Category Archives: Romania

Moldova Hopes to Boost Military Ties With Romania Amid Tensions With Russia

On February 4, Romanian Defense Minister Mihai Fifor arrived on an official two-day visit to Moldova. In a joint press conference, Moldovan Defense Minister Eugen Sturza thanked his counterpart and the Romanian government for its support in modernizing and developing the defense legal-strategic framework, educating 800 National Army service members in military institutions in Romania, as well as training Moldovan service members through participation in bilateral and multinational exercises alongside their Romanian colleagues.

Yet, the bigger news of the press conference was that the two ministers agreed to resume talks about a joint military battalion for deployment in emergency situations, similar to the Romanian-Hungarian-Ukrainian-Slovak Multinational Engineer Battalion Tisa. Strangely, this item was not included in the follow-up press release of the Moldovan defense ministry (; February 5). One reason was possibly that the idea of a joint Romanian-Moldovan battalion was first introduced in May 2015 by then Defense Minister Viorel Cibotaru (, July 21, 2015). It was subsequently promoted by his successor Anatol Salaru (, August 20, 2015). Initially envisaged as a multinational peacekeeping battalion, it has failed to materialize to this day for several reasons.

Viorel Cobotaru’s tenure as minister lasted only six months. Meanwhile, Anatol Salaru held the position for a year and a half during highly turbulent political times that also spilled over into the national army with Salaru vying for influence with the Chief of the General Staff (see EDM, March 28, 2016). During 2015-2016, the country was rocked by mass protests triggered by a billion-dollar corruption scandal (the equivalent of 12 percent of GDP was embezzled from three banks). This scale of corruption brought down the pro-European governing coalition, only to be replaced by one of the constituent parties of that very coalition in a de facto one party government controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. He took over the leadership of the Democratic Party on December 24, 2016 (, December 24, 2016), a day after a pro-Russian president Igor Dodon was sworn into office. Three days later, upon losing the support of his Liberal Party, the ostensibly pro-NATO Defense Minister Anatol Salaru was dismissed by the newly elected pro-Russian president (see EDM, October 24, 2017).

The subsequent institutional deadlock between the government and the president left the defense portfolio vacant for ten months, until another pro-NATO defense minister was appointed following a controversial Constitutional Court ruling (see EDM, November 16, 2017). Needless to say, the general political instability, coupled with institutional deadlock and anti-Romanian rhetoric coming from the pro-Russian President Dodon, limited the space for Moldova’s defense cooperation with Romania, despite hopes that a bilateral agreement on military cooperation signed in 2012 would foster such ties (, April 20, 2012).

Nonetheless, as Moldova’s diplomatic relations with Russia are becoming ever more strained (, January 31; see EDM, February 7;, February 8), Moldova’s de facto decision maker, Vladimir Plahotniuc, is seeking Western backing. Given his questionable legitimacy and anti-democratic record (see EDM July 25, 2017, Part 1 and Part 2), the response from the West has been less than enthusiastic. Still, thanks to his personal and political relations with Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, Plahotniuc can count on Bucharest. Romanian authorities and intelligence services, in turn, may believe that they can control Plahotniuc via several criminal files opened against the Moldovan oligarch-turned-politician (, February 13, 2014;, November 13, 2017).

Meanwhile, Plahotniuc has pleaded not guilty and accuses the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) of plotting against him by using the Romanian court system (, November 20, 2017). This hardly contributes fertile ground for deeper military cooperation between Romania and neutral Moldova, especially during an emotionally charged centennial anniversary of Moldova’s unification with Romania in 1918.

This is why the largely technical issue of a joint Romanian-Moldovan emergency response battalion has stirred harsh reactions from the pro-Russian opposition, with President Dodon vowing to block the initiative (; February 7), as he has successfully blocked several Moldovan contingents from taking part in military exercises abroad earlier this year. The government then decided to ignore the president’s ban, while drafting a legislative workaround the president’s powers (, September 6, 2017;, September 13, 2017). Thus, a contingent of 60 service members and 12 vehicles from Moldova was dispatched to join the Platinum Eagle multinational exercises on February 12-16 in Romania’s Babadag military range without, this time, causing a domestic political standoff (, February 8;, February 10).

At end of the day, the government’s effort to boost military ties with Romania remains a largely symbolic gesture, aimed at creating the perception that Romania is backing Vlad Plahotniuc, and by extension, the West does too. Meanwhile, as the ruling Democratic Party, driven by electoral calculations, continues its controlled escalation of tensions with Russia, it keeps on subsidizing the separatist regime in Transnistria via energy imports from the region and remains coy about the possibility of Moldova exiting the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Newly appointed Minister of European Integration Iurie Leanca said it could happen once Moldova submits an EU membership application, which is not in the cards for the time being (, January 25; February 9). Thus, despite all the tough talk coming from Chisinau, the Moldovan government shows no political commitment to boost its own defense capabilities and, unlike Georgia and Ukraine, remains part of the CIS—a relic of Russian dominance in the post-soviet space.


Note: This article was written for the Washington based Jamestown Foundation and the original can be accessed here.


People Power in Romania Versus Moldova: Worlds Apart?

