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The Republic of Moldova on Veridica in 2021: The Year in Review

The Republic of Moldova on Veridica in 2021: The Year in Review
©EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU  |   The President of Moldova Maia Sandu speaks to media after voting at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Chisinau, Moldova, 11 July 2021.

For the Republic of Moldova, 2021 has been ridden with political, social and economic challenges. The highlight of the year was the victory of pro-European forces in the parliamentary election, after in late 2020 Maia Sandu had secured the office of president.

The pro-Europeans got a firm grip on power

Over a very short period of time, Maia Sandu managed to put back the Republic of Moldova on the world map, and quickly thawed relations with neighboring Romania and Ukraine. In the geopolitical vaccine race that followed, the EU and the USA were the clear winners of the media war with Russia in their efforts to bring anti-COVID-19 vaccines to the Republic of Moldova.

At domestic level, the president helped steer things in the direction of snap parliamentary elections, a scenario favored only by her former party (the Action and Solidarity Party - PAS), although the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova was only halfway through its tenure. The Constitutional Court settled the matter on April 15, after ruling that president Maia Sandy may dissolve Parliament. The ruling paved the way for an all-in election campaign  for the pro-European forces throughout the summer.

Before that, however, Igor Dodon and his groups of oligarchs attempted one last “blitzkrieg-style attack” on the Constitutional Court. Eventually, the parliamentary election was held on July 11 and was won by a landslide by PAS, a party that continued to be closely associated with president Maia Sandu. PAS secured a comfortable majority in Parliament, winning 63 of the total of 101 seats, and immediately embarked on an ambitious and extremely difficult reform program.

The Transnistrian file: no progress

Whereas much of the turmoil seemed to have subsided at home, the coming to power of pro-European forces did little to solve the frozen conflict in Transnistria. A string of events featuring the former deputy prime minister for reintegration, Vlad Kulminschi, raised a series of questions. First of all, Kulminschi lobbied in Ukraine via the Moldovan Ministry for Foreign Affairs, calling on this country to postpone a decision to ban access in Ukraine for vehicles with Transnistrian license plates. Then, Kulminschi stepped down suddenly, ahead of a new round of talks in the 5+2 format, which was supposed to take place in early November in Stockholm. Kulminschi motivated his decision, arguing he resigned for personal reasons. However, he quickly rebounded as a foreign policy expert in “mainstream” media, with a discourse favoring Moscow against the backdrop of the military crisis in Ukraine.

On the other hand, Russia showed signs it was willing turn up the pressure in Tiraspol and Comrat and that it can destabilize the Republic of Moldova, if needed, by means of activating “the Transnistrian factor”.

The breakaway region gained more regional visibility through the so-called “football paradiplomacy”. The qualification of Sheriff Tiraspol football club to the Champions League group phase marked a victory not just for the local oligarchs Viktor Gushan and Ilya Kazmalyi, the owners of the club, but also for Russia’s soft-power policy in the region. Sheriff’s success in European inter-club competitions also benefited separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselsky, supported by both Moscow and the Sheriff holding company.

After winning a new term as president of the Transnistrian separatist region, Vadim Krasnoselsky and his administration upped their anti-Chișinău rhetoric. Russia continues to call for “reprisals” in response to the Republic of Moldova’s decision to block the entry into Moldova of Russian propaganda agents, who the Russian Federation claims had come to monitor the so-called presidential election of December 12 in the region.

Russia's dependence on Russian gas remains an Achilles' heel for Moldova

The autumn of 2021 brought back in the limelight Moldova’s dependency on Russian gas imports. The latest crisis proved Moscow can quickly get Chișinău right where it wants it. Lacking in both experience and strategy, deputy prime minister Andrei Spânu signed a five-year untransparent and unfavorable contract with Gazprom. This could be the first sign of slowdown for the current pro-European administration, a reality check via Moscow’s arsenal of blackmail and pressure instruments.

Whereas in Chișinău people are talking about linking the country’s energy grid to European networks, this episode has proved Moldova is still largely limited and lacks long-term vision in this respect. Surprisingly, the government started a public tender for energy interconnection infrastructure, by awarding a contract to a company from India. Without any prior experience in large infrastructure works in Europe, the company was awarded a 27-million-Euro contract as part of a highly controversial deal.  

The amount accounts for merely 10% of the 260 million Euro earmarked for the development of energy infrastructure projects. Yet even so, it sent out a bad signal that Moldova got off on the wrong foot with its energy reforms. Some of these projects won’t be completed at the end of Parliament’s four-year tenure, so PAS won’t be reaping any political benefits.

The government’s lack of transparency and faulty communication in the energy sector have again invited speculation in this respect. Still, when it comes to energy benefits, the Republic of Moldova and its representatives went to Bucharest to advocate the “special relationship” between Romania and Moldova. The Iași-Chișinău pipeline remains largely untapped, although some 150 million Euro was invested in this project of strategic importance.

Nevertheless, the Republic of Moldova announced plans to stockpile gas reserves in Romania’s deposits, minister Andrei Spânu having visited Bucharest particularly for this reason. It remains to be seen what Romania wants for its relation with Chișinău.

The two countries will opt either for sentimentalism and prudence bordering suspicion, or for a “pragmatic relationship” in terms of projects and a “win-win” mindset, instead of contenting themselves with a “donor-recipient” paradigm. But this won’t be up for discussion before 2022, a year that promises to be no less challenging than the previous one.  

Tags: Republica Moldova

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  • Over a very short period of time, Maia Sandu managed to put back the Republic of Moldova on the world map, and quickly thawed relations with neighboring Romania and Ukraine. In the geopolitical vaccine race that followed, the EU and the USA were the clear winners of the media war with Russia in their efforts to bring anti-COVID-19 vaccines to the Republic of Moldova. At domestic level, the president helped steer things in the direction of snap parliamentary elections, a scenario favored only by her former party (the Action and Solidarity Party - PAS), although the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova was only halfway through its tenure.
  • Whereas much of the turmoil seemed to have subsided at home, the coming to power of pro-European forces did little to solve the frozen conflict in Transnistria. A string of events featuring the former deputy prime minister for reintegration, Vlad Kulminschi, raised a series of questions. First of all, Kulminschi lobbied in Ukraine via the Moldovan Ministry for Foreign Affairs, calling on this country to postpone a decision to ban access in Ukraine for vehicles with Transnistrian license plates. Then, Kulminschi stepped down suddenly, ahead of a new round of talks in the 5+2 format, which was supposed to take place in early November in Stockholm. Kulminschi motivated his decision, arguing he resigned for personal reasons. However, he quickly rebounded as a foreign policy expert in “mainstream” media, with a discourse favoring Moscow against the backdrop of the military crisis in Ukraine.
  • The autumn of 2021 brought back in the limelight Moldova’s dependency on Russian gas imports. The latest crisis proved Moscow can quickly get Chișinău right where it wants it. Lacking in both experience and strategy, deputy prime minister Andrei Spânu signed a five-year untransparent and unfavorable contract with Gazprom. This could be the first sign of slowdown for the current pro-European administration, a reality check via Moscow’s arsenal of blackmail and pressure instruments.
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