Moldova at the Crossroads of East and West: The Challenges of European Integration
Experts: after passing a vote of no confidence in the pro-Western and reformist government, Chisinau may make a U-turn towards Moscow
The government of Maia Sandu, focused on Moldova’s reform and European integration, came to power in June this year after her political bloc ACUM formed a coalition with the Russian-oriented Moldovan Socialist Party of President Igor Dodon. The alliance between ACUM and the socialists allowed the removal of power from the Democratic Party of Moldova, led by the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who had overwhelming control over the country’s political and economic life. Plahotniuc himself left the country after his party lost power.
The European Union, the United States and international organizations have welcomed the government of Maia Sandu as aimed at promoting democracy, fighting corruption and Euro-Atlantic integration. Despite the fears of Western experts and politicians about how long the coalition between the pro-European and reformist ACUM and the pro-Russian Socialist Party, which advocates maintaining the status quo, may be, the European Union, in particular, approved financial assistance to Chisinau, subject to the implementation of a number of reforms. International aid to the country was largely frozen after the disappearance of $ 1 billion from the country’s financial system in 2015..
Maia Sandu’s government, however, fell apart just five months after its formation. The MPs of the Democratic Party of Moldova joined the Socialist Party, passing on Tuesday, November 12, a vote of no confidence in the Sandu cabinet. The new government is headed by former presidential adviser Igor Dodon, as well as finance minister in the previous cabinet, Ion Chicu. Experts fear that the new government will not be interested in carrying out reforms and integration with the West, and may change the foreign policy vector towards Moscow. Experts also warn of the danger of concentration of power in the hands of President Igor Dodon and of the growing pressure from the authorities on independent media, which reduces the ability of the ACUM bloc or other opposition parties to participate in the country’s political life..
«We understood that the situation was rather precarious, but we expected that the government of Maya Sandu will hold out a little longer., – said in a comment for the Russian Service «Voices of America» Senior Research Fellow, German Marshall Fund Jonathan Katz (Jonathan Katz, GMF) during a webinar with Moldovan experts organized by the foundation on Wednesday 19 November. – We began to see progress in reforming the country, but unfortunately, it is likely that this progress will now be stalled.».
«I think we will see a change and reorientation of Moldova closer to Moscow, – adds an expert. – Dodon has always been close to Moscow».
The expert does not exclude the possibility that President Igor Dodon may also withdraw the country from the partnership with the European Union, to which the country joined in 2009 as part of the EU Eastern Partnership program..
«In the case of Dodon, all options are possible. The more connected it is with Moscow, the more likely Moscow’s demands to sever relations with Western institutions such as the EU or partnerships with the United States and NATO may be.», – said Jonathan Katz, who also expresses fears that the new government in Chisinau may change the direct presidential elections in the country to elections through parliament. This, as the expert notes, will allow the current President of Moldova to remain in power and consolidate power in his hands..
«This will not contribute to the development of democracy in Moldova and the country’s relations with the West, – says Jonathan Katz. – And this will allow Igor Dodon to fully concentrate power in his hands. – both politically and economically and judicially – just like Plahotniuc did earlier».
Director for Europe and Eurasia of the Center for International Private Enterprise Natalia Otel Belan (Natalia Otel Belan, CIPE) also expresses concerns that Moldova’s new course will be aimed at rapprochement with Moscow, and President Igor Dodon will be able to consolidate power.
«Philosophy of the Socialist Party – it is a rapprochement between Moldova and Russia, both politically and economically. There were people in this party who also promoted the idea of Moldova’s joining the Eurasian Economic Union», – noted the expert in a comment for the Russian Service «Voices of America». Natalia Otel Belan also believes that a vote of no confidence in the government of Maya Sandu by the socialists and President Dodon could have been planned even when the coalition was created..
«I think that they initially wanted to use ACUM to remove the Democratic Party and people loyal to Plahotniuc from power, thereby later opening the way for the people of Dodon», – believes Natalia Otel Belan, adding that this can explain the support of the coalition between the socialists and ACUM in June this year from the Kremlin, which previously surprised the expert community.
«Now all power is concentrated in the hands of Igor Dodon and the socialist party», – the expert said, noting that the role of the Democratic Party is secondary today and also boils down to the political elimination of ACUM. According to Natalia Otel Belan, the Maia Sandu bloc has little chances to win the next parliamentary elections, in particular, due to the fact that the authorities are exerting strong pressure on the media, thereby complicating the opposition candidates’ explanation of their political platform by the voter..
One of the leading civil society activists in Moldova, journalist and head of the TV channel TV8 Natalia Morar (Natalia Morari) also highlighted the government’s pressure on independent media in the country and the growing influence of Russian media channels, in particular “Satellite”, or the narratives they support.
«In the media space of Moldova, there is more and more direct presence of Russia, which supports the socialists», – said Natalia Morar from Chisinau during a webinar hosted by the Marshall Foundation.
«This is a difficult and even a critical moment for Moldova.», – noted Maya Sandu, who participated in the webinar and former security and defense adviser Victoria Roshka (Victoria Rosa), who also stressed the need for the West and international organizations to insist on the implementation of the reforms that the government of Maia Sandu had undertaken earlier in negotiations with the new government of Moldova. Otherwise, international financial assistance should be suspended, said former adviser to Maya Sandu..
Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics