Political opportunism, a Moscow-centric mindset and illusory hope for economic relief seem to be pushing Moldova’s President Petru Lucinschi and his team into the accustomed orbit of Russia. Lucinschi, a virtual lame duck, is fighting for his political survival in Chisinau. He is desperate to secure Moscow’s support for reelection to a second presidential term, against a hostile parliament and a strong Communist challenge. The latter is mainly based on the “Russian-speaking” two-fifths of the electorate–the decisive bloc of voters in Moldova.
Lucinschi’s cabinet of ministers, on the other hand, agrees with the Communists on the urgency of reconstructing old patterns of trade with Russia and other CIS countries. While willing to work with the Western lending institutions, the president and cabinet of ministers are equally prepared to pay a political price for a massive reentry of Moldova’s agricultural exports to the Russian market and for guaranteed supplies of Russian gas at discounted prices.
Moldova’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister, Nicolae Cernomaz, is signaling a shift of emphasis in Moldova’s political and economic orientation, away from its European focus. A close confidant of Lucinschi, Cernomaz has no foreign policy experience and little political training other than that of the Moldovan Komsomol, from among the former leaders of which Lucinschi tends to recruit his inner circle. The president and the foreign minister are careful not to burn Chisinau’s bridges to Europe, as Cernomaz showed during an unofficial visit to Strasbourg last week. But Cernomaz insists that Europe includes Russia as far as Moldova is concerned.
That formula presupposes policy equidistance between West and East on the theoretical level. Meanwhile, however, it is Russian, not European troops which are based in Moldova; Russian, not Western political influence which Lucinschi–and his main rivals for that matter–are seeking to enlist for their electoral success; and it is Russian and CIS markets, not Western markets which Moldovan leaders can realistically hope to secure for the country’s abundant but substandard agricultural exports. Equidistance, therefore, is not an option for Moldova if it wants to remain an independent country. Only a clear Western orientation–which in turn requires underpinning through economic reforms–can reverse Moldova’s quiet drift toward political, economic and military subordination to Russia.
To all intents and purposes, the president and his team have stopped pressing for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. Cernomaz yesterday paid his first visit to Moscow as foreign affairs minister. The troop withdrawal issue was conspicuously absent from the agenda of Cernomaz’ talks with Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov, according to Russian official reports on the meeting. The Russian side made certain that the talks focused on internal Moldovan issues, specifically the situation with Russian schools, the use of the Russian language, and reception of Russian state television in Moldova.
Those issues concern not the left-bank Transdniester, but right-bank Moldova, where some 70 percent of the country’s Russian/Russian-speaking population resides. Cernomaz was placed in the position of justifying Moldova’s policies on those issues. Correctly, he cited the government’s tolerant policies in the sphere of interethnic relations. But he failed to mention the situation in Transdniester where the native Moldovan and Ukrainian populations–40 percent and 28 percent, respectively–form the targets of Soviet-style linguistic russification by the nonnative Russian leadership under the protection of Russian troops.
Moldovan leaders have failed to react to the formation in Transdniester of a branch of Russia’s “party of power,” Yedinstvo [Unity], named Yedinstvo Pridnestrovia in Tiraspol, and complete with that Russian party’s program and symbols. The Transdniester branch office has, moreover, been mandated by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry to perform consular functions and to grant Russian citizenship to local residents. The Moldovan government learned of this from press reports.
In advance of the year-end ministerial conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Russian government had promised to withdraw ten trainloads with military equipment from Moldova immediately. It has, in fact, withdrawn one trainload, and it only contained noncombat equipment. The Moldovan leaders keep silent, except for Lucinschi’s special envoy for negotiations on Transdniester. The envoy, Vasile Sturza, acting on president’s instructions, is soothingly reassuring the West that all is well in Transdniester and that a constructive Russia will on her own accord fulfill its obligations to withdraw the troops (Flux, Basapress, Itar-Tass, December 10-19; see the Monitor, September 11, 19, October 12, November 27, 29, December 7).
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