Tag Archives: Russia

Moldova’s Foreign Policy in Disarray

In recent weeks, Moldova has been dealing with one foreign policy scandal after another. Relations with Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the Council of Europe and even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have all been strained to varying degrees. The contentious nature of Moldova’s domestic political competition undermines any chances for a coherent and predictable foreign policy. At the same time, the difficult geopolitical conditions in Moldova’s neighborhood, stemming from a fatigued European Union, an increasingly distant United States as well as a regionally resurgent Russia—coupled with democratic backsliding of Moldova’s own government—have been creating serious challenges for Moldovan diplomacy.

Relations with Russia in particular reached a new low after Moldova expelled five Russian diplomats on May 29, amid accusations that Moscow was recruiting fighters from Moldova’s autonomous region of Gagauzia for the Russia-backed insurgency in neighboring Ukraine (Moldova.org, June 13; Euromaidan Press, June 15). In 2014, Moldova’s Intelligence Service investigated several Gagauz officials, including the region’s former governor Mihail Formuzal, for also allegedly recruiting fighters, but no prosecutions followed as Formuzal was voted out of office and some of his purported lieutenants managed to escape to Russia (Deschide.md, July 9, 2014). Ironically, the new governor of Gagauzia, Irina Vlah, elected in March 2015, pledged even closer ties with Russia and accompanied then–newly elected Moldovan President Igor Dodon to the Kremlin on his first foreign visit (see EDM, March 31, 2015; Moldova.eu, January 20, 2017).

The spy scandal occurred during President Dodson’s attendance at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where Dodon issued a blistering anti-Western tirade, criticizing Moldova’s Association Agreement with the European Union, much to the delight of Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, Putin’s gratitude was rather peculiar as he ended up ridiculing Dodon with his answer about Russian interference in foreign elections: “Ask Dodon. He knows best,” Putin quipped, and Dodon smiled (RT, June 2; Balkan Insight, June 6). Upon his return from Russia, the Moldovan head of state called a National Security Council meeting to address the spy scandal, despite two prominent members of the Council being absent. Prime Minister Pavel Filip and Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu—both protégés of Vlad Plahotniuc, the chairman of the ruling Democratic Party and Moldova’s de-facto leader—were abroad. This, however, did not stop Dodon from scolding the foreign minister and the intelligence chief (Publika.md, May 30; Presedinte.md, June 6). The spy scandal, though unprecedented in its scale, has not prevented business as usual in Moldovan-Russian relations: indeed, around the same time, authorities announced the renewal of Moldova’s contract with the Russian-owned and Transnistrian-based Cuciurgan Power Plant (Unimedia.info, June 7). Russia has not escalated the spy scandal and only responded in kind to the diplomatic expulsions. Hence, Dodon actually earned certain political points for his actions, with some arguing that the government’s antagonism in relations with Russia would push the EU to be more lenient regarding the ongoing democratic backsliding in Moldova.

However, Europe appears to have learned its lesson on Moldova and continues to impose strong conditionalities on Chisinau. A macro-financial assistance package of €100 million (a €60 million loan and a €40 million grant—$67 million and $45 million, respectively) is preconditioned on respect for effective democratic mechanisms, including a multi-party parliamentary system (Consilium.europa.eu, Jun 15). As such, the EU financial package is widely interpreted as political pressure for the Moldovan government to renounce its controversial plan to change the proportional electoral representation to a mixed electoral system, considered inadvisable by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe (Reuters, June 6; Venice.coe.int, June 19). Failure to follow the advice of European experts commissioned to study the bill will likely strain relations with the Council of Europe and the European Union. Moldova’s government is engaged in a diplomatic offensive, attempting to persuade the EU of the democratic nature of the proposed electoral bill. It did not help, however, that Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu personally attended the plenary session of the Venice Commission that adopted a rather critical opinion of the assessed bill (Coe.int, June 16). Perhaps, feeling personally offended, Candu vented his frustration on his blog, calling the adopted opinion subjective (Candu.md, June 19).

