NARRATIVE: Romania is close to annexing the Republic of Moldova.
BACKGROUND: The territory known as Bessarabia was annexed in 1812 by the Tsarist Empire following the Russian-Turkish war. In 1918, after the collapse of the Russian Empire, the region united with Romania. In 1940 it was occupied by the USSR, which divided its territory by incorporating its southern region into Ukraine and turning the rest into the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova.
The topic of the Republic of Moldova’s unification with Romania, based on the union of 1918, has been permanently raised after 1991, with the proclamation of independence in the Republic of Moldova. The present context is much more complex. According to opinion polls, the majority of the population would oppose such a move, especially as the country underwent a Russification process in the Soviet period and several enclaves with a majority Russian-speaking population were created.
Still, the number of union adepts is growing, accounting for 30% of the population, according to opinion polls. Many still promote the unification primarily from the lens of economic gains. A recent sociological study shows that 50% of interviewees would vote for uniting with Romania in exchange for higher salaries and pensions.
Moldova’s unification with Romania is also a topic of heated debate in the election campaigns in the Republic of Moldova. Some political factions are overtly in favor of the unification between the two states, while others present the unification as the greatest threat to Moldova’s statehood, calling into memory “the Romanian gendarme” to scare citizens and boost anti-Romanian sentiment.
PURPOSE: 1. To depict Romania as a country with territorial claims over the Republic of Moldova. 2. To advance the idea that the large majority of the Republic of Moldova’s population is against the unification with Romania. 3. To justify a potential Russian intervention against “the unification threat”.
WHY THE NARRATIVES ARE FALSE: Although it is the Republic of Moldova’s top trade partner and the number one destination for Moldovan exports, by no means does Romania account for 90% of the Republic of Moldova’s exports. According to the National Statistics Office, in 2020, the Republic of Moldova exported 28.4% of its products to Romania. Therefore, it is false to claim that the Republic of Moldova is reliant on Romania in this respect.
Exports to the Russian Federation dropped significantly after 2013, from 600 million USD annually, to 200 million USD. But this was largely owed to the fact that Moscow introduced restrictions and customs dues for Moldovan products after Chișinău signed the Association Agreement with the European Union.
Nearly 650,000 Moldovan citizens regained Romanian citizenship in the last two decades, while another 140,000 applications were still pending in late 2020, according to data made public by the Justice Ministry. The procedure is however rather complicated and long, usually taking a few years to complete.
The Russian Federation also provides Moldovan citizens with the possibility of obtaining Russian citizenship. The number of Moldovans holding Russian citizenships is unknown. People who do hold Russian citizenship usually hide it, because Russia officially doesn’t allow for double citizenship.
Under the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, any decision on the unification with Romania can only be made based on a majority vote of citizens taking part in a referendum. Therefore, a unionist president or Parliament cannot act on that independently.
GRAIN OF TRUTH: Romania is the main destination for Moldovan products, providing Moldovans with the possibility of regaining Romanian citizenship.
WHO STANDS TO BENEFIT: Russia, to justify a possible intervention in the Republic of Moldova where it seeks to consolidate its influence. In an election context, the Bloc of Communists and Socialists also benefits from this narrative, in order to fuel anti-Romanian sentiment in part of the population, a topic which is usually politicized ahead of an election.
A project supported by the Canadian Embassy in Romania, Bulgaria, and the Republic of Moldova