Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 49

Even as the anticommunist demonstrations in Chisinau are petering out, the authorities’ disarray is rising to self-destructive levels. Unable–for now–to seize the political initiative internally, President Vladimir Voronin has gone on the counteroffensive in Moscow.

That move seems a direct result of the encouragement Russian President Vladimir Putin extended to Voronin at the informal summit of the CIS in Almaty on March 1. On that occasion, Putin declared–ostensibly on the collective behalf of the assembled presidents–that the Moldovan leadership’s response to the protest demonstrations was “correct, well thought-out and aimed at solving all political differences through democratic means.” This political statement was Putin’s third this year in support of Moldova’s Communist authorities. Also on March 1, the Duma’s Communist Party chairman Gennady Seleznev and that chamber’s international affairs committee chairman Dmitry Rogozin–the latter a Putin loyalist–in separate statements urged Moldova’s Communists “not to yield to the opposition,” and termed the latter “extremist,” “chauvinist” and “supported from outside” (RIA, Interfax, Basapress, March 1).

On March 7, Russia’s state radio Mayak and the governmental Rossiiskaya Gazeta gave Voronin ample space to assail the West, Romania and the internal opposition. Voronin claimed credit for making certain that Moldova would help to shield Russia against an enlarging NATO. That alliance, he said, “would have liked to jump over us unopposed, [in which case], who knows, NATO forces would today be stationed near Bryansk.” The remark, apart from being geographically illiterate, has three barely hidden meanings. The first implies that Romania’s hopes to join NATO would have a domino effect on Moldova and could be dangerous for Russia. The second, that Ukraine would have hosted the putative NATO forces, Bryansk being situated near the intersection of the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusan borders. This sally is consistent with Voronin’s declared support for the Ukrainian Communist Party in that country’s upcoming parliamentary elections. The third leads directly to Alyaksandr Lukashenka, from whom Voronin has literally borrowed this argument complete with its specific geographic illustration. Like Lukashenka, Voronin apparently hopes to earn economic and political rewards from Moscow through displays of hyperloyalty.

In the same interviews, Voronin attacked Romania for “having fancied itself the master in our land, treating us like a colony.” Romania, he declared, opposes “the strategic partnership that we, the communists, established with Russia after coming to power. We shall consistently develop this strategic partnership, even if it sticks like a bone in the throat of certain neighbors such as Romania.” With this, Voronin is playing to an entrenched, antiquated view in Moscow, which misperceives Moldova as the object of a competition between Russia and Romania. That view inspired a series of proprietary statements on Moldova by Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Duma in connection with Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase’s recent visit to Moscow. Meanwhile, Romania is doing all it can to dispel that misperception.

For his part, Voronin apparently feels that he can increase his usefulness in Moscow’s eyes by feeding the notion of a Romanian-Russian competition and portraying himself as a guardian of Moscow’s strategic interests against putative Romanian “colonialism,” now being mentioned in the same breath with the “NATO danger.” This line of argument plays to the two main components of Voronin’s Communist Party electorate. The first is the older Moldovan populace with a negative folk memory of the Romanian period in Bessarabia–a memory heavily reinforced by the Soviet Moldovan historiography which the Communists now seek to reintroduce. The second is the nonnative Russian or Russophone population–on both banks of the Dniester–which only arrived in Moldova after the Romanian period, has no reliable information let alone experience of it, and has been indoctrinated during the Soviet period in a Romanophobe spirit.

In his March 7 interviews, Voronin portrayed the recent mass protests in Chisinau as a covert action by Transdniester and Romania, acting jointly to destabilize Moldova’s Communist government. He used classical Communist terminology describing the anticommunist protesters as “fascists” and “neo-Nazis.”

Tactically, Voronin is apparently attempting to steal the anti-Romanian thunder from the Tiraspol leaders. From the outset of their secession to date, those leaders have all along justified their policy in terms of resisting cultural “Romanianization” and an eventual political takeover by Romania. That line of argument was, and is, tailored for both Moscow and Transdniester’s politically active population groups. Voronin, with his latest statements in Moscow, is now trying to convince Russia’s policy makers and Transdniester’s Sovietized population that Chisinau can be just as reliably anti-Western and anti-Romanian, as long as the Communist Party stays in power.

This argument in turn seeks to persuade Moscow to allow Chisinau to regain control over Transdniester. But it is a dangerous argument because it can isolate Moldova from both of its neighbors–Romania and Ukraine, unnecessarily enlarges an already widening gulf between Moldova and the West, and deepens internal political polarization within Moldova. It can even be a fatal argument because it gets Chisinau into a bidding competition with Tiraspol for Moscow’s favor. That will only tempt Moscow to demand the ultimate proof of loyalty from Chisinau–legalizing the presence of Russian troops in Transdniester by giving them basing rights or “peacekeeper”/”guarantor” status. Putin’s plenipotentiary envoy for Transdniester, First Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, recently made that demand public.

In his interviews, moreover, Voronin criticized the West for expressing concern about the situation in Moldova. Alluding to the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union, he imputed their concerns to “double standards” and “their own strategic interests”. And he attacked the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for making it “impossible” for Moldova to continue its relations with them. A prisoner of his own rhetoric, captive to disastrous advice from his top aides, thrown off balance by mass protests which could have been handled more elegantly than has been the case, Voronin now risks isolating Moldova from its Western donors and natural partners and returning it to the condition of a Russian dependency (Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Mayak Radio, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Basapress, Flux, March 7-9; see the Monitor, February 1, 7, 18, 20, 22, 25, 27, March 6).