Moscow is using the negotiations on resolving the Transnistria conflict as a means to weaken Moldova’s political system. This is a collateral goal of the negotiating channel run by Security Council Deputy Secretary Yuri Zubakov with core members of the Moldovan presidential team. Moscow’s specific proposals through this channel to change Moldova’s political system — ostensibly in order to facilitate a Transnistria settlement — contravene Moldova’s constitution. The Russian side now seeks to tempt Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin into dissolving the parliament and changing or breaching the constitution for the sake of a settlement that seems illusory in any case.
The Communist Party controls 56 seats in the 101-seat parliament. This number falls short of the two-thirds majority necessary for changing the constitution. Dissolving the parliament in order to hold anticipated elections would also be an anti-constitutional move. Under Article 85 of the constitution, the parliament could only be dissolved if it fails to elect the head of state within three months, to confirm the government within three months, or to adopt legislation during a three-month period. None of these conditions obtain, however.
To circumvent the constitutional safeguards, some inner-circle members are advising Voronin to dismiss the government and instruct the Communist parliamentary majority to refrain from confirming a new government or enacting legislation during three months. The president would then dissolve the parliament and see to the election of an obedient one. An almost seduced president seems at times to believe that it would be a matter of political will and a test of his team’s strength to proceed along this path, while presidential lawyers would find some appropriate formula for forcing anticipated elections.
Moscow’s proposals also run counter to Moldova’s law on citizenship, which does not permit citizens of another country to be elected to parliament or serve in government. Tiraspol’s nominees to those positions would almost certainly be citizens of Russia, with loyalties focused on that country, not Moldova. The election or appointment of such individuals in Chisinau could turn an already weak Moldova into a dysfunctional state.
In any case, Voronin’s team is in a hurry, seeking a Transnistria settlement this year with Moscow’s consent. The team feels that it does not have sufficient time (quite apart from the parliamentary arithmetic) for any far-reaching revision of the constitution and relevant laws. The president and his team calculate that Putin could only deliver a settlement, however “imperfect,” to Moldova during the next few months, before the presidential election campaign enters its main phase in Russia. They are being led to believe by Zubakov and others that Putin craves the laurels of an international peacemaker as he exits from the presidency; and that he would be clement to Moldova on the terms of settlement, if Moldova facilitates such an exit for him.
Moldova is negotiating under multiple pressures, some generated by Russia and some self-generated. Moscow and Tiraspol are stonewalling the negotiations on Transnistria. Russia’s politically motivated embargo has pushed Moldova to the brink of recession; while Moldova’s own failure to attract investments and diversify its export market is aggravating the Russian embargo’s impact. The president and the Communist Party badly need to come up with some achievements to show in next year’s parliamentary election campaign.
Voronin is increasingly anxious to reunite his native Transnistria with the rest of Moldova during his remaining time in office (two years arithmetically, though clearly less than that in practice). Moldovan officials feel — not entirely without justification — that Western support is not effective enough to attain that goal in the near- or even medium term. Thus, some officials fall back on the traditional reflex of seeking a deal with the Kremlin — a reflex of which these same officials had seemed cured during the period of heady hopes in 2004-2006. This leads them to supplicate for Putin’s goodwill and thus to link their hopes to Russia’s presidential-election calendar.
Thus, Voronin seems very keen on reaching a bilateral accommodation with the Kremlin, given the less than two years to go in his final presidential mandate. He is worried about his place in the country’s history, if he fails to effectively address the country’s main problems — deep poverty and the Transnistria conflict — toward the end of his eight-year presidency. Thus he seems tempted to stake on Putin for illusory solutions on both counts.