Following the Riga summit, more realism is required over what the EU can offer its eastern partners

The latest Eastern Partnership summit was held in Riga on 21-22 May. The summit was the first to be held since the Vilnius summit in November 2013 which precipitated the Ukraine crisis. Ellie Knott writes on the outcome of the summit and what it means for the development of relations between the EU and Eastern Partnership states. She notes that the EU is now faced with a difficult balancing act of convincing Russia that it is not engaged in direct competition for influence over post-Soviet states, while offering enough concessions to those Eastern Partnership countries that would like to pursue deeper EU integration.

The recent Riga summit (21-22 May 2015) was the fourth summit since the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was initiated in 2009. While the Riga Summit may have been a “survival summit” against the backdrop of “war in Ukraine”, it also signalled “a new era of our partnership” between the EU and 6 EaP states, with a new High Representative (Federica Mogherini), EU President (Donald Tusk) and Commissioner for Enlargement (Johannes Hahn).

The interim between the Vilnius (November 2013) and Riga summits saw one of the biggest crises of post-Soviet states. Ukraine experienced both a revolution, and then Russian incursion, first with Crimea’s annexation and then with support for separatism in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, leaving the country somewhere between a civil war and full-scale war with Russia.

This period also saw an acceleration of negotiations between the EU, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia with the signing of Association (AA) and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA) in June 2014, and a visa-free regime with Moldova in April 2014. Meanwhile, the three other EaP states, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan, have signed up to a Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). And yet, in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis, even these EaP “laggards” showed renewed interest in intensifying their relations with the EU, as Kadri Liik (ECFR) argues, to “hedge against Russia’s pressure”.

With this new EU administration, so too is the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), of which the EaP is a major constituent, under review in a period of ongoing consultation which will not be finalised until autumn 2015. As such, the Riga summit came during a period of uncertain change and increasing tensions between these post-Soviet EaP states, the EU and Russia. In this sense, Riga was more, as Pierre Vimontargues, of a “stock-taking exercise” in the run-up to an uncertain future revision of the ENP.

A “two tier” approach

Although uncertainty remains concerning the future Eastern Partnership approach, two aspects were clear at Riga: the EaP’s emphasis on differentiation and sovereignty. In terms of differentiation, the EU is likely to adopt a two tier approach, continuing more deep engagement with AA/DCFTA states, who are not bound to the Eurasian Economic Union (Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia), while offering a more “tailor-made” engagement to Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The table below illustrates the current picture among the six EaP states.

Table: Eastern Partnership states

Note: The ‘quality of democracy’ assessment is from the 2015 Freedom House report. The ‘corruption score’ is the score (out of 175, where a higher score indicates more perceived corruption) for Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. GDP per capita figures are from Eurostat.

These states cannot sign up to the DCFTA, as members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, of which a constituent part is a customs union. They present, therefore, different challenges to the EU in terms of the types of relations possible, requiring a different model to that of AA and DCFTA Eastern Partnership states. Moreover Belarus poses a problem as a state currently under, and unresponsive to, EU sanctions, including a travel ban and asset freezes on 232 individuals and 25 entities, including the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko.

The idea of the Eastern Partnership underlining the sovereignty of its partners became a theme at the Vilnius (2013) summit, but was unmentioned at the previous summits in Warsaw (2011) and Prague (2009). At Vilnius, as relations with Russia concerning EaP states became tenser, the EaP outlined the “sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition”, to indicate that the EU wanted to resist a coercive Russia deciding how these countries should interact with EU states. At Riga, this discourse of “sovereign choices” was reaffirmed, alongside shoring up the “territorial integrity” and “independence” of allEaP states.

Hence, we can infer a degree of continuity in the EU’s approach towards EaP states, by trying to brand this cooperation as technocratic, endorsing the continued approach of “more for more” (i.e. more access to the EU for more transformation) and endorsing everything short of membership. As Junker outlined at Riga, EaP states “are not ready [for membership], and we are not ready”.

Was the Riga summit a failure?

This sense of continuity is partially responsible for the framing of Riga as “disastrous” and a “failure” for two reasons: namely because the EU is unwilling to advance the membership option and also unwilling to castigate Russia’s coercive approach toward EaP states. However, it should not come as much surprise that the EU is unwilling to extend the membership option, both in light of the fact that the EU sees these states as “not ready”, but also, as Merkel argues, because the EaP was not designed as “an instrument for enlargement” but of “rapprochement”. The problem is that the (pro-EU) political class of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova view the membership option as a panacea, both to shore up wavering domestic support for EU integration and as a counter to Russian leverage.

