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Presidential elections in Moldova: Should Russia support incumbent president Dodon?

Author : Carnegie Think tank

Source : Carnegie Moscow Center

Discredited by domestic corruption scandals, Dodon hopes to win the election with Russian support. Therefore, he again plays out the image of a candidate who "would settle the Transnistrian conflict" and would not allow the "surrender of the country to the West"
15:46, 23 September 2020

Open source

Discredited by domestic corruption scandals, Dodon hopes to win the election with Russian support. Therefore, he again plays out the image of a candidate who "would settle the Transnistrian conflict" and would not allow the "surrender of the country to the West." These promises are difficult to take seriously if you look at the border of possibilities of any Moldovan leader.

A little more than a month remains before the presidential elections in Moldova - the voting will take place on November 1. One of the favorites of the campaign is incumbent President Igor Dodon, who is running for a second term. In recent months, he has had big problems with public support - the pandemic, the associated economic crisis, corruption scandals, and other failures in domestic and foreign policy have affected. But Dodon still hopes to win, betting on Russia's support - information, image, and financial.

Accepting the proposal of the Moldovan leader means for Moscow the risk of being drawn into a new geopolitical confrontation on the side of a corrupt and ineffective regime, which may face massive protests immediately after the elections. No matter how hard Dodon tried to present voting as another choice between East and West, Moldovan society is now concerned with completely different topics - first of all, corruption and degradation of state institutions. And in these matters, the incumbent president discredited himself long ago.

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Shadow state

The Moldovan economy cannot boast of a developed industry, deposits of natural resources, and other attractive assets. Therefore, the main source of rent in the country has become a power - control over state structures and the corruption flows passing through them. This control is exercised through hidden, parallel institutions, while formal institutions degrade.

This situation has developed long ago, and this is not the fault of today's government. The main architect of the parallel state was oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. He adapted the country for his large-scale shadow projects, such as the smuggling that flooded the EU countries, and the illegal resale of electricity and gas. The same parallel structures withdrew about a billion dollars from the reserve funds (about 15% of Moldovan GDP), and the payments were passed on to the taxpayers.

Another architect of the parallel state, Veaceslav Platon, established a large-scale scheme through the Moldovan financial system to launder more than $ 40 billion from Russia to the West. Basically, he rented out formal institutions of power - courts that collected fictitious debts from Russian companies in order to pump money into Western banks, the parliament that legitimized the scheme, prosecutors, government, and regulators who made the accompanying decisions.

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This parallel state and its shadow incomes are served by imitation politics, where parties and politicians are formally divided into pro-Western (right-wing) and pro-Russian (left-wing) ones. Plahotniuc was building a parallel state under the right-wing pro-Western slogans. And on the pro-Russian left flank, he brought a loyal project - the Party of Socialists under the leadership of Igor Dodon.

Dodon has been associated with Plahotniuc with business interests since the mid-2000s when he worked as the Minister of Economy in the communist government. In 2011, he left the Communist Party very timely to help pro-Western forces hold on to power.

In parliament, the parties of Dodon and Plahotniuc fought by word of mouth for a pro-Russian and pro-Western vector in foreign policy, but in fact, made the political and economic decisions Plahotniuc needed.

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In 2016, Plahotniuc played a key role in Dodon's victory in the presidential election. The oligarch closed the road to other politicians on the left flank and supported Dodon with his administrative and media resources. Its president has become another link in the seizure of state institutions, along with his prosecutor, his judges, his parliament, and government.

President Dodon diligently built himself a reputation as a protege of Moscow: he often met with President Putin, traveled to events of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). He was generous with promises. To prove to the Kremlin that he is ready to ensure Russia's interests in the region, Dodon proposed a plan for resolving the Transnistrian conflict based on a confederal model, which the Kremlin likes but is unacceptable to most of the Moldovan society.

In an effort to demonstrate to Moscow that he "will not surrender the country to the EU" and will secure the "security perimeter" of Russia, at one of the press conferences Dodon even promised to cancel the Association Agreement with the European Union and consider the possibility of joining the EAEU. This was followed by promises not to allow Moldova to "leave" to NATO, where it was not invited, and to consolidate the Russian military presence in the country.

After the change of government, Plahotniuc's associates began to return to power, recreating old schemes, such as smuggling into the EU and washing out the profits of state-owned enterprises through shell companies. Veaceslav Platon, the developer of the Moldovan money-laundering channel, was released from prison. Despite the fact that he is wanted in Russia on charges of organizing a criminal community, Platon became one of the key partners of the formally pro-Russian Dodon, helping him to crush banks, schemes, and lucrative business.

Control over the shadow currents of the parallel state is the economic basis of the Dodon regime and the main motive that holds together the current ruling coalition, devoid of other common goals and ideology.

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Role of Russia

Discredited by domestic corruption scandals, Dodon hopes to win the election with Russian support. Therefore, he again plays out the image of a candidate who "will settle the Transnistrian conflict," will not allow "the loss of statehood," "the surrender of the country to the West, and the expulsion of Russia from the region."

It is difficult to take these promises seriously if we understand the furthest boundaries of the possible for any Moldovan leader. The Moldovan president would not put his signature on the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict according to the confederal model - this is unacceptable for most of the Moldovan society, not to mention the limited presidential powers.

For the same reasons, the Moldovan president does not initiate a revision of the Association Agreement with the EU and will not lead the country to the EAEU - the risk of mass protests is too great. The same goes for Dodon's promises to legalize Russia's military presence, turn the Transnistrian settlement into a model for the Donbas conflict, and make Moldova a state "in the middle" between West and East, with limited sovereignty and foreign policy. All of these are impracticable promises, fraught with loss of power. And all Moldovan politicians understand this well, as President Voronin understood when in 2003 at the last moment he refused to sign a memorandum on the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.

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The goal of Dodon's promises is to enlist Moscow's support in order to maintain control over the revenues from the shadow state, despite the huge public dissatisfaction with his rule. Dodon's informational, financial, and political support will link Russia to a corrupt and hopeless regime. The cost of the re-election of the Moldovan president will most likely be large-scale falsifications, destabilization, and mass protests of a significant part of the Moldovan society, tired of corruption, poverty, and legal lawlessness.

Ideally, the next president should play primarily a technical role - to create conditions for early parliamentary elections, in the new composition of which, perhaps, there will be a chance to assemble a more stable and functioning coalition interested in improving the work of the state apparatus, and not in a war for corruption flows. Without this, the country will continue to slide towards a failed state, remaining a source of contradictions in a difficult region.

Vlad Kulminsky

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