Since Moldova’s independence from the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom has been a reliable partner. Nonetheless, bilateral relations suddenly became tense after the surprising visit by Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselski to London. The Transnistrian conflict settlement process has always been a highly important and sensitive topic for Chisinau. Krasnoselski publicized his meeting at the UK Foreign Office with Nicola Pollitt, the director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as an official working visit (President.gospmr.org, June 16), much to the annoyance of Moldovan officials, who appeared to have been caught off guard (Newsmaker.md, June 16). The British embassy in Moldova promptly issued a statement, calling the visit a private matter, stressing that it does not set a precedent or imply any official recognition of the separatist entity (Facebook.com/BritishEmbassyChisinau, June 17). However, the damage was done and left Moldovan diplomacy scrambling for answers.

Perhaps the best reflection of the current state of Moldovan diplomacy is the compromised current condition of one of Moldova’s top diplomats—Iurie Leanca, a former minister of foreign affairs and previous prime minister, whose European People’s Party recently joined the ruling coalition. Leanca recently drew controversy by suggesting that it was the World Bank and IMF that had recommended the Moldovan government to issue its notorious guarantees for loans aimed at bailing out the three banks left bankrupt after the infamous billion dollar theft that crippled the economy in 2015 (see EDM, January 11, 2016). Both the World Bank and the IMF issued statements denying these allegations and accused Leanca of failing to follow their recommendations throughout 2014, when Leanca headed the Cabinet. The aforementioned banking fraud cut Moldova’s GDP by about 15 percent (Newmaker.md, Moldova.eu, June 16).

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Iurie Leanca (Photo: Newsmaker.md)

All these instances indicate a rather precarious state of Moldovan diplomacy. Apart from the structural challenges of divided foreign policy prerogatives between the government and the president, the sharp domestic political polarization and the deficient quality of the ruling political elite leave Moldovan diplomats with almost no good options to develop a coherent foreign policy. As long as Moldova’s foreign policy is guided by immediate political expediency rather than any sense of national interest, its diplomacy is doomed to operate in a constant state of disarray.

 

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

Dodon muddies the water in Moldova’s relations with Romania and Ukraine

Mihai Popșoi: The statements of President Dodon create a less pleasant diplomatic atmosphere in the relations with neighbours. The foreign policy expert, Mihai Popsoi, says the biggest challenge in the relations with Kiev and Bucharest is the domestic policy of Chisinau and that an increase in the weight of Igor Dodon’s Socialist Party will inevitably lead to new tensions in the relations with neighbors, relations that are quite good at the moment.

RO_UA_MD4fc8a4bdcdLina Grâu: How do you see the relations between Moldova and its two neighbouring countries – Romania and Ukraine- at this moment?

Mihai Popșoi: An overview would lead us to the thought that the relationship between Moldova and Romania, on the one hand, and Ukraine, on the other hand, is a good one. The governments of these three countries have somewhat similar views in relations with the EU and the Euro-Atlantic space. But if we look deeper, in the context of domestic politics in Bucharest, Kiev and Chisinau, things get complicated. Regarding the majority coalition in Chisinau, its relations with Bucharest were largely based on materialistic considerations. The part of belonging to the same space of values with Romania is of minor importance to the Democratic Party, while the Liberal Party failed to impose its vision and unionist ideas within the government. Meanwhile, the right-wing opposition finds itself in a very complicated situation. It hoped that Romania will have a more decisive stance, but Romania has chosen to provide financial support to the Moldovan government, largely for geopolitical reasons, which is supporting this government in power. And now we see that the current government is trying to stay in power also after the 2018 elections through changing of the electoral system. So, Romania has had and continues to have a very important role in terms of domestic politics in Chisinau. Regarding the relations with Kiev, they are also complicated, both because of the Transnistrian conflict and, more recently, in the context of the problems of Crimea and Donbas. It seems that we are getting into a bit strange situation where the Ukrainian politicians are calling for support and solidarity, while the politicians in Chisinau don’t seem to hear them for fear not to antagonize Russia. The Moldovan government’s position is very prudent, trying to “both eat the cake and have it”- it is pro-European, but at the same time, it is trying to build a relationship with the Russian Federation. I believe that the recent visit to Chisinau of the vice chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Ukrainian Rada and his statements encouraging directly the Moldovan government to impose stricter controls on the Moldovan-Ukrainian border of the Transnistrian segment, remained without reactions. During his recent visit to Kiev, Pavel Filip has also discussed the issue of the common border crossing points. But there is a long way from words to deeds.