Before 2013, the EaP was largely a technocratic project aimed at encouraging the reform of democracy, the rule of law and the economies of partner states, rather than to facilitate a region-building geopolitical project. Hence Russia was not explicitly mentioned in previous joint declarations in Vilnius (2013), Warsaw (2009) or Prague (2009). While Russia might have been mentioned in informal conversations during the Riga summit, in an official context, Russia was mentioned only vis-à-vis the EU’s role in “facilitating gas talks” between Russia and Ukraine.

Implicitly, however, Russia was nevertheless criticised via the Joint Declaration’s condemnation of the “illegal annexation” of Crimea and Sevastopol, calls for de-escalation of the conflict in Donestk and Luhansk, and via the declaration’s emphasis on sovereignty, which can no longer be “taken for granted”. In this sense, EU leaders continue to emphasise that the EaP, and more broadly relations between the EU and these post-Soviet states, is not “directed against Russia” nor part of a competition or “beauty contest” with the country.

The reluctance of the EU to criticise Russia has been seen as a key failing of Riga, with the EU portrayed as cowering to ongoing Russian aggression. However, the EU continues to irritate Russia, with Russia’s Foreign Ministry complaining that “once again [the EU] growled its inadequate position on Crimea”. The refusal of Armenia and Belarus to sign up to the condemnation of Russia’s annexation (in the Joint Declaration) also demonstrates the limits of the EaP in showing a unified front vis-à-vis Russia, given the different perspectives articulated by the six EaP states and, too, within the 28 EU member-states.

What are the challenges going forward?

Looking forward, the EU’s relationship with its Eastern Partners will continue to face significant challenges, both from the more advanced EaP states’ disappointment in not being offered a membership option, the delay to visa-free agreements for Georgia and Ukraine, and the difficulties in navigating relations with EaP laggards, who are more advanced in their relations with Russia. In this sense, the “idea” of the Eastern Partnership may be “even more important than ever”, as Merkel argues, but it is also exposed to more challenges vis-à-vis Russia.

The EU also has to contend with growing apathy toward Europeanisation in EaP states, in particularMoldova and even Georgia. Key to this is the endemic corruption experienced in some states, notably in Moldova which, following the scandal of the “missing billion” of GDP, has increasingly seen antipathy toward the pro-European elite directed at the concept of Europeanisation itself. In this sense, the EU has to be more forceful in its “more for more approach” and this includes requiring domestic EaP elites to implement and respect more wide sweeping reforms to try to win back support for Europeanisation.

Russia too will remain a key challenge for the Eastern Partnership and for European security more generally. Russia’s ability to coerce EaP states relies on territorial weaknesses, such as influence over existing de facto states (Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia) and new de facto states (the ‘People’s Republics’ in Donetsk and Luhansk), and anti-democratic elites (e.g. in Belarus and Azerbaijan). Hence, the more successful EaP states are, Ukraine in particular, the more likely Russia will try to push back.

Ultimately, the EU finds itself between a rock and a hard place: between convincing Russia it’s not engaging in a competition for influence, and convincing Eastern Partners they’re committed to them. EU leaders want “strategic patience”, in an era when they appear increasingly nervous about relations with Russia. When even Belarus wants to intensify its relations with the EU, to increase its leverage against Russia, this shows the tensions existing in EaP states since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But really it’s up to the political class of EaP states to commit to more reforms, and for the EU to enforce the implementation of these reforms. Yet, there are paradoxes here, such as in Belarus where chances of reform, to the extent desired by the EU, remain unlikely.

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.

Moldova is at the crossroads between Russia and the EU ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius 

The Eastern Partnership is an initiative aimed at strengthening the EU’s relations with neighbouring states in Eastern Europe. Ahead of the next Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, Ellie Knott assesses the factors influencing Moldova’s relationship with the EU. She notes that although Moldova has been governed by pro-EU governments since 2009, the country has come under significant pressure from Russia. Moldova may also need to resolve its relationship with the disputed territory of Transnistria before it can progress further along the path to EU accession.

After the Alliance for European Integration came to power in 2009, ending eight years of rule by Moldova’s Communist Party (PCRM), the main goal of Moldova’s foreign policy became clear: the desire for European integration. Moldova has been one of the few success stories of the EU’s Eastern Partnership (EaP). The next EaP summit, to be held in Vilnius in November, is highly anticipated as Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia are all hoping that their progress towards European integration will be rewarded with the signing of EU Association Agreements, deep and comprehensive free trade agreements, and progress with visa liberalisation regimes. However there is a need to be realistic about these states’ relations with the EU, given the problems they face internally and externally.

