The presidents of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, and Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, held meetings with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on March 1 in Kyiv and March 2 in Chisinau, treating him as a partner for the long term. Their decision to convene the talks was an emergency response to Russia’s all-out campaign to punish Voronin for his Western reorientation and replace him with Russia’s favorites in Moldova’s upcoming general elections (see EDM, March 1, 2).
Moscow’s primary favorite in the March 6 parliamentary elections is the “centrist” Bloc Moldova Democrata (BMD), with the leftist “Russian-speaking” bloc “Rodina” as secondary ally, both groups being tacitly aligned with the Tiraspol leaders. Local observers generally estimate BMD’s support at more than 20% of the electorate, and Rodina’s support in the low single digits (there are two blocs with that word in their title), compared to nearly 50% that most observers have all along expected the governing Communist Party to garner. The right-wing, staunchly Western-oriented Christian Democrats hope this time to exceed their accustomed 10% share of voter support.
Russia’s electoral strategy in Moldova envisages two stages in quick succession: First, maximizing BMD’s vote, so as to produce a hung parliament, delay or prevent the formation of a stable government, and have Voronin replaced with a more pliant figure as president. And, second, to split Voronin’s Communist Party, causing its large retrograde wing (which disapproves of Voronin’s break with Russia) to abandon the president and join BMD’s “centrists” in a new governing majority. This would also include Rodina, if Russia’s heavily televised anti-Voronin campaign causes enough “Russian-speaking” voters to shift their support from the president to Rodina on March 6. Down the road, a likely third step would lead to a Russian-sponsored “federal” deal between certain BMD leaders (see below) and Tiraspol, destroying Moldova’s European aspirations.
Created in the spring of 2004, BMD includes three large “centrist” groups under Russia-connected leaders, known collectively as the Troika, and two small Western-oriented liberal groups as highly frustrated fellow travelers, with almost no influence in BMD.
The three centrist groups have largely taken shape as personal vehicles of their respective leaders: Chisinau mayor (since 1994) Serafim Urecheanu, who now seeks Moldova’s presidency, former prime minister (1999-2001; earlier foreign trade chief) Dumitru Braghis, and former chairman of parliament (1998-2001) Dumitru Diacov, who are BMD’s choices for those same posts. The three leaders have placed mutually agreed quotas of their personal loyalists on BMD’s slate of candidates.
The Troika and some close associates gained (by Moldovan standards) considerable wealth while in public office, continued business activities afterward, and are perceived by many voters as epitomizing official corruption. On the campaign trail, potential supporters often confront BMD candidates with sharp questions, particularly regarding Diacov and Braghis. Many mid-level BMD activists regard the Troika as a liability to the bloc in terms of voter support, but submit to it because the three top leaders and their associates finance the bloc’s electoral campaign. The issue of corruption looms large in this campaign, generally to BMD’s disadvantage because its leaders are correctly perceived as winners, and the Communists on the whole as losers, in the flawed transition to the market economy.
The three top leaders represent the last generation of the Soviet political apparatus. The creation of BMD presented them with their final opportunity to return to power. Urecheanu rose through the trade union bureaucracy of Soviet Moldova. Braghis was a Komsomol leader who served in both Chisinau and Moscow. Diacov was a TASS news agency correspondent, temporarily with the Soviet embassy in Bucharest, before arriving via Moscow to Chisinau in 1994 to become overnight the head of the parliament’s foreign affairs commission. In 1999, while chairman of parliament, Diacov delivered a one-hour presentation on Moldova at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington without mentioning the Russian troops in Moldova. In 2000, while prime minister, Braghis publicly proposed conferring basing rights to the Russian troops. Ousted from power in the 2001 Communist landslide — itself stemming in part from their misgovernance — Braghis and Diacov made their peace with the Communist Party during the latter’s pro-Moscow phase until late 2003-early 2004.
It was at that point, when Voronin rejected Russia’s “federalization” project and made his westward about-face, that Braghis and Diacov turned against the president. Meanwhile, Urecheanu developed ties with Tiraspol leader Igor Smirnov, and repeatedly called for a deal with him in BMD leadership conferences. Basically, the Troika rushed to occupy the niche vacated by Voronin as Russia’s partner in Moldova. During the past year the Troika worked closely with the Russian embassy in Chisinau, traveled periodically to Moscow for meetings with Russia’s presidential administration officials and Duma leaders, invited several teams of Russian “political technologists” (campaign consultants and operatives) to Moldova, and blamed Voronin for the deterioration of Russia-Moldova relations. BMD leaders also sought to build bridges to Western circles, but ultimately lost credibility when Urecheanu congratulated Viktor Yanukovych on his fraudulent election as president of Ukraine, and long withheld acknowledgment of Viktor Yushchenko’s victory. By contrast, Voronin (along with Saakashvili) promptly declared Yanukovych’s election as fraudulent and recognized Yushchenko’s victory.
BMD’s three top leaders promise, in essence, a Leonid Kuchma-style “double vector” policy: in Urecheanu’s immortal formula, “like a smart calf who sucks at two udders.” They utter some of required pro-European cliches and also welcome invitations to Romania. But their actions presage a return to the past, if they gain a significant share of political power.
(Survey based on Moldovan and Russian media coverage of the campaign, January-February 2005.)