On April 4 and 6, two of Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi’s closest associates launched trial balloons suggesting that Moldova might under certain conditions be prepared to grant basing rights to Russian troops in Transdniester (see the Monitor, April 7). Mihai Plamadeala, head of the president’s re-election campaign staff and secretary of the Security Council as well, was one of these. Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis was the other, suggesting again–while wetting his lips at the prospect of “free natural gas”–that Moldova was considering changing her policy and renouncing international support for the withdrawal of Russian troops. On April 7, the president’s chief spokesman equivocated by suggesting that “should Russia come up with some very advantageous proposals, we would then have to discuss changing the constitutional provisions on Moldova’s neutrality status. However, the current distribution of forces in parliament precludes changing the constitution.” (Flux, April 7). Regardless of intent, the statement implied that the constitutionally anchored neutrality might under certain conditions be treated as an inconvenience, rather than as a protection against the stationing of Russian troops.
It was not until April 10 that Lucinschi finally disavowed those ideas, and it took a meeting with the American diplomat William Hill, head of the Chisinau mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to elicit the presidential disavowal. Lucinschi stopped short of speaking to the public on that vital issue. Instead, according to his spokesman, he told Hill that Moldova has not changed her policy and rules out any conferral of basing rights on the Russian troops in Transdniester. Moldova will apparently adhere to both her constitution, which bans the stationing of foreign troops in the country, and the decisions of the recent OSCE summit, which require Russia to withdraw the arsenals and troops from Moldova by December 2001 and December 2002, respectively. Chisinau will count on OSCE support to achieve that goal under international monitoring, Lucinschi was quoted as telling Hill. In return, Hill pledged the organization’s continued support, behind which stand the U.S. and other Western governments.
The presidential election campaign, unofficially in full swing for a November vote, is distorting the position of the presidency and of other political forces on the issue of Russian troops. Parliament Chairman Dumitru Diacov, one of Lucinschi’s rivals, described the hints about Russian military basing rights as “cheap political speculation…. It is perfectly clear that they are after votes and political support.” Diacov’s recent political record is that of a reformer and an adversary of the Communist Party, which party–Moldova’s strongest–favors retaining Russian troops on Moldovan soil. Yet even Diacov apparently felt that he had to join the race for “votes and political support” by demonstrating open-mindedness on the issue of Russian troops: “Should Russia make some offers, they would have to be examined by experts, without involving the body politic. Should those proposals turn out useful to the country, they might be accepted, but one should not appeal to public opinion before the specific proposals are on the table and their benefits are evaluated.”
In almost any post-Soviet or East-Central European country, electoral campaigns usually stimulate politicians to present themselves as defenders of national interests and even to adopt nationalist views. Moldova, however, is a special case. The native electorate seems indifferent toward the twin issues of Transdniester and the Russian troops. There is virtually no political pressure from the grassroots upon the leaders to resolve those issues. Meanwhile, native mainstream politicians and parties compete not only against each other but also against the Communist Party and the “Russian-speaking population,” two blocs which largely overlap and which represent at least one third of the total electorate. That phenomenon has been described as “the Russian left” (russkolevye) by Sergey Karaganov, the chairman of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who recently discussed the crystallization of the “Russian Left” in the Baltic states. In Moldova, the “Russian Left” is stronger because indigenous political participation and national awareness are weaker. No president can be elected and no viable government can be formed in Moldova without communist and “Russian-speaking” support. While those two blocs do not actively call for keeping Russian troops in Moldova, they would support candidates who signal that they favor or at least do not reject the presence of those troops. At the same time, only a few Moldovan voters would reward the candidates who actively seek the removal of Russian forces.
This explains the parliament chairman’s seemingly paradoxical remark that to signal a willingness to host Russian troops in Moldova is to run after votes, and his own readiness to play by that rule (see above). In the Moldovan political spectrum, active support for the removal of Russian troops is confined to the “right-wing” parties, which consistently poll a total of some 15 percent of the votes country-wide. The Popular Christian-Democrat Party–the renamed Popular Front–lost no time attacking Lucinschi and his aides for the overtures to Russia. But with a presidential election coming up in November, the presidency and the nonrightist parties may yet hedge their bets on the issue of Russian troops (Basapress, Flux, April 6-7, 10-11; Monitor interviews, April 10-11; see the Monitor, January 14, February 8, April 5, 7).
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