The progress of the Alliance for European Integration has been notable, as it has been able to change the perceptions of Moldova from the “last bastion of Communism in Europe” to the “recognised leader” of the EaP. However Moldova has also had its fair share of political crises, with parliament unable to elect a President between 2009 and 2012. Then in February 2013, the Alliance for European Integration was dissolved following allegations of corruption and tensions within the coalition parties. Parliament removed the Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, and the constitutional court ruled that a new Prime Minister had to be instated. Moldova was therefore left without a government until May 2013 when the Pro-European coalition was formed. These crises have damaged Moldova’s reputation as the EaP leader by demonstrating the fragility of Moldovan politics, and deepened a loss of faith in politics among Moldovan society.

For countries like Moldova, there is huge symbolic importance placed on the signing of an Association Agreement with the EU. From the EU’s perspective, it is a “game changer” because “for the first time we [the EU] will make a quantum leap towards… real transformation in that post soviet space”. Similarly, some political analysts have identified the signing of an Association Agreement as the point at which Moldova will decisively and irrevocably exit from the ‘Russian World’. Many in Moldova are pleased at the prospect of being able to divorce themselves, at least symbolically, from Russia’s influence. However this ignores the problem of Transnistria, the large community of Russian speakers in Moldova, the large migrant Moldovan labour force in Russia, and Moldova’s opposition parties that prefer relations with Russia over the EU.

Beyond the symbolic level, there are material political reasons for seeing Association Agreements with EaP states as a decisive step in the positioning of these states between east and west. The EU has underlined the “lack of compatibility” between Association Agreements and joining a Eurasian Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The EU explains that this is “not about politics or ideology” but reflects the principle that the EU “cannot make legally binding agreements with partners that are not in charge of their external trade policies”, as would be the case with Eurasian Customs Union agreements. While EaP states might like to keep their options open in terms of relations with the EU and Russia, the EU is unequivocal in terms of the mutual exclusivity of agreements.

For Moldova, like other EaP states, the strengthening of relations with the EU will impact upon relations with Russia. Russia is Moldova’s second largest trading partner, after the EU, and the only current provider of Moldova’s gas, although construction of the Iasi-Ungheni pipeline between Romania and Moldova will begin soon. Russia has taken an attitude towards Moldova that verges on bullying. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, and Dimitry Rogozin, one of Russia’s Deputy Prime-Ministers, warned Moldova that EU negotiations would have consequences such as trade sanctions and increasing the price of Russian gas, with Rogozin adding “I hope you won’t freeze”.

As the Economist has argued, this is part of Putin’s policy of “arm-twisting ex-Soviet countries to join his Eurasian Customs Union”. These tactics have just worked on Armenia, whose government announced recently that it would join the Customs Union and no longer pursue EU Association status. Meanwhile, Russia recently banned Moldovan wine exports again, to encourage Moldova to reconsider its path towards closer EU cooperation.

A further complicating factor concerns Transnistria, a separatist region subsidised by Russia. The EU has sent mixed messages to Moldova about whether it has to resolve the Transnistria situation to be eligible for EU accession. In 2012, Barroso said that it was “critical to settle” the issue, but that there was not an “absolute link” between resolution and Moldova’s path towards EU integration. However in 2013 Traian Băsescu, the Romanian President and a significant supporter of Moldova joining the EU, said regarding Transnistria that “the EU will not repeat the error made with Cyprus”; thereby suggesting that Moldova has to resolve the Transnistria issue in order to progress further in its path toward accession.

Rogozin has warned Moldova that progressing further with the EU would mean they “would lose Transnistria”. Besides EU accession, if Moldova signs a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, this will impact on Transnistria’s trade relationship with the EU, where 50-60 per cent of Transnistria’s products end up, as it will no longer benefit from Moldova’s Autonomous Trade Preferences. Transnistria will be forced to choose between joining the free trade agreement itself and being subject to the highest EU tariffs as an exporter of “goods of non-specific origin”. The EU would prefer that Moldova can convince Transnistria to join the agreement, but this seems both unlikely and wishful thinking given Transnistria and Russia’s stance on Moldovan-EU relations.

Moldova is therefore trapped in a Catch-22 situation amid on-going internal political turmoil. For many, the strengthening of Moldova’s relationship with the EU, such as signing of the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, is the “only possible game in town”. If Moldova can sign an Association Agreement with the EU in November, this will be a good signal of how much has been achieved in a short period. However it will answer as many questions as it solves, with an Association Agreement promising nothing in terms of Moldova’s long term goal of EU accession. It will also incur severe costs in terms of relations with Russia, as Russia’s threats would impact the daily lives of Moldovans significantly.

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