What’s Wrong with Dodon’s “Well-Balanced” Foreign Policy?

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Sergey CHEBAN So far, Moldova’s multi-vector foreign policy cannot overcome the tactical international isolation faced by country's authorities. One of the ideological foundations of the governance concept forIgor Dodon is the so-called “well-balanced foreign policy”. The main point of this paradigm is the desire to build balanced relations with all key foreign partners of Moldova. Moreover, the main task is to bring the collective West and East together in Moldova’s political space and create a kind of territory for joint cooperation. According to the plan of strategists from Igor Dodon's team, such an “international consensus” can be applied to socio-economic and security spheres through neutrality guarantees, as well as to the Transdniestrian settlement. Experts continue to argue about the viability of such an approach. However, the fact that the government loyal to Igor Dodon has been in power for the last two months, and the three-year presidency as a whole allow for some intermediate results. The first thing that catches the eye is the fairly equidistant position of almost all the international partners of Moldova. We are talking about Bucharest, Kiev, Brussels, Washington, and even to some extent Moscow, that does not show the same interest towards Moldovan president and Moldovan agenda in general (however, this may be a temporary phenomenon, and the number of contacts will be resumed closer to the election date). For example, Foreign Minister Aureliu Ciocoi, who is in office for more than two months, has not paid a single working visit to any of the principal capitals to discuss current cooperation issues or participation in multilateral events. The only exception was a trip to Berlin, where personal contacts are still maintained. Igor Dodon has never visited his closest neighbors during his triennial presidency period. In international practice such cases are quite rare, if not isolated, since relations with bordering countries are an indisputable priority of any country’s foreign policy. In the diplomatic gestures language this position suggests that the current Moldovan president is an undesirable person for both Ukraine and Romania. Igor Dodon has recently been forced to refine his rhetoric in relation to Kiev to confirm Moldova’s unchanged position on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and to refer more often to Romanians as brothers. However, such obvious maneuvering and surface “politeness of the president” fail to “conquer the cities” as before. Moreover, international partners show low level of trust not only from ideological considerations: the Moldovan leader is still seen as a person full of contradictions, regularly making incompatible statements, dependent in decision-making and susceptible to influence from both the local oligarchs and the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the political legitimacy in the West is extremely important to Igor Dodon to speed up the Association Agreement practical implementation and win sympathy among the pro-European electorate. The 2019 parliamentary elections showed that the votes of only the pro-Russian population do not give any guarantees to be re-elected for a second presidential term. In this regard, recent weeks have witnessed an intensively growing number of presidential visits abroad – first of all, in order to use any “behind-the-scenes opportunity” to overcome the lack of personal contacts with foreign leaders. There is no doubt that the role of the international factor will only increase with the approach of the presidential election. The deliberate decision of the West and their partners to gradually “freeze” relations with Moldova is unlikely to affect the strategic stability of the state, and those responsible for this outcome appear to have already been identified. The current state of affairs seems to confirm that the political project of a strong “pro-Moldavian” leader, advocating for strengthening partnership with Russia in a country that has been systematically and consistently drifting westward for many years, has encountered great difficulties. According to experts, attempts to implement the concept of a multi-vector foreign policy in Moldova may turn in practice into a series of new political crises. Examples are plentiful. In the neighboring Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych tried to actively maneuver and play in this field for a long time, but ultimately circumstances forced him to make the final choice, which served as a signal for the West to launch operation on the Ukrainian president’s removal. Igor Dodon does not seem to be willing to repeat this dramatic scenario. Elections are getting closer. The Moldovan leader should offer his citizens something fundamentally new and as realistic as possible. In one of the poorest, turmoil-torn countries, with enormous outmigration, it is hardly reasonable to develop a political program based on a foreign policy factor.