Nearly half of Moldovans voted Sunday in favor Eurasian Union with Russia and against the integration of Moldova into Europe. Although the majority of votes went to the pro-European parties, the result is a great victory of the political moves of Moscow to counter the EU’s Eastern Partnership and keep Moldova under the sphere of influence. Here is how it was possible.
The expected turning point in Moldova’s history did not happen and the country remains divided between Europe and Russia. In addition, there is nothing strange. It is true that the parties that currently support the pro-European government led by Iurie Leanca, if they remain united, have a majority of seats in parliament, but it is also true that almost half of Moldovans voted in favor of parties who want to join the Eurasian Union. This cannot be ignored.
What are the Russian moves that led to this result, and what the possible next moves to keep it?
1. The Moldovan Communist Party, traditionally close to Russia and always a prominent force in the country, has suffered a hemorrhage of votes in recent years. Last September, the Moldovan-Russian businessman Renato Usatii founded the party Patria, with the intent to collect the votes of those who do not look favorably on the approach to the European Union. Three days before the vote, the Electoral Commission of Chisinau banned Patria for allegedly taking money from Moscow. In an audio leak Usatii tells of taking orders the FSB, the Russian secret service. Banning of Patria did not prevent anti-European votes to move to the Socialist Party.
2. The Socialist Party was the first force in the country. In the days of the election campaign its leader, Igor Dodon, has been photographed with Putin and plastered the city of billboards that read “Together with Russia!” Almost 22% of Moldovans voted for him.
3. The events in Ukraine have affected the politics of Moldova, pushing towards European integration. However, the perception of the revolution that happened in Kiev is not the same on both sides of the eastern borders of the EU. The fear of contagion from Euromaidan has different effects on the Russian and the Russian-speaking population. The Russian media have created fear of a revolution that is likely to lead to violence and instability in the country, along with a wave of anti-Russian sentiment.
4. The Ukrainian scenario is scary. The are already all the preconditions for a separatist war in Moldova. Transnistria has never ceased to be the best lever in the hands of Moscow to shake the fear of an awakening of the frozen conflict. With a double meaning. To Moldovan and Western rulers, it would mean a new questioning of the postwar borders after the Crimea and the Donbass. To the people, it would mean the risk of a new war.
5. The economy of Moldova is fragile. As the poorest country in Europe, it exports a quarter of its goods to Russia, mainly food. Moscow has blocked imports of wines and fruit. Moreover, about 200,000 Moldovans out of a population of 3.5 million live and work in Russia. Their remittances are an important voice of the GDP, and count the 65% of the total. The visa-free regime, launched by the EU in July, does not favor them. Possible limits on visas by Russia would harm them and the entire country instead.