percent of the votes in the upcoming regular parliamentary elections in 2018. Maia Sandu's neo-liberal, pro-EU PAS party can hope for only 28.1 percent of the votes.[6] Therefore, the PSRM, which seeks to join the EAEU, can perhaps even hope for a parliamentary two-thirds majority. With the next round of elections, Moldova's association with the EU would have been ended and Germany's policy in this southeast European country would have been defeated.

Lesser Evil

To prevent the PSRM from running the government, Germany is currently relying on stabilizing the oligarchy system around Vladimir Plahotniuc, a neutralist-oriented businessman and politician.[7] The current Moldovan government, under his control, is anxious to change the voting laws, to secure a victory of the forces favorable to Plahotniuc at the next parliamentary elections. According to these new rules, half of the parliamentarians must be elected on a direct ballot, which opens for Plahotniuc the possibility of achieving a parliamentary majority through "independent candidates."[8] According to the most recent election polls, his party would receive a mere 4.4 percent.[9] The Socialist International, in which the German SPD is a member and had been the predominating force for many years, has given its support to the Moldovan oligarch. At its most recent general assembly, in early March, Plahotniuc was elected one of its vice presidents.[10]

Favored Option

Even though Berlin, Brussels and Washington's current tactics are based on good relations to the oligarch Plahotniuc, he is not the West's strategic elites' most preferable option. Plahotniuc's Democratic Party does not have a neo-liberal shock therapy orientation and it seeks to have good relations with Russia, as well as an EU association. In the long run, therefore, those politicians, who favor a stringent separation from the East, are the EU countries and NATO's most favored allies. According to experts, the decisive forces in the EU would still prefer an electoral victory of the neo-liberal candidates, Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase. Both are regularly invited to Brussels.[11] Berlin considers that only this party's victory at the polls in the upcoming parliamentary elections can assure the long-term EU association of the Moldovan Republic.

[1] Moldawien rückt noch näher an Russland. euractiv.de 19.04.2017.
[2] Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage von Andrej Hunko et al.: Entwicklung nach den Wahlen in der Republik Moldau im Herbst 2016. Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 18/11652 vom 23.03.2017.
[3] New Moldovan, Transdniester Leaders Hold Closed-Door Meeting. rferl.org 04.01.2017.
[4] President Dodon recognizes Transnistrian Gas Debts as Moldova's aggregate Debt. infotag.md 18.01.2017.
[5] Moldova's President in the Kremlin: A Snapshot of Moldova-Russia Relations. jamestown.org 26.01.2017.
[6] Schimbări majore pe filiera politică: Doar 2 partide ar accede în Parlament, dacă duminica viitoare ar avea loc alegeri. independent.md 23.03.2017.
[7] David X. Noack: Berlin setzt auf Oligarchen. junge Welt 29.03.2017.
[8] Mihai Popșoi: Moldovan President Seeks Regime Change Via Referendum. Jamestown Foundation: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jg. 14, Nr. 29, 06.03.2017.
[9] Schimbări majore pe filiera politică: Doar 2 partide ar accede în Parlament, dacă duminica viitoare ar avea loc alegeri. independent.md 23.03.2017.
[10] Vlad Plahotniuc is elected deputy president of Socialist International. en.publika.md 03.03.2017.
[11] Andrey Devyatkov: Elections are coming: managed destabilization of Moldovan-Russian relations. lact.ro 14.03.2017.