The Upcoming Elections Build Up Suspense

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Sergiu CEBAN
There is no doubt that the outcome of the presidential elections in Moldova and Russia will be the most significant factor in relations between the two countries for the coming years
On the eve of another anniversary of the conflict on the Dniester, politicians and experts began to resort to old narratives and, most importantly, to the question of what will happen next between Moldova and Russia. 2024, one way or another, will be a time of changing cycles, primarily for electoral reasons. Therefore, experts are very concerned about what Russia’s policy will be in its immediate neighborhood, including our country, whether it still expects to play a historical role and whether it is going to increase its influence here. According to the new Foreign Minister Mihai Popsoi, Moldovan-Russian relations are now at their lowest level ever. And we cannot consider their normalization in the near future as long as Russia is under international sanctions. At the same time, Popsoi warns that Moldova remains a target of the Kremlin, especially in terms of the upcoming presidential election and the European integration referendum, and the authorities observe attempts to destabilize the situation and promote ideas that are detrimental to the national interests. Anyway, the outcome of the presidential elections in Moldova and Russia will be the most significant factor in relations between the two countries for the next few years, especially when talking about Russia. By the way, the Russian leader will be (re)elected already in mid-March, and the difficult issue of opening polling stations on Moldovan territory is still hanging in the air and is ready to foment discord between Chisinau and Moscow. As we remember, our leadership has agreed on the operation of only one polling station at the Russian Embassy, and it is still not clear how the Russians will behave and whether they will dare to aggravate the situation even further, for example, by opening polling stations in the Transnistrian region. If we compare the pre-election attitudes of the leaders of the two countries, we can conclude that compromises in Moldovan-Russian relations are almost excluded. The principles on the basis of which each of the capitals sees possible resumption of bilateral contacts are considerably different. And in circumstances when there is no the slightest reason for discourse, great tragedies usually occur. Last week, the American outlet The Wall Street Journal published an article by Maia Sandu, revealing the key backgrounds of her presidential campaign. The article is essentially based on an appeal to the American establishment to help Moldova and its current generation to break away from the Russian influence. The head of state persuades Washington not to trust the Russian president, who continues to show ambitions to the Ukrainian territories. Either to spice things up or based on some intelligence, Sandu suddenly decided to remind that Russia’s senior military command is again considering the breakthrough of a land corridor into Moldova. She concludes her essay with a low curtsy to her American partners stating that the essence of US greatness lies in its “ability to build alliances that perpetuate global stability.” In addition, Maia Sandu voiced her thoughts on relations with Russia, saying that she would not allow it to put its servants in public positions in Moldova. She is convinced that the Kremlin will continue to intimidate and destabilize the situation in Moldova in order to block the European path and for this reason “Moldova wants to finally break the historical link and distance itself from the aggressive Russia, under whose influence it has been for the last three decades”. Meanwhile, on 29 February, Vladimir Putin also delivered his message. In fact, this is certainly not just an annual address to the Federal Assembly but an announcement of his election programme and action plan for the next six years. Its main message is that on the tenth anniversary of the events in Crimea and Donbass, Moscow still intends to confront the West, although it is open to contacts with the United States on strategic stability. In other words, the Russian president is hinting at a willingness to return to discussions on the division of spheres of influence, including the post-Soviet space, which reached a deadlock in December 2021-January 2022. Thus, Putin confirms that he adheres to conservative ideology in both domestic and foreign policy. There has been no clarity on the issue of European security, which has taken Moldova hostage, except for the need to develop a security system in greater Eurasia. Although the Russian leader has announced the launch of a host of national projects that are more electoral than realistic, the Kremlin’s foreign policy strategy in the European part of the post-Soviet space is of particular interest. Judging by the bellicose speech, the Kremlin is determined to continue its rivalry with the West, primarily for influence in the former Soviet republics. Obviously, the Russian president’s speech contained large blocks and it was rather naive on the part of the press and inexperienced analysts to expect that there would be a mention of Moldova and the Transnistrian region. Meanwhile, the notorious congress in Tiraspol a day before Putin’s address, as well as the instant (pre-planned) response at the level of the State Duma became a kind of a menacing semi-hint to our authorities as to where the processes may turn if Chisinau continues to ignore the Russian Federation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that only the 5+2 resumption makes talks about Moldova’s reintegration feasible. At the same time, in his opinion, the current Moldovan leadership wants to annex the country to Romania. It is clear for what purpose Lavrov links these two theses. The main point is different: for the first time in recent decades, Moscow is openly signaling that any settlement attempt outside the 5+2 format or without Russia’s participation is fraught with risks to Moldova’s territorial integrity. At almost the same time as Tiraspol appealed to Moscow for help, the head of the Gagauz autonomy appealed to the Russian Federation during her visit to the Russian capital for a meeting with the chairman of the Federation Council. We should not expect any sharp decisions from the Kremlin in the near future – most likely, the strategy of actions will be stretched in time and will take the form of “signal flares”. It is obvious that no one in Moscow is going to make “election gifts” to Maia Sandu                                                                                                                            by taking specific decisions. Nevertheless, the Kremlin continues its big game aimed at not only internal division but also external perception of our country. Given the presidential elections and referendum, Moscow is trying to demonstrate to a diverse Western audience Moldova’s political disunity, instability, increased vulnerability, which will inevitably require geopolitical compromise to keep it in a relatively balanced state.