Concern is mounting in Chisinau, Brussels, and Washington — to name only the main decision-making centers — that Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin is willing to be cajoled into a bad deal with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at their upcoming meeting in St. Petersburg on June 10. Voronin is also attending the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly session, also in St. Petersburg, on May 30-31, where he is believed to seek negotiations preparatory to the meeting with Putin.
Moldova’s presidential institution is deep into the bilateral negotiations with Moscow, outside the 5+2 format and without disclosing crucial details to the United States and European Union. Already unique in a number of anachronistic ways, Communist-led Moldova is adding a further unique feature to its policies: It has become the only country that negotiates toward conflict-resolution with Russia on a bilateral basis, without a direct international involvement and without adequate disclosure to the West. Negotiations involve terms potentially damaging to Moldova that were leaked on April 12 (see EDM, April 13) amid Western concern and Moldovan presidential resentment at a disclosure that might have halted the slide toward an outcome damaging to Moldova.
Voronin’s latest public utterances are those of a president under heavy stress, seemingly prepared to switch from a Western-oriented to a double-vector policy, in the forlorn hope of gaining the Kremlin’s support for conflict-resolution in Transnistria.
In his May 30 speech to the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Voronin insisted that Moldova must not choose between the European Union and the CIS, but must rather “seek to harmonize the standards of two integration processes, West and East, and bring them closer together,” apparently in some sort of Moldovan experiment. Abjuring “any asymmetrical path of development” (either Westward or Eastward), Voronin describes the two options as “an artificial choice between the Good and the Good” — wording taken almost verbatim from his earlier speeches, before he had switched from a Russian to a European orientation (Basapres, May 31).
Such pronouncements might be intended as an overture or naïve ruse to attract Tiraspol back into a reunified Moldova. They are almost certainly designed for ingratiation with Putin. But other recent Voronin pronouncements indicate that such pronouncements are sincerely meant as well as a part of political tactics. The president’s unusually long May 22 interview with RIA-Novosti is particularly revealing in this respect. It was a “spontaneous,” unguarded confession that the Russian official news agency failed to send back to Chisinau for pre-publication checking. Deeply embarrassed presidential advisers managed at least to limit the interview’s circulation in Moldova.
In this interview, Voronin blames the deadlock in conflict-settlement negotiations on “provocative actions, whether here locally, or by the West, or by leaks in mass media.” He feels that real opportunities were missed as a result of those factors. Denouncing the secessionist leaders for corruption and lawlessness, he signals his wish that Putin should remove those leaders, in which case the conflict would be resolved. Again, this is a throwback to Voronin’s pre-2004 approach of dependence on Putin for solving the problem. However, on a new and anxious note, he now invokes the prospect of a second Kaliningrad, cautioning Russia that Transnistria would be several times more expensive to maintain than Kaliningrad is.
Crediting Putin with genuine personal willingness to resolve the conflict in Moldova’s favor, Voronin blames unnamed Russian officials for misleading their president (an adapted version of the “good tsar, bad boyars” myth). He also reveals his sentimental longing for his native Transnistria and anxiousness to reunify Moldova during his remaining time in office as president.
Having thereby fully exposed his vulnerability to pressure and blackmail in the ongoing negotiations, Voronin goes on to reveal for the first time to anyone an intention to play “the role of Teng Hsiao Pin” after the 2009 expiry of his presidential term. He predicts that his Communist Party would remain dominant in Moldova and that he would remain the real leader of the country in his continuing capacity as chairman of the Communist Party. He does not comment on this goal’s incompatibility with Moldova’s and his own declared aspirations for integration into the European Union (RIA-Novosti, May 22). That incompatibility helps explain Voronin’s sudden reversion to the rhetoric of the double-vector policy, East-West “symmetry” in his May 30 speech at the CIS forum.
Voronin comes across as a demoralized president, out of ideas and initiatives except putting his trust in Putin — or pretending to do so for tactical reasons that might translate into adverse strategic consequences. His confidence regarding the effectiveness of Western policies has plummeted. This stage in Voronin’s evolution must not be regarded as final or irreversible. This president needs hands-on Western support and constant consultations with the United States and EU at their initiative.