Lina Grâu: The existing duality in the Moldovan politics, to what extent does it influence the relations with Romania on the one hand, and those with Ukraine, on the other hand? The president Dodon said during the election campaign that Crimea, de jure, belongs to Ukraine, but de facto, to Russia. On the other hand, it attacked Romania, so arrows flew in all directions. How does this aspect influence the bilateral relationship with the two neighbours?

Mihai Popșoi: Indeed, during the election campaign, the position of Dodon was quite harsh and unfriendly towards the two neighbours of the Republic of Moldova. But after three months since his inauguration, it is becoming increasingly clear that those tough positions of Dodon’s in the electoral campaign were meant only to consolidate his electorate, while his actions after he took over the presidency, make us think that he would rather try not to antagonize things. But neither has he direct mechanisms to do so, even if he would like to do so as his power is very limited. Those bellicose statements can sometimes be interpreted as benefiting the power in Chisinau and first of all, Vlad Plahotniuc, because they allow the Democrats to position themselves as defenders of the European vector and of good relations with Romania and Ukraine. It seems to be nothing more than the well-known tactics of “the good and the bad cop” that has been already de-conspired and the only thing Kiev and Chisinau can do is to ignore the aggressive statements of President Dodon, what they are actually doing already. However, I must admit that these statements create a less pleasant atmosphere in the diplomatic relations between our states, even though they cannot have a direct impact. The situation could change, though, with a possible Dodon’s victory in the 2018 parliamentary elections, when his rhetoric could be implemented into public policy, which will have a serious impact on Moldova.

Lina Grâu: Igor Dodon is a very frequent guest in Moscow. Do you think he can rely on the same frequency of official visits to Kiev and Bucharest?

Mihai Popșoi: This will become evident this week, when Dodon returns to Moscow, although he promised that after the initial visits to Moscow and Brussels he will go to Bucharest or Kiev. But he is not doing it and it is understandable why – because he is not welcome, neither in Bucharest or Kiev, as a result of his previous statements. Well, in Moscow he is welcome, for understandable reasons.

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Lina Grâu: Russia is not a direct neighbour of Moldova, however, it is very present in the media and public space, having direct or indirect representatives among the political class and civil society. How do you see this presence in the context of the geopolitical situation? And how did you find the recent diplomatic incident, when the Russian ambassador was summoned to the Prime Minister Filip and informed about Chisinau’s indignation in relation to the abusive treatment of some Moldovan officials in Russia?

Mihai Popșoi: Indeed, Russia, although not a direct neighbour, is perhaps the most influential force affecting the domestic and foreign policy of the country. Unfortunately, this is a reality. As for the recent diplomatic incident, is not yet clear what the essence of the problem is. From the multiple versions that have circulated, one is curious that says that Russia had tried to put Plahotniuc under the Interpol monitoring. So, Russia is in a position to create preconditions for the oligarch Plahotniuc to be investigated and supervised by the Interpol. The Prime Minister Filip complained to the Western diplomats – the EU and the US ambassadors – requesting support and protection of oligarch Plahotniuc. This is a difficult situation for the Western diplomats, because it puts them in a difficult situation, given Plahotniuc’s personality and rating in Moldova. It remains to be seen how accurate this information is -that Russia wants Plahotniuc to be supervised by Interpol. The explanation given by the Government that it would be allegedly a response to the investigations initiated by the law enforcement bodies in Moldova in the context of the laundering of $20 billion through the Moldovan banks seem implausible. It is a fact, though, that Russia has influenced in the past the political processes in Moldova and it will try to do so in the future. It depends now on the Moldovan politicians and their ability to prevent Russia’s plans in order to promote the interests of the Moldovan parties and of the citizens who support them.

Lina Grâu: I would like to address also the issue of energy in the relations with the neighbours. Theoretically, Moldova would have a fundamental interest in diversifying its sources of gas supplies that are now coming from the Russian Federation, and of the electricity, which are coming from Transnistria, the latter producing the electricity with the help of the Russian gas. However, Transnistria is not paying for this gas, the debts being put on Moldova’s shoulders. So, Moldova should have a vital interest in diversifying its energy sources. And we see that at the moment, there is very little gas coming from Romania and the developments in the extension of the pipelines from Ungheni to Chisinau are insignificant, while the electricity is bought from Transnistria and not Ukraine. What is actually happening in this area?

