Ukrainian Practices in Moldova’s Foreign and Home Policy

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Cristian RUSSU
The ruling party has in one year done much of what has been adopted, implemented, and banned in Ukraine over the past eight years – and what has ended up being one of the causes of full-scale conflict in its territory
Assessing the internal and foreign policies of the ruling party this year, one can easily discern an interesting trend: in fact, many decisions were “copied” from our eastern neighbor. Often the only serious difference was the speed of their adoption. It took Ukraine eight years to introduce many measures, painful for the economy and people, but a year was enough for us. Today we are being persuaded that many unpopular decisions were necessary and inevitable. And that their goal is to prevent the worst scenarios. But if we look back at the Ukrainian experience, this explanation does not seem logical. Here I will not go into a discussion of whether the regime’s actions were in the national interest and whether they were externally imposed. I only suggest that we look back at some of the decisions taken in Ukraine, copied by our own officials, and consider how they might affect us. And whether we, too, risk provoking a great tragedy in our own land. Energy In November 2015, Ukraine stopped buying gas directly from Russia and switched to the so-called backhaul. Kyiv retained contractual obligations with Gazprom only for transit. The cost of gas for consumers no longer depended on agreements with Russia in favor of market conditions on EU exchanges. As a result, the average price was higher, including at the expense of the intermediaries’ margin, and the volume of consumption decreased year by year, primarily in the industrial sector. Gazprom also suffered losses. At the same time, European companies recorded profits from reverse gas schemes. In May 2021, Ukraine stopped importing electricity from Russia and Belarus, and later withdrew from the CIS common energy system and synchronized with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E). Until October of this year, Ukraine profited by exporting surplus electricity to Moldova and the European Union, but after strikes on its infrastructure, it was forced to buy its own electricity from the EU at a much higher price. Only European traders were left to benefit. Last October, Moldova extended its contract with Gazprom for 5 years, but this year it has regularly violated its provisions by launching “reverse schemes” following Ukraine’s example. Part of the purchased gas remained in the storage facilities of the neighboring country. The production facilities were urgently switched to alternative sources. After Gazprom responded by reducing supplies to minimum quantities, by December the right bank switched over to reverse supplies of previously purchased gas. As a result, its price turned out to be much higher than the current Russian price ($1,100 vs. $750) and the end users’ rate went up. The European traders and management of the state company making purchases benefited. In November, Moldova completely switched to buying electricity from Romania at a price two or three times higher than the Russian MGRES’ offer. Only the fear of a total deficit made the authorities temporarily return to importing electricity from Transdniestria. The only winners of the new schemes were Romanian suppliers, who fixed their profits and postponed the closure of their coal-fired power plants. So far, the obvious scenario is that next year Moldova will be deprived of gas supplies in transit through Ukraine, which will increase its price, as well as the cost of purchased electricity. Exiting the CIS For eight years, Ukraine has been systematically withdrawing from multilateral agreements within the CIS. Already in 2014, membership fees were terminated and withdrawal from the organization was declared a priority. In 2018, Ukraine stopped participating in the statutory bodies of the CIS, and this year it even withdrew from agreements that are socially important for the population, for example, on pensions. Moldova will remain a member of the CIS in 2023, as it has decided to pay its fees. However, if at the beginning of the year Maia Sandu was against leaving the organization for pragmatic reasons, then by the autumn her withdrawal was officially declared almost inevitable. Military expenses growth In 2012-2013, the military budget of Ukraine amounted to approximately 1% of GDP, after which it began to actively increase military expenditures. First up to 2.5% of GDP (2016), then up to 5-6% (2019-2021). This year it is difficult to give an exact figure, but it probably exceeded 10%. By the end of the year, the Moldovan authorities also announced plans to increase defense spending by 68% in 2023. The goal is to reach a military budget of 2% of GDP. Sanctioning of own citizens and economic entities The practice of sanctions against legal entities and individuals in Ukraine was introduced by Petro Poroshenko in September 2014 with the adoption of the relevant law. It provides for the imposition of sanctions by a decision of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) approved by the president.  Initially, the sanctions tool was aimed at Russian citizens, media, companies, banks, etc., similar to the Magnitsky Act in the United States. However, later it was also used against their own citizens and legal entities. The reason for introducing such sanctions bypassing the traditional legislation, the Ukrainian authorities called the “sluggishness” of the justice system. In Moldova, the analogy of the Magnitsky Act was mentioned in the fall of 2022. In our version of the sanctions law, it was Moldovan citizens and legal entities that became the target. It was stated that the practice was borrowed from the U.S. and Great Britain, but it is obvious that in this case it was the experience of Ukraine that was used. After all, to support such an act, the government cites the same arguments about the impossibility of quickly bringing the “responsible” through the judicial system to justice. However, without waiting for the Magnitsky Act to be passed, the authorities began to use the Emergency Situations Commission to