Gagauz Rebellion: Moscow’s Vain Bet?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Gagauzia lacks the potential to destabilize the situation throughout Moldova. By opposing the central authorities, the autonomy's elites are solving their own problems, far from Moscow’s interests
For several months, attempts to agitate public opinion in Gagauzia through the bad socio-economic situation in the country have not stopped. According to experts, the population’ discontent in the autonomy is purposefully accumulated to create a major focus of national resistance in the region, which then must spill over to other districts of Moldova and force the central authorities to capitulate. Moreover, there are versions that behind the anti-government rallies lies a backroom struggle within the autonomy itself, as well as preparations in advance for the elections of the governor, after which Irina Vlah will have to leave her post. By the way, there have been speculations about her desire to give a new breath to her political career for. Therefore, the recent developments in Gagauzia are partially connected with the rise of the current Gagauz Governor to a national level. Certain groups of influence probably see in her a worthy opponent to Maia Sandu at the presidential elections 2024. It is no secret that the relations between the Center and Comrat are almost always somewhat tense, and tensions over various issues arise regularly. One of the indicators not only of acute contradictions, but also of the desire to resolve them is that ex-deputy prime minister Vladislav Kulminski, who proved himself as a shadow crisis manager while working in Leanca government, has recently appeared in Gagauzia. Apparently, it has not yet been possible to resolve the disagreement. As a result, on August 18, Fulger special forces were present in the center of Comrat, under the pretext of conducting exercises. The legend was that the special forces of the Interior Ministry were practicing the liberation of the building of the University of Comrat, seized by terrorists. However, such a defiant step was taken most likely in order to show the Gagauzian elites the seriousness of the central authorities, in case someone wants to “rock the boat”. We should not exclude either that on the eve of another anniversary of the proclamation of the Gagauz Republic (August 19), the SIS had additional information that forced the security forces to act pre-emptively. Besides the attempts to oppose the decisions of Chisinau to ban the St. George’s ribbon and some other symbols associated with the Ukrainian events, the Gagauz politicians, along with the traditional anti-government slogans, make much more daring statements. E.g., they openly expect the Russian invasion of the Odesa region and further to Moldova. Thus, in addition to the Transdniestrian region, the Gagauz autonomy extends the arc of instability and risks for neighboring Ukraine. Therefore, Chisinau’s “warning volley” by introducing special units of the Interior Ministry was inevitable, as were Maia Sandu’s clarifying comments that harsh measures should be applied to citizens who justify Russia’s actions against Ukraine. In the end, August 19 saw no excesses, except for another protest arranged in the capital by Sor Party followers in support of Marina Tauber. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, stayed out of the Gagauz events. It seems that PSRM has its own protest tactics, although, despite Igor Dodon’s desire to travel all over the country, another month extension of house arrest ruins the socialists’ plans. We should not rule out that the results of the recent searches of the party accountant will completely remove the party activists’ desire to openly oppose the government. According to experts, Gagauzia actually lacks the potential to destabilize the national situation. And the Moscow forces, who have made a vain bet on certain political groups in Comrat, have got involved in another tangled Moldovan-Gagauz story, which will hardly help Russia’s interests in the region. It is well known that no one in Chisinau has seriously taken into account the Gagauz people, and the entire normative base of the autonomy is just a fiction. Therefore, the central authorities responded harshly to Comrat’s latest attempt to “agitate” by threatening to use force. If the “Gagauz revolt” crosses the limits outlined for it, it will be quickly put down. The autonomy’s population is quite sincere in its protests, demanding an increase in the quality of life, lower prices, lower tariffs, as well as reconciliation of relations with Russia. Meanwhile, the Gagauz elites have long ago been integrated into the state system. They only occasionally express their discontent with diminished opportunities and try to blackmail the center, forcing it to delegate more authority in various spheres, from customs and fiscal to participation in the country’s foreign policy. The increase in contradictions with Comrat usually takes place in times of crisis or weakening of the central authorities. It would be strange if amidst the discontent with the government and PAS we would not hear again the Gagauz’ “crying voice”. The most active separatists from the past of Gagauzia have long been eliminated from the game, losing the opportunity to influence the political scene in any serious way. The Gagauz politics has already undergone a generational shift. Irina Vlah showed with her own example that the Gagauz should integrate into the Moldovan society and state, speak the same language as the central authorities, demonstrate the will to live in one state and eventually try to obtain more opportunities for the autonomy. The calls sounding for weeks for the Government to come to an agreement with Moscow on gas prices, to lift the agricultural embargo or to allow Comrat to do it on its own, will only irritate the political elite in the capital. “Moscow’s ears” have long been clearly seen behind the Gagauz protests of recent weeks. And it's not only the pro-Russian slogans, but also the painful reaction of Russian propaganda to the central authorities' recent actions. Until a few weeks ago, Moscow seemed to want to develop a well-thought-out plan for an internal political counteroffensive in Moldova, but the geography of the Kremlin's political influence has apparently shrunk so far to the limits of the Gagauz autonomy.