Traditionally, we review the major political events of the past year in Moldova and make forecasts for the future
The year 2022 can easily claim to be the most difficult in the history of our country. A string of upheavals, crises, internal political scandals and socio-economic problems plagued Moldova during the whole twelve months. Traditionally, RTA took a look back at the major political events of the year and made an attempt to forecast what awaits us in the new year.
War in Ukraine
This year’s full-scale conflict in Ukraine was a major geopolitical upheaval in the world and, especially, in Europe. For the first time since the end of World War II, hostilities unfolded on the continent involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers, supported by an almost complete range of weapons, from tanks and artillery to aviation and missile strikes.
One way or another, the consequences of the war affected everyone and our country, bordering invaded Ukraine, was no exception. The immediate impact was an unprecedented wave of refugees, disruption of traditional transport, logistics and economic chains, a security crisis, etc. And if we look deeper, it is obvious that it was the Russian-Ukrainian war that set the trajectory of the vast majority of the processes that took place in Moldova in 2022.
The situation is unlikely to change next year. There is almost no hope for a quick end to the conflict. Both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces continue local actions in Donbass, while assembling groups for large-scale offensive operations next year. Against this background, the diplomatic positions of the sides have diametrically diverged and are unlikely to converge without radical changes on the front – which are not foreseeable now.
So, most likely, the whole next year Moldova will remain a “front-line territory”. And although there will be no direct military danger for us, such an unenviable situation will continue to create great problems for the population, business, and economy as a whole.
Last year, the ruling regime laid a huge bomb under the Moldovan energy sector, having quarreled with Gazprom and concluded a risky contract tied to spot prices for energy resources. The risk was not justified – the Ukrainian conflict “blew up” the energy markets, which is why the cost of gas for Moldova grew almost every month, reaching at some point a mind-boggling $1880+ per thousand cubic meters.
As if this were not enough, the authorities deliberately went to aggravate relations with the Russian gas company, violating the contract by failing to audit debts, late payment, murky reverse schemes and the threat of taking away Gazprom’s property in Moldova. In response, Moscow obviously made a political decision to cut the volume of supplies to our country, after which gas consumption had to be sharply reduced, primarily due to production.
The gas crisis has led to the “electric-power” one. Having refused the contract with MGRES, and taking into account the termination of imports from Ukraine, we switched to purchases on spot markets in Europe, which soon became so expensive that we had to return to the traditional option with the left bank, although at higher prices. According to the terms of the contract, it is also necessary to redirect all Russian gas currently entering Moldova to the left bank. Needless to say, the consequence of all these poorly thought out and prepared maneuvers was a multiple increase in tariffs for the population, both for gas and electricity.
So far, the expansion of the energy crisis has been temporarily stopped, but it is unlikely for a long time. Perhaps 2023 will be even more difficult in terms of energy than before, because no one has abandoned plans for “energy diversification”. It is possible to predict several “shocking” outcomes at once. The first is the termination of the gas contract with the Russian Federation amid the almost inevitable selection of its property on our territory, which will lead to the need for reverse schemes at, of course, higher prices. The second, resulting from the first, is the final rejection of Transdniestrian electricity in favor of imports from Romania and the EU.
Strengthening the ruling regime
PAS’s monopoly position in the Moldovan government and its unconditional support in the West have created virtually unlimited opportunities to strengthen its own regime. The process started back in 2021, and this trend has only intensified. In many ways, the war in Ukraine, which dramatically changed the rules of the game, also came in handy for the “yellows”. Thus, geopolitical loyalty has become much more important than democracy, and the military threat has allowed tightening the screws to the limit, which the authorities shamelessly did.
In a year, the majority party has taken over the information space, shut down most of the opposition media, seized the justice system and forced it to work for itself, put the CEC and the Prosecutor General’s Office under control, and came up with a sanctions regime to put pressure on the objectionable. And for greater comfort, most of the year the rules are in a convenient state of emergency mode, allowing you to flout the law where it is needed.
Further, we can expect a more decisive attack on the left and centrist opposition. Most likely, the ban of the Sor party and the PSRM will follow, the new formation of Ion Ceban and the mayor himself will be under pressure. However, it is unlikely that development partners will allow the authorities to do absolutely nothing – it is beneficial for them that PAS alternatives remain in the country (not in ideological terms, of course).
The ruling party, however, should not relax either – despite the absence of threats inside the country, extreme dependence on foreign aid makes it extremely vulnerable. So if our partners decide at one moment to change some of the horses in the team – well, for example, to shuffle the government – then it will be difficult to resist this. There are also problems with the internal cohesion of PAS, which did not become public in 2022 – but there are no guarantees that this will not happen in the future?
This year was marked by the biggest success in the process of European integration since the visa-free regime. Our country, along with the Ukrainian application, got the status of a candidate for membership in the European Union – which it could not even dream of at the beginning of the year.
