In Moldova, building a pro-Russian regime is much more difficult than a pro-Western one. If the Eastern Partnership were a strictly geopolitical project, Moldova could be considered its true success story.
At the beginning of July of this year, Prime Minister of Moldova Ion Chicu wanted to introduce a package of amendments to the budget, using a formula that allows the government to take responsibility of a law.
In such a situation, laws do not pass through the normal parliamentary path, but the government introduces them independently. If no motion of censure is passed within a certain time, the new law enters into force.
Such a strategy resulted from the fact that the coalition of the Socialist Party (PSRM) and the Democratic Party (PDM) lost their majority in parliament due to the outflow of MPs to the opposition.
Moreover, the prime minister was anxious that the award of glory for introducing amendments increasing the salaries of medical workers and enabling the adoption of EU financial aid would fall only on the government, not the entire parliament.
Departure and return to the ranks
However, a significant problem emerged: Socialist Party deputy Ștefan Gațcan was missing. In this situation, the coalition was not even able to secure the quorum necessary to start the procedure, which provides for the presentation of the bill at parliamentary sessions.
A few days earlier, on June 30, Ștefan Gațcan announced that he was leaving PSRM and would join the opposition party Pro Moldova. Socialists screamed about political corruption and decay, and pressure began, sometimes very direct.
In this situation, Gațcan announced that he was relinquishing his mandate after being off the radar for a period of time. The opposition took the opportunity to effectively boycott the parliamentary sessions. Three attempts by prime minister Chicu brought no avail.
In the end, however, Gațcan miraculously found himself, and faithfully returned to the ranks of the Socialist Party. The law was adopted.
However, all the confusion showed how fragile the power of the pro-Russian president Igor Dodon – to whom the government coalition is subordinated – is already. The blow was all the more severe as Ștefan Gațcan was a friend of the president’s family.
After all, when the socialists broke their alliance with the pro-European ACUM bloc (composed of the Party of Action and Solidarity and Dignity and Truth Platform Party) in November 2019 and then formed a new government thanks to the support of the democrats, it seemed that Dodon was on the right track in building a hegemonistic power based on an alliance with Russia.
No success in building a hegemonic position
In the meantime, in addition to the pandemic and the spectre of the economic crisis, the Spring of 2020 brought a demonstrative exit of Dodon’s influence from the Constitutional Court, the blockage of Russian credit, and finally a massive outflow of deputies from the coalition ranks.
A total of eleven members of the Democratic Party, probably well-paid, joined the opposition Pro Moldova or the Sor Party. Both groups are seen as representing the interests of Vlad Plahotniuc, an oligarch who has managed to appropriate the state for several years and is currently forced to reside in the USA.
Dodon, therefore, did not repeat Plahotniuc’s success in building a hegemonic position. As it turns out, building a pro-Russian regime in Moldova is much more difficult than a pro-Western regime.
If the Eastern Partnership were a strictly geopolitical project, Moldova could be considered its true success story. However, since the entire EU neighbourhood policy is based on values, looking at the methods in which Moldova’s “pro-European” course is defended, it is difficult to talk about such a success.
Nevertheless, eleven years after the EaP began and the ‘April Revolution’ in Moldova, which brought European forces to power in 2009, the country is much more anchored in the West than it might seem.
This state of affairs is the result of a combination of several factors: the specificity of the country’s identity split, the calculation of interests by the business and political elites, and Moldova’s ties to the EU market, which is the result of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement (DCFTA).
A long-term shot in the foot
Let us start with the last factor. Moldavian exports are dominated by agricultural products and wine. Even in the years 2012-2013, it was more or less equally divided between the European markets and Russia, with a predominance of the latter in certain sectors.
When in 2014 the signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union (and the DCFTA) became more and more realistic, Russia introduced an embargo on Moldovan goods. This step, calculated for immediate benefits, was a long-term shot in the foot.
Moldavian entrepreneurs gained an additional incentive to re-orientate themselves to the markets of the European Union. Moreover, this situation showed them that the advantage of the EU market over the Russian one is that the former is much less capricious. Any fluctuations in demand may depend on predictable economic trends and not on political factors.
This is one of the reasons why President Igor Dodon forgot about the recently raised slogan of breaking the Association Agreement, as soon as the Socialist Party under his control seized power in the country.
Of course, it was also greatly influenced by the need to continue using the EU’s substantial financial aid, which Russia would not be able to replace.
Cadres decide everything
Almost all the elections held in Moldova after 1991 show that the country’s society is equally divided between supporters of integration with the West and rapprochement with Russia, and only small shifts in voters’ preference decided whether one or the other camps came to power.
However, this split has a specific reflection in the social structure: the bureaucratic elite and the intelligentsia make up the most pro-European part of society. It is also related to a strong attachment to Romanian culture, and even to the idea of one nation, separated by history.
Of course, this does not mean that the pro-Russian option is completely devoid of its intellectual layer. In Chisinau, you can still meet great intellectuals politically and culturally oriented towards Moscow, but they are in a definite minority and, with a few exceptions, are not members of the socio-political mainstream.
If we refer to the famous saying of Stalin that “cadres decide everything” then, in this case, the cadres are definitely pro-European. The opening of Romanian universities to the entire group of Moldovan students had a significant impact on this situation.
In Moldova, it is undoubtedly possible to seize power by appealing to the emotions of that part of society that has a huge fondness for the USSR or for other reasons (mostly cultural) – see Moldova’s future alongside Russia. This discourse is often anti-elitist and is effective in times of disappointment with pro-Western governments.
This was the case in 2001, for example, when the Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova gained full power after a time of political chaos provided by formally pro-Western forces.
Nevertheless, even the communists withdrew from the idea of a close alliance with Russia when the Kremlin ‘checked’ on their bluff, forging a favourable solution to the Transnistria conflict in 2003 (known as the Kozaks Memorandum, although the pressure of the West and its own society was of great importance here).
It has been clear since then that pro-Russian slogans are a good driving force behind the election campaign for Moldovan politicians and oligarchs, but the vision of a real alliance with Moscow is perceived as a threat.
Applying geopolitical balance
For the local political and business elites, it is crucial to maintain independence at home, while Russia, with its alliance of intelligence services, powerful oligarchs and geopolitical interests, is very dangerous in this case. Economic ties to the European market, which is the effect of DCFTA activities, additionally strengthened this tendency.
However, Igor Dodon is in a different situation than the communists because he owes his position in politics exclusively to Russian image support and, probably, financial support.
Trying to apply the policy of ‘geopolitical balance’, which was to allow the maintenance of the EU support and access to the European market, he could not loosen his ties with the Kremlin in any way.
On the other hand, striving for hegemony, both in politics and business, he was unable to offer a ‘fair’ distribution of influence in the latter. As a result, his rule faces further obstacles, created both by the Chisinau elite and local oligarchs, among whom Vlad Plahotniuc seems to be still the most important.
Political distance from Russia
As a result, Moldova is now probably entering a period of several months of political crisis: the government has lost its majority, the divided opposition will not form a new coalition, and the parliament cannot be dissolved until the presidential election on 1 November 2020.
The geopolitical interest of the European Union, if we consider it to be such, to keep Eastern European states at a political distance from Russia, is therefore related to the interests of the Moldovan oligarchs.
However, the history of the current political struggle with Igor Dodon clearly shows that this apparent convergence of interests makes it difficult to achieve the fundamental objectives of the EU’s neighbourhood policy, which are social modernisation and the shaping of the political culture in the spirit of the rule of law and liberal democracy.