Our man in Moldova

In courting the country’s most loathed oligarch, the EU and US will only lose the sympathy of ordinary Moldovans. This piece is co-authored with Mihai Popșoi and was originally posted on Open Democracy.

In the midst of the UK referendum to leave the EU, Moldova’s most hated oligarch, Vlad Plahotniuc, put pen to paper. In a recent, stirringly pro-European piece for Politico, Plahotniuc stressed that: “Moldova belongs in the European Union, now more than ever”.

Plahotniuc and his allies have recently become more visible in the west, with several visits to the US and an op-ed by Moldova’s prime minister Pavel Filip in The Hill.

Instability in Moldova is typically explained away by geopolitics, with the country positioned on a rift between the west and Russia. It’s a fear many of the country’s nominally “pro-Western” politicians have readily exploited.

Whatever the the fear of “losing Moldova” to Russia, it cannot justify supporting Plahotniuc, an opportunistic oligarch who is pursuing a policy of unchecked state capture. This policy of appeasement may be a short term victory for the EU and US, but in the longer term will only further erode the already-waning pro-western, and pro-European, sentiment in Moldova.

In July, a sizeable $600,000 contract was signed between Moldova’s Democratic Party, of which Plahotniuc is vice president, and Podesta, a US lobbying firm. Time will tell if it’s paid off.

Whether ordinary Moldovans can afford it is another matter. Financially, Moldova is yet to recover from one of the largest banking heists in history. This event saw $1 billion dollars (15% of the country’s GDP) disappear from the country’s three banks in late 2014.

Whatever the the fear of “losing Moldova” to Russia, it cannot justify supporting the opportunitistic oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc

The heist wasn’t so much the cause of today’s political impasse. Rather, it was a symptom of a much longer crisis, of a system which made such theft possible in the first place.

This banking crisis led to the collapse of two pro-European coalition governments. In February 2016, Vlad Plahotniuc formed a ruling coalition led by Moldova’s prime minister Pavel Filip. This government is highly disliked by a majority of the public, who loath the influence of Plahotniuc — Moldova’s wealthiest and most hated oligarch.

Moldova’s Grey Cardinal

Perhaps readers of Politico should get to know the article’s author a bit better.

Vlad Plahotniuc is widely considered to be Moldova’s wealthiest person. However, the full extent of Plahotniuc’s assets and wealth remains unknown. He owes his financial standing to a privileged position in the inner circle of former Communist President, Vladimir Voronin. However Plahotniuc remained in the shadows of Moldovan politics while building an economic empire through commercial raiding. Moldovan media did not even have a photo of Moldova’s richest man until 2010.

All rights reserved.Once the Communist Party lost power in 2009 and a pro-European coalition emerged from Moldova’s so-called “Twitter Revolution”, Plahotniuc began to appear in Moldovan politics. He was quick to change his allegiances by sponsoring the then-opposition Democratic Party, of which he is now deputy chairman. The oligarch was also instrumental in promoting his protégées in key state offices, including the judiciary and law enforcement.

Coupled with his media empire (he owns Moldova’s main TV channels), Plahotniuc’s influence is now unchallenged. His fortunes rose with the October 2015 arrest of Vlad Filat, Moldova’s ex-prime minister and former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. Filat also happened to be Plathotniuc’s main political and oligarchic rival. After eight months in custody, Filat was convicted in July 2016 to nine years in prison for his connection to the one billion dollar theft.

Coupled with his media empire, Plahotniuc’s influence is now unchallenged 

In July 2016, a Moldovan banker, Veaceslav Platon, was arrested in Ukraine in connection with the banking theft and, despite possession of Ukrainian citizenship, was nonetheless hastily extradited to Moldova. Platon is now in pre-trial detention. This turn of events contrasts to the fate of Ilan Shor, another wealthy Moldovan-Israeli businessman considered the central figure in the banking heist, who was arrested back in 2015, but was then allowed to run for mayor of Orhei, a town not far from Moldova’s capital. He ended up winning with a landslide.

Still, days before Filat’s conviction in July 2016, Shor (who is the main prosecutorial witness in both Filat and Platon’s cases) was re-arrested, only to be released in early August to house arrest, suggesting that Moldova’s authorities are willing to punish some more than others.

Plahotniuc’s friends in the west

Despite being opposed by large popular protests since May 2015, Plahotniuc has gained the support of Moldova’s key partners in Washington and Bucharest, Moldova’s main ally within the EU.

In May 2016, the oligarch visited the US, where his meeting with assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland left many Moldovans flabbergasted. The US ambassador to Moldova had to justify the meeting saying that it was the Moldovans who voted for this government and that the US has to work with it. Even so, Plahotniuc does not currently hold public office. To top it off, the trip wasn’t official — Plahotniuc travelled on a tourist visa.

Diplomatic euphemisms aside, many in the pro-western camp felt disheartened by this display of realpolitik, which seemed an appeasement at best. Meanwhile, pro-Russian forces were quick to seize the opportunity of presenting it as a full-blown endorsement. Russian media even portrayed Plahotniuc’s trip as western interference in Moldovan presidential elections.

Corruption versus realpolitik

This month, Moldova will hold its first direct presidential elections since 1996. However these elections are unlikely to end the political, and economic, crisis that is gripping this post-Soviet state.

According to recent polls, at least three candidates have a real shot at the presidency, Plahotniuc’s protégé, Democratic Party chairman Marian Lupu just behind. The strongest candidate is Igor Dodon, leader of the pro-Russian Socialist Party, who is likely to face a centre-right candidate in the run-offs, unless the right fails to agree on a single candidate and paves the way for a Plahotniuc-backed candidate.

The two main forces on the right are Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase who are currently dueling to be the single unifying candidate. Sandu, a Harvard-educated and former World Bank employee, is a former education minister and heads the newly created Action and Solidarity Party. Năstase is a protest leader and prominent lawyer who heads the rival Dignity and Truth Platform Party. Sandu has been polling somewhat better than Năstase, but the latter appears unwilling to concede.

If the two fail to agree on a single candidate, the pro-European right would lose more than the presidency. They would also lose the initiative for the next parliamentary elections, where they’ll need to build a competitive pro-European movement to oppose the incumbent government and the surging pro-Russian Socialists.

Moldova’s partners should not turn their back on the country and its people just because a vilified oligarch has outfoxed his opposition and captured power. Instead, Moldova needs stronger incentives to reform via political conditionality.

Unless there is a concerted effort to play good cop, bad cop in Moldova, the US and EU should compare notes more effectively if they want to remain credible as an alternative to Russia in the region.


Enough, Plahotniuc. Enough, Real Politik.

Vladimir Plahotniuc is the executive coordinator of the Moldovan Government Coalition Council and deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova.

Moldova seems in the midst of one of its biggest economic crises, facing a minimum of a $1 billion hole (1/7 GDP) since the largest banking theft in history in 2014. Moldova is also to be in the midst of a political crisis.

And yet we (the EU, EU member-states and the US) are doing nothing but legitimizing those responsible for the crisis. Because of what? A lack of knowledge about Moldova? A commitment to real politik to save Moldova from Russia? Because they talk the language of reform and Europeanization, and dress in expensive, smart suits?

This is paradoxical and counter-productive. Legitimizing thieves, and state captors (i.e. Vlad Plahotniuc), will do nothing but continue to discredit the project of Europeanization further in Moldova. ‘Saving’ Moldova from Russia by entrenching and legitimizing Plahotniuc will not save Moldova from Russia.

It’s time to wise up. It’s time to realise that Plahotniuc is a racketeer, a state captor, a guy who’s held numerous passports in different names and a guy who stayed in the shadows until 2009. Plahotniuc is the most hated oligarch in Moldova and does not hold public office.

As Natalia Morari reported in the New York Times, “Nobody considers Plahotniuc pro-European. He is pro-Plahotniuc and pro-corruption”.

So why are we legitimizing him? 

Presumably because the “Europeanizers”–Moldova’s Democrat Party (pro-Business former Communists)–can afford a $600k contract with Podesta. So, where did this cash come from?


As a Moldovan, it’s not so easy to get Romanian citizenship (and a Romanian/EU passport)

Every so often, a scare article appears in western European media, mostly in the right wing press, claiming that Romania’s citizenship policy in Moldova is allowing thousands to exploit a passport loophole that allows them easy access to live and work in the EU (see Le Monde, Daily Express, Der Spiegel, even BBC News). Just yesterday, with news that Moldova’s access to budget travel was increasing with a tri-weekly WizzAir flight to London, The Sun reported this as evidence that Moldovans, via Romanian passports, were “flooding” to the EU. While this fits into a growing narrative of right wing obsession with EU migration rights, it is also a misrepresentation of the experiences of acquiring Romanian citizenship in Moldova.

Firstly, before Moldovans received EU visa free access in 2014, their access to the EU, and most notably Romania, was highly restricted. Visas were costly and required sums of money in the bank (€500) that were out of reach for most. Romanian citizenship therefore became a pragmatic tool to circumvent restrictions imposed since Romania acceded to the EU in 2007, and travel between Romania and Moldova became much more difficult and costly.

Secondly, Romania does not “give” out Romanian citizenship. It is an application process that can take up to two years, with individuals waiting patiently to receive their invitation to the embassy to be able to file their documents. It is also expensive. Before you can even apply, you have to have documents, that must be in Romanian. This means Soviet era documents have to be translated and transcribed into Romanian; this all costs money. Because Romanian citizenship is “reacquired” from grandparents, and great grandparents, who lost their Romanian citizenship during the Second World War when the Soviet Union annexed the present-day territory of Moldova, these documents also often have to be retrieved from archives. With Soviet policies of deportation, this can make documents, such as grandparents’ birth certificates, particularly hard to locate.

