Monthly Archives: December 2016

Transnistria: Change of Leadership, But Not Policy

On December 11, Moldova’s secessionist region of Transnistria held presidential elections. After a heated campaign, mutual accusations and even prison threats, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (Transnistria’s parliament), Vadim Krasnoselski, defeated the incumbent President, Yevgeny Shevchuk, by a landslide (62 percent to 24 percent) in the first round (Dniester.ru, December 12). Krasnoselski will now control both the executive and the legislative branches. The Renewal party, which is the political arm of the Sheriff Company, holds 33 of the 43 seats in the Supreme Soviet. The Sheriff conglomerate is Transnistria’s wealthiest and most powerful business group—the largest employer and taxpayer in the separatist region (Rise.md, June 30).

Shevchuk’s reliance on administrative resources and partial control over the state bureaucracy and law enforcement have proved insufficient, perhaps because the judiciary and the local electoral commission are heavily influenced by the legislative majority, controlled by the Sheriff Company via its representative Krasnoselski. Yet, more importantly, it was Russia that intervened on several occasions to calm the spirits of the two opposing sides, thus ensuring a peaceful transition of power in the region that is de facto under its protectorate. The Kremlin did not openly support any candidate (Kommersant.ru, October 10). Instead, Shevchuk appeared to have better ties with the Russian government, including with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Kremlin’s envoy for the Transnistrian conflict, Dmitry Rogozin, while Krasnoselski had the backing of the ruling United Russia Party (Adevarul.ro, December 9).

prezident_04-11-15

Shevchuk meets Rogozin in Moscow (Source: novostipmr.com)

The president, elected for a five-year term, is a central figure in the Transnistrian power structure and holds extensive executive powers, controlling the government and law enforcement forces. Unlike Shevchuk, who had strong opposition, Krasnoselski will have complete control over the self-proclaimed Transnistrian Republic. This presents some risks as well as opportunities for Moldova in the conflict settlement negotiations. Krasnoselski will enjoy a strong bargaining position, particularly as Moldova’s political system is highly polarized and a relatively strong opposition vocally objects to both the newly elected President Igor Dodon and the actual power broker in Moldova—Vlad Plahotniuc. Chisinau will find it difficult to reach consensus on a potential settlement proposal, despite the efforts by the OSCE to give new impetus to the negotiation talks (Moldnova.md, October 11).

Moldova’s President-elect Igor Dodon, despite having extremely limited prerogatives on setting domestic and foreign policy, proposed during the campaign a federal solution to the quarter-century-long frozen conflict. However, not only was his proposal rejected by Krasnoselski and Shevchuk (Radiochisinau.md, November 19), something to be expected during an election campaign in Transnistria, but it was also rebuked by the Moldovan center-right opposition as well as the ruling Democratic Party (Agora.md, November 19). Still, no solution to the conflict will ever materialize without Kremlin’s approval. Moscow’s influence was clearly manifested as Dmitry Rogozin personally intervened during the campaign to avoid further escalation of political tensions between the two opposing camps (Newsmaker.md, October 11). Furthermore, after the election results were announced, Shevchuk was summoned to Moscow to ensure a peaceful transition of power (Vestipmr.info, December 13).

Nonetheless, holding the political and economic power in the breakaway region, Krasnoselski and the two pragmatic and non-ideological businessmen behind Sheriff—Victor Gusan and Ilya Kazmali—could potentially become sensible partners in the reintegration talks with Chisinau (Politrussia.com, November 12; Rise.md, December 12). It is noteworthy that, in the first nine months of 2016, Transnistria exported 57 percent of its products to the European Union (benefiting from Moldova’s free trade agreement with the EU) and only 38 percent to the Russia-driven Eurasian Economic Union (Realitatea.md, September 18), which makes the region and its business elite increasingly westward-looking. The Association Agreement between the European Union and Moldova signed in 2014 and enacted fully in July 2016, particularly its economic component, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, to which Transnistria also signed on, albeit with some caveats, makes the region increasingly dependent on the EU market. This, along with decreasing Russian assistance, which only exacerbates the already dire economic conditions in the region, could prompt the new Transnistrian leadership to become more lenient toward a mutually feasible settlement. Still, this remains a long-term prospect. In the short run, the region will continue to get on the Russian bandwagon.

krasno - rogoz

Krasnoselski meets Rogozin in Moscow (Source: vestipmr.info)

Russian Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov stated during the OSCE ministerial meeting in Hamburg that Russia counts on further progress in the settlement negotiations over Transnistria (RIA.ru, December 9). However, all stakeholders in the conflict have long become accustomed to Russian diplomatic formalism and have very low expectations in this regard. Until Russia fulfills its 1999 OSCE Summit commitments to withdraw its military forces and equipment from Transnistria, Moscow will have little credibility when it declares support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Moldova. This becomes all the more evident as Moscow rejected yet again Ukraine’s offer to provide a corridor for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transnistria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin responded that the Russian peacekeepers would stay in Transnistria for as long as they are necessary for the preservation of peace (TASS.ru, November 11). Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was even less diplomatic, ridiculing the proposal altogether (TASS.ru, November 7). Thus, the only feasible approach to conflict settlement in the foreseeable future is supporting Transnistria’s further integration into the EU market, and encouraging local grassroots confidence-building initiatives. Hence, the status quo is here to stay.