Romania is becoming the envy of the world when it comes to peaceful mass protests successfully holding the government accountable. A little over a year ago, 20,000 Romanians protested in the streets of the country’s capital against corruption and regulatory ineptitude, which had resulted in 64 people dying in a Bucharest nightclub fire. On November 4, 2015, Prime Minister Victor Ponta was forced to take responsibility for this disaster and resign. However, despite major questions of ethical integrity within his party, Ponta’s Romanian Social Democrats (PSD) were nonetheless able to win the parliamentary elections in December 2016. The landslide victory seems to have emboldened the PSD leadership to the point of, on January 31, 2017, issuing a government decree to decriminalize corruption offences when sums of less than $47,000 are involved. One immediate beneficiary would have been PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, who faces charges of defrauding the state of $26,000. After five days of ever growing protests involving up to half a million people across the country, the government conceded and withdrew the controversial decree (, February 5).

This is a major win for rule of law and democracy in Romania thanks to levels of popular mobilization unseen since the days of the 1989 revolution. However, the track record of mass protests being able to hold the government to account in Romania’s sister nation Moldova is rather mixed. The 2009 “Twitter Revolution” is credited with pushing the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) out of power. The April 2009 protests against what was perceived as a rigged parliamentary election, but even more so the crackdown pursued by the Communists, undoubtedly swayed public opinion in favor of the pro-European opposition. The PCRM was defeated in the July 2009 early elections. However soon after gaining power, infighting began to tear the coalition apart. A heavy scandal surfaced in 2015, when $1 billion (equal to 15 percent of the country’s GDP) was discovered to have been stolen from three large Moldovan banks. Leading politicians were perceived as accomplices in this massive crime, prompting mass protests that lasted for months, only to fade away in 2016, overshadowed by the presidential elections (see EDM, September 9, 2015; January 29, 2016). The investigation into the banking fraud is ongoing, but not much has been achieved so far other than the scapegoating of the former prime minister and previous leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vlad Filat. He has been convicted to nine years in prison on corruption charges in connection with the fraud. Filat’s main political rival, Democratic Party leader and oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, ended up benefiting the most, as he became the sole decision maker in the country. Yet, despite Plahotniuc’s abysmally low popularity ratings of just 4 percent (Institute of Public Policy Poll, October 2016), organizing public protests against the government installed by Plahotniuc and his power consolidation has proven increasingly difficult. Nonetheless, the leader of the Dignity and Truth Platform Party (which headed the 2015–2016 demonstrations), Andrei Nastase, has already announced plans to relaunch antigovernment protests (Adevarul, February 2).

It is important to point out the three major differences that make the success of peaceful protests much more unlikely in Moldova than in its neighboring kin-state Romania:

First, the anti-corruption protests in Romania as well as Moldova’s 2009 protests were spontaneous civic outbursts, without a unified political force coordinating them from behind. On the other hand, the Moldovan protests of 2015 had a clearly identifiable political agenda. Indeed, there were several competing agendas. The Dignity and Truth Platform emerged as a civic protest movement; however, to any astute observer of Moldovan politics, the intention of transforming the movement into a new center-right political party was clear from the very beginning. At the same time, the two pro-Russia opposition center-left parties (Our Party and Party of Socialists), which also backed the protests, had their own agenda for triggering early elections. As parties hijacked the civic protest, their subsequent differences effectively destroyed the movement.

The second major factor undermining the success of a mass protests in Moldova is a lack of national unity. Unlike Romania, Moldova is a much more highly divided society. Ethnic and linguistic cleavages allow politicians to manipulate the public and maintain the status quo favorable to the regime. Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party, aided by its junior coalition partner the Liberals, has been instrumental in exploiting these cleavages and precluding a unified cross-party opposition movement from taking hold. Furthermore, the regime in Chisinau did not shy away from intimidating and pressuring the protesters in 2015 to give up (, December 18, 2015).

Third, and most importantly, unlike Romanian Social Democrats in recent years and Moldovan Communists in 2009, the Democratic Party cannot afford any meaningful concessions out of fear of losing power—such a loss would pose an imminent threat to the wealth and freedom of its leader, Vlad Phahotniuc. Plahotniuc also apparently believes that unlike PCRM in 2009 and Romania’s PSD today, his party stands no chance of winning any future elections, unless it stays in power to change the election rules and oversee the electoral process.


In conclusion, the chances of a successful peaceful protest in Moldova leading to a change in government are dim. Any civic movement is likely to be politicized by the country’s political parties. The latter will then inevitably fall prey to ethnic, linguistic and geopolitical divisions, making it easier for the pro-government media machine to advocate in favor of Plahotniuc’s agenda. Following the failed 2015–2016 protests triggered by the “billion dollar scandal,” both the opposition and the public will likely be tested next time, when the ruling coalition moves to introduce a mixed electoral system in an attempt to hold onto power. The regime is also likely to create new “spoiler” parties and ban some existing ones from running in the election, which will be difficult to protest against for reasons explained above as well as due to Plahotniuc’s powerful media empire. As the independent media struggles to compete with pro-government outlets and as long as social media lacks the penetration rate to tip the scales, Moldova’s civic drive will face an uphill battle. If anything, events in Romania will teach an already cautious Plahotniuc to avoid unforced errors, to keep closer tabs on the opposition, and to continue to invest in both traditional and social media influence. Thus, the prospect for a triumph of people power over corrupt elites in Moldova is not optimistic.

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