All of this leads to a time-consuming and expensive process, even before the application has been made. With this, consider that Romanian bureaucracy has been over-run by applications. Leading to, among those I interviewed, an average waiting period of 1-2 years. At least until 2012, there’s also a huge back log of applications, held over from when Romanian citizenship reacquisition was suspended (2001-2007), while Romania tried to accede to the EU.

In the eyes of many Moldovans, and the Romanian state, Romanian citizenship is a fair trade for the abuses of the Soviet state to their grandparents, and great grandparents, in Romania failing to act towards a state withdrawing Romanian citizenship from them at the end of the Second World War, and the brutalities of fifties years of Soviet rule.

Romanian citizenship is certainly an attractive thing to have in a world where Moldovans have been pushed to the periphery; it allows the freedom of movement, residence and status as an EU citizen, for individuals, that is seeming further away at a state-level. This is why describing it as a “loophole” is dehumanising by overlooking the experiences of document retrieval, application and the reasons for application which demonstrate that Romania is not simply giving out Romanian passports to Moldovans.


This post is based on my thesis research on the experiences and practices of Romanian citizenship in Moldova.

The ‘billion dollar protests’ in Moldova are threatening the survival of the country’s political elite

This post was co-authored with Daniel Brett and Mihai Popșoi and posted on LSE’s EUROPP blog.

Thousands of people have taken part in a series of protests in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, with protesters demanding the government’s resignation and early elections over a $1 billion bank fraud case. Daniel Brett, Ellie Knott and Mihai Popșoi outline why the protests are taking place, who the protesters are, and the likely impact on Moldovan politics. They write that while early elections may be the only option to reset the country’s politics, there are no certainties over what the long-term consequences will be for Moldova moving forward.

Protests on #pman (with permission from Ramin Mazur, 2015 ©)
Protests on #pman (with permission from Ramin Mazur, 2015 ©)

On 6 September Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, saw the largest civic protests since independence. These protests, where up to 100,000 people took to the streets, were larger than the 2009 protests that brought about the ‘Twitter Revolution’ and the fall of the Voronin government.

The protests in the symbolically important Piața Marii Adunări Naționale (referred to using the Twitter hashtag #pman), the historical site of protest in Moldova, are the result of growing dissatisfaction among the electorate since the revelation in November 2014 of the “heist of the century” with the disappearance of $1 billion (around a seventh of Moldova’s GDP) through the country’s three main banks.

Since the theft came to light, the tripartite pro-European coalition that governs Moldova, holding on marginally through parliamentary elections in 2014, has collapsed and reformed, while also failing to adequately hold those responsible for the banking heist to account. This is likely because they themselves are implicated, if not complicit, in allowing a theft of this size to occur under their watch and have no interest in formally admitting responsibility.

For a country of three million residents, this is a large and significant protest movement which, building on previous Sunday protests since May (numbering 10,000-50,000 protesters), may signify a turning point in Moldova’s political history. However this depends on how far the organisers can capitalise on the momentum of protest, whether protesters can exert enough pressure to instigate dramatic changes such as early elections, and whether they decide to shift from a civic movement to a movement seeking political representation.

Why are people protesting?

Since the November’s 2014 elections, Moldova’s politics has been rocked by the inability to form governments and the selection of weak candidates, first Chiril Gaburici who then in June 2015 resigned, and now Valeriu Streleț, a well-known millionaire. Moldova’s pro-European coalition vetoed stronger, more pro-reform candidates, in particular Maia Sandu, who wanted a fuller investigation of the banking fraud, including the removal of the head of Moldova’s National Bank. She wanted to be able to sanction public institutions, arguing that the scale of public spending cuts had to be supplemented by evidence of greater political sacrifice and accountability.

“Jos Oligarhia” - Down with the Oligarchy (with permission from Marina Shupac)
“Jos Oligarhia” – Down with the Oligarchy (with permission from Marina Shupac)

This has taken place against a backdrop of price rises for electricity (37 per cent), gas (15 per cent), and bread (15 per cent) where the average wage remains only around 4,500 lei per month (€216/£153/$240). However, pro-European leaders such as Mihai Ghimpu, head of the minority Liberal Party (PL) within the coalition, rejected Sandu because ‘she would have to come to him, he would not go to her’, reflecting the self-serving arrogance of many of Moldova’s political elite who put their own interests first.

Even before the banking crisis, popular trust in the three parties within the governing coalition – the Liberals (PL), Liberal Democrats (PLDM) andDemocrats (PDM) – was faltering, in particular after the May 2013 crisis between two of Moldova’s political “godfathers” (and oligarchs) Vlad Filat (PLDM and then Prime Minister) and Vlad Plahotniuc (PDM). The pro-European coalition took power in 2009, after the fall of the authoritarian and weakly democratic Voronin government. With the fall of Voronin and his Party of Communists (PCRM), there was hope that Moldova might change direction, both geopolitically towards Europe and the EU and politically, by instituting political and economic reforms of transparency, accountability and political responsibility.

Hence, this protest movement is the culmination of six years of dissatisfaction at elite corruption and arrogance, and now mounting economic shocks, with the banking crisis the final symbol of the current regime’s unwillingness to instigate reforms and clean up politics. However it is important to also emphasise what the protests are not about: namely ethnic politics and geopolitics, typically framed as the dividing cleavages of Moldova’s state and society.

The claims of the protesters are solidly political (elite turnover, early elections, investigation of the banking scandal) and the numbers protesting far outnumber other protest movements, such as pro-Romanian/unification protests that are miniscule (a few thousand) by comparison. Rather, protesters, echoing the appeals of Ukraine’s EuroMaidan “revolution of dignity”, want Moldova to be run differently, hence there has been a marginalisation of pro-unification factions, while their slogans for the movement are ‘city of dignity’ and ‘Moldova without thieves’ (Moldova fără hoți).

While the pro-Russian Socialist Party (PSRM) supports the protests, their banners are not welcomed on #pman. The PSRM’s leader, Igor Dodon, seems to be sitting on the sidelines, waiting to put some extra pressure should the time come to trigger early elections, if it comes to that. By contrast the Communists, with their waning electoral support, are less forthcoming in their support of the protests and early elections, even if they agree in principle in their dissatisfaction with Moldova’s current direction.

Who is organising the protests?

Aside from the issues motivating the protesters, which come from below, there is a clear organisational force mobilising the protests: the Civic Platform for Dignity and Truth (PCDA). This was established in February 2015 by a group of civil society representatives, mainly associated with the JurnalTV television station, a station established after the 2009 protests. One of the founding members of the Platformdescribed how the protest movement came about from discussing Moldova’s troubles in the country on air at JurnalTV and especially during advertising breaks.

Lawyer Andrei Nastase is viewed as the unofficial leader of the Platform, while Igor Botan, political analyst and director of ADEPT, is its brain trust. Nastase is also the lawyer of businessmen Victor and Viorel Topa, alleged owners of JurnalTV, who themselves have been implicated in conflicts with Plahotniuc, have been convicted for embezzlement, and in 2010 escaped to Germany.

Unsurprisingly, despite generous international media attention, and internet attention within Moldova, the protests enjoy minimal coverage on Moldovan TV, as the main source of news for ordinary Moldovans. Plahotniuc owns the largest media holding in the country and has considerable sway over the public television network. This minimal coverage by Plahotniuc-owned TV has focused on discrediting the PCDA, focusing on its untransparent business relations and the presence of pro-unification activists within the movement.

Who are the protesters?

Thanks to JurnalTV, social media and word of mouth, the 6 September protest rivalled some of the largest political rallies of the past few years, which themselves have required tremendous administrative resources to boost their turnout. By comparison, the PCDA have relied mostly on genuine civic activism. In fact, protesters are so determined that about 100 tents remain overnight throughout the week in #pman.

The protesters are drawn from a wide range of citizens and, unlike in 2009, the protesters are older and from across the country, although most come from Chisinau and the surrounding area. The protesters represent a large cross-section of society, demonstrating it to be a mass movement rather than just disaffected intellectuals. Those in the ‘city of dignity’ are mostly middle aged men and, significantly, Nastase was criticised for sexism after calling for ‘strong men’ to stay at the site.

Supplying the Protests under the EU Banner (with permission from Ramin Mazur, 2015 ©)
Supplying the Protests under the EU Banner (with permission from Ramin Mazur, 2015 ©)

Thus, while the movement has been orchestrated by the PCDA, there is a story too of a genuine grassroots movement, sustained by those camping, donations of food, money and even refrigerators. The success of the movement is that, in light of the stolen billion, worsening economic conditions and a lack of willingness among the political class to change, many people are enraged and have found a voice in the platform, being drawn to the streets and coming to believe that change is possible, if not imminent.

Despite large numbers and the best efforts by organisers to curb open displays of pro-Romanian nationalism and welcome ethnic minorities into the protest, Russian speakers remain overwhelmingly underrepresented. This could be explained by the existence of a powerful opposition, represented mainly by Igor Dodon’s Socialists and Renato Usatii’s ‘Our Party’, both of which happen to be pro-Russian.

Thus, the protest movement remains largely centre-right, pro-European and pro-western. This limits its mobilisation capacity, appealing largely to the existing electorate of the pro-European parties. It alsocreates fertile ground for conflict rather than cooperation with the left. Indeed, both Dodon and Usatii announced plans for anti-government rallies of their own, hoping to trigger early elections, which they are best positioned to benefit most from.

Civic or political?

Initially, the PCDA appeared to want to remain a civic and “informal organisation”, as argued by Boţan, to maintain its anti-corruption policies. It seemed also to achieve relatively little in terms of the willingness of Moldova’s governing regime to relent to its demands. In fact, Moldova’s Prime Minister, Valeriu Strelet, argued that the political instability caused by the protests could weaken the economy further and jeopardise talks with the IMF, scheduled for 22 September, which might provide a much-needed financial lifeline. Indeed the government also made awkward moves to undermine the protests by temporarily suspending price hikes of gas, electricity and bread.

