By Penza News
International observers speak about significant complication of the internal political situation in Moldova, linking the growing tensions and aggravation of the conflict between the ruling elites with the activity of President Igor Dodon elected at the end of last year.
Unlike previous leaders, he held the first in eight years working meeting with the head of the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic (Transnistria) Vadim Krasnoselski, expressing readiness for compromises and relationship building. Moreover, Igor Dodon demonstrates the desire for a constructive dialogue with Moscow.
Despite limited powers, just in the first months the new head of the parliamentary republic managed to significantly adjust Chisinau’s foreign policy, in particular, expanding the Moldovan presence in the Russian market and signing a memorandum of cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
According to the observers, the vector chosen by the president does not satisfy the prime minister of the Republic Pavel Filip and the leader of the Democratic Party, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who is in fact managing the state, since both of them are aimed at exclusive cooperation with Brussels and Washington.
Commenting on the internal political situation in Moldova, Anatoly Dirun, Scientific Leader, Tiraspol School of Political Studies, identified three priority areas for the new president.
“Firstly, this is a reset of relations with the Russian Federation. Secondly, the work on reformatting the political landscape of the republic, related primarily to changes in the electoral system, namely: the introduction of a mixed system of elections. In addition, this is the desire to accelerate the process of the Transnistrian conflict settlement. […] To date, the most successful is the development of relations with Moscow. In the connection with the second priority, it can be said with high probability that this new mixed system will be adopted by the parliament. As for relations with Tiraspol, there is still no breakthrough,” the expert told PenzaNews.
In his opinion, the main criterion for the president’s work will be the results of the Parliamentary elections in Moldova, scheduled for the fall of 2018.
“By stating that the Party of Socialists will take the majority of seats in the next election, the president clearly sets the bar, which they should not fail to take. Based on the results of the elections, it will be possible to talk about the strategic success or failure of the actions taken by Igor Dodon,” Anatoly Dirun said.
At the same time, Vladimir Plahotniuc plays a special role in the political life of the country, he said.
“Being the leader of the Democratic Party, Plahotniuc plays a system-forming role in Moldova today. It can be assumed that the desired and logical official status for him as the coordinator of the ruling coalition could be the post of prime minister,” the analyst suggested.
Michael Emerson, associate senior research fellow at Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), former Ambassador of the EU to Russia, shared the opinion about the oligarch’s significant influence on the socio-political life of the country.
“[Vladimir] Plahotniuc virtually controls the government, and in particular various agencies responsible for anti-corruption. He is the epitome of the oligarch interfering with normal politics in order to protect his financial interests,” the expert said and added that this has a negative effect on the situation in the republic.
He also reminded that Igor Dodon has few powers as president.
“He says he wants to join the Eurasian Union, and quit the Association Agreement with the EU. He cannot do this without having support of the parliament and government, which today he does not have. Various commentators in Moldova and Moscow are also skeptical he would do this if next year he had the power to do so after the forthcoming parliamentary election. So his main achievement so far has been to create confusion over his country’s future, which is damaging already for potential investors,” Michael Emerson said.
From his point of view, Moldova’s leader “undoes the opportunities created by the Association Agreement with the EU.”
“Today Moldova is hugely more dependent on trade with the EU than Russia. To join the Eurasian Union would be economic suicide for Moldova, as well as deepening the European-Russian divide in society. Economic prospects could improve a lot if Moldova seriously implements its Association Agreement, but this includes cutting corruption,” former Ambassador of the EU to Russia explained.
In his opinion, re-integration of Transnistria depends a lot on Moscow, advocating the unification of the country “on terms biased in favour of Russian interests.”
“To return to the economic and trade policy question, Moldova’s obvious interest is to keep free trade with Russia and other CIS countries, while exploiting the opportunities of the Association Agreement with the EU. Both are possible. But joining the Eurasian Union would be a big mistake, since it would cut Moldova off from its overwhelmingly predominant trade partner in the EU,” the analyst added.
Meanwhile, Bogdan Tardea, the political scientist, MP from the Socialist Party of Moldova, expressed a diametrically opposite opinion, linking the possibility of restoring the Moldovan economy precisely with its entry into the EEU.
“For 14 years, we have been moving towards the EU, and the results are simply catastrophic. GDP today is only two-thirds of the GDP in 1990. The external debt of the government is 1.8 billion US dollars that is about 26% of GDP. Until now, the average salary has not reached the level of the MSSR. We believe that the chances for [growth of] the Moldovan economy are connected with the Eurasian Economic Union,” the politician said.
He also reminded that in March of this year, about one hundred enterprises from Moldova and Russia took part in a business forum, which was held in the republic at the initiative of the president.
“Partnership in many areas was established during the event. By the autumn, Moldova will receive observer status within the Eurasian Economic Commission, which can increase the inflow of investments from the EEU. I believe that the movement in this direction gives a chance, among other things, to re-unite the country,” Bogdan Tardea said.
