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.


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

What can Ukraine learn from a post-2009 Moldova? It’s not just institutions that need to change.

After events in Ukraine in 2014, there’s been a lot of reflection on what this means for other post-Soviet states, and in particular Moldova, with its own separatist regions (Transnistria, Gagauzia) and upcoming elections at the end of November. However, Moldova’s recent political experiences also offer a useful point of reflection for key lessons that Ukraine needs to learn going forward. Most importantly, this concerns the way in which Ukraine constructs itself as a post-Euromaidan state, in particular how politicians interact between themselves and whether they act for primarily to serve their own interests, or those of the wider Ukrainian society.

Moldova: the Twitter Revolution and After

In 2009, protestors took to the streets in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, to protest against the victory of the Communist Party, who had been in power since 2009, in April’s parliamentary elections. Elections were then held again in July, unseating the Communists’ overwhelming majority of the Moldovan parliament, and allowing a tripartite coalition, to form the Alliance for European Integration (formed by the Liberal Democrat Party/PLDM, Democratic Party/PDM and Liberal Party/PL). 

This change of power was seen as a turning point in Moldovan politics particularly for the young, who had been the key participants in the April protests, as a turn towards a more democratic and European-style of politics, and away from a Communist/Soviet style of governing. Indeed, many people I met often referred to the coalition as just the “Democrats” as opposed to the “Communists”.

Fast forward to May 2013, the Alliance for European Integration hit rock bottom, having been shocked by a scandal between the key players of the coalition (then Prime Minister Vlad Filat, from Moldova’s Liberal Democrat Party, and Moldova’s richest man and Democrat Party politician, Vladimir Plahotniuc). This served as a focal point for considering all that the Alliance had promised and all they had failed to deliver.

Those in power had changed, but they still used power in much the same way to the Communists: to line their pockets, and those of their friends and family, and gain immunity from investigation. Essentially, being in power had allowed the three parties ownership over different parts of the state (such as ministries and the judiciary) and allowed them to manipulate them, via putting their various allies in positions of power, to their advantage.

In some ways, Moldova’s relationship with the EU has benefited, ironically, significantly from post-Euromaidan Ukraine. It encouraged (perhaps forced) the EU to want to “speed up” its Association Agreements with Moldova and Georgia, at a time of deep turmoil in Moldova, and many unsettled problems. At the same time, the desire to “modernise” Moldova, and Ukraine, has focused just on institutions of power, in the hope that these might change behaviour by promoting, and requiring, greater transparency and accountability, without understanding the basis on which these institutions need to function.

Moldovans know well what needs to change: Cumătrism / Kumovstvo / Кумовство

кумовство́ (kumovstvón

1. relationship of godparents

2. nepotism, cronyism

Alena Ledeneva‘s research, though focused on Russia and not Ukraine and Moldova, has many salient points when it comes to understanding the barriers to modernisation in post-Soviet states. Her thesis centres on importance of informal governance, phenomena such as “telephone law” and blat“, an economy of favours, which prevent institutions from changing much because they are bound by sistema“, the informal networks that govern power and politics.

In Moldova, there’s a local consensus, I’d argue, that when it comes to changing how the state is governed, and trying to weed out corruption, the main problem cumătrism (or Nănașii). Cumătrism is the system of godparents that couples appoint when they get married and is the key binding tool between friends and families. An infamous problem, and a banal phenomenon, cumătrism is the way that power and informal networks function, both within and outside politics. Ledeneva mentions briefly a similar phenomenon of kumovstvo in Russia, of godparent networks.

But, cumătrism (in Moldova) is beyond our gaze. Academically, you’ll find no mention of it in Google Scholar or Web of Science, no reference in Google Books. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. So to most outside Moldova it slips out of sight. Yet it’s the focal point, from a local perspective, as to why institutions stumble and why the system is so hard to change, both from the outside and from within. Essentially, political parties and institutions feed off these networks and demonstrate the extent to which, particularly in a small society like Moldova, it’s hard to weed out those who have embedded themselves and their close friend-family networks into the system, because they’ve also manufactured a network of protection by the system.

Lessons to be learnt: Institutions vs. Nepotism

family yanukovych

I’m not suggesting that cumătrism necessarily exists in Ukraine exactly as it does in Moldova, but the importance of informal networks in Ukraine is fundamental to the system of power, privilege and wealth. We know that Yanukovych operated via through “Family Yanukovych” and through a system of oligarchs originating out of his home region, and while power has obviously shifted to a new group of politicians, led by Poroshenko, it’s not clear that he is willing to run a Ukraine that is drastically different in the way it gives positions of power, and contracts, than the previous administration. Victoria Nuland, US Deputy Secretary of State, in a recent address to Shevchenko University in Kyiv, argued that Ukrainians had to continue to fight and demand that institutions function differently, that a free media be created.