However, inspired by the daily return of people to #pman, notably on Sunday 13 September, the PCDA have signalled their willingness to transform into a political movement and form a shadow government. Yet the faces of key actors that might help such a transformation remain hidden, most notably the highly popular Maia Sandu, whose opportunity to become Moldova’s Prime Minister was vetoed by the minority coalition partners back in July 2015. She has voiced support for the PCDA, joining its Council. Should she become more visible within the movement, then the PCDA could become much more politically significant.

The outlook for Moldovan politics

Early elections may be the only option to reset how Moldova is governed. However there are neither guarantees that the discredited current elite would return nor that the pro-Russian Socialist opposition could reap the benefits of a protest movement that appeals only to pro-European voters. The PCDA are choosing to ignore these risks and, by signalling they may be willing to establish a political arm, they have demonstrated that they may be serious in their aim to hold the current pro-European elite to account by taking the protests from the street into the political arena.

The concern therefore is how far the movement can crystallise its political arm. Assuming it is established,how it emerges will prove critical, and whether it is joined by reformers like Sandu. This will reveal also whether it is a genuine outpost of public discontent, that wants to change the way Moldovan politics is run, or whether it is a carefully orchestrated proxy war among Moldova’s two godfathers – Filat and Plahotniuc. If it is the latter, this is a path, potentially, towards mutually assured destruction and continued political instability.

The protests also challenge the idea that Moldovan politics is dominated by the ‘east vs. west’ debate, demonstrating yet again that issues of domestic politics, in particular corruption reform, should be Moldova’s most fundamental policy objectives. This is important not only to win international funding from agencies that are hesitant to invest “through the front door while there is a risk of even larger sums of public money being lost out of the back door”, but also to eek back the faith, and lost hope, of Moldovan society in politics and the (lack of) investment of Moldova’s elite in the future of the country.

Researching Moldova: the Everyday Politics of Identity / Cercetând Moldova: Politicile de Identitate Cotidiene

Articolul e in limba romana de mai jos.

I first came to Moldova in 2008 to conduct research for my undergraduate dissertation. I was, and remain, fascinated by Moldova and its politics and culture, its mix of Soviet and Romanian history and its welcoming atmosphere. I was fascinated too by the lack of knowledge and understanding in the West about the state.

Shortly before my first visit I remember reading Stiglitz’s book, Globalization and Its Discontents, where Stiglitz discusses the lack of streetlights in Moldova as a sign of poverty. It came as some surprise, arriving in Chisinau late at night, that there was in fact street lighting. In this sense, my motivation for researching Moldova comes from trying to improve understanding about a state and society that is too often described in overly simplistic terms: either as the “poorest country in Europe” or as torn between east vs. west.

I was able to return in 2010, 2012 and 2013, again to conduct research, each time witnessing a very different political climate from previous visits. I witnessed the transition from PCRM and Voronin’s government to the Alliance for European Integration, and the increasing apathy, if not antipathy, towards the “hungry wolves”, aka the pro-European political elites.

Everyday Identity Debates in Moldova

But politics, for me, and my interest in conducting political science research (now for my PhD research at the London School of Economics), have always been much more than about studying political elites and institutions. I’m more interested in everyday politics and, in particular, everyday dimensions of identity and ethnicity debates. I think this too is reflected by Moldovan society, in the visibility of these debates in everyday life, not least in the street art on the streets of Chisinau: “who are we?”, “we’re Moldovan”, “we’re Romanian” and “Bessarabia is Romanian land”.

Starting from an awareness of the complexity of identity debates, my interest was to collect data to gather insights on how people define themselves and why they identify in these ways. In particular, I argue that censuses and sociological surveys in Moldova have (deliberately) overlooked these complex debates, requiring individuals to align with mutually exclusive categories (e.g. Moldova, Romanian or Russian) without considering, I think deliberately, the way in which these categories fail to capture what’s really going on: that there are individuals:

  1. who feel Romanian,
  2. who feel both Romanian and Moldovan,
  3. who feel only Moldovan,
  4. who don’t know how to feel…

Fascinating too has been discovering how identity can work, and be disputed, within families and across generations, where the younger, more Romanian-identifying, post-Soviet generation, want to re-educate their more Moldovan-identifying parents who grew up during the Soviet Union. Yet, regardless of how people identified ethnically, what remains fascinating for me is the extent to which this reinforced by strong ties to Moldova, as a state and as home.

Looking Beyond Identity Debates in Moldova

Identity, culture and language have clearly been a topic of intense debate in post-Soviet Moldova but, paradoxically, I also think identity has dominated Moldova’s post-Soviet politics too much. It’s an important part of the story that many people in Moldova don’t want to talk about identity and don’t need to talk about identity. It might matter for a few what the official language of the state is but for others, it’s just politics: on the everyday level, they can speak whatever language they want.

Identity debates also structure Moldova’s political schema, defining party politics. This masks how far political parties are actually clientelistic networks, built on personal relations, that make parties into wealth and power machines, while disconnecting them from having to appeal to electorates beyond the politics of popularism and symbolism: pro-EU vs. anti-EU. This dominance of identity debates has allowed the political elite to focus on symbolic and geopolitical questions at the expense of political and economic reform.

Am venit pentru prima dată în Moldova în 2008 pentru a efectua o cercetare pentru teza mea de licență. Am fost și rămân fascinată de Moldova și politica și cultura sa, de amestecătura de istorie sovietică și de atmosfera sa primitoare. Am fost fascinată, de asemenea, de lipsa de cunoștințe și înțelegere despre acest stat în vest.

Îmi amintesc că la scurt timp după vizita mea am citit cartea lui Stiglitz, Globalizarea și neajunsurile ei, în care Stiglitz disccută despre lipsa de iluminare stradală în Moldova ca semn al sărăciei. Am rămas surprinsă, atunci când am ajuns noaptea târziu în Chișinău, că există de fapt iluminare stradală. Din acest punct de vedere, motivația mea pentru cercetarea Moldovei vine din încercarea de a îmbunătăți înțelegerea despre un stat și o societate care este adesea descrisă în termeni simpliști: fie ca “cea mai săracă țară din Europa” sau ruptă între est și vest.

Am avut posibilitatea să revin în 2010, 2012 și 2013, din nou să efectuez cercetări, de fiecare dată fiind martoră la un climat politic foarte diferit. Am fost martoră la tranziția de la PCRM și guvernul lui Voronin la Alianța pentru Integrare Europeană și la apatia crescută, dacă nu chiar antipatia, față de “lupii flămânzi”, adică elitele politice pro-europene.

Dezbaterile Identitare Cotidiene în Moldova

Însă politica, pentru mine, și interesul meu în efectuarea cercetărilor în științe politice (acum pentru doctorat la London School of Economics), au fost întotdeauna mai mult decât studiul elitelor și instituțiilor politice. Sunt mai interesată de politica cotidiană și, în particular, dimensiunile cotidiene ale dezbaterilor de identitate și etnie. Cred că asta e reflectat în societatea moldovenească, în vizibilitatea acestor dezbateri în viața de zi cu zi, și nu mai puțin în arta stradală din Chișinău: “cine suntem?”, “suntem moldoveni”, “suntem români” și “Basarabia Pământ Românesc”.

Începând cu o conștientizare a dezbaterilor identitare, interesul meu a fost să colectez date despre modul în care oamenii se definesc pe ei înșiși și de ce se identifică așa. În particular, argumentez că recensământele și sondajele sociologice din Moldova au omis (intenționat) aceste probleme complexe, obligând indivizii să se alinieze în categorii mutual exclusive (de exemplu moldoveni, români sau ruși) fără a lua în considerare, cred eu intenționat, modul în care aceste categorii eșuează să reprezinte ceea ce se întâmplă cu adevărat: că există indivizi:

  1. care se simt români,
  2. care se simt atât români cât și moldoveni,
  3. care se simt doar moldoveni,
  4. care nu știu cum să se simtă.

A fost fascinantă, de asemenea, descoperirea modului în care poate funcționa identitatea, și cum poate disputată în familii și între generații în care generația tânără, post-sovietică, care se identifică mai des ca română, vrea să reeduce părinții lor care se identifică ca moldoveni și care au crescut în perioada Uniunii Sovietice. Totuși, indiferent de modul în care oamenii se identifică etnic, ceea ce rămâne fascinant pentru mine este măsura în care asta e consolidat de legături puternice în Moldova, ca stat și acasă.

Privind Dincolo de Dezbaterile Identitare în Moldova

Identitatea, cultura și limba au fost în mod clar un subiect de discuții intense în Moldova post-sovietică, însă, paradoxal, cred că identitatea a dominat politica Moldovei post-sovietice prea mult. Este o parte importantă a poveștii că mulți oameni din Moldova nu vor să vorbească despre identitate și nu au nevoie să vorbească despre identitate. Poate conta pentru unii care este limba de stat, însă pentru alții asta e doar politică: la nivel cotidianm pot vorbi orice limbă vor.

Dezbaterile identitare de asemenea structurează schema politica a Moldovei, definind politicile partidelor. Asta maschează cât de tare partidele politice sunt de fapt rețele clientelare, construite pe relații personale, care transformă partidele în mașinării de bogăție și putere, deconectându-le de la necesitatea apelului la electorat dincolo de politica populismului și simbolismului: pro-UE și anti-UE. Această dominare a dezbaterilor identitare a permis elitei politice să se concentreze pe întrebări simbolice și geopolitice în detrimentul reformei politice și economice.

Eng: This article follows from a recent article published by Eleanor Knott in East European Politics and Societies: Eleanor Knott (2015) Generating data: studying identity politics from a bottom-up perspective in Crimea and Moldova, East European Politics and Societies, 29:467-486, doi:10.1177/0888325415584047 [ungated pdf].

