“Uncomfortable Partner”. Why Moldovan Authorities to Bet on Erdogan’s Loss

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Cristian RUSSU
The hasty reassessment of the foreign policy by the PAS turned into a crisis in relations not only with Russia, but also with Turkey. After a year of unsuccessful attempts to return trade and economic cooperation to the previous level, the Moldovan authorities are clearly counting on Erdogan’s stepping down.
Our relations with Turkey over the past decade have been rather difficult. Despite understanding its importance as a trade and economic partner, Recep Erdogan’s authoritarian ways made too close political cooperation with his regime toxic for Moldova’s pro-European forces. The strategic partnership with Ankara, emerged under the presidency of Igor Dodon, was paused for a long time last February and March. It is not surprising, since the PAS representatives called Turkey’s economic assistance in exchange for the expulsion of Turkish teachers back in 2018 a shame and betrayal, and Igor Grosu branded Igor Dodon a “vassal of the authoritarian Erdogan.” The new authorities in Chisinau, at the request of European partners, had to eventually sacrifice not only economic relations with Moscow, but also feel the negative consequences of a cold snap with Moldova’s former friend Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In general, the PAS began to court troubles with Turkey even before the start of the war in Ukraine. Referring to obligations to the Council of Europe, in the fall of 2021, Chisinau restarted the investigation into the case of the expulsion of teachers. Attempts by Turkish diplomacy to close this issue and continue the strategic partnership were unsuccessful. During a visit to Moldova in November 2021, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced to our leadership the conditions to resume Turkish economic aid. Maia Sandu was conveyed to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s willingness to hold the second meeting of the Turkey-Moldova High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council in 2022. It was planned to expand the list of goods falling under the free trade agreement and bring the level of trade to USD 1 billion. However, we did not want to accept such an offer, and after February 2022, communication with the “friend of Putin” against the backdrop of a sudden increase in the attention of European partners became completely uninteresting for the PAS. This was clearly a strategic miscalculation, however, quite typical for the current government, which does not have a broad foreign policy outlook. Because of inept geopolitical maneuvers, by the end of 2022, economic problems with one of the key trading partners worsened so much that they had to go to Ankara to pay their respects: in December, Nicu Popescu paid a return visit to Mevlut Cavusoglu. Judging by the resulting press releases, our diplomat asked for assistance in order to reduce the damage caused by the war in Ukraine. Moreover, Nicu Popescu conveyed an invitation from Maia Sandu to the President of Turkey to visit Moldova in order to take part in the second meeting of the Council for Strategic Cooperation between the countries, which did not take place during the last year. At the beginning of this year, other Moldovan officials made court to Erdogan in Turkey. In January, Vladimir Boleaa tried to tackle the sale of domestic agricultural products, emerged largely because of dumped food from Ukraine. One of the few sane PAS politicians had to admit that the official plans to achieve a trade turnover with Turkey of USD 1 billion in 2022 have never meant to be true. Following him, MPs from the ruling party and personally the speaker of parliament, Igor Grosu, who had previously made several unflattering remarks about Recep Tayyip Erdogan, went to the Turkish capital. MPs from the PAS did not want to share details about the conversation between the two politicians. In response to persistent requests from journalists, Radu Marian said that he could not tell everything that happened at the meeting with the Turkish president, noting only that the issue of expelling Turkish teachers was out of place there due to the limited agenda, which allegedly came down to energy and trade. Meanwhile, Igor Grosu acknowledged on social networks the political nature of the trip of our parliamentarians. Recep Erdogan was even invited to the summit of the European Political Community, which we will host in early June. I think, talking with the Turkish leader, Igor Grosu did not doubt his confident victory. Also, apparently, the Turkish partners were promised not to interfere much in the elections of the Bashkan of Gagauzia and even support a candidate Dumitru Croitor, i.e. our ambassador to this country. The “success” of the trips by the PAS representatives to Turkey can be judged by the official silence with regard to the results of the elections in this country. Our politicians did not have words of support for Recep Erdogan due to his leadership in the presidential elections and the majority in the parliamentary elections. And the point here is not only the Western consolidated position, which sympathizes with Erdogan’s opponent, to be limply supported by Chisinau, or the unfulfilled sociological forecasts predicted the victory of Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the first round. Our authorities have apparently violated the promise made in Turkey to actively support the candidate Dumitru Croitor in the Gagauz elections. While he was left alone, Chisinau was engaged in actively helping the PR of the Sor Party, providing a media picture for their candidate. Dumitru Croitor even had to publicly criticize Prime Minister Dorin Recean, apparently in an attempt to draw attention to recent promises. Under the current conditions, the best gift for the PAS would be the loss of Recep Erdogan, who, largely due to Moldova’s short-sighted policy, has ceased to be a “good friend of Moldova”, and relations with Turkey have finally reached an impasse. In anticipation of the second round of elections, there is no doubt that the authorities will be defiantly blind and deaf to the news from Ankara and will forget about all the promises made to the Turkish leader (including invitation to visit Moldova on June 1-2), in the hope not to be bound in fulfilling them by this the date.