Will Russian Revanche in Moldova Succeed?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The Kremlin appears to have once again entered the game in the Moldovan direction, inciting the collapse of the pro-European ruling forces by stirring up socio-political tensions in the republic
Our country’s problems keep building up inexorably. The gas war in Europe contributes to a rapid increase in prices, thereby inflaming public discontent with the current pro-European course. At the same time, not without the support of Moscow, the opposition and oligarchic forces have become more active. Now they are counting on the growth of protest sentiments in the society and promise the authorities a rough autumn. Beyond this, Gagauzia, which is another hotbed of pro-Russian sentiment, has been involved in the general fueling of the internal political situation. Part of its regional political elites seriously intends to become the main producer of the national protest movement. Being recently on a visit to Bucharest, Maia Sandu even admitted the possibility of Russia’s attack on our country. In such a case, according to her, the Moldovan authorities will ask for help from their Western partners, first of all from Romania. At the same time, she did not explain what exactly the word ‘attack’ meant. Most likely, it could be a military threat and energy blackmail, as well as attempts to undermine the internal political situation in the country amid social panic. Experts say there is no reason yet to speak of a direct armed Russian invasion. Defense Minister Anatolie Nosatii has stated roughly the same. On the other hand, there are quite enough signs that Moscow seriously wants to stir our political pot. The energy crisis that the Kremlin might instigate in Moldova, leaving us on the verge of winter with no gas or electricity, could be the very trigger for sending the government and parliament to resign, followed by early elections. Recently, Russia has been systematically targeting Moldova in order to form the required degree of public sentiment, as well as to sow panic, anxiety and fear among the population. The pro-European authorities are labeled as the main culprits for deteriorating Russian-Moldovan relations and responsible for the risks that our country has faced over the past year. Besides, some Russian talking heads broadcast messages that Moldova can expect the same unenviable fate as Ukraine. If we resort to Moscow’s favorite rhetoric, it seems that the Russian speakers are referring to the de-romanization and de-europeanization of the Moldovan political class. Our government senses a mounting negative impulses and has so far been quite successful in silencing any actually threatening opposition activity, allowing only isolated protests with no serious outlook just for show. As of today, all the key revanchist leaders have been neutralized: Igor Dodon, Vlad Plahotniuc, Ilan Sor and Veaceslav Platon. Therefore, second-tier party functionaries, such as Marina Tauber, deputy chairman of parliament Vlad Batrincea, and his colleague from the Socialist Party Cornel Furculita, increasingly come under pressure. Our regions play a special role in the Kremlin’s Moldovan strategy, so one can easily expect the use of tactics of accumulating social frustration from the margins to the political centers in Chisinau. If the Transdniestrian region, due to a certain vulnerability, is used mainly as a political irritant of the Moldovan elites, the key role of internal political destabilizer has been given this time to Gagauzia. Maia Sandu, by the way, has already stated that she is closely monitoring the situation in Comrat, where anti-state rhetoric comes more and more often from people who, in her opinion, work for Russia. At first glance, the ruling authorities of the autonomy do not show any particular interest in supporting the protest actions, and Victor Petrov, a member of the local council, is still in the lead. However, all the necessary conditions have been created to promote it: a socio-political platform “People’s Union of Gagauzia” has been created, a number of information resources have been launched, along with the charity fund to “stimulate” the local population. As of today, the political project enjoys enough potential to hold almost non-stop anti-government rallies and systematically raise the degree of socio-political tension. The current leadership of the country, of course, is not to be envied. In fact, it has to deal with a serious assault team of political forces and grave problems which include the pro-Russian opposition, fugitive oligarchs, the conflict in Ukraine, refugees, the energy crisis, and a lot more. This “coalition”, if further reinforced, will be ready to inflict a very painful, if not fatal, political blow in just a few months and may even put the process of Moldova’s integration into the European Union on hold. Among experts there is a feeling that most citizens are not well motivated yet to violently topple the current government, as demanded by the opposition. However, this is likely to change during the mass protests, which the opposition parties will call for sooner or later. Moreover, it will become clear in which direction the internal geopolitical pendulum will swing and whether the balance of political forces in Moldova will change again. So far, barely perceptible but already systematic political jolts coming from the Moldovan underground indicate that Russia is starting another game in Moldova hoping to get a new revenge. The leftist opposition parties are making open and aggressive efforts to undermine the domestic socio-political situation and to discredit the pro-European government, expecting that the ruling party will collapse and early elections will be organized with Moscow’s financial support. The plummeting ratings of the PAS, the government and the president, the growing erosion of internal party unity and fierce competition within the ruling elite can greatly baffle Western partners who will have to divert their attention from far more important affairs and seriously consider what are the chances of keeping their protégés in power in Moldova. Most likely, today’s acute geopolitical sensitivity of all key international players will anyway force Washington and Brussels to do everything to ensure that our country does not return to the Russian sphere of influence and remain West-oriented while moving step by step towards integration with the EU.