impose sanctions, also bypassing the law. Shutdown of political parties Repression against political parties in Ukraine began in the spring of 2015 after the adoption of a law banning Communist ideology and symbols. This was followed by administrative restrictions on the activities of opposition formations, including a ban on participation in elections. This year, the process of closing the main opposition parties was completed. In Moldova, the tabooing of Soviet and Communist symbols, as well as some political forces, also began in 2022. The authorities’ request to ban the Sor party has already been submitted to the Constitutional Court. By analogy with Ukraine, a day of remembrance of victims of collective hunger during the Soviet era was introduced. Closing down the media The authorities and local special services started to talk about cleaning up the information space in Ukraine several years ago. In February 2021, Volodymyr Zelenskyy banned a number of TV channels based on the decision of the National Security and Defense Council. Attempts to relaunch them under new brands were suppressed. By the end of the same year, several popular Internet news outlets in Ukraine were also shut down. In Moldova, the reorganization of the info-field began in the spring of 2022. At first, sites of Russian news agencies and some news and analysis portals, including RTA, were blocked. In December, the Emergencies Commission suspended the activities of the main opposition TV channels. Tougher criminal legislation in terms of threats to national security In April 2014, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine increased prison sentences for serious crimes against the foundations of national security – encroachment on territorial integrity and inviolability, sabotage, espionage and treason. The need for legislative changes was associated with the fight against separatism in the east of the country. In Moldova, similar tightening of criminal legislation may be adopted at the beginning of 2023. Draft amendments to the criminal code, including punishment for separatism, creation of unconstitutional entity, etc., were passed by the parliament in the first reading on December 22. The authors of the initiative pointed out that the amendments targeted representatives of Transdniestria. Pressure on the Russian Orthodox Church At the end of 2018, Ukraine created the independent Orthodox Church (UOC), which soon received autocephalous status. At the same time, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was under constant pressure to seize its assets. At the end of March 2022, a bill to ban it was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada. In December, by decision of the National Security and Defence Council, sanctions were imposed on the vicar of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra Pavel and other priests. There are plans to pass a new bill to liquidate the UOC MP. In Moldova, there is no need to create an independent church from Moscow because the Metropolitan Church of the Romanian Orthodox Church has been restored in Bessarabia since 1992. In recent years, it has significantly expanded its parishes and strengthened its political position. In 2022 its competitor, the Chisinau Metropolitan Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, found itself in the crosshairs of media criticism and obvious political pressure due to its attitude toward the situation in Ukraine. However, the authorities have not yet made statements about the possible sanctioning of church figures or the closure of the church. Refusal to negotiate with the separatists When Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to power in Ukraine, one of his top priorities was to stop the war and achieve peace. At the same time, negotiations with the participation of representatives of the DNR and LNR within the established formats remained a political problem for Kyiv, which saw Moscow as the second party to the conflict. In March 2020, as part of the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the so-called “Steinmeier formula”, it was decided to create an Advisory Council consisting of 10 representatives from Ukraine and the DNR and LNR and one each from OSCE, Russia, Germany and France. Subsequently, however, Kyiv rejected direct dialogue with the separatist regions. Its further diplomatic initiatives ruled out such a possibility in principle. At the same time, the political rhetoric of the Ukrainian leadership hardened, alternating with threats to withdraw from the Minsk agreements. The peace process of conflict resolution was frozen, and the situation began to move toward military escalation. At the beginning of 2022, one of the main political messages of the Moldovan authorities regarding the settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict was the recognition of the impossibility of convening meetings in the 5+2 format. At the same time, Maia Sandu abandoned the practice of meetings with the head of the region. Despite the fact that meetings between representatives of the two banks periodically take place, in fact, the negotiation process is frozen. By the end of this year, members of the ruling party began to talk about the need to revise the basic documents for the settlement of the Transdniestrian issue, as well as to exclude Transdniestria from the process as an equal party. An example here again is Ukraine, which refused to negotiate directly with the separatists. *** Without in any way absolving Russia of responsibility, one cannot but admit that all of the above-mentioned decisions by the Ukrainian authorities over the course of eight years have undoubtedly brought the possibility of a full-scale military conflict with Russia closer and at some point made it inevitable. Therefore, the blind and accelerated reproduction of Ukrainian practices, many of which can by no means be called democratic or beneficial to the population and the economy of the country, seems short-sighted and extremely dangerous. I do not think that our government is unaware of all the risks involved, but is taking this gamble anyway. Whether this move is deliberate or whether we are simply left with no choice is not important: the result will be disastrous in any case.