Of course, Moldova did not meet and still does not meet the basic criteria for EU membership. Brussels has made an objectively political and opportunistic decision in violation of its own principles. Whatever it was, European integration should now go a little faster – but it will still take 10-15 years, or even more. Moreover, the government is not yet very efficient in implementing the action plan that was sent to us from the EU. Taking into account the competence of our officials and the real capabilities of the country, there is no doubt that in practice the status of a candidate will only be a pleasant bonus, but nothing more.
Maybe that’s why, simultaneously with such a “historic” event, Moldova and Ukraine began to persistently propose the idea of a “parallel EU” – a European political community. It caused barely concealed irritation in Kyiv, but we behave more obediently and pretend genuine interest in this initiative.
No new European breakthroughs are expected next year. The tops of the ruling party will periodically continue to give positive reports on the implementation of reforms, productive meetings with European commissioners, etc., which, as always, will be far from the real state of affairs. From the practical, perhaps, some new form of cooperation with Ukraine will appear, like the “Association Trio” – only already in a duet.
Breaking up with Russia and the CIS
This year, the authorities actually turned the Russian direction “off”. All mutual contacts of a more or less high level have ceased, with a few exceptions, such as in the gas sphere. Moldova was put on the rails of final decommunization – for example, by banning certain symbols, including the St. George ribbon. All politicians, advocating normalization of relations with Russia, are driven by the pro-governmental media to the margins, the broadcasting of Russian TV channels and publications is prohibited. Russian influence in our country is rapidly shrinking. It has been decided to break off relations with the CIS, where Russia acts as a sort of “patriarch”, but not right away, but a decision in principle has already been made and announced.
Moscow periodically reacts violently to all this and has even made attempts at destabilizing the situation in the domestic political sphere. We don’t think that anything will come of it in the end, but the trend toward “Russian withdrawal” will surely continue. The cleansing of everything “pro-Russian” in Moldova will run its course, with the obvious discontent of the Russian Federation, but with an equally obvious inability to influence it.
New hope for Unirea
Cooperation with Romania, which was reinvigorated after Maia Sandu and PAS won the national elections, is growing stronger. This year, in addition to symbolically important events such as joint meetings of governments and – for the first time – parliaments, close cooperation took place in most key areas. Their results include the development of infrastructure projects to connect the two banks of the Prut River, a strong growth in bilateral trade, and a series of joint military and police exercises. Besides, Romania has become, for the first time, an energy donor for Moldova, claiming to be a gas hub for us as well.
Adding all this to the war in Ukraine, many experts have once again started talking about unirea – and not just as a theory, but as a very real option, which would allow both entering the EU and ensuring Moldova’s security under the NATO umbrella.
So far, there is nothing to say that the unification scenario has already been directly launched. And it is unlikely that it will be realized next year, unless the region is waiting for radical perturbations. But the fact that Moldova and Romania have taken an extremely fast pace in creating a common space is a fact, which, without being equivalent to unirea per se, every year will increase its chances of becoming a reality.
Militarization and the gradual abandonment of neutrality
These are two differently directed but closely intertwined trends that have generated a strong expert debate on how Moldova should build its defense strategy in the new realities. And whether cooperation with military blocs and the purchase of armaments from their members is a violation of the status of neutrality, enshrined in the Constitution.
This year we have not received clear answers to these complex questions, but next year we may well. At least it is already quite clear where the “wind” is blowing. It blows in the direction of giving up neutrality, which can already happen in 2023. The authorities’ intention to adopt a new national security strategy and the propaganda launched through the media that neutrality can no longer protect the country from foreign encroachments hint at this. It is not ruled out that a referendum on the issue will be held – although, to avoid the risks of “wrong” voting, they will most likely do without it.
As for the militarization of the country, it will obviously continue. Military expenses next year will increase by 68% at once, and there are plans for the purchase of a considerable range of weapons which must be fulfilled. There will also be new financial injections into the National Armed Forces, as well as invitations to our troops for joint exercises and trainings. Interaction with NATO will be even livelier. Moreover, Moldova is included in the so-called EU military mobility plan, which implies the use of our infrastructure to move troops from the West to the East.
Fall of the center-left opposition
The super-convincing victory of the PAS in the early parliamentary elections demoralized the main opposition forces to a certain extent. The main opposition forces within them quickly began to disintegrate. Nevertheless, 2022 seemed to be the year of a renaissance. Already in its first months, the rating of the ruling party and its top leaders, including Maia Sandu, began to plummet because of the inept government policies and crises it provoked.
However, no one was able to take advantage of the government’s problems. The old leaders of the center-left failed to overcome their mutual enmity, sometimes quarreling more among themselves than with the ruling regime. As a result, only the Sor party used the protest potential that had matured by the end of the summer, and it did so not in the best of ways. As of now, you could say that protest steam has gone down the drain. Others have not even dared to protest. The largest opposition force in the country, the Bloc of Communists and Socialists, does not think about getting out of the passive observation mode, the Civic Congress and its leader Marc Tcaciuc are suspected of playing along with the authorities.
The center-left opposition is knocked out, and it is unlikely to be allowed to rise again. The Sor party will inevitably be shut down, and the BoCS will destroy itself. The others may still be allowed to “exist” for a while, but only as a systemic opposition, not as a real one.