The unexpected return of Igor Dodon to the leadership of the Socialist Party surprised a lot. The ex-president’s comeback is likely took place against the wishes of the Kremlin and in agreement with the President Office, ironically.
The recent nation-wide address by Maia Sandu announcing the “European Moldova” people’s gathering in the Great National Assembly Square was almost overshadowed by the no less loud news about the sudden return of the unforgettable Igor Dodon to big Moldovan politics. The ex-president was unexpectedly elected Socialist Party Executive Secretary instead of Vlad Batrincea, a submissive locum tenens since the fall of 2021. The ex-speaker and ex-prime minister Zinaida Greceanii became the new honorary PSRM Chair, while Vlad Batrincea headed the parliamentary faction of the Communist and Socialist Bloc.
The intraparty reshuffles were preceded by an obviously unsuccessful trip of a socialist team to Moscow. Tellingly, neither before nor after this visit Igor Dodon appeared in the information summary, and this alone stamps the story that castling in the PSRM leadership moved without the Kremlin’s consent. The socialists were eloquently welcomed in the United Russia office only by middle-level party insiders. Generally, the delegation ridiculously had not a single meeting with Moscow stakeholders.
Despite Russia’s objections, since Kremlin intentionally sidelined Igor Dodon out of politics, the ex-president is already actively getting used to the role of the PSRM leader in his typical way. He declared that his team is strong, consolidated, ready to withstand all challenges and even replace not only Maia Sandu’s party in power, but also her personally. In addition, Dodon condemned the defectors from the PSRM, although it is clear that political emigration does not take place without privity of his (former) Russian handlers.
Since Dodon has left the parliament and the party, many experts have predicted Moscow’s attempts to rebrand itself on the left flank in order to breathe new life into pro-Russian forces after a painful defeat in early parliamentary elections. However, these plans were not destined to come true: the Communist and Socialist Bloc turned out to be a bulky and clumsy structure, which not only failed to prove itself as a strong and energetic opposition, but also to present new bright leaders. In the end, it all came down to the resumption of Igor Dodon’s career against the backdrop of growing contradictions within the PSRM, as well as the escape of MPs and regional representatives. In theory, urgent measures should be taken under such conditions to prevent a further outflow of people, but as for now, everything indicates that the ex-president is more concerned about personal prospects and security.
The socialist position is further complicated by the fact that the Kremlin seems to be playing along with the split among socialists by supporting the launch of a new political project, Movement for the People, led by former PSRM members Alexandr Nesterovschi and Irina Lazovan. The Socialists, of course, would not be written off so quickly, but Moscow apparently pins special hope on the new movement. Its registration as a full-fledged party and Russian financial inflows could possibly further accelerate the centrifugal processes within the PSRM, resulting in a mass exodus of MPs, mayors and regional offices.
The nearest future will tell on how the change of Moscow favorites will affect the Socialist Party. Probably, during Dodson’s absence from the PSRM, this party had a temporary balance between internal groups that were waiting for clarification of its position on topical issues of the country’s development and on further electoral prospects. However, the ex-president decided to go against Moscow, which, in turn, can respond with a significantly limited political and financial support.
The vigorous opposition of Igor Dodon publicly demonstrated before giving up his parliamentary mandate and party leadership, hints that his withdrawal from the mainstream Moldovan politics was coordinated by Moscow and Chisinau. Meanwhile, the socialist leader did everything to stop the development of his party and to make it look unnaturally constrained, passive and shiftless, despite own designed pro-Russian adherence.
As a result, the PSRM simply lost its leading position to the SOR party, which seized the initiative and became, in fact, the main symbol of the struggle against the current regime. During last autumn street protests arranged by the exiled tycoon Ilan Sor, both the factional and party socialist local insiders greatly lost faith that the PSRM is still strong enough to give the ruling PAS a decisive battle or take election revenge.
Most likely, Igor Dodon understands that his political offspring will be assigned a secondary role, and the socialist party will face the same fate as the communists, who, being at their historical peak, became only donors for the parliamentary faction of democrats led by Vlad Plahotniuc. Therefore, it is likely that, following the traditions of Moldovan politics, Igor Dodon would decide to get the most of the PSRM coming death. In this sense, it is unlikely to find a better role than the opposition that is convenient for the authorities, especially if such a role could bring not only financial benefits, but also the freezing of criminal cases.
Igor Dodon is an ideal character, embodying all the worst features of the Voronin and Plahotniuc era, against which even the most mediocre pro-European government would look advantageous. Therefore, a comeback, contrary to the wishes of the Kremlin, may well be the result of an undercover agreement between Igor Dodon and the President Office benefiting from having such an “enemy” nearby.