Anchor Points of Moscow’s “Moldovan Strategy”

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Sergiu CEBAN
New year can rightly become decisive in the fight for Moldova’s political future that largely depends on how ready the authorities are to oppose the Kremlin with its “Moldovan strategy”
Despite all the efforts of the authorities, Moscow still has people to rely on in our country. First and foremost, these include openly pro-Russian parties, which, although weakened, are still a significant electoral and political factor. Besides, there are numerous agents of influence, opinion leaders and pro-Russian businessmen open (and covert) in their activities. Many experts argued that 2022 would be in every sense a watershed year for our country and the region. It really was – deep rethinking and implementation of long-overdue nationally important decisions was launched. Therefore, the new year can rightly become decisive in the struggle for Moldova’s political future that will depend on how ready the authorities are to oppose, mainly, the Kremlin and its “Moldovan strategy”. The shutdown of several TV channels directly affiliated with Russian media outlets was painful, for it reduced Moscow’s toolkit in Moldova. Still, such a move was probably not critical in terms of its impact. Obviously, the traditional television media largely catered to the older generation with longstanding pro-Russian views, so solid resources released will most likely be used to create new channels of communication with young Moldovan audience through social networks. Thus, the crackdown on Russian television propaganda will inevitably prompt a review of Moscow’s media strategy and a transition to more up-to-date ways of delivering information. The first days of 2023 witnessed effective media attacks orchestrated by biased social platforms against the country’s leadership. With the inept system of public communication, the bloggers managed to make the president’s banal private visit to a Romanian town the intrigue of the year. This was probably the last straw, since the press secretaries of the prime minister and the president resigned from their positions almost simultaneously the other day. Besides changing the information transmission channels, one should also expect modifications in the narrative of Russian propaganda. Past decades saw active exploitation of hackneyed messages about a common Soviet past, the possibility of cheap energy supplies, the need for Moldova to join the Eurasian Union and remain neutral, the protection of Orthodoxy and the Russian language, as well as conservative values that are alien to Europe. Meanwhile, the young generation of Moldovans can no longer be intimidated by European rules of life; therefore, more and more Moscow-based party projects with a perfect pro-European profile and updated messages will appear on the political stage. Since this is a pre-election year, we should expect a large-scale campaign by the Kremlin. Most likely, the main strike team will include the party triad of PSRM, PCRM and SOR. However, it is absolutely certain that other political projects will be tested during the autumn local elections in order to form a complete pool of supporting forces for the next parliamentary elections. Many experts noticed that fresh political formations, headed by well-known figures (Ceban, Chicu and Vlah) have been activated and promoted, and probably they are already nominated as second-tier leaders with good prospects of entering the top political league. The fate and interest of Moscow in the protest movement of Ilan Sor is still unknown. The latter decided to take a pause for the winter and, quite possibly, will again rally the masses to street protests in the spring. Sor’s autumn marches never achieved any clear goal, but this does not mean that at some point the Orhei fifth column will not be used to enhance the cumulative effect of the Kremlin’s tools. The energy sector remains a bottleneck which Moscow can still have an impact on, with a lot of means and leverage at its disposal. By all appearances, the risk that Gazprom might unilaterally terminate the existing contract will persist. Another test will be the audit results, which, according to some unconfirmed reports, Russia might not accept, since the Norwegian auditing company hired by Chisinau had previously helped Naftogaz of Ukraine in its arbitration proceedings. The energy insecurity, to be actively fueled by the Kremlin, could lead to various scenarios, including one with a direct or indirect impact on the Transdniestrian settlement. By the way, over the past few months Moscow seems to be much more sensitive to everything that somehow affects the Transdniestrian issue and tries to respond to any attempts to “put pressure” on Tiraspol. The first “January swallows” show just how rapidly hypotheses about a “military scenario on the Dniester” and a sharp aggravation of relations with the Tiraspol administration are disseminated. The situation can explode for no apparent reason if Moscow needs it, so as to force Kyiv to take some of its combat-ready units off the front and move them closer to the central part of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Although Chisinau authorities managed to suppress the fighting spirit of Comrat politicians last year, Gagauzia still remains a bridgehead for resistance and new crisis with outside support. The autonomy still has ambitions to be a relevant actor, and the joint statement of the Presidium of the People’s Assembly and the Executive Committee of Gagauzia on the intent to further broadcast the six suspended TV channels is an obvious proof of that. Russian military action on Ukrainian territory also remains among the main threats to our country’s domestic political stability. Much will depend not only on the progress of military events, but also on the model of an interim or final settlement. The Sullivan-Ushakov formula that failed to find support has turned into a discussion of a possible “Korean scenario” and dividing lines. For our authorities, it is very important to understand exactly where the fault line will run – far away or in direct contact with the country’s borders. As correctly noted by the former Romanian Minister of Defense Vasile Dincu, the Russian attack in Moldova comes from inside, and there is no need for Moscow to attack us militarily. If the authorities cannot effectively withstand external threats and continue to weaken by making gross blunders and mistakes, Moscow has every chance, with its seemingly humble capacities, to disrupt the internal political situation in the hope of accomplishing its far-reaching plans both in Moldova and the entire post-Soviet space.