PAS Problems in Light of the Ukrainian Counteroffensive Crisis

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Anton ŠVEC
The Moldovan authorities have bet too much on a Ukrainian victory in the war without a backup plan. Therefore, the tough situation on the front and the signs of a ceasefire now provoke additional political risks for the ruling regime.
The authoritative Western press is increasingly writing about the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and preparations for new hostilities in the spring of 2024. Russian minefields, a shortage of armored vehicles, insufficient training of military and a lack of air support are usually mentioned among the reasons that prevented the Ukrainian armed forces from making a strategic advance. Meanwhile, more and more experts talk about the need for at least a temporary truce. Similar messages come from a variety of sources. For example, hints by NATO speaker at the possibility of discussing Ukraine’s renunciation of some of its territories, or Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s statement about the start of negotiations by the end of September. Either way, the significant tactical and operational successes of the AFU in recent weeks are unlikely to turn into the cutting of a land corridor to Crimea by the end of 2023, and therefore will not bring the Ukrainian command closer to their goals at this stage. The emerging reality puts our authorities in a precarious situation, as official Chisinau has long perceived the ongoing processes only through the prism of Ukraine’s future victory and ignores the tasks of governance and socio-economic development of the country. Even the notorious topic of European integration, which is the electoral trump of PAS and Maia Sandu, is sagging. In the meantime, the current regime has completely ruined relations with major partners it perceives as sympathetic or dependent on Moscow. Moldova has withdrawn from more than 30 CIS agreements, deported 70 per cent of the Russian embassy staff, imposed anti-Russian sanctions and repeatedly embarrassed itself by denying entry to various public and political figures and even performers. For instance, relations with Serbia may suffer out of the blue because of the entry denial for famous composer Goran Bregovic. Relations with the left bank also witness destructive processes. The changes in the regime of foreign economic activity for their enterprises, which will now start making some payments to the Moldovan budget, are extremely painful for Tiraspol. Meanwhile, the prospects of energy supply in the next half of the year directly depend on the local elites’ pliability. There are no signs that the coming winter will be easy for the budget and the country’s energy system. In addition, we are actually deprived of opportunities to use the region’s transport logistics, which is becoming a serious problem as the “grain deal” comes to an end. But the settlement process has finally stalled, and Tiraspol constantly complains about the restrictions, and promises revenge as its current predicament changes. The situation in Gagauzia also remains extremely unstable. The arrogant attitude of the central authorities, coupled with the refusal to recognize the elections of the bashkan, the ignoring of the autonomy’s legislative powers and the directive reduction of tax revenues to the local budget provoke strong discontent. There are already talks of proclaiming a republic in retaliation to Chisinau, although Evghenia Gutul has not even formed the composition of the autonomy’s governing bodies. Gagauzia is becoming an obsessive problem to which the authorities do not pay due attention, believing that eventually they will be able to impose any demands on the local elites after Russia’s surrender in Ukraine. Confronting the regions, the authorities do not pay due attention to real problems, at least they are not in a hurry to solve them. The government does not protect the internal Moldovan market and does not seek access to external markets, does not struggle inflation and impoverishment of entire strata of society, does not plan significant infrastructure projects, cuts funding for schools, kindergartens and hospitals, does not provide sufficient support to farmers. The budget deficit is constantly growing, the population’s ability to pay is declining, and businesses are closing all over the country. The situation with European integration does not seem promising either. By the end of the year, the European Commission will prepare a report on Moldova’s progress in implementing the recommendations with an answer to the question whether Chisinau can expect membership in the European Union in the near future. Meantime, the MFAEI notified earlier that only 3 of the 9 recommendations formulated at the time of granting the candidate status had been fully implemented. There is some progress on another three, while the remaining ones have apparently fallen out of the public view or deem insignificant by the government. The range of failed directions describes the political activity of PAS as absolutely barren and clearly not aimed at managing really important processes in the country. Instead, there is an expectation that the Ukrainian victory will justify everything, and the only task now is to convincingly prove its loyalty to the West, to join the same train with Kyiv, as it was in the case of a candidacy, and to give everything to support it. On the one hand, such a policy allows doing nothing but make loud statements and various PR-actions. In addition, it gives an opportunity to exert pressure on Gagauzia and the left bank without fear of criticism from Brussels or Washington. On the other hand, this odd tactic does not fit in any way with the option of suspending the Ukrainian counteroffensive and even less with launching a peaceful settlement. Then the ruling regime will also have to negotiate with Tiraspol and Comrat. And they may simply not want to deal with the current authorities, expecting them to be replaced in the upcoming elections. Even if the AFU launches its second offensive in the spring of 2024, the risks for regime will increase manifold, because it will be the last chance before the presidential elections. If after a tough winter and with the impoverished people and instability in some regions the conflict in Ukraine does not turn in our favor again, Maia Sandu’s chances of staying on for a second term will become increasingly dubious.