Tag Archives: Russian interference in Moldova

Deconstructing Vlad Plahotniuc’s article in the Wall Street Journal

An article published in the WSJ opinion section on 27 December, 2017, signed by the head of Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party Vlad Plahotniuc proclaimed that Moldova needs the West’s help against an aggressive Russia, but a closer scrutiny of Plahotniuc’s record reveals that his anti-Russian rhetoric is nothing more than a political strategy aimed at gaining domestic legitimacy and foreign support for his increasingly anti-democratic regime. This becomes all the more clear once we put Mr. P’s WSJ statements into actual context.

Mr. P: “Moldova is dependent on Russian energy. We are seeking to diversify and hope to integrate with the European gas and electricity markets via Romania by end of next year.”

–    On 1 April 2017, following an internationally monitored procurement procedure,  Moldova’s state owned Energocom (controlled by Plahotniuc’s government) signed a one-year contract to import electricity from Ukraine. Two months later, Moldovan side (read Plahotniuc)surprised its western partners by deciding to modify the contract in favor of the Russian state owned power plant in the separatist region of Transnistria, which fails to pay for the Russian gas it uses to produce the electricity it sells to Moldova, having accrued an over 6 billion USD debt, officially accumulating on the books of the Moldovan state owned gas company. Thus, Plahotniuc is increasing Moldova’s strategic dependence on Russia, instead of reducing it by acquiring electricity from Ukraine.

–       Moreover, after the Annexation of Crimea and during the War in Donbas, in November 2014 then Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Economy Andrian Candu, now Parliament Speaker and Plahotniuc’s closest protégé was eager to offer Russian investors concessions or have them privatize strategic Moldovan infrastructure assets such as the energy grid, national railway, state  telecom company, which only proves that, when it comes to making money, the Democratic Party and Plahotniuc totally disregard the Russian threat to Moldova and the region.                      

Mr. P: “Between 2011 and 2014, Russian-backed interest groups manipulated Moldova’s banking system to launder more than $20 billion.”

–          Plahotniuc has held enormous sway over the Moldovan justice system and banking sector. During that timeframe, he controlled a large stake in one of the banks involved in money laundering. He also controlled the prosecutor general. Needless to say, such a large scale laundering operation would not have been possible without his blessing. Similarly, Plahotniuc fails to mention the billion dollars stolen from Moldovan banks under his watch and the failure to prosecute the main fraudster – Ilan Shor, as identified in an independent Western financial forensic investigation.

–          Moreover, it was none other than the current Justice Minister Alexandru Tanase who back in 2010, as a legislator, promoted the amendment that created the necessary conditions for the $20 billion Laundromat by eliminating the 3% state tax in cases of property disputes, replacing it with a ceiling of about 1500 EUR for physical  persons and 3000 EUR for legal persons. Without this crucial amendment, the launderings of $20 billion would have cost 0.6 billion, making it a much less attractive undertaking, even without adding all the presumed bribes offered to the judges and other accomplices in this vast criminal enterprise.       

Mr. P: “Given that a significant percentage of Moldova’s population is exposed to Russian-controlled media, propaganda and the anxiety it stirs are among the biggest threats we face.”

–          Plahotniuc owns the rebroadcasting rights to the first Russian federal TV channel – Perviy Kanal – the most influential Kremlin propaganda tool. Moldova’s Broadcasting Regulator controlled by Plahotniuc offered an associate of pro-Russian president Igor Dodon a license to rebroadcast the second Russian federal channel – the nefarious NTV. For a decade now, Plahotniuc has been making a fortune off Russian TV propaganda in Moldova.

Mr. P: “We need the West to invest in an independent media market.”

–        Plahotniuc’s political and administrative machine has been harassing and obstructing independent media, including those funded by Western donors. The six months delay in issuing TV8 a license is a case in point. It is largely because of Plahotniuc’s actions that Moldova dropped four positions in the Reporters without Borders 2017 Press Freedom Index.        

Mr. P: “Unfortunately, powerful political forces, including our pro-Russia president, Igor Dodon, are sympathetic to Moscow’s narrative.”

–        Plahotniuc’s media empire played a major role in the election of pro-Russian president Igor Dodon. Dodon’s fellow Socialists, in turn, offered Plahotniuc a life vest by supporting the highly controversial introduction of the mixed electoral system that gives Plahotniuc a chance to hold onto power after the next election, as his party risked not passing the 6% threshold under the previous proportional party list system.  

Mr. P: “Moldova is a proud multiethnic state, devoted to reform and democracy.”

–         In the last two years, Moldova has been suffering from clear democratic backsliding, as reflected in the worsening of the country’s Freedom House Democracy Score. Similarly, Moldova has fallen in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. Democratic Party’s ongoing attack on local public administration and intimation on mayors, aimed at forcing them to join the ruling party is particularly damaging to local democracy. After orchestrating a hostile takeover against the democratically elected Chisinau municipal administration, now the second largest city Balti is undergoing a similar scenario.  

