With the demise of the pro-Russian president in Chișinău, Igor Dodon, Romania now finds itself in a very interesting position. It has the opportunity of relaunching its relation with Chișinău and build on that relation cleverly. Yet pragmatism should prevail over emotion in order to allow things to take their due course. Out with sentimentalism, in with the coherent development of stable economic relations and infrastructure in the Republic of Moldova, with support from Romania and the EU.
We have already seen the first few steps. Romania publicly supported the presidential bid of Maia Sandu, a genuine pro-European politician, and the Romanian president was the first head of state to officially congratulate Maia Sandu. The two spoke as early as November 16 about a possible official visit of president Klaus Iohannis to Chișinău, after a break of nearly five years, which would be a clear sign for thawing top-level relations.
Right now, Bucharest needs to make the best of presidential relations. It won’t be easy, it’s true. Moldova is a parliamentary republic, and the prerogatives of the president in Chișinău are limited compared to Romania’s president. Therefore, at this stage, Maia Sandu will have to do more and talk less if she wants to impose her agenda of reforms.
For that, she will also need to rely on a parliament majority. By looking at the figures right now, that would seem difficult: an informal majority is already taking shape, made up of the Socialists Party and the “For Moldova” faction, a motley party that includes the Șor Party, defectors of the “Pro Moldova” Party, led by former Parliament Speaker, Andrian Candu (the godson of the fugitive millionaire Vladimir Plahotniuc) and other opportunist MPs from the left-center political spectrum.
Still, the prospect of early election is looming on the horizon. It’s just a matter of time, and the involvement of the USA, the EU and Romania is also bound to make a difference. Maia Sandu’s Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) needs to win the upcoming early parliamentary election to be able to make up a majority together with genuine pro-European forces. Equally important for Romania is who will be leading the party. Although most aspiring candidates are overtly pro-European, not of all them feel the same about Romania.
But until then, the new Moldovan president must also engage in some sort of guerilla warfare and up the pressure on the current majority dominated by Dodon’s Socialists, despite having a limited amount of instruments at her disposal.
Romania and the EU need to give Sandu all their support so she can fight this new preliminary battle, which by the looks of it, will not be a walk in the park. Ancestral powers that have been holding hostage Moldova’s corrupt system for the last thirty years will surely make a powerful stand. Were we to look truth in the face, Romania wouldn’t have pulled off its judicial reform either, had it not been pressured by the West and forced to observe the much-criticized CVM in the field of the judiciary.
Therefore, Sandu needs to cut off all the heads of the corrupt monster in Chișinău. And it won’t be an easy fight, not by a long shot. The champions of this rotten system, which include people inside the justice system and other power structures, won’t give up power too willingly. Moscow won’t just stand by and watch either, but will try to maintain the “in limbo” status quo using all the leverage it can muster in Chișinău.
The loss of the 2020 presidential election have sent the Socialists into a tailspin. In an attempt to regain Russia’s support, they’ve enhanced their rhetoric regarding the status of the Russian language in the Republic of Moldova, which they want to officially become a language of interethnic communication. They equally seek to abolish the law banning media propaganda. Bucharest needs to be wary of Dodon and PSRM’s attempts at kindling spirits and dividing Moldovan society by rehashing their perpetual leitmotif of Russian as a language of interethnic communication. It also needs to keep a close eye on modifications brought to the Audiovisual Code, in the sense of increasing the airtime of Russian-language programmes rebroadcast from Moscow and lifting the ban on Russian-language content and shows dealing with political and military analyses.
Considering the low representation of Romanian media in the Republic of Moldova, Russia will again have a significant competitive edge on the media market.
Romania needs to abandon its narrow-minded and often awkward approach in this area in the near future. The latest financial assistance worth a quarter of a million Euro for the Romanian-language media in Moldova, other than TVR and Radio Chișinău, is nothing short of a joke, considering the Kremlin allocated 1.3 billion Euro in 2020 to support its affiliated press. Their confrontation takes on Biblical proportions, pitting a Goliath against a David, where the Romanian-language media’s slingshots are highly unlikely to accomplish any miracles.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the people on the other side of the Prut is equally important. Although it has invested over 56 million Euro in the last decades in the Republic of Moldova, Romania has fared rather poorly in terms of promoting these investments. Until Bucharest understands that a project is only half successful without the proper advertising, Romania’s assistance to the Republic of Moldova will also be regarded as a half-measure.
As regards the power structures in Chișinău, Maia Sandu will have to embrace her role as the Commander-in-Chief of the Moldovan Army, a responsibility enshrined in the Constitution, and prevent Dodon and PSRM from trying to bring key institutions, such as the Intelligence and Security Service (SIS) back under Parliament’s control. In this respect, Maia Sandu publicly warned Dodon to refrain from such actions during the presidential transition.
Against this security backdrop, Maia Sandu needs to make sure Moldovan soldiers are kept well-trained and do away with the “forced periods of Rest & Recovery” Dodon introduced for Moldovan servicemen, preventing them from taking part in international training drills for reasons of “neutrality”. The interoperability of Moldovan and Romanian soldiers and within the North Atlantic Alliance should continue, and Romania will have to create the framework for cooperation.
An untrained Moldovan army only serves Moscow, which has been promoting for a long time the idea that Chișinău doesn’t need a strong army or a deterrence force, but needs to stay neutral. A state of neutrality would keep Moldova safe from any military danger. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and Romania, as a border state of the EU and NATO, needs to make sure there won’t be any breaches in this respect from Moldova.
Romania and the EU will have to provide financial assistance to the Republic of Moldova. But this has to take the form used while Plahotniuc was pulling the strings, which means they will have to invest locally instead of sending funds to the Government, where it will most likely be squandered by people who’re not pursuing a reformist agenda, much in the spirit of the Moldova-EU Association Agreement signed in 2014. The “more for more” principle needs to continue to work from the periphery towards the center, not the other way round.
In the near future, Bucharest is also due to the deliver the doses of vaccine it promised Moldova from its quota allotted by the European Union. The epidemiological situation in the Republic of Moldova is, in fact, much more serious than the numbers reveal. The Chicu Cabinet and President Dodon have dealt with the pandemic only in an electoral key and have swept all the mess under the rug with sheer recklessness.
Finally, Romania and the EU also need to accelerate proceedings to pen down a contract for the delivery of natural gas to the Republic of Moldova. Paradoxically, Chișinău is currently paying the highest natural gas bills to Gazprom at European level.
Connecting Moldova to the European energy grid via Romania needs to be a top priority so as to more or less curb Moldova’s dependency on Russian gas imports, which Moscow continues to exploit.
Overall, Romania needs to take on a more active stance regarding Chișinău and capitalize on Maia Sandu’s win in the Moldovan presidential election. The first step has already been made, but Maia Sandu also requires a Parliament majority and a Cabinet to rely on for the picture to be whole.
Romania needs to deliver expertise and financial support to help successfully implement Moldova’s agenda of European reforms.
The road ahead is ridden with challenges, but it will depend on how Moldova plays out the hand it’s been dealt. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be regarded as a matter of partisanship, but rather a national project on the medium term. A sort of “Snagov project” for the Republic of Moldova that requires an open mind, an emotion-neutral approach, a clear vision and a lot of well-invested funds. As the Americans like to say, “there ain't no such thing as a free lunch!”