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Kremlin's game: the pressure points that Moscow will use during Moldova's elections campaign

MoldovaPro-rusi
©EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU  |   'Immortal Regiment' action at the Eternity Memorial Complex during celebrations to mark the 76th anniversary of Victory Day in Chisinau, Moldova, 09 May 2021.

Russian claims that EU and the USA are allegedly interfering in the parliamentary election in Chișinău, scheduled for July 11. On May 13, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said “it is regrettable to see the growing interference of the United States and EU countries in the domestic politics of the Republic of Moldova, something which we firmly condemn”.

Such a discourse also came from Maria Zakharova’s boss, Sergey Lavrov, and even from the head of Russian foreign intelligence (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, not long ago, in the autumn of 2020, around the presidential election held in the Republic of Moldova.

For all its protests and accusations, Russia is actually the one that seems to interfere to great extents in political processes in Moldova. We will therefore analyze a number of Russia’s ingressions and actions in the Republic of Moldova.

Moscow relies on several pressure points in the Republic of Moldova, which it employs periodically, depending on its interests. This usually happens either around an election, or when it tries to ignite a conflict.

The most important tools at its disposal are the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (ATUG) and the breakaway region of Transnistria, particularly their Russian-speaking populations, but also pro-Moscow political factions in Chișinău. The Chișinău-Comrat-Tiraspol triangle enables Moscow to carry out most of its influencing in the Republic of Moldova.

Leftist alliances

Although they have been sworn enemies in the last decade, Moscow managed to bring together Igor Dodon’s Socialists and Vladimir Voronin’s Communists. Although their relation might seem irreconcilable at first sight, the two shook hands and formed BECS (the Election Alliance of Communists and Socialists), officially registered at the Central Election Commission (CEC) in Chișinău ahead of the parliamentary election.

The patron of this new alliance was Russian communist MP Kazbek Taysaev, who flew to Chișinău in secret to give it the Kremlin’s blessing. Taysaev handles ex-Soviet space on behalf of the Russian communists and has constantly represented Moscow’s interests either in possible negotiations, as an observer in elections or as an agent for pooling together pro-Russian forces in the Republic of Moldova.

Igor Dodon’s camp is in disarray after losing the presidential election. A poor score in the parliamentary election could deal Dodon a deadly blow, removing him from the helm of PSRM (Party of Socialists in the Republic of Moldova), which makes the alliance with the communists more of a desperate attempt at grabbing as many votes as possible from left-wing voters. Paradoxically, the very person who introduced him to big-league politics might now bury him with a subpar score, which PSRM is unlikely to tolerate.

After a swift round of negotiations, Voronin managed not only to take lead on PSRM’s lists for Parliament, but also to gain important benefits for his communists in Moldova. Dodon tried to put up a smokescreen, claiming left-wing parties are uniting, but in reality, things are more complicated due to conflicting interests, both in political terms, as well as when it comes to the business interests of the leaders of left-wing parties.

One thing’s for certain: Moscow will be taking advantage of this alliance, which has been reiterating geopolitical messages demonizing the West, like “we won’t sell our country to foreigners”. Their favorite target is Maia Sandu, who continues to be the image of PAS (Action and Solidarity Party) ahead of the parliamentary election.

In the absence of development programs, anti-EU and anti-NATO rhetoric will continue to grab the headlines throughout the election campaign, and Moscow will back up any such slogans, as the Russian MFA previously did.

“After the parliamentary elections, right-wing parties, together with president Maia Sandu, plan on increasing the retirement age (something the IMF is adamant about), removing districts and small villages (a reform in this respect had already been drafted when pro-European alliances were formed), wiping out local producers (thus paving the way for imports), and putting Parliament, the Government and other state institutions under the control of Western overseers”, Dodon wrote on his Facebook page on May 15.

Therefore, we are about to witness a fierce campaign of fake news and propaganda, something which Moscow is really adept at. Much like the campaign for the presidential election which Dodon lost in 2020, this year’s campaign will most likely involve experts. Russia owns a powerful propaganda machine which it plans to unleash against right-wing pro-European candidates.

Votes on the other side of the Dniester

A second pillar Russia relies on, either to gather more votes or to destabilize the Republic of Moldova, is the breakaway region of Transnistria. Since the parliamentary election of February, 2019, when Igor Dodon and the now fugitive millionaires Vladimir Plahotniuc and Ilan Shor paid a hefty price to bring in votes from Transnistria, official figures show this mass of pro-Russian voters can be reactivated, of course, for the right price.

