Moldova: Stable instability is the new normal

Mihail Popsoi, Associated Expert, Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (Moldova, Chisinau)

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Despite the efforts made by the government to create the impression of stability in the country, Moldova remains highly divided politically and economically weak. This condition is further exacerbated by the East-West geopolitical cleavage as well as security risks emanating from developments in Ukraine and the Transnistrian region.     

Domestic Policy: Top leadership finds some common ground

On February 21st, Moldova’s President Igor Dodon, Prime Minister Pavel Filip, and Speaker Andrian Candu held a meeting followed by a joint press conference. They reached an agreement to set a common platform in order to develop a joint strategy regarding the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.

“Chisinau should not have different positions when discussing the issue with the West and other partners. We must have a common stand when discussing this issue with the West, with our partners in the 5+2 format, with those from Tiraspol and from the Russian Federation,” said the President. This appears to be a far cry from Dodon’s earlier position that promoted federalization as a conflict settlement model. The three officials also found common ground regarding the pension system reform, but that is where mutual agreement ends.

President Dodon, who is also the former leader of the Party of Socialists, reiterated his intention to cancel the Association Agreement with the EU and announced his plans to sign the cooperation agreement with the Eurasian Union. He also insisted on amending the Constitution in order to grant the president the power to dissolve the parliament. Both the prime minister and the speaker, who represent the ruling Democratic Party, disagreed with the president, arguing that any attempts to organize a constitutional referendum would threaten the social and economic stability in the country. Overall, the meeting seemed a carefully staged public relations campaign meant to show that the country is politically stable despite disagreements between the president and the government. The leader of the Democratic Party Vlad Plahotniuc, who is perhaps the wealthiest and the most influential person in the country, has built his image around the notion of stability. Thus, both the Socialists and the Democrats had a chance to present their dissenting, but pro-compromise positions, as if reflecting a consensus in the entire society. The partnership between the Socialists and Democrats is willfully ignoring the other half of society, which, according to polls, supports the center right opposition. The latest disagrees strongly with both Dodon and Plahotniuc.                          

Economy: European Union vs. Eurasian Union

On February 9th, the former IT Minister Vasile Botnari was appointed the head of Moldovagaz – the country’s gas distribution monopolist. Botnari is a close associate of Vlad Plahotniuc and one of the main donors to the Democratic Party. Earlier, a politician Sergiu Mocanu accused Plahotniuc of paying Dodon to mediate Botnari’s appointment during his official visit to Moscow last month. Dodon rejected the accusation, but the fact that the president did not oppose the appointment is suspicious, to say the least.

President Dodon insists on undermining relations with EU in favor of closer ties with Russia

Meanwhile, Romanian government agreed to transfer another 50 million of the 150 million Euro loan to Moldova one month early. Following the request made by the Moldovan Ministry of Finance, the funds are to be sent on 27 February. The money is earmarked for investment projects and budgetary support. The assistance from the Romanian Government gave Moldova a financial lifeline, in addition to the International Monetary Fund program. Despite Moldova’s economy being heavily dependent on western assistance, President Dodon insists on undermining these relations in favor of closer ties with Russia, even if, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, Moldova is improving its trade balance with the European Union, unlike its trade balance with the Eurasian Union.

Foreign Policy:  President and government in parallel realities 

On February 7th, President Dodon paid an official visit to Brussels. In his meeting with the European Council President Donald Tusk, Dodon reinitiated his criticism for the Association Agreement between Moldova and the EU. Dodon blamed the falling support for the EU integration in Moldova on bad governance and EU’s double standards. He also invited Tusk to reconsider trilateral trade negotiations between EU, Moldova and Russia, which had already been ruled out. Dodon also opposed opening a NATO liaison office in Moldova after meeting the Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller. Later Dodon paid a visit to Tehran in the capacity of the president of Moldova’s chess federation. Despite it being an unofficial visit, Dodon had a meeting with the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. The two officials discussed bilateral ties in agriculture and energy and the possibility of opening Embassies in both countries.

At the same time, on February 13th the Moldovan Prime-Minister, Pavel Filip, had a meeting with the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. Filip stressed the importance of regional solidarity when it comes to the Transnistrian conflict and highlighted that Chisinau counts on Kyiv’s support. The Moldovan prime minister also met with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Groysman. The two signed a Moldovan – Ukrainian Cooperation Roadmap for 2017. The neighboring countries plan to cooperate in consolidating democratic institutions, combating corruption and increasing bilateral trade. Energy cooperation in crisis situations was another important topic. The two also agreed to introduce three joint border checkpoints on the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border.