Moscow Concentrates Its Striking Force in Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
In the last days Moldova has witnessed the mobilisation of pro-Russian opposition forces which seem to be striving to oppose the authorities amid the potential ban of the Shor party and the possible annulment of the elections in Gagauzia
The country is making further preparations for a series of events designed to consolidate its pro-European course and to show how strong the progressive visions of the future of Moldova are in the society. The next few weeks will be the most eventful for the country, which will receive the highest possible attention both from the international press and from key Western capitals. Moscow is looking at all the preparations with undisguised irritation, concurrently mobilizing loyal forces in Moldova. The last few days were marked by the consolidation of opposition, left-wing and other pro-Russian forces with one main goal – to show the scale of the socio-political movement which, so to say, is ready to confront the pro-European camp and its supporters among the country’s population. The first to show itself was the Shor Party, which after a pause held a new protest march through the capital’s streets and boulevards on 7 May. In terms of its content it did not differ much from previous similar actions, except for a few interesting points in the resolution of the rally this time. For instance, it mentions the party’s plans to come to Chisinau to take part in the 21 May national assembly announced by Maia Sandu. In addition, the supporters of the Shor party condemn the authorities’ intention to organize a European summit on 1 June and plan to block the traffic on several republican highways as a way to express their civic position to the European leaders. On 9 May, despite the attempts of the authorities to somehow dampen the lavish events and give them a mournful tone, the involvement of citizens and the scale of festivities clearly showed how strong the traditions of Soviet victorious celebration in Moldovan society still are. At the same time, this date is still politically charged, especially for the new generation of politicians in the post-Soviet states. For this reason, new official statements were made yesterday that ran counter to the established celebratory traditions. At the same time, we did not dare to follow in the footsteps of Volodymyr Zelensky, who recently, in fact, cancelled Victory Day in Ukraine which Kyiv seems to regard as one of the binding lines with Moscow. Nevertheless, this year the Kremlin pointedly never congratulated the Moldovan authorities, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, merely sending a message to the peoples of these countries. One of the little-noticed but noteworthy episodes was the arrival of a large group (a column of several dozen cars) of veterans of various security agencies and civil activists to the Transdniestrian region to celebrate May 9 together with similar socio-patriotic structures on the left bank. The seemingly harmless commemorative action suggests that at the right time a similar motorcade from Transdniestria may also arrive on the right bank to support certain “events” of predominantly protest nature. By doing so, Moscow is likely to display the mobilization capacities on both banks of the Dniester. In addition, a few days earlier, Moscow and Tiraspol staged a planned news campaign, in which almost all Russian federal media outlets widely disseminated a statement by a left-bank representative regarding a request by regional authorities to increase the number of Russian peacekeeping contingent in Transdniestria. The Kremlin official representative has so far refrained from responding to such a request, although it is clear that the target audience of such a media stunt is in Chisinau, Kyiv and the Western capitals, whose reactions were likely to be of interest to Moscow. Backed by foreign partners, the authorities issued several ready-made statements to offset the pro-Russian information flow and to ruin the protest-festive vibe. The government, for example, announced that yesterday Moldova became the first country outside the EU to join the European Connectivity Facility (CEF), an important tool for infrastructure projects in the European Union. Also, an agreement was signed with Romania to build three road bridges across the Prut River, which should facilitate traffic between the two countries and increase Moldova’s links with Eastern European states. The European Parliament was also helpful by approving just yesterday the European Commission’s proposal to allocate an additional 145 million euros in macro-financial aid to Moldova, of which 100 million euros will be given as loans and 45 million euros as grants. The sum will be disbursed in two tranches in the third and fourth quarters of 2023, on condition that certain political commitments are fulfilled. These include justice reform, rule of law and anti-corruption, as well as progress on the International Monetary Fund’s macroeconomic programme. Among other things, five Moldovan parties decided to sign a joint declaration on 9 May marking Europe Day. These include the Coalition for Unity and Welfare, the Liberal and Green Environmental Parties, as well as Democracy at Home and People’s Power. The document fixes the irreversibility of the country’s pro-European course and lists the principles to be followed by the political formations: breaking the state’s ties with the monopolies supported by Russia in the economy and energy sector, immediate withdrawal from the CIS, adoption of the Copenhagen criteria for democratic government as well as resolution of the conflict with the left bank through “bold actions” to demilitarize, decriminalize and democratize Transdniestria. Aware that Moscow still has many strong forces in Moldova, our authorities are likely to do everything in their power to spoil the expected “triumph” of the Kremlin in the elections of the Governor of Gagauzia. After the first round of elections, Chisinau looks like a weak centre, unable to do anything to influence the processes in a separate large region of the country, which, frankly, is dominated by the Russian Federation. Police also took part in yesterday’s media tug-of-war and notified the Central Electoral Commission of Gagauzia about irregularities in the electoral process by one of the political parties during the election campaign. There is a strong feeling that Russia and the West are actively concentrating their resources in the Moldovan track so that they can use them not only in the upcoming electoral cycles. Our authorities should brace up for various non-standard scenarios, up to a direct clash between the supporters of pro-European and loyal-neutral Moldova. The triggers for such events could well be the banning of the Shor party and annulment of the election results in Gagauzia.