RO: Eleanor Knott este un candidat la doctorat (așteptat în 2015) în științe politice la Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science. Teza sa explorează politicile românești și rusești în Moldova și Crimea printr-o perspectivă de jos în sus, folosind abordarea naționalismului cotidian. Interesele sale mai largi de cercetare includ studiul întrebărilor științei politice în zona post-sovietică de jos în sus, folosind tehnici ale etnografie politică, inclusiv identificarea, cetățenia și politicile de educație, pentru a studia relațiile stat-societate dintr-o perspectivă internațională.

Acest articol urmează un articol recent publicat de Eleanor Knott în East European Politics and Societies: Eleanor Knott (2015) Generating data: studying identity politics from a bottom-up perspective in Crimea and Moldova, East European Politics and Societies, 29: 467-486, doi:10.1177/0888325415584047 [ungated pdf].

The Moldovan Elections of 2014 are more than about Putin or the EU: Corruption, Poverty and Parties

The most shocking result of the Moldovan elections has been the rise of the Socialist Party, closely associated with Russia. “It would be incorrect to see them as Russian stooges, opportunists, or as old faces under a new banner. Instead, their support has come from those concerned about corruption, poverty, Europeanisation and a growing dissatisfaction with Moldova’s Communist Party’s leadership”, argue Daniel Brett and Eleanor Knott.

Pure democracy is three wolves and two sheep voting on what to eat for dinner. Benjamin Franklin

“Towards Europe, towards a decent future”

With Moldovan society split in half, as opinion polls show (Chart 1), it is no surprise that Moldova’s parliamentary elections, held on 30 November 2014, failed to produce a decisive mandate for Moldova’s seemingly zero-sum geopolitical direction. PSRM went from zero seats in the previous parliamentary elections, in 2010, to win the largest number of votes and seats in 2014. For the established parties this defeat came as a shock. The tripartite pro-European alliance, consisting of the Democrat Party (PDM), Liberal Democrat Party (PLMD) and Liberal Party (PL), still managed to gain sufficient seats to form a parliamentary majority, despite losing 9 seats since 2010. Secondly, Moldova’s Communist Party (PCRM) who have been the biggest party since 2001, lost 50% of their seats (from 42 to 21 seats) and about 400,000 voters since 2010.

Chart 1: Support for EU in Moldova over time (source: IPP)
Chart 2: Election results for parliamentary elections (2009-2014)

The two real losers of Moldova’s elections are the most established and supported parties. Pro-European forces failed to win the hearts and minds of the electorate and to convince them of their progress, even in the shadow of some achievements, such as EU visa liberalisation (April 2014) and signing of the EU Association Agreement (June 2014). However PLDM, the biggest and most moderate party of the pro-European alliance, did far worse than other parties in the alliance (losing 9 seats, while PDM gained 4 while PL gained 1 seat). Secondly, PCRM saw their support cut in half, with defections both of voters, national and local level politicians to PSRM. PCRM has been plagued by the persistence of Voronin as leader and a lack of new blood rising up the ranks. PCRM may then not recover from this blow, with PSRM continuing to gain from those apathetic or antagonistic towards the pro-European parties.

Who are the Socialists (PSRM)?

‘Together with Russia’, PSRM electoral posters featuring Vladimir Putin, Zinaida Greceanîi and Igor Dodon. Photo: Amy Samuelson 

The biggest shock of the election was the success of the PSRM. Despite polling in single digits prior to the election, they became the single largest party. Although the party formed in 1997, PSRM had not stood in elections since 2005. In 2011, a number of disaffected but prominent PCRM politicians joined the party including former Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanîi, and former Finance Minister Igor Dodon. Politically, Greceanîi can best be described as neo-Soviet. Shortly before leaving PCRM, Dodon proposed reforms for the party, warning that without modernisation it would die electorally. It would be incorrect to see them as Russian stooges, opportunists, or as old faces under a new banner. Instead their support has come from those concerned about corruption, poverty and Europeanisation, but also those who are dissatisfied with the direction and stagnation of PCRM (and Moldova) under Voronin.

The poster reads: “Only PCRM! Only Voronin!” – perhaps part of the problem for the PCRM and the reason for the success of the PSRM. Photo: Amy Samuelson

In the three elections since the 2009 “Twitter Revolution”, which ousted the PCRM government (2001-2009), there has not been a consolidation of the party system towards fewer parties. The number of parties contesting elections actually increased from 8 in July 2009, to 20 parties in 2010 and 19 independent candidates (despite mergers of parties with PLDM and PL). By 2014, 20 parties stood for election as well as 4 independent candidates and 1 electoral bloc. More interesting is that only 6 parties have stood in all elections since 2009, while of the 12 new parties in 2010, only 3 re-appeared in 2014. Meanwhile activists, such as Oleg Brega, though unable to garner enough support for the 2% threshold, were still able to attract significant support (14,085 votes, 0.9%).

However barriers to entry, from being on the ballot to being in parliament, remain high. Electoral thresholds which were lowered after 2009 (from 6% to 4%) have, since 2013, been raised back to 6%, just as they were during Voronin/PCRM’s term. Whether to curb, ahead of time, the potential threat posed by PSRM, it had the effect of preventing the Communist Reform Party (PCR) from entering parliament. An alternative interpretation, suggested by Dorin Chirtoaca, the mayor of Chisinau and senior PL figure, is that PCR was set up deliberately to confuse voters and, hence, reduce the vote of PCRM.

Both of these possibilities demonstrate a desire for pro-European parties to play, legally, with the limits of what is fair, to secure the best outcome for themselves at the expense of a clean election. Moreover they show a resistance to make Moldova’s political system more competitive, with Moldova having one of the higher PR thresholds (lower only than Iran, Turkey and Russia) and lowest conversion rates between votes won and seats allocated (according to Council of Europe recommendations). Since 2009, Moldova’s legislature has also changed the way votes to seats have been allocated: from theD’Hondt system (the most commonly used system in PR), which was seen to favour larger parties like PCRM, to the ‘equality system’ (or Robin Hood system) which favours seat allocation to smaller parties.

More than between Europe and Russia?

Analyses of Moldovan elections need therefore to go beyond the simple narrative of western mediawhere elections are conceived as a referendum between Russia and Europe, and Moldova constructed as Ukraine in waiting. Nor should ethnic cleavages be framed as reinforcing this geopolitical binary because not everyone voting for PSRM is an elderly Russian peasant fearful of the decadent European Union. Indeed the new batch of PSRM deputies show the widest spread of ages: from those born in the 1930s to those in the 1990s.

Moreover the dichotomy between ‘left’ parties in Moldova as Pro-Russia and ‘right’ parties as pro-Europe does not fit reality. Instead, geopolitical orientation is just one axis upon which parties pivot, the second is social values, and the third is economic orientation. Parties tend to be dominated by charismatic and powerful leaders with strong local power bases and networks (e.g. parties do well in the home-towns of senior party figures). Policy, especially geopolitical and economic, tends to be defined by the leadership’s material interests and their networks. Discourse tends to shift in search of an electorate to enable the party to gain votes in order to achieve those aims, thus parties such as the PCRM have shifted from Pro-Russian, to Pro-European attitudes and back again with the interests of the elite rather than the voters.

Europeanisation is therefore not just a geopolitical issue, but also a cultural and economic issue. Thus, those who vote for parties that advocate closer ties with Russia are mobilised around a variety of discourses – the threat of war and instability, the perception of Western culture as decadent and degenerate, as well as the fear that EU membership will not improve their economic lives but make them worse.

Moldovan society is also divided by far more than ethnicity and geopolitics, with stark differences between the rich and everyone else, between generations, and between rural and urban. It is these socioeconomic questions and divisions, as well as low and declining trust in political institutions (Chart 3) and high perceptions of corruption, in particular in political institutions, which remain key problems. While the electorate continue to perceive that deep socioeconomic inequalities remain (Chart 4), the political elite appears disinterested to work on improving the welfare of ordinary Moldovans. And this is perhaps where Moldova is most divided, between the political class and electorate, in particular between a pro-European political class who see Europeanisation as a panacea for Moldova – if Moldova could only get on a European track, then all other problems will be fixed – and an electorate who remain unconvinced both by this track and by its salvationist potential.

Corruption not Europeanisation

What is most concerning about the 2014 Moldovan elections is the extent to which the pro-European parties are unwilling to play a clean race, such as modifying electoral thresholds to restrain who can enter parliament. Secondly, is the lack of transparency in politics, for example in determining how many polling stations are opened abroad, allowing Moldovan authorities to increase the number of polling stations in the EU while contributing to ‘public perceptions that the government sought to discourage voting in the Russian Federation’ according to the OSCE, for the high number of Moldovan diaspora residing there. This will continue to be a hard fought battle in the next parliamentary term between the pro-European parties and PSRM, who are now appealing for a recount of diaspora votes.

The Moldovan political system continues to be plagued by over-partisan politics and institutional overreach. Moldova’s constitutional court is pro-European both as a highly partisan and highly politicised institution, ruling in October that only a pro-European path for Moldova would be legal. The constitutional court then ruled, days before the elections, to suspend the right of Patria (Homeland), from running in the elections, because they had received evidence of foreign funding. Patria, and its frontman Renato Usatîi, made headlines as a recent wealthy returnee from Moscow, alleging close ties to Russia.

As much as the allegation of funding may be true, as may be Patria’s ties to criminal military gangs, the issue remains that pro-European elite are willing to use asymmetrical justice to punish opponents and constrain electoral outcomes. Campaign financing is certainly an issue in Moldovan elections, but as theCouncil of Europe have argued, the Moldovan authorities are far from having a transparent and accountable handling of these wider issues. The Moldovan judicial and electoral commission need to do far more than selective partisan enforcement of the electoral code. These duplicitous tactics are also paradoxical. Firstly, they likely cemented PSRM’s vote by picking up those disaffected by this ruling, rather than scaring pro-Europeans into mobilising to oppose the pro-Russian parties. Secondly, they supply Russia with more material to discredit Moldova’s elections and the desire for pro-European parties to steer Moldova towards the EU (and away from Russia).

