Moldovan Opposition Shows Off in Russia

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Anton ŠVEC
Among other things, the St Petersburg International Economic Forum has become a venue for the promotion of Moldovan political projects competing with the regime of Maia Sandu, but above all fighting among themselves for Moscow’s resources
The International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, which lasted four days, attracted more than twenty thousand people from 95 countries and was marked by the active participation of the Russian elite. Russian President Vladimir Putin also made a number of statements at the event. Almost a thousand agreements and contracts worth 6 trillion Russian rubles were signed at SPIEF-2024. Apparently, the Moldovan delegations at the forum also found partners or patrons, because last week Ilan Sor announced the extension of extra payments to pensions, received on the cards of Gagauz residents through the Russian Promsvyazbank, to other regions of Taraclia, Orhei and Balti. The geographical expansion of the project with a fixed rate of 2000 lei monthly will require large-scale investments. After all, Ilan Sor can hardly handle that kind of expense on his own, especially without a backup plan in case his fellow party members fail in the presidential and parliamentary elections. All in all, the Moldovan politician and oligarch, who recently received asylum in Moscow and Russian citizenship, became a notable protagonist of the forum. In particular, given the fact that the Victory bloc and representatives of the diaspora subsequently held a congress of the Moldovan opposition in the Russian capital, where they made a number of statements. Thus, the course of the Moldovan authorities towards European integration was labelled a “utopia”, the goals of the fight against the PAS regime and the advantages of close cooperation with the EAEU were formulated. Ilan Sor spoke out against the reckless military gamble prepared by Maia Sandu, against the country’s militarization, as well as the formation of a police-ridden state. And the Bashkan of Gagauzia, Evghenia Gutul, called for preventing fraud in the October elections and the referendum, which the opposition considers necessary to disrupt through protest voting. Ilan Sor and his team, who started in the Orhei district many years ago, now play a significant role in Moldovan politics, with efficient control over several regions, including autonomous Gagauzia. At the same time, another politician attended SPIEF-2024, who once had a status and powers that extended to the whole country, but never seemed to seek full control. We are talking about Igor Dodon, who, despite his absolute recognizability in Moldovan politics and party representation in parliament and other central and local government bodies, is not a promising opposition figure who would really seek to overthrow the PAS dictatorship. Ilan Sor and his team exploited the St Petersburg venue for widespread PR of the Victory bloc with a view to the two key election campaigns planned for the next 10 months. This was facilitated both by the visible loyalty of the Russian organizers and the impressive planning in the form of the involvement of dance groups and even the Miss Moldova winners. The question now is whether the artists can be punished by the current authorities, who have forgotten about any democratic freedoms in society. Igor Dodon, in turn, received insignificant “airtime” and was content to be interviewed by Russian state media. However, the former president made a number of noteworthy statements that form a prominent peculiarity of his current political platform. Firstly, he actually announced his participation in the presidential race in October: “If there is a chance to defeat Maia Sandu, and we don’t find a single opposition candidate, and all parties go, then I don’t rule out that I may run for president this year”. Igor Dodon referred to the fact that he had already defeated Maia Sandu eight years ago: “...four years ago she prevailed, so the score is 1:1.” Certainly, the participation of the leader of the Socialist party, which has the highest anti-rating in Moldova, in the presidential campaign would be an extremely fortunate coincidence for Maia Sandu, who fully controls her potential rival through criminal cases and knows how to defeat him in terms of political technologies. Secondly, Dodon is certainly “playing hanky-panky”, voicing unifying calls to the opposition and as if not ruling out cooperation even with Ilan Sor and his projects to oust Maia Sandu/PAS. Although it is quite obvious that there will be no cooperation between these two competing forces, since for the PSRM leader it is strategically much more important to defeat his opponents on the left “pro-Russian flank” than PAS on a national scale. It must be said that the former president does not budge, trying to skillfully maneuver between the desire to show full loyalty to Moscow, to please the major electorate, which obviously wants the overthrow of Sandu and her regime, and at the same time to stay within the narrow limits that are surely outlined for him by the ruling party. This is expressed, among other things, in his usual contradictory statements. For example, in one interview he can speak about the absence of desire of the current regime to start an armed conflict with the Transnistrian region, and in another, on the contrary, accuse official Chisinau of almost preparing a war. Dodon did not miss an opportunity to hurt the Transnistrian authorities, stating that two years ago they had offered Maia Sandu to unite. This statement was followed by the expected response from Tiraspol. Well, the main socialist should not expect warm welcome on the left bank. In general, SPIEF can be conditionally called a bride show of Moldovan opposition leaders, who tried to gain the support and finances of the Kremlin, but with different goals. Igor Dodon needs to remain in Moldovan politics, controlled by the government and partly by the West, as a center of attraction for the votes of the left-wing to ensure the functionality of the Socialist Party and its confident entry into the next parliament. That is why, he is ready to make deals with Maia Sandu’s regime, partly adopting the rhetoric of PAS and criticizing his colleagues in the opposition. Ilan Shor also does not want to share leadership positions with anyone in the camp of the regime’s opponents and seeks to tie the financial flows from Moscow with himself. The choice of the Kremlin strategists, who, apparently, have not decided on the main stake in the autumn vote, is not quite clear. At one time they seemed to favor Shor’s project, today, however, given Dodon’s invitation to SPIEF, things do not seem so clear-cut anymore. Most likely, Moscow will (forcedly) coordinate the participation of both candidates, relying on at least some synergistic effect from their electoral struggle against the incumbent regime, if not common, at least simultaneous. But given some suspicions about Dodon’s true motives, which concern the entire opposition camp, this bet may prove unsuccessful. In any case, the traditionally dismantled Moldovan opposition before the elections plays into the hands of Maia Sandu’s regime, whose only serious problem is its own unprofessionalism, corruption and internal clan struggle.