Mihai Popșoi: You’re right, it is a very illogical situation. Especially when we refer to the so-called ‘statalistic’ parties – and here I mean especially the centre-left parties. The Socialist Party and the Democratic Party are great defenders of the Moldovan identity and sovereignty of Moldova. But when it comes to energy security of the state, these parties ignore the importance of diversifying both the gas and electricity supply sources. This undermines the sovereignty of the Republic of Moldova, because as long as you are dependent on one supplier, you are very vulnerable. When signing last year the contract for the supply of electricity with the Cuciurgan power station, the latter was a bad movement in relation to our partners in Ukraine, which after a period of instability, at the moment of signing of the contract, were ready to sell electricity to Moldova at a more convenient price to the Moldovan consumers. However, Chisinau has chosen to buy electricity from Transnistria. The explanation here is at the same time simple and painful for the Moldovan citizens, because they are forced to subsidize the separatist regime – paying the bill for electricity each month, the Moldovan government is inevitably supporting the separatist regime in Tiraspol, to the detriment of the Ukrainian partners. It is an open secret that EnergoKapital, which acts as in intermediary in this business, benefits both the Tiraspol and Chisinau leadership. The profit of this company goes to offshore sites. In this situation, the Moldovans remain with the bill and less friendly relations with Kiev. In terms of gas supply from Romania the situation is equally complicated. Chisinau was not insistent enough and has not invested enough to build that pipeline. Neither the Romanian side has given sufficient diligence to turn this project into a truly viable one. But we have to understand that the Russian factor is also important here. Because if Moldova receives gas from Romania, whether it comes from the continental Europe or whether that is liquefied gas coming from the sea, this would mean weakening of Russia’s influence. Russia opposes a lot this process of gas supply diversification for Moldova. And even if we admit that Romania would like to invest into Moldova and support it, the lack of initiative on the side of Chisinau, because of the pressure from Moscow, makes this process a difficult one, which will have no success on the short and medium term.

Lina Grâu: In the current context, do you think the European vector is still valid for Moldova?

Mihai Popșoi: The European integration vector is the only viable vector for Moldova, especially in the context of Ukraine’s pro-European positioning. A possible re-orientation to Russia and the Eurasian space of Moldova would be obviously to the detriment of Moldovan citizens from both economic and political points of view. But the most important is that from the economic point of view, if we look at the figures, the European market is incomparable both as volume and purchasing power, and especially, the quality standards. Moreover, the experience of our relations with the Eurasian market, especially with the Russian Federation, is very unpleasant – embargoes, pressure on our migrants in the Russian Federation … This instability and political influence on the economic relations proves that this pro-Russian alternative is to the detriment of the Moldovan citizens. Unfortunately, some parties and politicians, seeing the survey data showing that the support for the European integration decreases, are getting disappointed and the power of and dedication in promoting the European integration lose from their intensity. However, I would suggest them, on the contrary, to make their best to contribute in order to return to that level of support for the European integration that we once had – more than 70 percent in 2007- 2008. That decline in support for the European vector has objective reasons: the self-called “Alliances for European Integration” have failed in fighting against corruption and in raising the living standards in Moldova. This, it is natural for the support of the European vector to decline. But we have to understand very clearly that this support has declined not because of the European Union, but because of the involuntary association of the EU with the lack of vision and poor governance in Moldova.

Note: The interview is part of the Synthesis and Foreign Policy Debates newsletter funded by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and produced  the Foreign Policy Association (APE). The Romanian version could also be found here: LinaGrau.com.

 TOPICS OF THE EDITION:
1. Romanian ambassador to Chisinau, Daniel Ioniță: Romanian assistance is directed at all Moldovan citizens, and not at certain parties or politicians
2. Ukrainian ambassador to Chisinau, Ivan Gnatişin: Ukraine is a good neighbour and friend of Moldova.
3. Political analyst Mihai Popșoi: The statements of President Dodon create a less pleasant diplomatic atmosphere in the relations with neighbours.