Moldova Is in Thrall to External Factors

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Sergiu CEBAN
Desperate attempts of our political elites to stay in power and anchor the European course in the constitution are, alas, simply futile, since they have almost no influence on where Moldova will end up as a result of regional and global cataclysms
The opening of negotiations with the European Union was definitely an important achievement of the past year: it will be the driving force in the country’s domestic and foreign policy for at least the next year. Of course, European integration won’t compensate for the decline in living standards and incomes of the population, as well as won’t reduce consumer prices and gas tariffs. But a certain anesthetic effect is still possible, which is what the authorities, who are carefully preparing for the next election struggles, are relying on. The new stage in the dialogue with Brussels is, of course, mostly of a technical nature, and it is not quite appropriate to use it for electoral purposes. That is why government decided to flavor the presidential race with a national constitutional referendum on EU accession. This move is made purely as part of political technologies. By mobilizing a loyal electorate at home and abroad, Maia Sandu’s team expects to draw the necessary result and ensure her victory in the first round. If the elections enter the second round, then, due to the absence of the referendum, the turnout may be much lower which can worsen the re-election chances for the incumbent president. While there is no tangible sign that the regional situation, especially in Ukraine, is easing, the authorities nevertheless decided to start the year by lifting the state of emergency that had been in place since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The state of emergency was extended eleven times, the last one on 24 November. However, we cannot rule out that everything will go back to how it was and the state of emergency regime will be resumed if threats to the territorial integrity and national interests of the country arise again. No matter what the government signals to the population, demonstrating the control over the situation, it is obvious that due to the geographical and geopolitical location, as well as limited capacity and resources, the course of events in our country will be determined mainly by external factors. First of all, much depends on how the regional context will turn out and what exactly will be the internal political configuration of our neighbors and key global players who have influence on the historical destiny of Moldova. The situation in Ukraine and the further course of hostilities will obviously continue to significantly affect our country. The rising tension over the past week has once again shown how high the conflict potential of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation remains, which, in addition to air raids, may well manifest itself in the resumption of regular land operations by Russian units in February, i.e. closer to the second war anniversary. Apart from the purely military aspect, Kyiv is on the verge of a deep financial and economic crisis, which may lead to another wave of population migration and an increase in the number of refugees to Moldova. In addition, the decline in the level and quality of life in Ukraine will have a negative impact on the criminogenic situation in neighboring states, increase in cross-border crime, smuggling, illegal traffic, including weapons and narcotic drugs. Our western neighbor, Romania, will have a super-electoral year this year. The country will hold elections to the European Parliament, then to local authorities and the national parliament, ending with presidential elections. A significant factor is the rise in the ratings of radical populists, who have every chance to break into power. Even the most optimistic forecasts say they will get a solid result in the elections to the European Parliament, and Bucharest will be represented in the pan-European legislature by convinced anti-European sovereigntists. If the new generation of Romanian politicians eventually takes the reins of power in their own hands, relations between Romania and Moldova will see different times. It is worth recalling that one of the leaders of the radical-populist opposition in Romania is the scandalous MP George Simion, who has been repeatedly banned from entering our country. Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Simion has opposed the use of Romanian ports and transport infrastructure in Kyiv’s interests, and last February, during an extraordinary congress of the Alliance for the Union of Romanians, he spoke in favor of stopping further aid to Moldova and Ukraine. This year’s political season is going to be challenging not only for our immediate neighbors, but also for larger international players such as the European Union. Today, citizens of the member states are clearly signaling through internal electoral processes that they are disillusioned with the policies of the EU central bodies. Now they more tend to support new extra-systemic movements and party structures that favor realism in politics, social justice and more balanced decision-making. As a result, the European Union is going to face an extremely difficult political period, with the exacerbation of all the accumulated internal contradictions. Hence, given the apparent delegitimization of the course pursued by Brussels, certain adjustments will be necessary to please the European electorate. For this reason, it is quite probable that the current loyal and softened policy towards Ukraine and Moldova will be replaced by a more balanced and pragmatic one on the part of the European Commission, which will affect the timing of our possible accession to the EU. In a global sense, the key event of 2024 will be the US presidential election, the outcome of which will literally predetermine international processes for the next few years. The victory of one or another candidate will determine what Washington will focus on – its internal affairs and problems or on further promoting democracy, building order all over the world at its subjective discretion and within the framework of its national interests. Many experts, of course, link the US elections with the clarification of the model of the Ukrainian crisis resolution, on which the nature of geopolitical arrangements in our region and the configuration of European security depends. Therefore, we can safely say that the fate of Moldova has never been so dependent on the election of the White House’s leader. Although no one expects sensations at the presidential elections in Russia scheduled for early spring, at the same time, the socio-political legitimization of the Kremlin’s current foreign policy course, based on ultra-patriotic sentiments in society, hardly bodes us calm. Therefore, after Putin’s re-election under new aggressive doctrinal guidelines we can await further attempts to destabilize Moldova, tougher position on the Transnistrian settlement, as well as possible surprises in the field of energy. It is safe to say that the 2024 election year will be in a sense the stability test for democracies around the world amidst the growing popularity of sovereigntist and authoritarian forms of government. Thus, the possible change of governments, programs, approaches and positions may not only rebalance forces in various regions but also change the global geopolitical structure. Desperate efforts of our political elites to stay in power and anchor the European course in the constitution are, alas, simply futile, because they have almost no influence on where Moldova will end up as a result of regional and global cataclysms.