Chances for a “Hot Spring” in Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
There is a feeling that while events in Ukraine are in the phase of uncertainty and “the calm before the storm”, the focus of the geopolitical battle has temporarily shifted to Moldova
Last week, Moldova finally got a clear reaction from the West, amid a never-ending series of crises and threats surrounding the republic. First of all, Joe Biden’s speech in Warsaw, where he made a symbolic gesture of support for our country and personally for Maia Sandu, attracts attention. Moldova was also mentioned in the joint statement of the leaders of the Bucharest Nine, adopted in the Polish capital in the presence of the US President and NATO Secretary General. In it the readiness to cooperate closely with the Republic of Moldova as the most subject to “risk of destabilization and destructive influence of the Kremlin” is expressed. Apparently our Western partners thus demonstrate that they will not tolerate any action in the political field of the country with the participation of the Russian Federation, be it explicit or implicit. Hence the clear signal that Moldova will not be left alone in the face of “external danger”. However, this is not a reason to think that we are under full protection: if the current government fails to change the situation and all the necessary prerequisites for the removal of the political regime are created in the country, even the sixth US Fleet will not be able to stop the pressure of street protests. It is hard to say to what extent the signals sent by the West can keep the Russian-backed opposition from carrying out its far-reaching “protest” plans. But local politicians and their Moscow partners will surely need to keep in mind possible countermeasures by the West. In any case, many experts expected a spring revival in the opposition ranks with the onset of moderate weather conditions. Yesterday’s protest action by the SOR party indicates that the political formation intends, at the very least, to return to the fall practice of protesting. Perhaps they expect an additional increase in the masses of disgruntled citizens who have accumulated debts for utility bills over the winter. Interestingly, a characteristic feature of yesterday’s actions was the targeted targeting of “popular anger” at Maia Sandu, who is in fact the linchpin of the political regime. Without her, the current government would have probably crumbled under the pressure of internal and external circumstances long ago. As a whole now there is a feeling that while events in Ukraine are in uncertainty and “the calm before the storm”, the focus of the geopolitical battle has temporarily shifted to Moldova, and each of the opponents has their own tactical plans. It has been difficult not to notice the sharply increased attention to our country in the last few weeks, as well as a number of signs indicating the onset of another wave of instability. Targeted attacks on the government with the results of public opinion polls indicating the deplorable state of affairs in the state, the total disappointment and despair among our citizens became a kind of “artillery preparation”. The purpose of their publication is obvious: further weakening of the whole structure of power, growth of social discontent, and a broad public demand for a complete reset of the country’s political system. This was followed by Wizz Air’s unexpected decision to suspend flights to Moldova with an unambiguous formulation “for security reasons”. Certainly, the reason could have been less alarming, so as not to provoke panic and unnecessary speculation, especially in view of the current situation.  However, this ostentatious manner of the Hungarian air carrier may not be at all accidental, given the special relationship between Budapest and Moscow. Of course, the greatest resonance and social tension was caused by the information agitation around the potential invasion of Transdniestria by Ukrainian troops. The tone was set by loud warnings from Moscow, including the readiness to respond to possible aggravation around the region. Today the topic continued to play with more and more “bright colors” after the Russian Foreign Ministry reported on a possible provocation by Kyiv with radioactive substances near Transdniestria. It is difficult to understand whether there is any truth in the statements of the Russian authorities, although it is worth admitting that in this case Kyiv is pouring water on the Russian mill for some reason, admitting the fact of concentration of its troops and conducting engineering and fortification works on the border with the separatist enclave. But such a series of steps is quite in line with the strategy of forming an image of Moldova – a country with fragile prospects, located in the zone of constant military threat. It is obvious that by creating total unpredictability in terms of security, the aim is to provoke the heaviest and most difficult to compensate consequences for the state – the departure of the active and able-bodied population, reduced business activity, as well as the outflow of investment and capital. While carefully monitoring the plans for the internal rocking of the country, our authorities should still take control of the socio-economic situation first. This is Moldova’s most vulnerable point, which will continue to be actively exploited by pro-Russian forces to gradually scale up street actions. However, the sharp drop in living standards is only indirectly caused by rising prices and inflation, and the increase in the cost of energy resources is at the heart of these processes. It is not for nothing that the new government has set aside the energy sector as a separate ministry, and given the current cost of gas in Europe, it is likely that it will be carefully preparing to revise the contract with Gazprom. In addition, it is believed that the responsible officials will gradually get rid of the legacy of Andrei Spinu’s energy deals in order to build a new scheme of procurement and supply of resources to Moldova at more affordable prices and through transparent mechanisms. The president and the government have already begun to accumulate a financial safety net through foreign aid and loans from development partners, realizing that the situation in the energy sector can become complicated at any moment. So far the contract with Moldovan GRES has been prolonged for another month, but there are no guarantees that this “status quo” will be maintained for a long time, and one spring day there will not be a sudden reduction in pumping from Russia for some unknown reason. Despite the experience of the autumn protests, which never resulted in a broad socio-political mobilization, it seems that particular forces do not lose hope and want to make a “hot spring” in Moldova. The Sor party remains the main driver of anti-government campaigns, but the authorities are still hesitant to outlaw this political force, apparently because of the risk of a reverse effect. Yet, we must admit that, unlike the fall, our society is much more anxious today, and everyone is to blame for this – the government, the opposition, Russia, Ukraine, and the West. As a result, the current situation in the country resembles a “powder keg”, and the only question is who and when will light the fuse. This raises the risks of domestic political turbulence, which can also be provoked from outside, therefore the government and the presidency must weigh their every move as carefully as possible. Even one wrong and badly thought-out decision can now be fatal for the government.