Acting on President Vladimir Putin’s cue, the Russian government and dependent institutions are speaking out in defense of Moldova’s beleaguered Communist regime. This stance forms part of the Kremlin’s broader strategy of relying on Sovietophile forces, in hopes of creating a pro-Russian bloc in east-central Europe to face an enlarging NATO. Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Moldova’s Communists are Moscow’s instruments of choice in that effort, and Ukraine’s Communists have recently been enlisted as the Kremlin’s auxiliaries against the Ukrainian pro-European parties (see the Monitor, March 20; Fortnight in Review, April 2). Meanwhile, Putin claims a seat at NATO’s table using European slogans, and seems to find acceptance of that claim from those who apparently ignore the Kremlin’s support for anti-European forces on what will soon be NATO’s and the European Union’s eastern border.
Moldova’s ruling Communist Party has grappled with nonstop protests since January 9. Putin himself has since made at least three public statements of unqualified support for the Communists. He went so far as to portray this most unreconstructed among communist parties as reformist, democratic and on course toward improving the people’s well-being. Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also issued several statements along similar lines. On March 27, for example, the ministry denounced the anti-Communist opposition as “radical nationalists” and went on to state: “The balanced and responsible actions of Moldova’s leaders, aimed at stabilizing the situation, are democratic and praiseworthy” (Itar-Tass, March 27).
On April 2, Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry chief spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko declared that “Moldova’s leadership is devoted to European democratic values,” also crediting it with intentions to promote economic reforms. With this, the Russian government continues its practice of conferring or withholding certificates of Europeanness, depending on its own political sympathies. Significantly, official Moscow has all along maintained that the Baltic states violate European norms and standards. Moldova’s Communists are, however, in Russia’s view, good Europeans.
Such blessing not only misrepresents one of the most backward and certainly most Red group in power anywhere in the post-Soviet world, but also encourages that group to continue resisting the recommendations of Western financial institutions–a resistance that has brought Moldova to the verge of financial default. Moscow’s statement went on to describe the anticommunist demonstrators as “extremists”–a description that ignores the movement’s invariably peaceful character. And it claimed that the movement is being “inspired to a significant extent from outside the country”–a jab at Romania (Interfax, April 2).
Romania was also fingered on March 28 by Kremlin public relations managers Gleb Pavlovsky and Sergei Markov, in articles on the Kremlin electronic mouthpiece Strana.ru and interviews with Bucharest Radio. They warned against “Romanian interference” in Moldova, against “Romanian nationalism” targeting Moldova for “Romanian expansion and annexation,” and against Romania becoming a “conduit through which Balkan instability could extend toward the Black Sea.” They even conjured up a scenario of “Middle East-type instability being duplicated” through ill-considered Romanian actions in the region. The two Kremlin advisers also called for giving the Russian language official status in Moldova. Such a step could, however, inflame the very “national passions” that Pavlovsky and Markov say should be avoided. The Kremlin duo mildly criticized Moldova’s President Vladimir Voronin solely for his “indecisiveness” on the matter of elevating Russian to official language on a par with Romanian (Bucharest Radio, March 28).
Warnings and scare-mongering of this sort appear designed with two goals in mind. The first goal is to cover Russia’s own, massive intervention in Moldova through its military forces, blanket coverage by Kremlin-controlled mass media, privatization grabs, supremacy of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the pro-Russian ruling groups in both Tiraspol and Chisinau–two rival sets of clients, for which Moscow currently arbitrates. The second goal is to create the appearance of a Romanian-Russian dispute over Moldova, so as to thwart Romania’s chances of being invited this coming November to join NATO. The alliance requires candidate countries to renounce any irredentist goals, and leave behind all historic-territorial issues with third countries, as preconditions to joining the alliance. As Romania’s chances of being invited have soared in recent months (see the Monitor, February 20, March 21, 27; Fortnight in Review, April 2), the Russian government has responded with attempts to suggest that Moldova forms an object of competition between Romania and Russia.
For its part, Romania has only scant means to compete with Russia even were that its intention. At present, many in Bucharest and in NATO capitals feel that the political confrontation in Moldova may perhaps have been unleashed at this particular juncture with a view to entangling Romania in a dispute with Russia. That perception shapes both Bucharest’s behavior and NATO countries’ advice to Romania in this situation.
Russia’s Orthodox Church is also pulling its weight for Moldova’s Communists and, by the same token, against Europe. On April 1 and 2, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Aleksy II, issued a statement and then called a news conference to reject a recent verdict on Moldova by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Strasbourg-based court had, the previous week, upheld its December ruling, requiring Moldova’s government to grant legal registration to the Metropolitanate of Bessarabia, which is affiliated with the Romanian Orthodox Church, not the Russian Church. The latter deems Moldova–as it does Ukraine, Belarus and other post-Soviet countries–as part of the Russian Church’s “canonical space.” This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of what the Russian government describes as the “CIS space.” In this “space,” the Russian Orthodox Church supports all pro-Moscow forces including Communists and other Sovietophile groups, and maintains its own church branches. Accordingly, Aleksy II chastised the ECHR for “interfering” in Moldova (Interfax, April 1; Strana.Ru, April 2). The Patriarch’s sense of Christian compassion failed him, however: he did not mention the fact that the Moldovan parliamentary deputy Vlad Cubreacov, kidnapped on March 21 and possibly harmed or killed since, is the top lay official of the Metropolitanate of Bessarabia (Flux, Basapress, Interfax, April 1-3; see the Monitor, March 6, 11, 18, 28, April 1).
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