Gordian Knots in Moldovan-Russian Relations and Local Elections

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Sergiu CEBAN
The problems in our relations with Moscow now seem to be so huge that even the most ingenious diplomats and Moldovan politicians most loyal to the Kremlin will not be able to change anything
Amidst the statements of the so-called “head of the Kherson oblast” about the strike on the bridge connecting Moldova and Romania in Giurgiulesti, the relations of our republic with Russia, already almost frozen, have again become tense. Apart from the strategic importance of this object for the two countries, it also has a serious logistical significance for Ukraine, which uses this southern corridor to transfer agricultural products and military equipment. This situation has clearly shown for the first time that the Russian military maps also contain quite specific targets in Moldova. Such dangerous statements forced the MFAEI once again to summon the Russian ambassador for explanation. These threats have also caused concern in Romania – after all, the bridge connects the two states and was repaired last year with funds from the Romanian government. No wonder that the neighboring country’s diplomats considered such attacks “absolutely unacceptable”. Last Monday, just a few days later, the Russian foreign ministry reciprocated by summoning our ambassador, Lilian Darii, to clarify bilateral relations. The lack of details about the results of this meeting indicates both that the two capitals are trying to diplomatically resolve the situation, or that each remained unconvinced and Moldovan-Russian relations will continue to deteriorate. In this situation, we can recall Moscow’s recent attempts to tarnish the reputation of the current Moldovan ambassador. Chisinau is not eager to align relations either. That is why some deputies, without waiting for any expert analysis of the situation, again raised the issue of equalizing the diplomatic personnel of the two countries and demanded that the foreign ministry consult with Moscow accordingly. Although such a decision could become a point of no return in relations with the Russian Federation, it is irreversible. All it takes is the right occasion. In fact, the Russian embassy remains the only place to coordinate Russian plans in Moldova. Therefore, the extraction of the majority of the Russian staff from the Moldovan capital will seriously weaken Russian influence. As in 1918, the recent armed mutiny in Russia almost triggered Chisinau to take the decisive action, which, along with Kyiv, expected a weakening of central government in Moscow. In our expert community and in the government bodies, there were calls for a severance with Moscow and for control over the Transnistrian region with the help of the Ukrainian army. This is another indicator of the current authorities’ attitude, who are waiting for the moment to solve their strategic tasks and finally close the “Russian issue”. The energy sector remains perhaps one of the most difficult issues keeping Moldova in Russian area of influence. Although energy minister Victor Parlicov sees no point in buying gas from Gazprom, state-owned Energocom and Moldovagaz have signed a contract to supply about 480 million cubic meters. Until the end of this year, this decision seems quite justified. We cannot exclude that the government has devised another muddy scheme to “de-russianize gas” to save its “pro-European face”. The population, learned by bitter experience, has a fine sense of this strange political game played by the authorities. A recent opinion poll shows that more than half of citizens, despite the circumstances, still expect the president to visit Moscow to negotiate a lower gas price. As of the end of June 2023, Moldova is in the lead among other post-Soviet states in terms of strained relations with Russia. Ukraine is the only exception. It seems that the problems in our ties with Moscow have become so tightly knotted that even the most skilled diplomats and Moldovan politicians most loyal to the Kremlin will hardly be able to change anything. Today, Russia ignores the most elementary principles of diplomatic protocol, being unceremonious in choosing words and assessments with regard to Moldova. This suggests that with the current pro-European government in Chisinau, Moscow sees no prospect at all of improving the situation and places its main bet on the upcoming election cycles. There is no doubt that the acute crisis in Moldovan-Russian relations will be one of the leitmotifs of the ruling party and other pro-European forces during the local elections this fall. PAS will actively fill its electoral messages with geopolitical content and position the long-awaited rupture with Russia as a major foreign policy achievement. In doing so, the authorities will appeal to the population for a mandate to pursue a pro-European course and to keep as far away from Russia as possible. On the other side of Moldovan politics, Moscow has started consolidating its forces. The leader of the recently banned Shor party declared his intention to create a shadow government, as well as the political bloc with the same name (the three letters standing for Chance. Commitment. Fulfillment). The main aim of the formation is to win local, presidential, and parliamentary elections. As expected, it will include about 10 parties, the first of which could be “Ai nostrii – NASHI” and “The Power of Alternative and Salvation of Moldova”. The reasoning is quite clear, since a significant part of the population negatively perceives the worsening relations with Russia, traditionally people have always favored healthy cooperation. Therefore, the current crisis can be used by Moscow in its own interests. Most likely, political technologists will draw voters’ attention to the excessively assertive and perilous policy of Chisinau aimed at breaking “traditional Moldovan-Russian relations”. After all, this threatens to turn into an almost disaster for Moldova. The Kremlin finds it very important to demonstrate that strong pro-Russian sentiments persist in Moldova. And while citizens do not risk expressing them publicly, they are quite willing to do that “anonymously” through the ballot paper. The main result of the electoral plan should be to make the European Commission more hesitant about the “appropriateness” of starting official talks about our country’s accession to the EU. Thus, Moscow’s success in the local elections may not only compromise the accession process to the European Union, but also erode the power structure and anchor Moldova in the sphere of Russia’s geopolitical influence.