Note: The article was written for the Jamestown Foundation and can be accessed here.

Advertisements

Legislative Election in Gagauzia: The Autonomous Region Turns its Back on Moldova Again

On December 4, Moldova’s Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia held the second round of its legislative election. The People’s Assembly (Gagauzia’s legislature) is composed of 35 members elected for a four-year term in 35 single member districts. A winner needs to gain at least 50 percent plus one vote to be elected. Of the 126 candidates registered in the race, 17 won in the first round and 15 in the runoffs. Another two districts are yet to hold their runoffs, and one district will hold a repeated election due to low turnout, which failed to reach the 33 percent threshold (Gagauzinfo.md, December 5).

The overall turnout was 42.8 percent, which was about one percent lower than in the first round. The apathy can be explained by the fact that this election has been overshadowed by the presidential election in Moldova organized just three weeks earlier. The Constitutional Court has not validated the outcome of the presidential election yet, as it waits for the conclusion of the post-electoral legal battles over the election results. This adds further anxiety to the Gagauz voters, as 99 percent of them supported the president-elect, former Socialists Party leader, Igor Dodon, mainly due to his pro-Russian message. However, this time, the Socialists failed to capitalize on their earlier electoral success in the region. In fact, the Socialists were met with hostility at town hall meetings, being told, “We supported the president, but we can manage things locally on our own” (Budjakonline.md, November 28).

zinaida_grecianii_ceadir_lunga

Of the 32 Gagauz legislators already elected, only four are women, while 16 are incumbents, the majority being under the age of 50 (Gagauznews.com, December 6). Yet, most importantly, of the 32 legislators, only nine are affiliated with a political party (seven socialists and two democrats), the rest being independents. This indicates a very high distrust among Gagauz voters toward the national political parties. Consequently, as regional parties are not allowed under the Moldovan law (out of fear that they could spur secessionism), the Gagauz are voting in droves for independents, who are most often local businessmen, bureaucrats or intellectuals. However, once elected, these independents tend to align themselves with one of several political power houses in the region, including the camp supported by the current governor Irina Vlah, the camp of the former governor Mihail Formuzal, the Democratic party camp led by former Mayor of Comrat (the capital of Gagauzia), Nicolai Dudoglo, and finally, the Party of Socialists, which took over the electorate that the communists used to hold in the region. Governor Vlah was also elected with the support of the Socialists, so it is likely that a coalition between Vlah’s supporters and Dodon’s Socialists will form the future majority in the Assembly. The current speaker Dmitrii Konstantinov (a defector from the Democratic Party) is likely to hold on to his position if he is able to bring a couple more votes to the future coalition. Yet, unlike four years ago, when the Democratic Party was able to convert a large number of independents to its side and create a majority, albeit short-lived, this time the Democrats appear uninterested in investing heavily in shaping the future majority in the Gagauz legislature (Gagauzinfo.md, December 6).

lupu_dudoglo_comrat

The reluctance of the ruling Democratic Party, which considers itself pro-European, could be explained by the public relations fiasco it suffered in 2014, when its own members in Gagauzia had to support the region’s referendum staged by local nationalists, aided by Russia, in the hope of precluding Moldova from signing the Association Agreement with the EU. The referendum of February 2, 2014, considered illegal by the Moldovan authorizes, preceded the one in Crimea by just over a month. With a turnout of over 70 percent, voters almost unanimously (98.4 percent) supported closer integration with the Russia-led Customs Union, while 97.2 percent firmly stood against closer ties with the EU. In addition, when asked about Gagauzia’s future should Moldova lose its sovereignty, 98.9 percent agreed that Gagauzia should have the right to independence (Gagauzinfo.md, February 3, 2014). It remains unclear to this day whether the third question implied Moldova’s potential unification with Romania or it referred to the country’s supposable accession to NATO and especially the EU. Either way, despite Moldova having signed and ratified the Association Agreement with the EU, Gagauzia remains a stronghold of pro-Russian sentiment in Moldova and, by the virtue of the 2014 illegal “self-determination” referendum, it can serve as a destabilizing factor in the country. The fact that president-elect Igor Dodon stated that Moldova’s integration into the European Union is only possible without Gagauzia and Transnistria provides further evidence (Interfax.ru, November 21).

This legislative election is unlikely to change much in Gagauzia as the legislators, who are serving only part time, keeping their day jobs, lack the resources and prerogatives to significantly improve the conditions in the autonomous region. In terms of geopolitical discourse, they will remain hostages of their electorate, who are heavily influenced by the Russian media, despite receiving large amounts of aid from the European Union and its member states, and virtually none from Russia (Moldnova.md, September 8). Unfortunately, these facts find it hard to reach Gagauz voters. Importantly, the Moldovan authorities have done little to integrate the Gagauz into the national political and social life. Until Chisinau makes it a national priority to address the grievances of the Gagauz autonomous region, which remains one of the poorest regions in one of the poorest countries in Europe, there is little prospect for better relations between Gagauzia and the rest of Moldova and, certainly, fewer chances of re-integration with Transnistria.

Note: The article was written for the Jamestown Foundation and can be accessed here.