Chart 3: “How far do you trust …” (source: IPP)
Chart 4: What are the main problems in Moldova? (source: IPP)

The Moldovan electorate are likely less concerned with the running of the electoral system than they are with important socio-economic issues and corruption. However, the willingness of the pro-European parties to play a dirty game, presents a bigger problem. It demonstrates that the Moldovan political class are no nearer to reforming themselves, away from “hungry wolves” seeking to use power and privilege for immunity, towards greater transparency and accountability. This remains at the heart of debates concerning the unmet promises of the pro-European alliance, since they took office in 2009 in what was seen as a critical juncture, not just for Moldova’s geopolitical orientation, but also in terms of politics and socioeconomic questions.

We therefore need to go deeper than viewing Moldovan politics and these elections as a simple zero-sum ethnic or geopolitical cleavage between Russia and Europe. If democracy is to become consolidated in Moldova, then the political elite must confront the problems of inequality, corruption, and the absence of agency and trust, and move beyond their fixations with the “civilizational choices” (as Iurie Lenca, current Moldovan Prime Minister described) that Moldova faces.

Instead, the pro-European parties have to deal with domestic political problems of corruption, transparency and trust if they want to hold onto power. The EU can sign as many agreements with the Moldovan political elite as they like, but as long as the Moldovan political elite remains corrupt, self-interested and remote in the eyes of the population, and europeanisation continues to be something that will result in economic and social trauma for them, then those who offer a populist alternative will continue to flourish. While Moldovan politicians are starting to recognise this, it still requires a strong commitment to shift attitudes to power and politics away from a culture of immunity-seeking behaviour.

Table: 2014 Parliamentary Results
2010 2014
Party Votes Seats Votes Seats
Communist Party of Moldova (PCRM) 677,069 (39%) 42 279,372 (17%) 21
Liberal- Democratic Party (PLDM) 506,253 (29%) 32 322,188 (20%) 23
Liberal Party (PL) 171,336 (10%) 12 154,507 (10%) 13
Democratic Party (PD) 218,620 (13%) 15 252,489 (16%) 19
Alliance ‘Our Moldova’(AMN) 35,289 (2%) 0 n/a 0
Movement for European Action (MAE) 21,049 (1%) 0 n/a 0
Socialist Party of Moldova(PSRM) n/a 0 327,910 (21%) 25
Reformed Communist Party(PCR) n/a 0 78,719 (5%) 0
Others 91,452 (5%) 0 183,357 (11%) 0
Invalid 11,907 (0.6%) 50,948 (3%)
Total(Turnout) 1,720,993(65%) 101 1,649,508(56%) 101

This post was originally posted on South East Europe at LSE the blog of LSEE Research on SEE, the Research Unit on South Eastern Europe of the London School of Economics: The Moldovan Elections of 2014 are more than about Putin or the EU: Corruption, Poverty and Parties

How will Moldovans vote in the 2014 Romanian Presidential Elections?

Vrem să începem a doua mare unire a românilor. / We want to begin the second great unification of Romanians – Victor Ponta (Romanian Prime Minister and 2014 Presidential Candidate)

The Great Unification: Victor Ponta President (Cotidianul.Ro)

In 2009, 95% of Moldovans voting in Romanian presidential elections voted for Băsescu (in the second round). In my interviews, Băsescu was extremely popular in Moldova: he was the guy that was personally responsible for allowing, and easing, Moldovans’ ability to acquire Romanian citizenship (well, legally reacquire (redobandire) on the basis that Romania are returning the citizenship taken from present-day Moldovans’ grandparents/great-grandparents). He was so popular, one of my interviewees told me, he could win a presidential election in Moldova.

Ok, so this 95% supporting Băsescu was only 11,000 votes (out of a possible of 51,831 eligible to vote) but it signifies much more. Otherwise, why have figures like Eugen Tomac and parties like PSD recently opened offices in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital? Because they know they need a solution for after Băsescu can no longer run. Secondly, the 2009 elections demonstrated the importance more generally of the diaspora vote in Romanian elections. In 2009, Băsescu lost the election from the electorate inside Romania but won the election because of high support among Romanian voters from outside, of which Moldovans were a crucial number.

Romania is, interestingly, also one of the few states that have external constituencies. So the Romanian diaspora have their own parliamentary seats (4 deputies, 2 senators).

Why is the 2014 Presidential election interesting (in terms of the Moldovan electorate)?

It’s interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we know that the number (re)acquiring Romanian citizenship in Moldova is increasing but we don’t know by how much the number acquiring is increasing. There aren’t good statistics and Romania play fast and loose with declaring how many in Moldova are (re)acquiring Romanian citizenship to Eurostat (i.e. they haven’t given any figures to Eurostat since 2009). As the citizenship agency told me: they don’t collect data by country of origin, so we may never know how many are acquiring Romanian citizenship. So, the number eligible vote in Romanian elections is increasing (most likely) because if you acquire Romanian citizenship, you can vote in Romanian elections without being resident in Romania and without ever having resided in Romanian elections.

Do Moldovans want to vote in Romanian elections? Yes and no: some definitely do, seeing it as an obligation and duty. And many wanted to personally thank Băsescu for facilitating their acquisition of Romanian citizenship. Others wanted to vote, but didn’t want to stand in line. The number of Romanian polling stations in Moldova has often constrained how many actually end up voting because they didn’t want to have to queue for hours to exercise this right. This year, the number of polling stations is the highest it’s ever been with 4 polling stations in Chisinau and 17 across the rest of Moldova. The effect this has on turnout will therefore be very interesting.

Secondly, it’s interesting because Băsescu, the incumbent, cannot run again for President. It’s up to the new candidates to convince this growing Moldovan, and typically pro-Băsescu, electorate to vote for them. In the last few weeks, I’ve pretty invasive examples of reaching out to vote for different candidates, from a text message from PSD espousing unification sentiment and encouraging votes for Ponta:

I also saw an email telling people to vote for Iohannis (Ponta’s main competitor):

“We think Romania deserves a president balanced and powerful Father of the Nation, a guarantor of respect for the constitution. A strong Romania, with a clear voice and respected in the European community. Moldova in its European road needs a reliable neighbour, an ally that’s strong, safe and predictable.”

Iohannis, just as Ponta, has also continued to stoke the unification flame declaring in Moldova:

“Moldova is on the way to Europe. […] in Romania there are politicians who say that Moldova’s European integration is inconsistent with the unification of Moldova with Romania. And I say it is not so, for union with Moldova is something only Bucharest can give and Chisinau only can accept. And if our brothers across the Prut will unite the country, no one can stop them.”

Iohannis Rally in Chisinau (Ziarul National)

So, it’s all to play for in the first round of Romania’s 2014 Presidential Elections and whoever Romanians, and Romanian citizens in Moldova vote for, the post-Băsescu era looks set to be quite interesting. There were already queues of people waiting to vote outside the Romanian embassy in Chisinau at 7.20 am this morning.


There’s been a lot of consternation that the rights of voters abroad was restricted, via long queues and polling stations which closed before they should, preventing those from standing in line from voting. This is particularly fraught given that PSD are the ones controlling how many polling stations there are outside Romania  (e.g. the Romanian Foreign Minsiter, Titus Corlățean, is from PSD), while Romanians abroad are typically (more) anti-PSD. The Department for Romanians Abroad (under the Romanian Foreign Ministry) has already put out a statement defending its provisions for Romanians voting abroad, on the basis that the number of polling stations abroad has increased since 2009.

In fact, despite the queues, 71% more voted in the first round of the presidential elections yesterday compared to 2009. This does not speak to % of turnout comparisons, as this data is not available yet. But still: there were big increases in the number of the Romanian diaspora voting in 2014 (161,054) vs. 2009 (94,383).

Numbers Voting in First Round of Presidential Elections - 2009 vs. 2014
Numbers Voting in First Round of Presidential Elections – 2009 vs. 2014

Evening Standard: Hundreds of Romanians locked outside London Embassy ‘denied their right to vote’ (3 November 2014)

There’s also already a petition to Jean-Claude Juncker to  “Please ensure the Romanian Presidential Election are free, equal, universal, secret and direct” which (as of 1pm  3/11/2014) already has 1,110 signatures.

I’ll be discussing how Moldovans vote in a panel event, alongside others discussing the Romanian elections following the second round of the Presidential elections, on Monday 1 December at LSE (yes, it’s also Romania’s National Day):

Panel Discussion on Romanian Presidential Elections 2014

Where does Romania go to from here? Romania and the Presidential Elections
Venue:  Cañada Blanch Room, (COW 1.11), Cowdray House, LSE
Time:  6:00 – 7:30 pm

Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine’s signing of EU co-operation agreements marks their transition from ‘post-Soviet’ to ‘European’ states

On 27 June, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine signed co-operation agreements with the EU. Ellie Knott assesses what the agreements mean for each state and how they might influence future EU-Russia relations. She writes that while the agreements are largely technical in nature, their real value is symbolic as they represent a final break from each country’s Soviet past. She argues that with tensions already high over the Ukraine crisis, the agreements will also have a significant impact on the wider relationship between the EU and Russia.

Since the Vilnius summit in November 2013, relations between the key Eastern Partnership states (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia), the EU and Russia have shifted inextricably. The EU has sped up its signing of Association Agreements (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) with Georgia and Moldova, and held on to its commitment to sign these agreements with Ukraine, with the official signing of these agreements with all three states taking place on 27 June.

