Category Archives: Russia

Avenues of Russian Political Intervention in Moldova

A divided national identity and pervasive Soviet legacy provide fertile ground for Russian interfer­ence in the weak and unstable Moldovan political system. Historically, Moldovan political elites have always been divided between those who support and those who oppose closer ties with Russia. Russophiles have generally had the upper hand ever since Moldova became a Russian protectorate in the early 18th century, only to have its eastern part, known as Bessarabia, incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1812. However, despite an assiduous process of assimilation and denationali­zation, a significant portion of Bessarabian elites maintained their identity and used the opportunity provided by the Russian Revolution to unite with Moldova’s kin state Romania in 1918. Nonetheless, a Soviet ultimatum forced Romania to concede Bessarabia in June 1940, only to regain it a year later. Yet the Soviet Union ultimately took control of the region in August 1944 and established the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic.

Despite zealous efforts to turn Moldovans into Soviet citizens, some local elites withstood the denationalization process, albeit at an extremely high personal cost, as many of those who opposed the regime were imprisoned or deported to the Soviet Far East. Against all odds, a national eman­cipation movement was still active even in the Soviet police state. Later, as Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost allowed some political liberty across the USSR, a national move­ment laid the groundwork for a future Moldovan state, which gained independence in December 1991.

Political Vulnerabilities of a Young Democracy

The political system of the Republic of Moldova is still undergoing a transition from a Soviet one-party police state to a pluralist democratic society. Despite having adopted a modern European-style constitution in 1994, Moldova’s democratic credentials have consistently come into question. As political scientist Lucan Way stated  “Moldova is best understood not as a struggling or unconsolidated democracy, but instead as a case of failed authoritarianism or ‘pluralism by default.’”

The two main problems of central government bodies in Moldova are their hyper-politicization and pervasive corruption. Despite two decades of discussions on the benefits of depersonalized public service, Moldova is still far from a professional technocratic government. Apart from the destructive practice of excessive politicization of government structures, political control over the judiciary and other key institutions that should remain beyond the realm of politics, such as the central bank, regulatory agencies, and law enforcement discredits the key democratic principles of separation of power and checks and balances. This state of affairs plays into Moscow’s hands because Russia has heavily invested in promoting its type of ‘sovereign democracy’ as an alternative to traditional western-style democracy.

Weak state institutions, tenuous elite networks, and polarized politics have ensured a feeble democracy. Political parties are notorious for having a short life cycle, being inextricably linked to the popularity of their founding leaders, with power most often concentrated in the hands of the party leader and/or a handful of donors. Due to a high personification of political parties, weak ideological foundations, and an overreliance on geopolitically driven electoral platforms, that are either in favor or against closer ties with Russia or the West, parties are easy targets for foreign interference and manipulation.

Unsurprisingly, parties in power and their de facto partners in the opposition tend to be treated with more leniency by Central Election Commission, a supposedly independent watchdog. The 2016 presidential campaign of Igor Dodon was a case in point. Media investigations uncovered an allegedly illegal campaign finance scheme in which money was funneled from Russia via offshore companies in the Bahamas. However, the Central Election Commission not only failed to take these allegations seriously, but one of the names mentioned as a beneficiary of these offshore funds, Socialist Party lawyer and a major contributor to the party Vadim Filipov, was appointed as a member of the Central Election Commission itself.

Note: This excerpt is part of a monograph edited by Dr. Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washinton DC. The authors of the book entitled: “To Have and to Hold: Putin’s Quest for Control in the Former Soviet empire” assess the likelihood and shape of potential Russian intervention in neighboring countries, Putin’s pursuit of what he views as his historic mission to restore Russia’s regional hegemony, how he is securing his regime’s legitimacy with patriotic mobilization, and what he is doing to continue his project of destabilizing trans-Atlantic unity.

References:  

Lucan A. Way. Weak States and Pluralism: The Case of Moldova. East European Politics and Societies. Volume 17. 2003. http://www.pecob.eu/flex/cm/pages/ServeBLOB.php/L/EN/IDPagina/3402

RISE Moldova. Dodon’s money from the Bahamas. 2016. https://www.rise.md/articol/banii-lui-dodon-din-bahamas/

Ziarul National. New CEC member implicated in the Bahamas scheme to fund Dodon. 2017. https://www.ziarulnational.md/doc-noul-membru-al-cec-implicat-in-schema-cu-bani-din-bahamas-a-lui-dodon-si-avocat-al-episcopului-marchel-in-litigiul-cu-maia-sandu/

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Left to right: Leon Aron, Paul Stronski, Congressman Seth Moulton (D-MA), Agnia Grigas, Mihai Popsoi. 

