By Wilder Alejandro Sanchez*
The Republic of Moldova held parliamentary elections on February 24 with the goal of electing a new government that will, ideally, not be either corrupt or incompetent. Moreover, given the country’s geographical location, between Romania and Ukraine in southeastern Europe, these elections are important as Western governments and the Russian Federation aim at strengthening their influence in Chisinau.
The elections provided no clear winner, which means that both domestically and geopolitically, Moldova remains in limbo.
Moldova is a parliamentary representative democracy; the president is head of state, and the prime minister is head of government. Several prime ministers over the past decade, including the incumbent Pavel Filip, have maintained a pro-Europe stance. Examples of pro-European initiatives include Moldova joining “the European Union’s Eastern Partnership in 2009 [while] the EU-Moldova Association Agreement entered into force on 1 July 2016.” On the other hand, President Igor Dodon is openly pro-Russian, as exemplified by his regular trips to Moscow. In 2018, the country obtained observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union, which President Dodon praised.
Just under 1.5 million Moldovan citizens voted on February 24, which is only 49% of the total number of voters, or about 200,000 fewer votes compared to 2014. The elections left no clear winner: the pro-Russia Socialist Party (PSRM) won 35 out of 101 seats, well short of a majority. On the other hand, the pro-European Democratic party obtained 30 seats. Meanwhile a new bloc, whose pledge was to fight corruption, the ACUM DA PAS, obtained 26 seats. Due to space issues we will not address the country’s controversial new electoral law or widespread reports of voting irregularities.
Hence, Moldova will have a “deeply divided parliament without a clear majority that could have trouble agreeing on a new government.” Snap elections may be called again for later this year if no government is formed. The landlocked nation’s challenges have been well-analyzed over the past years, such as the infamous theft of around USD$1 billion from local banks, political corruption, and other issues.
At a February 22 event titled “Russia Abroad,” held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington DC, Professor Anna Ohanyan of Stonehill College discussed Russia’s attempts at capitalizing on the divides and fractures within post-Soviet and other nations to increase Moscow’s influence. In response to a question by the author of this commentary, Professor Ohanyan explained that when it comes to Moldova’s elections “it probably matters less as to who comes to power but as to whether the institutions and elections remain clean.” The professor also added that the Transnistrian people will have to decide as to whether they “might see value in staying with Moldova or if Moldova becomes so fully integrated regionally that Transnistria [Moldova’s separatist region] negotiates a deal so it can dip into both sides.”
It will be interesting to monitor if the 24 February elections affect in any way Chisinau-Tiraspol relations.
Moldova in The New Great Game
The future of Moldova will have repercussions on regional geopolitics as well, including from a defense point of view. Let us briefly summarize recent developments:
Apart from the association agreement with the European Union, “a civilian NATO Liaison Office in Chisinau was established in December 2017 [in Moldova] to promote practical cooperation and facilitate support for the country’s reforms.” Moldovan troops have also regularly participated in multinational maneuvers, such as Rapid Trident 2017 and Platinum Eagle. Moreover, the US military is reportedly planning to establish a presence at the Buboaca training base, and, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly, US military aircraft have been spotted by open-source networks to be flying out of Constanta airport, Romania, and over Transnistria and the Transnistria-Ukraine border.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to maintain a military presence in Transnistria in the form of the Operative Group of Russian Troops (OGRT) and via peacekeepers. Moreover, Russian troops regularly carry out exercises with the separatist regime’s local forces. Also, President Dodon has stated his support for Russian peacekeepers in the country, stating “we confirmed the importance of keeping the peacekeeping mission there as a factor of stability in the Security Zone,” TASS news agency reported in late December 2018.
In other words, both Washington/Europe and Moscow have a presence and interest in the future of Moldova as it will affect geopolitics in southeastern Europe.
At this point, it is necessary to mention that Moldova’s constitution stresses the country’s neutrality, hence Chisinau cannot join military blocs like NATO and, given the fractured state of Moldovan politics, it is highly unlikely that the constitution could be modified in order to achieve NATO membership in any case.
Ideally, the February 24 elections would have ended in a clear winner, and this would have provided an idea of what we could expect regarding Moldova’s foreign policy in the near future. Unfortunately, the controversial and inconclusive result means that the status quo will remain. In theory the Socialist Party could assemble a coalition which, combined with President Dodon, would orient the country’s foreign policy in favor of Moscow; however, we will have to wait and see if indeed a government is formed.
Moldova has plenty of internal political and economic challenges. Its geographical location, right in the middle of this new Cold War, will not help it attain political stability or meaningful socio-economic development anytime soon.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com or any institutions with which the author is associated.