Meanwhile, Russia’s willingness to challenge Ukraine’s territorial integrity, by seizing Crimea, its tenuous relations with separatists movements in Donetsk and Lugansk and its cessation of gas exports to Ukraine, have drastically changed not just the configuration of the Ukrainian state and society, but have been one of the biggest earthquakes for relations between Russia and the wider post-Soviet region.

The key question remains: why should Russia be concerned with what are essentially 1,000 page technocratic documents between Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the EU? As Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, continues to argue, there is “nothing in these agreements, nor in the European Union’s approach, that might harm Russia”. Van Rompuy has been careful to use rhetoric that argues that this is not a “zero-sum game”: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are free to have relations with Russia to whatever extent they choose, except becoming members of the Eurasian Customs Union.

To Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, signing such agreements with the EU might not be a zero-sum game, and in fact the biggest challenge will be how to maintain relations with Russia. Yet in the way that the leaders of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova welcomed the signing of the AA and DCFTA with the EU, it is clear that these leaders do consider the agreements to be decisive in how they situate themselves geopolitically. In an interview with CNN, the new Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, remarked that “this is a civilisation choice. This is the Rubicon – when we crossed the Rubicon to Europe and left in the past our Soviet past”.

The Association Agreements are therefore not just political and economic documents but, as Poroshenko described, a “symbol of faith” and “unbreakable will”. Moreover, these agreements are considered to be the first step in a journey towards, as Iurie Leancă the Moldovan Prime Minister states, their “primordial/essential objective” towards becoming a “full-fledged member of this great family of the European Union”. For Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, their more formalised relationship with the EU, and the hope that this might one day be converted to membership, is more than about technocratic documents, but about being recognised as European, in status, rights and identity, and about no longer being seen as a former Soviet republic.

However the beginning of this journey of closer political and economic association with the EU, and the opening up of the free trade potential, is also the continuation of substantial uncertainty regarding how this will affect their relations with Russia. Russia is a significant trading partner for all three states, and in particular for Ukraine where Russian imports and exports exceed those of the EU. As the Table below shows, Russia is still an important trade partner for Moldova, though less for Georgia. All three states have been exposed to Russian embargos on goods, and Georgia, and more recently Moldova, have learned the importance of diversifying who they trade with.

Note: The Table shows the value of exports and imports between each country and Russia/the EU, and the percentage of total trade which the EU and Russia account for in each case. Figures are from European Commission trade statistics forUkraine, Moldova and Georgia
Table: Percentage of foreign trade with the EU and Russia in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine

Note: The Table shows the value of exports and imports between each country and Russia/the EU, and the percentage of total trade which the EU and Russia account for in each case. Figures are from European Commission trade statistics for UkraineMoldova and Georgia

All three states have energy requirements which are not just dependent on Russian gas, but also on the cheap price of this gas. In Ukraine, residential customers have paid only about 25 per cent, and industrial consumers only 75 per cent, of what the gas would be worth on the European market. It is unlikely, whatever the outcome of the current Ukrainian-Russian gas crisis, that any deal going forward will lead to significant increases in this price.

This will be augmented by Ukraine’s loss of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. Russia had agreed a lease with Ukraine for the naval base in Sevastopol which was key in negotiations over a reduced gas price and which Ukraine had used to offset the country’s debt to Russia. However, following the annexation of Crimea, Russia tore up the Kharkiv accords, which extended Russia’s lease to 2042, and which Ukraine can no longer use as a way to offset their Russian debt, the payment of which, in addition to Russia’s move to increase the cost of gas, are key to areas of contention in the 2014 crisis. Gazprom, too, has shown itself to be reflective of Russia’s territorial claims, given that the map they showed at their AGM included Crimea within Russian territory.

Russia also has high leverage over Georgia and Moldova’s energy market. In the case of Moldova, their market is dominated by Gazprom and MoldovaGaz, of which Gazprom hold the majority of shares. Even attempts to diversify Moldova’s energy dependency via the construction of the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline are unlikely, even in the best case, to provide more than a third of Moldova’s gas needs, and perhaps only 5-10 per cent.

In the energy sector, there is little the EU can do to assist these states’ dependence on cheap Russian gas. Many EU member-states are themselves dependent on Russian gas and those who receive their gas via pipelines through Ukraine are particularly vulnerable in the current crisis. The EU finds itself also in a tense situation with Russia over its right to reverse the flow of gas via Slovakia to service Ukraine’s lack of energy, which Gazprom’s CEO, Alexei Miller, claims is a “semi-fraudulent mechanism” because “this is Russian gas”.

A second area of contention regards the proposed South Stream pipeline which is designed to “diversify gas export routes and eliminate transit risks” by bypassing Ukraine, running through the Black Sea to Bulgaria, and on to Central and Southeast Europe. The European Commission has warned Bulgaria not to go ahead with the project, which severely destabilised the current Bulgarian administration and will lead to early elections being held in October.

Beyond energy dependence, there is also the ongoing threat of territorial instability. Georgia, Moldova and, now and most prominently, Ukraine all have territorial contentions with Russia. This uncertainty and instability gives Russia leverage from the perspective of knowing that states remain paranoid about future incursions, while Russia knows also that there are limits to how far these states can progress with Europeanisation while these territorial questions remain. Indeed, Moldova and Transnistria still need to resolve whether the latter will be a part of Moldova’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU or not. Poroshenko has argued that Crimea is part of Ukraine’s agreement with the EU and that without the return of Crimea, “normal” relations between Ukraine and Russia will not be possible.

This year will be remembered in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as a year in which their relationship with the EU altered dramatically with the formalised signing of the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements. In the case of Ukraine, it will be remembered also as the year of “revolution of dignity” which led also to an unfathomable deterioration in Ukraine’s relations with Russia, and as a year in which Ukraine’s right to govern Crimea, and parts of Donetsk and Lugansk, began to face an unprecedented challenge.

These are challenges that Georgia and Moldova have faced since the beginning of the post-Soviet period. The EU must realise that even if it does not pitch itself to be in competition with Russia, this is a naive position which ignores the extent to which Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, at least symbolically, see Europeanisation as reversing ‘Sovietisation’, and as a decoupling of their centre-periphery relations with Russia, in favour of a new centre-periphery relationship with the EU. The question now is how these states’ relationships with the EU and Russia, and their own citizens too, can be managed, and in turn how the EU can manage its relationship with Russia.

This article was originally posted on LSE’s EUROPP blog.

Будущее Молдовы и ассоциация с ЕС: фактор России и кризис в Украине

This article was originally posted on EastBook and is a translation of an earlier article on EUROPP.
Подписание Соглашения об ассоциации ЕС с Молдовой запланировано на июнь 2014 года, а парламентские выборы в стране пройдут в ноябре этого года. В своей статье Елли Нотт и Девид Риннерт описали влияние кризиса в Украине на внутреннюю политику Молдовы и ту тонкую грань, на которой Молдова балансирует между ЕС и Россией. По их утверждениям, кризис осложнил политическую ситуацию в стране с этническими группами, разделенными отношением к ЕС и захвату Крыма Россией. Это может оказать влияние не только на внешнюю политику страны, но и на поддержку избирателями политических партий в ноябре.

За последние два года, задолго до недавних событий в Украине, восточные соседи ЕС стали вызывать все большую озабоченность. Однако вторжение России в Украину привело к ухудшению политической ситуации в регионе. С момента аннексии Крыма будущее Молдовы рассматривалось с некоторым пессимизмом, однако чрезмерно упрощенные прогнозы о будущем страны и ее геополитической вовлеченностью нельзя рассматривать как полезные.

В последние месяцы ситуация в Молдове стала более сложной не только внутри страны, но и на уровне всего региона, потому что уже в обозримом будущем страна столкнется с необходимостью определиться со своей позицией между Россией и ЕС.

Первые последствия украинского кризиса Молдова вероятнее всего ощутит в ходе двух ключевых событий в ближайшие месяцы, а именно: во время планируемого подписаниия Соглашения об ассоциации с ЕС в этом месяце и на парламентских выборах в ноябре.

Политическая ситуация в Молдове была напряженной ещё до кризиса в Украине в связи с отставкой бывшего премьер-министра Владимира Филата в 2013 году и увеличением давления со стороны России на Кишинев, а последние события в Крыму и за его пределами еще больше дестабилизировали страну с ее 3,5 миллионным населением. Во-первых, после интервенции России в Украину, Молдова столкнулась с увеличением внутренней нестабильности в нескольких частях страны. В марте парламент Приднестровья, де-факто государство в восточной части Молдовы,официально обратился к правительству Путина с просьбой включить их в состав Российской Федерации. Месяцем ранее Гагаузия, автономная область на юге страны, провела неконституционный референдум, в котором подавляющее большинство участников голосования выразили свое желание присоединиться к Таможенному союзу России. Хотя конкретные последствия этих шагов для Молдовы остаются пока неясными, они уже указывают на повышенный риск этнических или языковых разногласий в стране.

Во-вторых, растущие внутренние разногласия в Молдове также подчеркивают противоположные мнения граждан о геополитическом курсе страны. С момента начала работы правительства Филата в 2009 году поддержка ЕС населением постоянно снижалась. Так, в мае 2014 года всего 44 процента молдаван поддерживали членство в ЕС, а не Таможенный союз. В 2010 году эти показатели были гораздо более высокими. Такое снижение числа сторонников ЕС за прошедшие годы отражется и во мнениях молдаван по поводу действий России в Украине, как показано на графиках 1 и 2 ниже.

График 1: Ответы представителей разных этнических групп, проживающих в Молдавии, на вопрос: “Если бы в следующее воскресенье проводился референдум о присоединении Республики Молдова к ЕС/Евразийскому таможенному союзу, как бы Вы проголосовали?” (апрель 2014 г.)

