Igor Dodon’s Trip to Moscow Unexpected Results

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Sergiu CHEBAN Igor Dodon's visit to the Russian capital, contrary to some Moldovan experts and politician’s expectations, was accompanied by signals of political support. Igor Dodon’s current visit was of particular first of all electoral significance. He was supposed to finally dispel the rumors of Kremlin cooling to Dodon and to provide the necessary political and economic support within the domestic political crisis and within the de facto ongoing election campaign. It is not surprising that before and during his trip, Igor Dodon strove by all means to indicate his loyalty to the Kremlin and his commitment to the Russian historical narrative, including to everything related to the Great Patriotic War. As follows from the official head of state’s report on the trip to the Russian Federation results, after a brief exchange of views with Vladimir Putin, discussion of the bilateral agenda continued at the level of Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of the Presidential Administration. The discussion appeared to be productive. According to Igor Dodon, the agreements reached include negotiations resumption on the 200 million euros loan; the extension of duty-free regime for the supply of Moldovan goods to the Russian market and the intention to solve the freight transportation permits problem. In addition, Moscow agreed to provide diesel fuel for agricultural enterprises affected by the drought as humanitarian assistance. One of the communication topics with Dmitry Kozak was confidence-building measures and other Transdniestrian settlement issues. The absence of any specifics is offset by the news that the Moldovan State District Power Plant, that Russian electricity holding owns, became the only electricity supplier to the right bank until March 31, 2021. At the same time, Vladimir Putin’s choice to meet with the head of Serbia, Alexander Vučić, suggests that the Russian side at the moment is nevertheless more interested in Kosovo (where interesting processes take place) than in the Transdniestrian settlement. As well known, on the eve of departure to Moscow, various political forces tried as much as possible to discredit the Moldovan leader in the eyes of his Russian partners. Even coalition supporters in the person of MFAEI leadership gave a hand to this on June 15, distributing a rather tough comment on the Russian militaries stationed on the left bank of the Dniester. It should be noted that the actions of some socialist deputies also left an unpleasant aftertaste. Thus, they signed a legislative initiative containing a ban on the propaganda in Moldova of both Nazi and Soviet (communist) symbols. Nevertheless, even these episodes, apparently, did not significantly affect the stay of Igor Dodon in Moscow. 75 troops of the National Army, as planned, marched along the Red Square cobblestones, and Dodon himself was warmly received, as evidenced by his constant presence next to Vladimir Putin and a prominent place at all the June 24 ceremonial and festive events. Notice that absence of a full-fledged working meeting between the Russian and Moldovan leaders should not be misleading. Firstly, the format of the events itself did not envisage it (the meeting with Alexander Vučić is an exception dictated by relevant developments in the Kosovo settlement), and secondly, the agenda proposed by the Moldovan side could be fully discussed at the level of Dmitry Kozak. In this sense, Moscow in fact went to meet all the wishes of the Moldovan president in terms of freight traffic, and duty-free trade regime, and humanitarian assistance provision. Moreover, the Kremlin agreed to resume negotiations on a credit line for Moldova, despite all the nasty taste left after the Moldovan Constitutional Court’s May decision. And this despite the fact that even Dodon himself doubted the Russian side’s readiness to return to this subject. Furthermore, other interesting details of the visit can be traced, including several Kremlin’s personal messages to the Moldovan president. Such a large-scale support is most likely due to increased expectations from Igor Dodon in terms of even greater loyalty and definite steps in protecting Russian interests in the region. In addition, Moscow’s desire to further attach Moldovan leader to itself is obvious. This is exactly how one can interpret the obviously intentional position of Igor Dodon next to the separatist leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This is a rather controversial point, which seems to further deprive the head of state of any chance to develop a political dialogue with Ukraine and Georgia (who, among other things, are Moldova’s counterparts in Eastern Partnership). This can only increase the international isolation of the Moldovan presidency whose foreign affairs might be limited only to contacts with the CIS countries. The opinion is now growing in the expert community that the Kremlin is at the stage of working out its response to the current Moldovan reality, which, given all the circumstances, requires large-scale adjustments. Especially in conditions when Moscow-backed party of socialists is likely to be in opposition in the near future. Meanwhile, the last visit to Russia clearly demonstrated that the Kremlin continues to focus in Moldova primarily on the current Moldovan president: too much has been previously invested in the political capital of Igor Dodon to refuse from backing him at a crucial moment. At the same time, Russia remains the only main foreign policy partner and ally in the current and future political battles for the Moldovan leader, despite his kind of flirts with the West, primarily the United States. However, this does not mean that Moscow is by no means considering alternative support options in Moldova. The truth is that any other options will obviously not be realized until the main bet in the person of Dodon plays its part.