In last year’s presidential election, the pro-European candidate, Maia Sandu, grabbed around 14.20% of the votes in Transnistria, compared to 85.80% won by Dodon. At the time 31,000 people in this region voted in the election, brought to Moldova by coach or personal car in an organized manner. No less than 42 polling stations were opened for voters from Transnistria, which marked a record high. The votes from Transnistria accounted for some 3% of the total number of votes and for 3 of the total of 101 seats in Parliament.

Transnistria has a huge voting potential, as on paper some 250,000 inhabitants of this region have voting rights. It will all boil down to the type of deal left-wing politicians in Moldova are willing to strike and, of course, on Moscow’s sway with oligarchs in Transnistria who own the Sheriff holding – Viktor Gusan and Ilya Kazmaly – in order to muster up the pro-Russian electorate in the breakaway region.

Moreover, the Socialists declared publicly that the passage of voters from Transnistria into Moldova will not be obstructed as it was in the presidential election by pro-European parties in opposition.

“Citizens living across the Dniester and who have valid Moldovan identification documents are no different from people who own a Moldovan passport and who live, for instance, in Portugal. This sort of discriminatory attitude towards our citizens, which can even be labeled fascist, divides society in good or evil. And who are they to judge? Who are they to say which citizen has a right to vote? They (PAS deputies, e.n.) have crossed a red line, and if we had lived in a powerful state, they would have been held accountable for that. Unfortunately, we live in a weak state”, PSRM executive secretary, Vlad Bătrîncea told the Russian-language TV station “Primul în Moldova” on May 11.

Russia has always wanted to make Transnistria as much a part of Moldovan politics as possible, which also transpired in the 2003 Kozak plan”. Although it failed at the time, the plan was never abandoned by Moscow.

Gagauzia, a stronghold of Russian separatism

The extended plan of the Russian Federation also includes ATUG, an autonomous pro-Russian and Russian-speaking region in the Republic of Moldova. In its #Kremlinovici series, RISE Moldova provided clear evidence from the “Chernov archive” of the Kremlin’s “Moldovan department” that Russia coordinates the top-level political life in Comrat. Russian officials write some of the speeches, directions and slogans which are then targeted against the West, including Romania, but also against local politicians.

Signs that Russia has been harmonizing slogans in Chișinău and Comrat ahead of the parliamentary election have become increasingly transparent. They include especially the narrative about the unification of the Republic of Moldova with Romania which, according to this type of disinformation, would lead to the persecution of the Russian-speaking population.

Victor Petrov, a local politician from Gagauzia, who on May 11 announced in a conference hosted by Chișinău the formation of the public platform “The People’s Union”, made up of pro-Moldovan political parties, claims the Republic of Moldova “will enter a new phase of utter Romanianization which seeks, just like in the case of Ukraine, to completely wipe out national identity and the Russian world”, which could result in “unpredictable consequences, civil unrest and utter mayhem”.

“Under the guise of words and slogans speaking of ‘European integration’ and ‘European values’, we are being systematically led to Romania, where we will all become ‘second-tier’ human beings and, in the words of a Romanian diplomat, ‘the exponents of primitive Moldovenism’”, Victor Petrov said, also claiming that “Romanian politicians seek to take the reins of power in Moldova”.

“The new president of Moldova speaks openly about the importance of uniting forces with Romania and the partnership with NATO, supporting the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeeping troops”, Petrov went on to say.

For that matter, there’s one additional stake ATUG is vying for in election for the People’s Assembly of Găgăuzia, which was originally slated for April-May, but was postponed after the parliamentary election in Moldova on July 11.

Apart from the pro-Russian political forces in Chișinău and Transnistria, Găgăuzia will become Russia’s third pressure point in the upcoming election. The ideological proximity of the two predominantly Russian-speaking regions, as well as the media monopoly in both Transnistria and Găgăuzia will likely turn them into platforms for Russian action and interference in the Moldovan parliamentary election.

Although they won’t play a crucial role, the votes from both Transnistria and ATUG, which for their most part will go to pro-Russian factions, will definitely matter in the final count. And since experts predict a close fight with an undecided winner, any vote is bound to make a difference, and Russia will try to capitalize on the domestic turmoil in the Republic of Moldova to swing the vote in favor of parties still loyal to the Kremlin and the kleptocratic system that has been reigning supreme in Moldova for three decades.

 

Tags: Republica Moldova, Russia, Maia Sandu, Igor Dodon, Transnistria

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  • For all its protests and accusations, Russia is actually the one that seems to interfere to great extents in political processes in Moldova. Moscow relies on several pressure points in the Republic of Moldova, which it employs periodically, depending on its interests. The most important tools at its disposal are the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (ATUG) and the breakaway region of Transnistria, particularly their Russian-speaking populations, but also pro-Moscow political factions in Chișinău. The Chișinău-Comrat-Tiraspol triangle enables Moscow to carry out most of its influencing in the Republic of Moldova.
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