Примечание: в графике использованы данные опросов Института общественной политики (апрель 2014 г.). График не включает варианты ответов “отказываюсь отвечать/не знаю/другое”. Молдаване и румыны составляют большинство населения страны (более 70 процентов). Россияне, украинцы и другие этнические группы составляют лишь небольшой процент населения, поэтому следует с осторожностью принимать во внимание данные опросов для этих групп.

График 2: Ответы представителей разных этнических групп, проживающих в Молдавии, на вопрос: “Поддерживаете ли вы аннексию Крыма Россией?” (апрель 2014 г.)

Примечание: в графике использованы данные опросов Института общественной политики (апрель 2014 г.). График не включает варианты ответов “отказываюсь отвечать/не знаю/другое”. Молдаване и румыны составляют большинство населения страны (более 70 процентов). Россияне, украинцы и другие этнические группы составляют лишь небольшой процент населения, поэтому следует с осторожностью принимать во внимание данные опросов для этих групп.

В-третьих, политические партии пытаются нажить политический капитал, используя эти разделения и кризис в Украине в преддверии ноябрьских парламентских выборов в Молдове. В то время, как нынешняя проевропейская власть, состоящая из Либерал демократической партииДемократической партии и Либеральной партии, нацелена на подписание Соглашения об ассоциации в конце этого лета, пророссийский лидерКоммунистической партии Владимир Воронин подчеркивает, что Республика Молдова «должна поддерживать отношения со своим стратегическим партнером [Россией и странами бывшего СССР]». Тем не менее, как показывает график 3, недавние опросы общественного мнения свидетельствуют о том, что кризис в Украине привел к снижению общественной поддержки коммунистов, которые в 2013 году значительно выигрывали от кризиса в стране, связанного с бывшим премьер-министром Филатом.

График 3: намерения голосовать в Молдове (январь 2013 года – май 2014 года)

Примечание: в графике использованы данные опросов Института общественной политики и Молдавской социологической ассоциации опросов общественного мнения, касающиеся вопроса: “Каким из партий Вы бы отдали голоса, если бы парламентские выборы проходили в следующее воскресенье?”

В выстраданном ЕС Восточном партнерстве – инициативе, направленной на стабилизацию политической ситуации и усиление экономики на восточной границе ЕС,Молдова получила право на главный источник финансирования, если принимать во внимание соотношение численности населения и экономику. ЕС недвусмысленно продемонстрировал, что не собирается таким образом создавать “геополитическую конкуренцию” с Россией из-за Молдовы и не считает углубление политических и торговых отношений Молдовы с ЕС несовместимыми с российско-молдавскими отношениями. Однако эта позиция наивна, потому что ЕС стремится соответствовать тому, что предлагает Россия (альтернативный поставщик газа и альтернативный рынок для вин Молдовы). Кроме того, ЕС утверждает, что его зона свободной торговли не нарушает суверенитет Республики Молдова, в отличие от Евразийского таможенного союза, который, по утверждению ЕС, является “наднациональным образованием”, ограничивающим суверенитет Республики Молдова через торговые решения.

С самого начала кризиса в Украине наблюдается четкая риторика со стороны ЕС, стремящегося показать странам Восточного партнерства “более серьезные, решительные и твердые намерения”, предложить им “иное будущее”, как альтернативу их “проблемному прошлому”, и явное изменение темпа в развитии политики Восточного партнерства в Молдове и Грузии. 

Даже в декабре 2013 года Герман Ван Ромпей утверждал, что ЕС теперь готов “ускорить” подписание соглашения об ассоциации с Грузией, Украиной и Молдовой.

В связи с кризисом в Украине, подписание Молдовой Соглашения об ассоциации уже передвинулось с августа на июнь этого года. В апреле молдаване получили безвизовый доступ в ЕС. Этот шаг давно рассматривался как “наиболее важный вопрос” для государств Восточного партнерства из-за материальных выгод, которые он приносит простым молдаванам и бизнес-элите. И все-таки, согласно данным опросов Института общественной политики, количество простых молдаван, которые ездят в ЕС, завышено по сравнению с 83 процентами тех, кто в течение последних 5 лет не выезжал в ЕС . Трудно также сказать, сколько граждан, действительно побывавших в странах ЕС, воспользовались для этого румынским паспортом, принимая во внимание облегчение процедуры получения или возврата румынского гражданства, введённое Румынией.

Хотя ассоциация ЕС с Молдовой набрала темпы, принципиальные вопросы, связанные с отношениями Молдовы и ЕС, остаются нерешенными.

Особое значение имеет тот факт, как Приднестровье впишется в Глубокое и всестороннее соглашение о свободной торговле (DCFTA) Молдовы с ЕС, которое является частью Соглашения об ассоциации. До 2015 Приднестровье и Молдова должны выяснить свои отношения в свете этого соглашения, но все указывает на то, что Приднестровье не согласится с позицией Молдовы и потеряет свои привилегированные торговые преференции с ЕС.

По утверждениям Нику Попеску, Приднестровье должно подумать о своих собственных интересах и избежать “уничтожения остатков экономики Тирасполя из-за политических лозунгов”, учитывая, что 30 процентов экспорта Тирасполя направлено в Молдову, в то время как еще 40 процентов направляется в страны ЕС, и лишь небольшой процент идет в Россию. Однако призыв Приднестровья к интеграции с Россией демонстрирует более напряженную политическую ситуацию между Россией, Приднестровьем и Молдовой, а вопрос самоопределения Приднестровья остаётся непредсказуемым.

Румыния была одним из ключевых защитников Молдовы в ЕС. Румыния – это также один из основных двусторонних партнеров Республики Молдова, который  с помощью Ясско-Унгенского газопровода пытается стать противовесом России для Молдовы. Этот путепровод обеспечит  Молдову альтернативным первичным источником газа (25 процентов будет финансироваться за счет ЕС). Тем не менее, позиция Румынии в отношении Молдовы часто переходит рамки прагматики и направляется в сторону сентиментальных отношений: эта страна воспринимается как территория, несправедливо аннексированная Советским Союзом, где, по заявлениям Румынии, большинство населения составляют этнические румыны (вот причины облегчения процедуры получения румынского гражданства).

Во время последнего саммита Восточного партнерства в Вильнюсе, который должен был быть посвящен углублению отношений Молдовы с ЕС, к большому ужасу ЕС президент Румынии Траян Бэсеску говорил о повторном объединении с Молдовой, как о все еще актуальной цели внешней политики Румынии (которая уже добилась вступления в НАТО и ЕС).

Следовательно, позиция Румынии в отношении Молдовы зажата между этими конкурирующими подходами и может быть контрпродуктивной для отношений ЕС с Молдовой.

Тем не менее, Молдова будет вынуждена найти баланс между отношениями с ЕС и Россией, потому что Россия останется ключевым партнером для Молдовы в качестве основного источника денежных переводов и газа. Позиция России в отношении Молдовы остается сложной не только из-за призыва Приднестровья, который до сих пор воспринимается с осторожностью. Но и из-за региона Гагаузия, который находится в интересном положении, будучи единственным регионом в Молдове, где Россия сняла свой винный запрет после гагаузского референдума, упомянутого выше. Позиция России в отношении Молдовы фокусируется на необходимости ее постоянного нейтралитета. Действительно, министр иностранных дел России Сергей Лавров заявил, что Приднестровье может не опасаться российского вмешательства, пока Молдова остается “нейтральной”.

Тем не менее, понимание того, каким должен быть нейтралитет Молдовы, можеть быть различным. С точки зрения НАТО, партнерство Молдовы с НАТО “совместимо с нейтралитетом”, что основано на отношениях с уже нейтральными государствами, а также “совместимо с хорошими отношениями с Россией”. Однако со стороны РоссииДмитрий Рогозин утверждает, что даже “Ассоциация с ЕС означает изменение нейтрального статуса Молдовы” на том основании, что “для вступления в ЕС нужно присоединиться к НАТО”. Это утверждение придает чрезмерное значение предложению ЕС, учитывая, что акцент делается на том, что Соглашение об ассоциации не следует приравнивать к обещанию будущего присоединения.

Однако прогноз российско-молдавских отношений не должен быть полностью пессимистичным. Россия показала большую готовность вмешаться, чем прогнозировалось, но Россия также имеет больше интересов, чем она в состоянии одновременно удовлетворить. Это стало очевидно сейчас в Абхазии, где Россия столкнулась с побегом президента в де-факто государстве, которое она поддерживает. Поэтому трудно предсказать, как будут развиваться российско-молдавские отношени, ведь украинский кризис вызвал растущую неопределенность на широком постсоветском пространстве.

В своей совокупности кризис в Украине еще более осложнил (гео)политическую ситуацию в соседней Молдове в разных аспектах.

Понятно, что Молдова будет продолжать определять свое положение между Россией и ЕС, но она уменьшает возможности для маневра, позволяющие это делать.

Как утверждалось ранее, государства-члены ЕС должны более внимательно учитывать фактор России в своих делах с Молдовой и, например, отделить рассуждения о европеизации от рассуждений о безопасности.

Внутренне ЕС должен обеспечить обтекаемую позицию, особенно в отношении румынской внешней политики. Молдова должна также попытаться укрепить региональное сотрудничество, особенно с Украиной, потому что обе страны в настоящее время сталкиваются с аналогичными геополитическими ситуациями, находясь между Россией и ЕС. Для Молдовы ближайшие месяцы остаются напряженными не только из-за окружающей геополитической ситуации, но также из-за предстоящих парламентских выборов, которые могут привести к национальному политическому землетрясению в конце 2014 года.


Перевод с английского выполнила Ольга Яцына

Статья опубликована в Блоге Лондонской школы экономики 5 июня.

