Will the Ruling Elite Pull Moldova Out of the CIS?

Home / Analytics / Will the Ruling Elite Pull Moldova Out of the CIS?
Anton SVET
Amid the official’s alienation from participation in CIS events, there is an increasingly active discussion in society and government circles about the potential withdrawal from the Commonwealth. How soon can this happen?
To all appearances, our elite has long lost any real interest in being involved in CIS activities. Since Maia Sandu came to power, she has never participated in any CIS event, not even online, either as Prime Minister or as President. And this is not just because the current government is trying to distance itself from any political formats in which Russia is present – for example, the once very active work of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation has been suspended in recent years. The problem is that diplomatic contacts at the CIS level have lost their strategic meaning for our leadership. Moldova has taken an unambiguous position on the conflict in Ukraine and is actively involved in the work of various platforms patronized by Ukraine and Western countries. Maia Sandu, for one, speaks enthusiastically on the “Crimea Platform”. In summer, Moldova’s representatives participated in the NATO summit for the first time ever, which was reflected in the final declaration. The “Moldova Support Platform” representing the circle of major donors has been formed – three meetings have already been held and substantial resources have been allocated. Chisinau participates in the work of key international organizations – UN and OSCE, taking extremely solidary position with the western community, and not only in the matter of Russian-Ukrainian confrontation. Thus, the orientation of the political interests of the republic has been formed by the current elite and will not be revised under the current circumstances. In this sense, the key moment was Moldova’s candidate status for European Union membership in June. When she submitted her application in March, Maia Sandu unambiguously hinted at the future course of events, promising to choose the right moment to leave the CIS as soon as sufficient progress is made on the European path. Leaving the CIS is also debated in Parliament. The ruling party considers the country’s stay in the Commonwealth a mere formality and promises to organize its exit as soon as military operations in Ukraine cease. The opposition leaders are strongly against such measures, described by Igor Dodon as “idiotic”, but they are unable to influence the decision. In recent years, the Commonwealth itself as an international organization has been stagnant – Ukraine left all CIS structures long ago, Russia and Belarus are developing relations within the union state. The Eurasian Economic Union is in charge of speedy economic integration between individual members, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization is in charge of the military-political component. The CIS itself is becoming an atavism of the passing era, giving way to military and economic integration projects and bilateral cooperation between states. In this context, Moldova’s withdrawal from the CIS is only a matter of time coupled with the solution of a number of mostly bureaucratic problems. The fact is that we remain a party to a number of agreements that have been signed within the Commonwealth and that benefit the national economy of the country. Especially it concerns the agreement on the CIS free trade zone of 2011. Our exporters, despite periodic restrictions on the Russian market for fruits and vegetables, canned foods and alcohol, still actively export their goods in the eastern direction. However, the CIS market is not defining for Moldova – the volume of export there makes up about 12% of the total export which is twice less than to Romania alone. Export volumes to the CIS are generally similar to supplies of goods to the left bank of the Dniester. Even so, agricultural production still relies on exports to Russia and also suffers from problems related to the shortage of Russian-made mineral fertilisers. In terms of imports, Moldova is dependent on Belarus, with which it has close trade, economic and cooperative relations. If these issues are not tackled as part of prearranged inter-state agreements, the break with the CIS can be quite painful in this respect. Another important aspect is migration security. Suspension of the visa-free regime with CIS countries, withdrawal from agreements on readmission, recognition of work experience, education and qualification, pension rights will extremely negatively affect the interests of numerous Moldovan labour migrants who work in Russia. At the same time, the ruling authorities rarely heeded the demands of this particular category of persons, as evidenced by the reluctance to open polling stations in Russia and CIS countries. Commercial road transportation to the CIS countries, primarily Russia, remains an economically important area. There are already growing fears in the transport community that Moscow will deny the necessary number of permits for passenger transport in 2023, which will undermine business strategies of certain major transport market players. By and large, we have signed hundreds of multilateral and bilateral agreements within the CIS over the decades, in a variety of areas ranging from economics, trade and energy to education, commercial transport and investment. Prior to leaving the Commonwealth, the government and the MFAEI must work laboriously to inventory, revise or replace these agreements with bilateral ones where needed. Also, to solve this task, negotiations with the Tiraspol administration will be necessary, as the region’s economy and population benefit just as much from the preferences provided for in the CIS agreements. Once this bureaucratic routine process is over (and the MFAEI has already been instructed to that end), a technical issue will then become a purely practical one. So far, the authorities are demonstrating a balance between a policy-driven approach and a cautious, pragmatic one. However, it is possible that a call from Brussels and Washington could significantly step up the processes, in which case withdrawal from the CIS could seriously affect the interests of the population and businesses.