180313_AEI_Russia_150_preview

Left to right: Agnia Grigas, Michael Kofman, Mihai Popsoi, Paul Stronski, Leon Aron.  

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Avenues of Russian Military Intervention in Moldova

Throughout its history Moldova has been a geo­political playground for larger actors in the region, and its newly acquired independence does not appear to have changed this. As many imperial powers do, Russia consistently undermines the sovereignty of independent countries it perceives to be in its sphere of influence. In Moldova’s case, Exhibit A is Moscow’s support for the separatist regime in Transnistria before, during, and after the full-scale war that erupted on March 2, 1992, the day the Republic of Moldova was accepted into the United Nations as a member. That tragic event haunts Moldova to this day, as Russia has entrenched itself in the region despite commitments at the 1999 Istanbul Summit of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to withdraw its military presence from Moldova’s Transnistrian region.

Due to Moldova’s meager defense budget,which rests on the pretense of military neutrality, the country cannot possibly withstand Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics, let alone a full-scale Russian military intervention. Considering the country’s declared constitutional neutrality, Moldova’s options for bolstering its defense are severely limited. Thus, Moldova’s bilateral military cooperation agreement with Romania, signed in 2012, covers only personnel training and military infrastructure cooperation.2 Nevertheless, Moldova benefits from assistance under the aegis of the EU’s Common Defense and Security Policy: It was the first country where the EU deployed a security sector reform adviser to guide the implementation of a national security strategy, help develop national capacities, and facilitate Moldova’s participation in international missions and operations. Further security and defense cooperation with the EU is vital to advancing the country’s goal of political integration with the EU.

Of course, given the EU’s own shortcomings in defense against a powerful actor such as Russia, the only effective structure in this regard would be NATO. Moldova’s relationship with NATO is currently based on an Individual Partnership Action Plan for 2017–19.3 It stipulates Moldova’s interest in developing further cooperation with NATO to reform and modernize its armed forces and address emerging security challenges.

However, NATO can do little if Moldova is not willing to help itself. For example, the position of defense minister remained vacant from December 2016 until October 2017 due to a deadlock between the government and the president. In the meantime, Moldova’s National Defense Concept, adopted in 2008, is outdated, and so is the National Security Strategy of 2011. The new security strategy draft4 from former President Nicolae Timofti will likely be significantly revised by President Igor Dodon, who is known for his pro-Russian outlook, open admiration for Vladimir Putin, and critical views of NATO, Romania, and the West in general. He is adamantly opposed to opening a NATO liaison office in Moldova and has promised to cancel the bilateral military cooperation agreement with Romania if his fellow Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldovia (PSRM) gains a majority in parliament in the elections scheduled for the end of 2018.5

 

Note: This excerpt is part of a monograph edited by Dr. Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washinton DC. The authors of the book entitled: “To Have and to Hold: Putin’s Quest for Control in the Former Soviet empire” assess the likelihood and shape of potential Russian intervention in neighboring countries, Putin’s pursuit of what he views as his historic mission to restore Russia’s regional hegemony, how he is securing his regime’s legitimacy with patriotic mobilization, and what he is doing to continue his project of destabilizing trans-Atlantic unity.

References:  

  1. MilitaryBudget.org, “Moldovan Military Budget,” http://militarybudget.org/moldova/.
  2. Acord Între Guvernul Republicii Moldova şi Guvernul României Privind Cooperarea în Domeniul Militar [Agreement between the government of the Republic of Moldova and the government of Romania on cooperation in the military field], April 20, 2012, http://lex.justice.md/UserFiles/File/2015/mo78-83md/romania_207.doc.
  3. Cristi Vlas, “Moldova Government Approves Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO for 2017–2019,” Moldova.org, http://www.moldova.org/en/moldova-government-approves-individual-partnership-action-plan-nato-2017-2019/.
  4. Preşedinţia Republicii Moldova, “Proiectul Strategiei Securităţii Naţionale a Republicii Moldova” [Draft national security strategy for the Republic of Moldova], 2016, http://www.presedinte.md/app/webroot/proiecte/SSN16.pdf.
  5. NTV (Moldova), “Spetsvypusk s prezidentom Respubliki Moldova Igorem Dodonom” [Special issue with the president of the Republic of Moldova Igor Dodon], June 13, 2017, http://ntv.md/news/11696.

 

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