The Ukraine crisis has complicated Moldova’s political situation ahead of signing an Association Agreement with the EU

Moldova is scheduled to sign an Association Agreement with the EU later this month, with Parliamentary elections also due to be held in November. Ellie Knott and David Rinnert write on the impact the Ukraine crisis has had on domestic politics and Moldova’s delicate balance between the EU and Russia. They argue that the crisis has complicated the country’s political situation, with ethnic groups divided over relations with the EU and Russia’s annexation of Crimea. This could have an impact not only in terms of foreign policy, but also on the support for political parties in November.

Over the past two years, well before recent events in Ukraine, the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood had become an increasing concern. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has led to a deteriorated political situation across the region. Ever since the Crimean annexation, Moldova’s future has been analysed with waves of pessimism, however overly simplistic predictions about the country’s future and its geopolitical implications are not useful.

The situation in Moldova has become more complex in the past months, domestically and regionally, and the country, for the foreseeable future, is faced with having to negotiate a position between Russia and the EU. The first impacts of the Ukraine crisis on Moldova are likely to be felt in two key events in the next months, namely the planned signing of an Association Agreement with the EU this month and parliamentary elections in November.

While the political situation in Moldova was already tense before the Ukraine crisis due to the resignation of former Prime Minister Vladimir Filat in 2013 and increased Russian pressure on Chisinau, recent events in Crimea and beyond have further destabilised the 3.5 million-strong country. First, following Russia’s Ukraine intervention, Moldova faces increased domestic instability in several parts of the country. In March, the Parliament of Transnistria, a de-facto state in the east of Moldova, formally asked the Putin government to incorporate it into the Russian Federation. One month earlier, Gagauzia, an autonomous region in the south of the country, held an unconstitutional referendum in which a large majority of the voters expressed their will to join Russia’s Customs Union. Although the specific consequences of these steps for Moldova remain unclear for now, they already underline the increased risk of ethnic or language-based tensions in the country.

Second, rising internal divisions within Moldova are also emphasised by citizens’ polarised opinions on the country’s geopolitical direction. Since the Filat government took office in 2009, public support for the EU has decreased steadily, with 44 per cent of Moldovans preferring EU membership over Customs Union membership in May 2014 compared to much higher numbers in 2010. This declining support for the EU over the past years is also reflected in Moldovans’ opinions on Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as shown in Charts 1 and 2 below.

Chart 1: Responses in Moldova by ethnic group to the question: “If there were a referendum on Moldova’s accession to the EU/Eurasian Customs Union next Sunday which would you vote for?” (April 2014)
Note: Created by the authors using polling figures from the Institute for Public Policy (April 2014). Chart does not include refused/don’t know/other responses. Moldovans and Romanians make up the majority of the country’s population (over 70 per cent). As Russians, Ukrainians and other ethnic groups only make up a small percentage of the population the polling figures should be treated with caution for these groups.
Chart 2: Responses in Moldova by ethnic group to the question: “Do you support the annexation of Crimea by Russia?” (April 2014)
Note: Created by the authors using polling figures from the Institute for Public Policy (April 2014). Chart does not include refused/don’t know/other responses. Moldovans and Romanians make up the majority of the country’s population (over 70 per cent). As Russians, Ukrainians and other ethnic groups only make up a small percentage of the population the polling figures should be treated with caution for these groups.

Third, political parties are trying to gain political capital out of these divisions and the Ukraine crisis ahead of Moldova’s Parliamentary elections in November. While the current pro-EU government, consisting of theLiberal Democrats, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, aims at signing the Association Agreement later this summer, the Russian-leaning Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin underlines that Moldova “needs to have relationships with its strategic partners [Russia and the FSU countries]”. Nevertheless, as Chart 3 shows, recent polls indicate that the Ukraine crisis has led to decreasing public support for the Communists, who in 2013 benefited significantly from the domestic crisis surrounding former Prime Minister Filat.

Chart 3: Voting intention in Moldova (January 2013 – May 2014)
Note: Created by the authors using figures from Institute for Public Policy and Moldovan Sociological Association opinion polls asking the question: “For which of the following parties would you vote if there were Parliamentary elections next Sunday?”

Within the EU’s plagued Eastern Partnership (EaP), an initiative aiming at political stability and economic strength on the EU’s eastern border, Moldova has been eligible for the greatest source of funding relative to the size of its population and economy. The EU has been explicit that it does not situate itself in “geopolitical competition” with Russia over Moldova, and does not see Moldova’s deepening political and trade relations with the EU as incompatible with Russian-Moldovan relations. However this position is naive because the EU is seeking to match what Russia offers (an alternative supplier of gas and an alternative market for Moldova’s wine). Further, the EU argues its free trade zone does not impede Moldova’s sovereignty, unlike the Eurasian Customs Union which the EU argues, as a “supra-national institution”, would restrict Moldova’s sovereignty over its trade decisions.

Since the crisis in Ukraine began, there has been a clear rhetoric from the EU in showing EaP states an “even stronger, more determined and resolute commitment” to offer them “a different future” to their “rocky past”, and a clear change of pace in the advancement of EaP policies in Moldova and Georgia. Van Rompuy indicated, even in December 2013, that the EU was now willing to “speed up” the signing of Association Agreements with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Moldova’s signing of the Association Agreement has already moved ahead from August to June of this year. In April, Moldovans received visa free access to the EU. This was long seen as the “the most crucial issue” for EaP states due to the tangible benefits that this brings everyday Moldovans and the business elite. Yet this overstates the degree to which ordinary Moldovans are travelling to the EU with 83 per cent, according to an IPP poll, not travelling to the EU within the past 5 years. It is hard to tell also how many of those who did travel to the EU did so with Romanian passports, given Romania’s policy of facilitating the (re)acquisition of Romanian citizenship.

While the EU’s association with Moldova has gained pace, crucial issues relating to EU-Moldovan relations remain unresolved. Of particular importance is how Transnistria would fit within Moldova’s Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU, which is part of the Association Agreement. Transnistria and Moldova will have until 2015 to resolve their relations in respect of the agreement, but all signs have indicated that Transnistria will not agree to Moldova’s position, and instead would lose its privileged trading preferences with the EU.

As Nicu Popescu has argued, Transnistria needs to think about its own interests and avoid “killing what’s left of Tiraspol’s economy because of political slogans” given that 30 per cent of Tiraspol exports are directed to Moldova, while another 40 per cent are directed to EU countries, leaving only a small percentage directed to Russia. Transnistria’s call to Russia for integration, however, demonstrates the increasingly tense political situation between Russia, Transnistria and Moldova, and how Transnistria will situate itself remains unpredictable.

Within the EU, Romania has been one Moldova’s key advocates. Romania too is one of Moldova’s core bilateral partners and has tried to counter-balance Russia’s influence in Moldova, through measures such as the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline which would offer Moldova an alternative first source of gas (of which 25 per cent will be funded by the EU). Yet Romania’s stance toward Moldova often steers too much beyond pragmatic relations toward a sentimental relationship with the country, as a territory that it feels was unfairly annexed by the Soviet Union (key to Romania’s facilitated citizenship policy) and where Romaniaclaims the majority of the population are ethnic Romanians.

During the last Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, which should have been about Moldova’s deepening relations with the EU, the Romanian President, Traian Băsescu, talked of (re)unification with Moldova still being the remaining goal of Romania’s foreign policy (having already achieved NATO and EU accession), much to the EU’s consternation. Romania’s stance toward Moldova is therefore caught between these competing approaches, and can be counter-productive for EU-Moldovan relations.

However, Moldova will be forced to strike a balance between Moldovan-EU and Moldovan-Russian relations because Russia will remain a key partner for Moldova, as the main source of remittances and gas. Russia’s position for Moldova remains complex, not only because of Transnistria’s call which it has so far heeded. But also because of the region of Gagauzia, which is situated in an interesting position of being the only region within Moldova where Russia has lifted its wine ban, following the Gagauzian referendum mentioned above. Russia’s position toward Moldova focuses on the need for its ongoing neutrality. Indeed Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, has said that Transnsitria is not at risk from Russian interference so long as Moldova remains “neutral”.

Yet ideas of what constitutes Moldova’s neutrality have many interpretations. From NATO’s perspective, a Moldovan partnership with NATO “is compatible with neutrality” based on their relations with already neutral states, and is also “compatible with having good relations with Russia”. From the perspective of Russia, however, Dmitri Rogozin has argued that even an “association with the EU means changing Moldova’s neutral status” on the basis that to “join the EU you need to accede to NATO”. This overplays what the EU is offering, given that there has been a careful emphasis on the fact that an Association Agreement does not equate to a promise of future accession.

The prognosis, however, for Moldovan-Russian relations should not be totally pessimistic. Russia has shown itself to be more willing to intervene than predicted, but Russia also has more interests that it can simultaneously instrumentalise. This is evident now in Abkhazia, where Russia is faced with dealing with the president fleeing in a de-facto state they endorse. It is hard to predict therefore how Russian-Moldovan relations will progress because the Ukrainian crisis has caused growing uncertainty across the wider post-Soviet region.

Taken together, the crisis in Ukraine has further complicated the (geo)political situation in neighbouring Moldova from a number of perspectives. It is clear that Moldova will have to continue to negotiate a position between Russia and the EU, but it has decreasing room for manoeuvre in which to do this. As argued previously, EU member states should consider the Russia factor in their affairs with Moldova in more depth and, for example, separate the Europeanisation discourse from a security discourse.

Internally, the EU should ensure a streamlined position especially with regard to Romanian foreign policy. Moldova should also try to strengthen its regional cooperation, especially with Ukraine, because both countries now face similar geopolitical situations between Russia and the EU. For Moldova, the coming months will remain tense not only because of the surrounding geopolitical situation, but also because of upcoming Parliamentary elections that might lead to a domestic political earthquake later in 2014.

This article was originally posted on LSE’s EUROPP blog.