Elections in Moldova: Games of oligarchs, Russia's and Ukraine's interests

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Parliamentary elections will be held in Moldova on 24 February 2019
10:22, 15 February 2019

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Parliamentary elections will be held in Moldova on 24 February 2019. Campaigning began in November 2018. The ruling parties of the pro-European coalition led by the Democratic Party of Moldova, the oppositional Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova, the extra-parliamentary parties Party of Action and Solidarity, the Dignity and Truth Platform Party, which formed the ACUM election bloc, Șor Party ("Republican Socio-Political Movement Equality").

The intrigue of the upcoming elections is that the political participants have significant differences in their foreign policy priorities. Socialists, including President Dodon, are in favor of rapprochement with Russia, the ruling parties and political projects Sandu and Năstase are supporters of integration into the EU and NATO.

Moldovan society is split in its political preferences. For Ukraine, the election results in Moldova are not of the least importance, since the position of our neighbor on the issue of Russia's aggression might depend on them.

Prospects of the Moldavian oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc

The upcoming parliamentary elections in Moldova would be a difficult test for the ruling coalition led by the Democratic Party of Moldova. This party belongs to oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who used to be a business partner of Ukraine’s President Poroshenko.

According to an IMAS poll, 18.4% of Moldovan citizens support the Democrats. According to the socialist MP Vlad Batrîncea, 80% of Moldovans are not satisfied with the activities of the government of Pavel Filip from the Democratic Party of Moldova and believe that their country is moving in the wrong direction.

Related: Ukraine, Moldova discuss enhancing security in region

In 2015-2016, anti-government rallies were held in the country against the backdrop of the “theft of the century” - the disappearance of $ 1 billion from Moldovan banks Banca de Economii, Banca Socială, and Unibank in 2014. Former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, involved in the theft, was sentenced to nine years in prison. This theft amounted to 12% -15% of Moldova's GDP and was a blow to the image of the current government.

In 2018, discontent in Moldovan society and in the West caused a new law on tax amnesty, which was adopted in the interests of business.

The increase in prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, electricity, the depreciation of the national currency leu are not in favor of the ruling coalition. The country suffers from rampant corruption, as the prime minister himself admits. According to the survey of the International Republican Institute (IRI), 49% of Moldovan citizens believe that the problem of corruption is a decisive issue that will affect their choice.

Related: Transnistria has to become Moldova’s full part, - Ukrane's Foreign Minister

In August 2018, anti-government meetings of opposition Dignity and Truth Platform Party and Party of Action and Solidarity were held in Chisinau, demanding the resignation of the government, the continuation of the investigation “theft of the century” and the abolition of the law on tax amnesty.

For Ukraine’s current government, Moldovan democrats are political partners. Poroshenko and Plakhotniuk are tied by a common business. As of 2014, both oligarchs were co-owners of the Gemenii shopping center in Chisinau.

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There is some information that in the 2000s, Vlad Plahotniuc helped Poroshenko to acquire the Chisinau glass factory and Bucuria Confectionery-pasta factory. The current Moldovan authorities support Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In 2016, Moldova voted in the UN General Assembly for a resolution on Crimea, which condemned the annexation of the peninsula and the violation of the rights of the Crimean Tatars by Russia. In November 2018, Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip supported Ukraine in the Azov incident and called it the most serious violation by Russia after the annexation of the Crimea.

Related: Moldova reports of Russia’s unauthorized drills in Transnistria

In 2016, Ukraine extradited former Moldovan MP Veaceslav Platon, whom Moldovan law enforcers suspected of stealing $ 40 million from Banca de Economii. According to Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, in 2017, the Ukrainian and Moldovan secret services were able to prevent the attack of Plahotniuc by the FSB agents during a joint special operation.

Kremlin's revenge

The leader of the pre-election race is the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, supported by 28.5% of Moldovans. Despite the fact that the socialist faction is in opposition, the majority of Moldovan voters voted for their candidate Igor Dodon at the first general presidential election in December 2016, not for Sandu, the candidate of the parliamentary coalition.

Moldavian socialists turn out ratings on criticizing the activities of the government of Filip, prove the senselessness of Moldova’s European integration and support the country's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. Dodon opposes Moldova joining NATO and believes that Russia remains a strategic partner. In 2018, Moldova received an observer status in the Eurasian Economic Union and increased imports of Russian natural gas by 8.6%.

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Dodon claims that the markets of the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union represent great potential for Moldovan producers of agricultural products, foodstuffs, and alcoholic beverages, and an increase in export volumes in this direction will lead to the creation of "hundreds of thousands of jobs" in Moldova.

Related: President of Moldova offers to hold referendum on reintegration of Transnistria

According to the results of 11 months of 2018, the share of Moldova’s exports to the EU amounted to almost 70% and increased by 65.6% over the last year, while the share of supplies to the CIS countries, on the contrary, decreased from 19.5% to 15.5%.

From 2014 to 2018, the number of labor migrants from Moldova in Russia decreased from half a million to 357,000 people, since some of them shifted to the labor markets of other countries, including the European Union, using the visa-free regime.

In January 2019, on the eve of the elections, Dodon visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is a signal for pro-European parties that Moscow took the side of the socialists in Moldova’s power struggle. The Kremlin is trying in every way to influence the outcome of voting in parliamentary elections in favor of the Dodon party.

The Moldovan president believes that his party will not join the coalition with the right-wing parties and expects to form a one-party government, or at the very least, a coalition with independent deputies.

Transnistrian context and Ukraine

The results of the parliamentary elections might affect the position of Chisinau in resolving the problem of the unrecognized Transnistrian Moldovan Republic since the position of key players is different on this issue.

Transnistrian separatists separated from Moldova with the support of the Russian armed forces stationed there during the armed conflict in the early 1990s.

Related: Moldova’s Constitutional Court stops authority of President Dodon one more time

Parliament Speaker from the Democratic Party of Moldova, Andrian Candu, said that the reintegration of Transnistria into Moldova is necessary, but not at any cost. If this issue becomes an obstacle for Moldova on its way to the EU and NATO, then it is necessary to abandon the region.

President Igor Dodon opposes the independence of Transnistria or the entry into Russia. In his opinion, Transnistrians should self-determine between returning to the structure of Moldova or joining the structure of neighboring Ukraine. Sandu believes that Transnistria should be granted autonomy within Moldova.

President of Transnistria, Vadim Krasnoselsky, refused to discuss with Dodon the return of the region to Moldova and stressed they are interested in gaining independence with the subsequent entry into Russia.

All spheres of life in Transnistria are controlled by the "Sheriff" holding, which belongs to the former Soviet police officers Viktor Gushan and Nikita Yegorov. Transnistrian separatists earn decent money by smuggling, making counterfeit products, selling free Russian gas to the population. If returned to Moldova, they will lose their sources of income.

Related: Paramilitary formation connected with Donbas militants detained in Moldova

It is beneficial for Tiraspol that Chisinau retains any attempts to bring Transnistria under control. In January 2019, it was reported that a representative office of Transnistria would be opened in Moscow, which would be headed by the former so-called former “Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Donetsk People’s Republic” Alexander Karaman.

By his careless statement, the Moldovan Speaker Candu has created a precedent for the state’s possible refusal to restore its territorial integrity.

Russia is trying to strike a balance, it wants the authorities of Ukraine to abandon any attempts to defend the return of annexed Crimea and certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The same applies to Georgia, which is also trying to return Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the separatists.

Related: Romania blocked critical EU statement on Moldova

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