But this is only the start. As Moldova showed after 2009, there was a lot of hope and since there has been a lot of disappointment. The Ukrainian political class needs to show not just that it’s willing to bring in new laws, but that it’s willing to be accountable to them, and that it’s willing not just to penalise its enemies, but also hold its allies to account, where necessary, rather than offer them protection from the system. When you have the Ukrainian president owning one of Ukraine’s main media channels, Channel 5, this is not a great start.

My point is, as academics, policy-makers and journalists, we need to focus not just on the institutions through which states are governed, but look at how they’re actually governed, via informal networks that are the key building blocks of the political and business class (and to a great extent link these classes together). We need to investigate cumătrism and kumovstvo in Ukraine, Moldova and Russia further.


For more on the importance of informal networks in post-Soviet states:

  • Interview: How Russia’s ‘Sistema’ Leads To The ‘Modernization Trap’ on RFERL
  • Alexander Tymczuk “Public Duties and Private Obligations: Networking and Personalisation of Relations in Ukraine” in Anthropology of East Europe Review 24.2 (2006): 62-70.
  • How to get rid of post-Sovietness by Viitorul (2012)

See also: Ukraine’s Ensconced Corruption by Devin Ackles

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.

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.

Whatever happened to Moldova’s Twitter generation?

This article was originally posted on SSEES Research Blog.

Young people spearheaded the 2009 Twitter Revolution in Moldova but are now deeply disillusioned with electoral politics. The country’s future direction in Europe may depend on whether they can be re-engaged, argues Ellie Knott.  

It commonly assumed that young people in Moldova are politically uninterested, inactive and inert. However they were among the most active during the 2009 Twitter Revolution against the re-election of the Communist Party.

Young people also formed a crucial part of the electorate: 18-29 year olds are the base electorate of the two of the three parties in the previous Alliance for European Integration (AIE), and the recently formed Pro-European Coalition, comprising 43% of Liberal Democrat Party’s (PLDM) votes and 41% of the Liberal Party’s (PL) votes. To hold on to power in next year’s parliamentary elections, for at least two of the three parties in the Pro-European coalition, ensuring that young people vote – and that they vote for them – will be fundamental to their continuing success.

Young people often describe the change of government in 2009, which saw the AIE displace the Communists, as a turning point for Moldovan politics. It inspired them and encouraged them to believe that things would be different. Many concede that since the ‘democratic’ parties took power the situation has improved, particularly in terms of personal and media freedom and Moldova’s progress with EU integration. But this initial positivity has been often dampened. Several interviewees described how they had stopped following the political situation in the media of late because as one put it  ‘the more I watched news, the sadder I got’. They often spoke of the ‘drama’ and ‘theatrics’ of Moldovan politics, the constant fighting between politicians and how lying and stealing are running rife.

‘Hungry wolves’

There was a lot of anger that politicians were just ‘hungry wolves’, acting in their personal business interests and rarely in the interests of society. One woman spoke of how Moldovan politics was just about ‘a few people […] dividing everything’; she said that ‘everyone knows’ what is going on but ‘no one speaks about it’. Another interviewee told me how politicians treat political parties as their ‘property’ using them to protect their interests and were unwilling to share power even within their own parties. The ‘democratic’ parties could not now be counted on to be better than the Communists. Politics was just a way for individuals to ‘have some kind of immunity and no one can touch you’ from their corrupt businesses and ‘dirty stuff’ that politicians were involved in.

Many felt voting had no impact. One interviewee explained how he felt his vote could influence who was elected, but you could not then count on those elected to follow through on their electoral promises. Several people I encountered said that they would not be voting in future because they felt let down by the current political environment and by the failure of changes that they had hoped, and campaigned for after 2009 to materialise.

A more alarming aspect of this disenchantment was that some saw a need for authoritarianism in a desperate attempt to achieve the social and economic changes necessary, for example, for EU integration. One conversation along these lines began with a man discussing how he wanted more power to lie with the president because Moldova needed ‘one good, responsible leader’. He continued by saying that a ‘dictatorial system is needed for sometime’ because Moldovans were spoilt by ‘democratic concepts’, ‘too free’ and ‘don’t respect anyone’.

Divisions over integration

Four years after it was formed, for many young people, the leaders and parties of the Alliance for Integration, and now the Pro-European Coalition, have failed to show themselves to be anything other than dirty and corrupt. The coalition is now faced with the difficult task of convincing younger sections of the electorate that it is worth voting for them, and worth participating in a political process where current politicians inspire little hope.

At the same time, if the Pro-European politicians are not able to do this then the Communists (PCRM) may get back into power, alone or in coalition with the Democrats (PDM). Many of those I spoke to did not think this would change the domestic situation in Moldova much. But in terms of foreign policy, the gap between the AIE parties and PCRM is huge. While the AIE is resolute in pursuing EU integration and the Communists support ties with Russia, the CIS and the project of Eurasian Integration. While the electorate overall is split in their preferences for European or Eurasian integration, Moldovan youth are stronger in their support of European integration. The future direction of Moldova may rest on how its post-Soviet generation can be inspired to participate in politics.

Further reading: