Perhaps nobody remembers but just a year ago Moldova did not have a president and the future of pro-European government of Vlad Filat was more than unclear. Without a doubt, it was the problem No.1 for Moldova and its authorities. They were holding stiff discussions on whether they would succeed or fail, whether there would be elections or not, whether the coalition “Alliance for European Integration” would stay in power or the Communists would return. Today, in the wake of actual collapse of Filat’s cabinet, let’s take a look back…
Presidential elections became a revolution
In early January 2012, the country’s ruling coalition promoted the idea of holding another referendum on reducing the number of votes in the parliament needed to nominate the head of state. They would have faced a great risk, for only in autumn 2011 there was already one, organised to break the political deadlock, and it ended in a complete fiasco due to a low turnout. According to experts, the dissolution of Parliament was inevitable as well as the Communist Party’s return to power. It did not happen then. Finally, after 3 years, the Moldovan parliament managed to elect a president on 16 March (this no-president state was actually a record). Nicolae Timofti, the little-known chairman of the Supreme Council of Magistrates, became the new head of state with the support of the Alliance. The election of Timofti became possible due to the voices of three members (called the “group of Dodon”), who left the Communist Party a year before the events.
This symbolic end of the “Twitter revolution”, started in April 2009, put Moldova on a new – though not less bumpy – path of development. Moldovans, who three years ago took to the streets demanding changes, could finally expect a real transformation.
On the same day when Chisinau celebrated the election of the president, Russia provided Tiraspol, the capital of separatist Transnistria, with USD 150 000 000 – a non-repayable financial assistance. A few days later Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister in the government of Vladimir Putin, became the special representative of the President of the Russian Federation in Transnistria. Putin also assigned him as the head of the Russian-Moldovan intergovernmental commission. It was a sign that the Kremlin took presidential elections in Moldova quite seriously. Farid Mukhametshin, an influential figure of the Russian elite, was appointed as Russia’s new ambassador to Chisinau.
The Kremlin made several slightly offensive moves towards Chisinau last year. For instance, Anatoly Serdyukov, the then Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, showed up in Tiraspol without warning, to inspect Russian peacekeeping forces in the breakaway republic. The Moldovan authorities learnt about it from the newspapers. Another example of such actions was Rogozin announcing Moscow’s plans on opening a consulate in Tiraspol, to make life easier for Russian citizens living in Transnistria.
Tiraspol is a place of (quasi)changes
Yet, against the advice of Moscow, in late 2011 a new leader appeared in the breakaway Republic of Transnistria. However, those who expected that the new “president” Yevgeny Shevchuk will fight for the independence from Russia – or will be inclined to compromise with Chisinau – were wrong. Though I must admit that Shevchuk and Filat did find a common language, meeting quite often and managing to resolve some minor technical problems (for example, the rail traffic through Transnistria). Shevchuk turned out to be a sincere enthusiast of the Eurasian Union – the main geopolitical project of President Putin. The politician sees the possibility of resolving the conflict only within the framework of common political and economic space with Russia. It was confirmed in November 2012, when he signed a new foreign policy strategy of Transnistria, stating the integration with the Eurasian Union as a priority.
The European Dream
Moldova is still considered the leader of change in Eastern Europe, especially taking into account the worsening situation in Georgia and Ukraine. The negotiations on the Association Agreement and the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (DCFTA) go at full speed, and so does an action plan for implementation of a visa-free regime. Hopefully, the Association Agreement will be signed at the third summit of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius in autumn 2013. Not only is it another stage of integration with the West, but also – through the adoption and implementation of EU legislation – the impetus for comprehensive modernization of the country. In October 2012, at the EU joint forum, European Commissioner Stefan Fule even made a statement that Moldova deserves the prospect of membership in accordance with Article 49 of the EC Treaty.
In this context, we should remember about the interests of Russia and its desire to include Moldova in the Kremlin’s integration projects. Therefore, Transnistria might be an extremely important instrument of influence. According to statements of Russian officials, Moscow will recognise the independence of the breakaway republic in case Moldova’s lose of its “sovereignty” or neutrality.
Actually, Moldovans do not fully share the enthusiasm of their own pro-European government. More than 70 percent of the society believes that their country goes in the wrong direction, which weakens the support for the government and integration with the West. In a recent study conducted by the Institute for Public Policy, 54 percent of the respondents voted for integration with the European Union, while 55 percent were for Moldova’s closer relationship with the Eurasian Union. The government itself has paid a lot of attention to balancing between the conflicting interests of its members. The leaders did not trust each other, so they were not able to fully launch a deeper transformation in the country. Experts expected more action, especially after the election of the president. Another shake within the government and it may already be too late – the loss of time does no good here, since the election in 2014 – or even the early one – may lead to the pro-Russian parties taking power.
Do not forget about Moldova
In 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Moldova. In December, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski was in Chisinau. However, several experts (such as Peter Oleksy in the Polish edition of New Eastern Europe, № 1, 2013) points to the fact that Moldova is not a priority of the Polish policy in the East any more. Significantly, in her speech at the annual conference on the Polish eastern policy, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, did not mention Moldova. Nevertheless, we cannot forget about Moldova and how much support it needs on its path towards closer integration with the EU. The years 2013-2014 will be the key period for the country and its “success story”.
Translated by MA