Money in Exchange for Stability. What the New Formula of Relations Between Moscow and Chisinau Means

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Common truth is that the closer elections, the more active the candidates. Pre-election Moldova is no exception. The political forces dreaming to get into parliament in 2019 are already active and fruitful with good ideas. Oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc announced that his Democratic Party is now focused on the interests of Moldovan citizens and “does not play” in geopolitics, replaced two ministers and once again removed the president from power by the Constitutional Court. Igor Dodon held two major international forums in Chisinau under his auspices – the World Congress of Families and the Moldovan-Russian Economic Forum. It’s no secret that both these events were designed somehow as PR actions for the president and his party – the PSRM: he personally participated as the main speaker and frontman in both of them. What can these pre-election moves by democrats and socialists have in common? At first glance, nothing: the leader of the PDM has proclaimed a new course for the party, and the president continues to work within the framework of traditional for himself and socialists themes of family values and friendship with Russia. However, some of the statements made at the economic forum in Chisinau, as in the case of Plahotniuc’s statement, can be considered programmatic. Looking ahead, their keynote reinforces the new formula of Russia’s official position on the situation in Moldova, which, apparently, both Chisinau and Moscow agree on. Forum’s formula Many ambitious figures of possible investments of the Russian business in the Moldovan economy were heard at the Moldovan-Russian Economic Forum that took place on September 20-22 in Chisinau. Co-chairman of the Delovaya Rossiya organization Andrei Nazarov said that the initial capital of the Russian-Moldovan development fund, which may appear in 2019, will amount to 500 million USD. He also expressed readiness to increase investments in the country to a billion dollars. Russia’s business ombudsman Boris Titov asserted that Moldova is a very promising country for Russian business: winemaking opportunities, return of Moldovan products to the Russian market, which became noticeably less after 2014. The main condition for the future mass investment of Russian funds into the Moldova’s economy was repeatedly voiced at the forum. This condition is political stability in the country, which, as expected, could come after the February parliamentary elections. “Political stability” is a well-considered wording, more diplomatic than the previous rhetoric about “coming to power of the pro-Russian forces in Moldova”, “the victory of the Socialists of Dodon”, etc. It is also significant that Boris Titov spoke of this approach at the end of August when the September event was being prepared. At the very forum, the idea of “money in exchange for political stability” has become a formula that experts believe will be decisive for many years to come. The first thing that stands out is Moscow’s obvious prudence, a shift away from the ‘geopolitical’ rhetoric about the struggle of pro-Russian and pro-Western forces in Moldova. Perhaps, there comes an understanding that an early total victory of pro-presidential forces in the elections to the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova is unlikely. The Kremlin is adjusting its approaches: in light of Vlad Plahotniuc’s declared shift of his party into an ideological ‘center’, that is, on the political field of socialists, it can be assumed that Moscow sees as a realistic option the future coalition of the PSRM with its various current opponents. Judging by the fact that even with a ‘modest’ condition of “political stability” Russia is ready to provide financing for the Moldovan economy, the Kremlin is ready to play long, working out such a scenario. There are several reasons for this. Local and European policy Igor Dodon and his political pet project – the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova – have always positioned themselves as supporters of friendship with Russia. Moscow, in its turn, has invested considerable resources (including, at the highest level) in support of the Moldovan president. In a sense, Igor Dodon is the main political ‘investment’ of Moscow on the Moldovan track. Analysts who follow the situation in Moldova remember well that the no Russia’s response to numerous Chisinau’s recent demarches has been linked to the Kremlin’s unwillingness to put Igor Dodon under attack before the upcoming elections: Russia and its partner PSRM should look only positive in the eyes of an ordinary voter. Thus, the Russian leadership in its support of the leader of the Moldovan socialists has already passed the point of no return. Now, on the eve of the election, Moscow cannot stop supporting the PSRM even in the face of extremely ambiguous options, in