 

Shevcuk_Tank

Former Transnistrian Separatist Leader Finds Refuge in Moldova Thanks to Plahotniuc.

 

 

 

 

 

           

Advertisements

Gagauz Elections: Is Russia Interfering in Moldova’s Internal Affairs?

Powerful states have meddled with the affairs of less powerful nations for as long as this distinction has been around.  So, it should come as no surprise that a country such as Russia would attempt to exert influence over its former dominions.  The surprising part is that many within Moldova are actually welcoming this interference, much like others would encourage more European and American engagement.  The difference being that, unlike Brussels or Washington, Moscow views Moldova, and to a much larger externs Ukraine, as crucial for its national interest and is prepared to defend its stake. As long as Moldova and Ukraine were muddling through transition without questioning Russian hegemony, Moscow could safely ignore the regions. Now that Chisinau and Kiev have decided to switch their allegiance to another protector – European Union, while also flirting with NATO – Moscow felt betrayed and is eager to assert itself. Kremlin is flexing its military muscle in Ukraine and its soft power appeal in Moldova.

11070009_1111925218833482_2826884921900029258_n

Irina Vlah and Russian member of Parliament, ex-boxing champion Nikolai Valuev.

Until recently, soft power was an exclusively western product, but modern Russia has been quick to imitate what has proven a truly sustainable and cost-effective western foreign policy tool for decades.  There is much talk about the Russian propaganda machine aka ‘Russia Today’ or Kremlin ties to certain political parties within EU countries, yet nowhere it is so obvious and straightforward as in Moldova.  Gubernatorial election in the autonomous region of Gagauzia that amounts to only 5% of Moldova’s 3.5 million people is, apparently, of great interest to the Kremlin.  Moscow has sent a commando of celebrities to endorse the Kremlin backed candidate Irina Vlah, who defected from the Communists in January right after being elected to Parliament. She joined the big winners of the election – Socialists. Vlah bet on the winning team and is likely to carry the gubernatorial race, but the thing she misses or prefers to forger is that she owes her entire campaign to Socialist leader Igor Dodon, who in turn is solely dependent on Russia. The generous endorsement of Russian politicians and celebrities alike is conditioned on towing the Kremlin line, which in the current regional geopolitical context is detrimental to Moldova’s national interest of territorial integrity and stability.  Having full control over Transnistria, a strong voice in the Moldovan Parliament (Socialists) and now gaining a foothold in Gagauzia, will allow Russia to have a blocking minority stake in Moldova’s future.  It may not be able to stop Moldova from pursuing its European agenda, but it can rock the boat hard enough to make that future a nightmare.

1896823_1116172078408796_8715392501084809683_n

Irina Vlah, Igor Dodon and Anatoly Karpov (left) member of Russian Parliament, chess grand-master and former World Champion.

The odd part is that Moldovan politicians have contributed significantly to this state of affairs by ignoring the legitimate concerns of the Gagauz people.  The president, for instance, is yet to visit the only autonomous region in the country after three years in office.  At the same time, prominent leaders of the ruling coalition have in fact profited handsomely from rebroadcasting Russian TV channels.  Ironically, those very TV channels are promoting the socialist candidate Irina Vlah, while local owners of those channels are backing a different candidate. Just imagine for a second the level of public cognitive dissonance when the same channels strongly favor one candidate in the news reports rebroadcast from Russia, while in the locally produced news the very same channels back a different contender with the same zeal.  It is only now when they faced a real and present danger of potentially losing Gagauzia due to their own TV channels that the issue of rebroadcast came to the forefront. After years of broadcasting sheer vitriol and undermining the Moldovan state, Moldovan viewers may soon get rid of the chauvinistic TV content if big wigs in parliament decide that national security is more important than money. However, doing away with Russian news/channels would inevitably undermine media freedom. The caveat here is that Moldovan media could never compete with Russian outlets, so there is hardly any competition to begin with.  If anything, there should be more competition and better quality of local media products if alleged plans to do away with Russian propaganda materialize. Yet, this is unlikely to discourage Russia from seeking to influence developments in Moldova, quite to the contrary. It is, however, an important test for Moldova’s sovereignty.

Концерт_Чадыр-Лунга_Газманов-1024x682

Irina Vlah and Russian pop singer specializing in patriotic songs Oleg Gazmanov.

PS: People from Transnistria, and probably a few from the rest of Moldova too, flocked to Gagauzia in a rare chance of enjoying concerts given by Russian pop starts. Apart from music, political statements about unity with Russia, purposeful innuendo about gay friendly European values have been the highlight of these concerts. It is said to see poor and desperate people being manipulated into acting against their own best interest. Then again, who am I to judge what is in their best interest…

Note: According to preliminary results, Irina Vlah won the election in the first round with 51% of the vote.