Are Clouds Hovering over Ion Cheban Again?

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Christian RUSSU
The approaching local elections and the weakness of the official PAS candidate for the Chisinau mayor’s post force the main influential group in the ruling party to renew its attacks on Ion Ceban
Given the constant claims by our authorities about Russia’s hybrid war against Moldova, our society has long been waiting for particular facts and names to be announced. In such circumstances, the briefing of the head of the Security and Intelligence Service on 10 July on the disclosure of the Russian agent network could have become a sensation and could have set the tone of our media for a week ahead. However, it caused just disappointment and taunts. After all, Alexandru Musteata told only about the fact that the criminal case on high treason and espionage, opened on the basis of the events that took place several years ago, was finally transferred to the court. Two Russian citizens and one Moldovan citizen are under investigation. That’s it. Even the right-wing representatives expressed their confusion over the “copy-paste of media reports published two years ago”. On TV and social networks, former experts, now politicians, actively criticized the SIS, boasting that they have much more information about how far the Kremlin’s “arms” have reached into Moldova. The Russian Embassy in Chisinau also refuted the SIS director’s statements. Although the names of the spies were not mentioned at the briefing, on the same day many interesting details leaked to the press, including identity. Thereafter, it became clear that the main purpose of all this strange, at first glance, action was not to show achievements in the field of struggle against Russian attacks, but simply to put pressure on political rivals. The SIS-supervised Internet publications simultaneously released information that Iurie Gudilin and Vadim Yurchenko were members of the “agent network” in the country. It was specified that Yurchenko was deputy of ex-president Igor Dodon in the Moldovan-Russian Business Union, while Gudilin helped PSRM in the elections as a counsellor. Further there was a reference to last year’s statement of the US Treasury Department on sanctions against those involved in corrupt operations that caused serious damage to Moldova and its citizens. Among other things, it included the following: “The Kremlin tries to return a pro-Russian government to power. Realizing that Moldova’s former pro-Russian political elite was losing popular support, Gudilin’s team offered support to an opposition political group, the National Alternative Movement (NAM). These efforts to exert influence are closely connected with Moscow’s use of energy resources as a political tool against the Moldovan government.” That prompts the idea that with the start of the electoral campaign in the Chisinau mayoral elections, the ruling party will renew its pressure on Ion Ceban. Recall that on the eve of important political events in the country on 21 May and 1 June, the current mayor had already been subjected to “demotivating measures” due to his political activities. As we expected, one of the best solutions for the authorities at that time was to temporarily insulate the MAN head. By the way, representatives of one of the main foreign partners helped with this issue by organizing a comfortable and eventful “exile” to the USA for Ion Ceban. I do not think that the Americans would spend their time and resources on such services by showing care and attention to Ion Ceban, if they didn’t see any prospects in him and his party. Curiously enough, after his visit abroad, the leader of the National Alternative Movement did not lose his ambitions and did not stop his political struggle, but noticeably adjusted his rhetoric, no longer hurting the country’s government. The summit of the political community also remained unnoticed by the mayor, although he had enough reasons to criticize it. Therefore, it is quite interesting that during the new series of political attacks on Ion Ceban by PAS, the issues that two months ago caused a loud political scandal are not mentioned at all. No one recalls the irregularities in the preparation of the property declaration, nor the fraud and theft of humanitarian aid for refugees and the fate of Boris Gilca. As a result, the pressure and threats come from another government structure, not from the NAC, but from the SIS. We could also notice that the same PAS deputies from the so-called “group of law enforcers” comment on the issue of the uncovered spy network. If we remember which political camp supervise the intelligence services and promotes the policy of expanding its powers, the puzzle will be clear. The current intimidation campaign against the former socialist is not a coordinated decision of the whole PAS, but an initiative of one of the influence groups, which is responsible for the Chisinau front in the upcoming local elections and has already realized the risks of its failure. It was clear from the beginning that Lilian Carp is not a worthy opponent for Ion Ceban. Moreover, there are justified complaints and rejection of him by other groups in PAS, and especially in its Chisinau branch. The dubious past of the MP, who supported Vlad Plahotniuc’s nomination as prime minister in 2015, plays crucial role. Nevertheless, in the absence of good solutions, Carp was eventually selected as a candidate (only on 15 June). Obviously, there was an expectation that he would advance to the second round. However, after a month of active, albeit illegal, campaign, open and closed opinion polls showed discouraging forecasts. According to them, Lilian Carp will not get into the second round, and this encourages his colleagues in the party to wise up. It is planned that after the spy case is submitted to the court, Ion Ceban will receive subpoenas. You should agree that visits to the judicial and investigative institutions does not fit well with the promotion of positive image and active election campaign of any politician. Recall that last autumn, the burden of such visits forced Igor Dodon even to step aside from the PSRM. This example could inspire PAS members responsible for the elections in the capital to concoct a political case, referring to authoritative assessments across the ocean, expressed last October at the request of the republic’s authorities. The problem is that since then those experts have been able to establish communication and take under the wing the NAM leader, who is inconvenient for the authorities but promising for them. Therefore, the scenario of authorities’ decisive actions on political elimination of Ion Cheban before the upcoming local elections seems unpromising. Most likely, we will see the continuation of the former socialist’s career in chosen field, probably if he confirms his loyalty to the course of unconditional cooperation with Western partners.