In addition, he stressed the effectiveness of the steps taken by Igor Dodon.
“Thanks to the meetings with Vladimir Putin, about 150 Moldovan companies returned to Russian markets, this includes such enterprises of strategic importance as Cricova, Chateau Vartely, Castel Mimi, Lion Gri. About 100,000 Moldovan workers in Russia were amnestied. For the first quarter of 2017, exports of fruit and vegetable products and other goods to Russia grew by 42%. On 3 April, a memorandum on cooperation between Moldova and the Eurasian Economic Union was signed in Chisinau. On April 14, after the president’s address, Moldova obtained the status of an observer state within the EEU. On June 1-2, for the first time in the country’s history, the president participated in the prestigious Saint-Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Igor Dodon blocked military exercises with NATO, does not appoint a defense minister, actually rejected the concept of national security, which was developed with the participation of advisers from the EU and NATO,” the deputy of the Moldovan parliament said.
At the same time, according to him, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc controls the whole power vertical in the country, except for the presidency.
“He actually controls two thirds of the parliament, the government, local authorities, courts, prosecutors. He controls a lot of parties: the Democratic Party, the European People’s Party, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party, the Liberal Party and some other,” the politician said.
According to him, Vladimir Plahotniuc pursues the goal of becoming prime minister and staying in power to retain his freedom and property.
“With this aim in view he once maneuvered between Russia and the West, but after 2015 completely adjusted to the United States. For this purpose Plahotniuc supported the opening of the NATO office in Moldova, proposed a bill on countering Russian propaganda, passed a law that declared May 9 the Day of Europe and Victory. The Constitutional Court under his control took a decision, according to which Transnistria is an occupied territory, and the exercises with NATO do not contradict the status of the country’s neutrality,” Bogdan Tardea explained.
“Only early parliamentary elections give the country a chance to get rid of the oligarch’s power. Otherwise, the country will completely get under the external management of the West, and Plahotniuc will play the role of governor here,” he stressed.
In Turn, Vincent Henry, expert of Paris-Est University and Babes-Bolyai University in Romania, said Vladimir Plahotniuc became the symbol of what is often called the “captured state.”
“Most of the observers consider that Moldova is actually a dysfunctional state controlled by interests groups which disguise themselves on or hide themselves behind political parties. Until the arrest of former PM Vlad Filat in 2015, there were several interests groups but it’s seems that there’s now a single interest group,” the expert said and added that Moldova used to have a system of competitive oligarchy which was replaced by a monopolistic oligarchy headed by Vladimir Plahotniuc.
According to him, this oligarchic group has no ideological or geopolitical preferences.
“Keeping the power is the only goal. For that, the polarization of the society is a good thing. European Union does not trust Plahotniuc and the Moldovan government any more, European external help is now much more strictly conditioned. The government now plays the geopolitical card, its message is simple: ‘if we fail, the socialists will win and Moldova will go back into Russian arms so you have to help us even if you don’t trust us.’ Some European countries are rather immune to this ‘threat,’ some others are still sensitive to it, as well as the US. The government uses those divisions on its own interest,” Vincent Henry said.
Igor Dodon by constantly stressing his interest in friendship with Russia may be a part of this game, he said.
“The leader of Moldova strongly influences the public debate. In all his public speeches, Dodon presents himself as the advocate of a better relationship with Russia and as a strong supporter of the project of Eurasian union. Symbolically, he marked his will to get closer to Russia by multiple visits to Moscow since his election in November 2016. […] Igor Dodon tries to consolidate and widen his own electorate playing on nostalgia for the Soviet Union but also presenting a project of alternative future even if it’s a rather speculative one,” the analyst said.
The main result of Dodon’s presidency is an increasing political polarization, he added.
“Numerous observers doubt his real will to go away from the European Union even if his party obtains one day the majority to govern, the double speech with the foreign partners is a tradition in Moldova since the independence,” the expert said.
Meanwhile, according to him, the Moldovan authorities do not stop repeating that they implement the reforms planned by the agreement of association with the European Union.
“They promise that after the reforms everything will get better and ask the population and the European partners for patience, hope and comprehension. To achieve its ‘European goal’, the government is constantly pleading for ‘stability’ which can be translated by ‘no political change has to take place.’ The search for the status quo is also what dominates about Transnistria, nobody is really interested in solving this conflict. The current shady and artificially tense situation is profitable for the non-transparent interests on both sides of the Dniester River,” Vincent Henry said.
Nothing really changes in Moldova since the independence, he believes.
“The political elite takes advantage of historic and cultural divisions of the population to hold in place. They are neither pro-European, nor pro-Russian but they play very well with dissensions between Moscow and the Western countries in their own very pragmatic interest, making the population of Moldova the main victim,” the expert concluded.