Chisinau-Comrat: A New Round of Conflict

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Sergiu Ceban
The authorities are not going to put up with the presence of a SOR party bashkan in Gagauzia and are ready to use all available pressure methods on the region, from financial and economic to brutal and violent ones
Today, the newly elected Bashkan of Gagauzia, Evghenia Gutul, officially assumed her office, taking the oath at a solemn meeting of the People’s Assembly of the autonomy. On this occasion, mass public celebrations with a concert and fireworks are planned on the square in Comrat. At first glance, such a formal event marks not only the transfer of power, but also the end of the electoral crisis, following which the central and regional authorities should try to find a common language for further coexistence. However, the events that have been taking place in recent weeks indicate that the “battle for Gagauzia” is far from being over, and the opposing sides prepare for a new struggle. First of all, we should note that neither President Maia Sandu, nor Prime Minister Dorin Recean, nor Parliament Speaker Igor Grosu and PAS deputies decided not to participate in the inauguration celebrations, apparently as a hint at their unwillingness to recognize the results of the elections in the autonomy, at least politically. At the same time, Evghenia Gutul is an “unwelcome person” for the ruling party, which seems to do everything possible to keep her out of the capital and isolated within Gagauzia. The main indicator of the growing conflict between Chisinau and Comrat can be considered yesterday’s decision of the parliamentary majority to amend the Tax Code. As a result, VAT reimbursement to economic agents in the autonomy will be made exclusively from the local funds of Gagauzia, although previously the funds were paid from the state treasury. According to preliminary estimates, the additional financial burden on the regional budget will increase by half a billion lei. The amount is exorbitant, and without external subsidies the local authorities will hardly be able to find it. But another thing is also important: when making such a decision, did Chisinau take into account the possibility that Moscow could cover the shortage? In addition, the current head of the Office of the Prosecutor General, Ion Munteanu, recently claimed that the law enforcers continue to check the lists of persons who participated in the bashkan electioт. At the same time, they investigate the legitimacy of financing the election campaign of Evghenia Gutul. According to Munteanu, the Office of the Prosecutor has strong suspicions that the people on the voter lists were not in Moldova on election day. If this falsification is confirmed, then, according to the Prosecutor General, the elections should be repeated. Obviously, such public signals did not appear by chance on the eve of the inauguration, apparently in order to force Gutul to give up her position and withdraw from the dirty political game. The fact that the authorities want to overturn the story of the Gagauzian elections is also indicated by the public complaints of the elected bashkan about pressure from the heads of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office Veronica Dragalin and Vasile Plevan. Judging by Gutsul’s complaints, as part of the formal procedure related to the criminal case against the SOR party, she received offer to close the criminal case in exchange for giving up her position. The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, of course, denies everything, but oddly, referring to the false interpretation of the prosecutors’ legal actions. Chisinau’s rush is understandable. The reason is electoral motives, namely, Moscow’s desire, together with Shor, to develop electoral success in the autonomy and to take control not only of the bashkan’s position, but also of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, in order to completely subordinate the region to the Kremlin’s interests. Orhei district is one thing, and another is to get, generally speaking, a second Transnistria with special powers and financial subsidies from Russia. Such a scenario looks far from fantastic and, judging by the actions of the central authorities, they already work to prevent it. The change of Gagauzian elites, one way or another, will happen this year. However, the central authorities, in addition to the desire to prevent the expansion of Russian influence in Moldova, try to prevent local businessmen from escaping from the autonomy to the national level, bribing them, among other things, according to Irina Vlah, with attractive offers to lead the Moldovan Embassy in Turkey. Apparently, the “Gagauz gin” were not puе back in the bottle, and Vlah will launch her political project at the national level this autumn. The ex-bashkan does not want to share the details of her plans, so it is difficult to understand the direction of her political activity and the ideological profile of Vlah’s new party. She also rejects the intention to join the team of the Development and Consolidation of Moldova party led by Ion Chicu, but is sure that all opposition forces should stand together against the current PAS government. Having failed to ensure the power transfer in the autonomy into the hands of a more or less loyal bashkan and neutral Gagauz politicians, Chisinau risks getting the Gagauzian problem not only in the region, but also at the national level. Of course, the government wants to eliminate first of all one of the important regional electoral-political bridgeheads of the outlawed “SOR” party. For this purpose, likely, all forces and the available pressure methods on the region will be used, from financial-economic and political-legal, to brutal and violent. As we mentioned earlier, amidst the bashkan election results, relations between Chisinau and Comrat will rapidly deteriorate, especially if the autonomy’s leadership decides to deliberately raise the stakes and continue to challenge the central authorities. So far, the bashkan and the forces behind her are not ready to compromise with the capital, so the political centers of the country will put pressure on Gagauzia in every possible way. In particular, weakening its already fragile financial and economic sector, thus forcing the head of the region to back off and give up her (others’) political ambitions. Nevertheless, the main thing for Chisinau is not to get caught up in this dangerous game of political suppression of regional elites, in which it is easy to lose control. Distinct political rejection and reluctance, disconnection from funding channels and discrimination of local elites – all this already happened in Moldova in the late 80s and early 90’s of the last century. It seems that the current generation of politicians does not want to learn from their predecessors, who left us a legacy of numerous problems, and we seem to be still solving them on the one hand, while making the same mistakes – on the other.