The latest official statements in Moscow evidence its goal to control Moldova in all key respects: as military and political “guarantor” in Transdniester, as maker of governments in Chisinau, as dominant economic factor, and as arbiter of the country’s language and cultural policies which constitute, today as in the past, the central arena of Moldova’s politics.
While using the Communist Party as the main pro-Russian force in Moldova, the Kremlin has now taken an initiative to stabilize the badly shaken regime by broadening its political base. This initiative apparently assumes that it is up to Moscow to determine the political complexion and, up to a point, the nominal composition of Moldova’s government. According to press reports in both Moscow and Chisinau, sourced to presidential circles in both places, Kremlin officials are asking Communist President Vladimir Voronin to form a political coalition of “moderate” Communists and some noncommunist elements, abandon the Communist Party’s hardline wing to its fate, perhaps even abandon the post of party leader and in any case dilute the “Red” hue of his government. According to these reports, Moscow’s choice as prime minister is Dumitru Braghis, who served in that capacity in 2000-2001, and currently heads a small colorless group in parliament. There are circumstantial indications that the initiative stems from the office of top Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky, who has a close relationship with Voronin’s influential aide Victor Doras.
The Kremlin’s current initiative resembles the one taken during the final months of Petru Lucinschi’s presidency and the initial ones of Voronin’s and his Communist parliament’s terms of office. At that juncture (mid-2000 to mid-2001) Moscow tried to broker a power sharing deal between the rising Communists and the declining camp of Lucinschi’s supporters, under Braghis as quasi-figurehead prime minister. The guiding idea was the same then as it is now: to broaden the regime’s internal political basis, recruit at least a few competent ministers, free them from the constant pressure of Communist hardliners, resume at least some economic reforms and above all unfreeze Western lending. While intent on political dominance in Moldova and on taking over key economic assets, Russia is in no position to act as donor to the country. It wants a government oriented primarily toward Moscow, acceptable to and financed by the West, not excessively Red in color, and at least minimally competent in order to avoid the instability now wracking Moldova. A deal along those lines would also permanently isolate the authentically pro-Western and democratic opposition.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and other officials are openly asserting a droit de regard over Moldova. Receiving Romania’s Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in Moscow on February 21, Kasyanov declared that Russia supports official status for the Russian language in Moldova “as the medium of interethnic communication [Soviet/Russian term for official lingua franca] there, as well as the medium of communication among neighboring states.” The first part of this statement implies reducing Moldova to a subordinate status, inasmuch as the lingua franca in any normal European country–including multi-ethnic ones–is the native majority’s language. The second part of Kasyanov’s statement regards Moldova as Russia’s “neighbor,” which is decidedly not the case, except in a “near abroad” sense as well as in that of the Russian military presence.
In the same meeting, Kasyanov and other Russian officials repeatedly cautioned Romania to abstain from “interfering” in Moldova. The Russian side attempted to create a misimpression that Moldova constitutes a contentious issue between Russia and Romania. For its part, the Romanian government goes out of its way to avoid such a misimpression. It could not have arisen, had the West–rather than Romania–competed in Moldova earlier and more purposely than it did.
This situation highlights Russia’s hegemonial objectives in Moldova. The Kremlin maintains the closest personal and political relations with the Moldovan president, keeps Russian troops in Moldova and seeks a permanent military presence there, underwrites Russian minority rule in Transdniester, conducts a pseudo-mediating routine between Chisinau and Tiraspol, works closely with the pro-Moscow forces in Chisinau itself, encourages linguistic re-Russification there, and plans to take over key economic assets. And through all this, Russia’s top officials caution Romania against a nonexistent “interference” on its part.
Last week, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement on Moldova, couched in Soviet-era concepts and terminology. On February 22, the Duma’s International Affairs Committee’s chairman Dmitry Rogozin–a politician closely aligned with President Vladimir Putin–issued a similar statement, denouncing the Moldovan anti-Communist demonstrators as “extremist nationalists, hampering the president’s [Voronin’s] policy.” Rogozin’s statement claimed that “the Moldovans themselves want Russian to acquire official status. It is quite natural for them.”
If Russian as official language is “natural” for a Romance language speaking people, why not for the Baltic peoples too? Kasyanov declared: “What Russia has long been striving for in the Baltic states, is happening in a natural way in Moldova” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 24-25; Flux, Basapress, Interfax, RIA, February 24-27; see the Monitor, January 14, 18, 23, February 1, 7, 18, 20, 22, 25).
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