fact, forced coalition of socialists with opponents, including the Democratic Party, which is reasonably considered the main cause of problems in Russian-Moldovan relations. According to the new business formula, no matter who Igor Dodon joins after the parliamentary elections, everything is for good if there is “political stability”. Another dimension of the new thinking in Russian-Moldovan relations is geopolitics. Since 2014, both the political elite and big business of Russia are looking for ways to normalize relations with Europe. This search so far has not been a serious success, but it has not slowed down. RTA experts previously assumed that the Transdniestrian settlement could become a possible platform for establishing contacts between Berlin, Brussels and Moscow. Moldova itself is also seen as such a platform, as the business ombudsman of the Russian Federation Boris Titov unequivocally hinted at the same forum in Chisinau. “Business always balances profitability and risks. In terms of profitability, we see a very large potential in many sectors (of the Moldovan economy). Today, for example, it is possible to produce products and sell them to the European Union without duties”, Kommersant quotes Titov as saying. A sophisticated reader will easily find an apparent paradox: back in 2013-2014, Russia’s official position on the Free Trade Area with the European Union was very definite: neither Ukraine nor Moldova can freely trade simultaneously with the EU and the CIS. Moscow claimed that this would lead to re-export to the Commonwealth market. Obviously, these arguments concealed not a very successful attempt to stop the drift of Kyiv and Chisinau to the west, but the fact remains that the rapprochement of Moldova and Ukraine with the EU was regarded in Russia as a threat to its geopolitical and economic interests. Five years later, the situation has changed dramatically: although Russian experts and politicians still criticize free trade with the European Union, Russian business sees this as an advantage and is ready to invest in the Moldovan economy – only to bypass the current sanctions regimes and revive trade with European partners. As early as 2014, such a position would clearly contradict Russia’s geopolitical interests, but these interests have now been adjusted somewhat. Duty-free trade, albeit through an intermediary represented by the Republic of Moldova, is still better than sanctions. Moldovan interest The concept of “political stability in exchange for investment” works for the current configuration of power in Moldova for many reasons. First of all, the vague wording is attractive – the future “political stability” can justify any political moves and the most bizarre alliances after the parliamentary elections. In addition, the concept of internal stability is convenient for a centrist political platform, where the PSRM of Dodon has already settled for a long time and where the Plahotniuс’s Democratic Party recently broke in. The internal welfare of the state is clearly the most actual trend of Moldovan politics in the current autumn-winter season. Among other things, Moscow’s position is a powerful trump card in the game called “Threaten Brussels” started by the government led by the Democratic Party of Moldova. Throughout the year, the EU strongly criticizes the Moldovan leadership, cuts and suspends financial assistance to Chisinau in all directions. Having faced the risk of losing the most important financial resource, which makes the crisis in the country imminent, Vlad Plahotniuc began to intimidate Brussels with a possible adjustment of the pro-European course of Moldova. Now, the Russian business makes it clear that it is ready – at least at the first stage – to assume part of the costs of keeping Moldova afloat. As for President Igor Dodon, for him the “political stability” concept is a good way to avoid uncomfortable questions about the nature of relations between his political formation and the party of the main Moldovan “bad guy”, as well as a direct way to keeping the title of the main negotiator with Moscow. The figure of Vlad Plahotniuc provokes profound antipathy in Moscow, which means that in a hypothetical, forced political symbiosis of the PDM and the PSRM, Dodon will retain a monopoly over the Russian track. Ultimately, the ideological know-how in the form of a reconciling “political stability for the sake of investment” turns out to be really very convenient for both Moscow and Chisinau, so convenient that it is hardly possible to find out its original authorship. The only flaw in this sophisticated business plan is that those who led the country to a critical situation may keep the ‘blocking stake’ in the end. Indeed, the Moldovan political system demonstrates the diabolical ability to self-preservation. Apparently, the main meaning of this continued Moldovan game for the interested participants is not victories, large or small, real or imaginary, but being in the game itself as long as possible.