MOSCOW’S STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY IN MOLDOVA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 48

The Communist Party’s electoral triumph in Moldova last week is being hailed by Russia’s major political forces from the Reds to some reputed liberals such as Yabloko’s Aleksei Arbatov and Vyacheslav Igrunov. Arbatov, vice chairman of the Duma’s defense affairs committee, declared that the Communist victory in Moldova and the prospect of that country joining the Russia-Belarus Union constitute “a very auspicious and fortunate direction of policy in the post-Soviet space.” Igrunov, who is his party’s specialist on CIS affairs, predicted that Moldova would become a Russian outpost against NATO’s enlargement in that part of Europe and, by the same token, would “delineate our [respective] areas.” That vision is very probably shared by the Russian government’s policy planners and would imply drawing an East-West demarcation line along the Prut River, the border between Moldova and NATO aspirant Romania.

Unity leader Yevgeny Primakov–who doubles as the Kremlin’s political ally and presidential representative in charge of the Transdniester problem–has publicly implied that the Communist victory in Chisinau would facilitate a Transdniester settlement on Russia’s terms. Those terms are predicated on the Primakov plan for a “common state” and open-ended retention of Russian troops and bases in Moldova.

Russian Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov described the Moldovan election’s outcome as facilitating the “settlement” in Transdniester, presaging a leftist resurgence in CIS countries and vindicating the Communists’ rejection of Western-inspired market reforms in those countries.

On March 6, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly acknowledged the “friendly feelings” of Moldova’s Communists toward Russia and their stated intention to join the Russia-Belarus Union. In Minsk, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka declared that he would welcome Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union “with his heart and soul.”

The Kremlin had calculated that its interests in Moldova would be better served by an alliance of the Communists with Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi and Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis. Lucinschi and Braghis discussed that scenario in Moscow several times in recent months. To broker such an alliance, Putin received the Moldovan Communist leader Vladimir Voronin twice in the Kremlin: unofficially and almost confidentially last December and openly in January for a one-and-a-half hour meeting. For the first time since the end of Soviet power, Russia’s leader in the Kremlin openly welcomed the leader of a communist party from another country as an ally.

Yet Putin, Primakov and the Russian policymakers in general are hardly interested in socialist experiments in Moldova. What they need is a broadly based political bloc to achieve stability, rule through consensus rather than confrontation, an economic and cultural reorientation toward Russia, and a level of relations with the West which would ensure continued financial support, so as to avoid or minimize the need for Russia to become an economic donor to Moldova. Just as important, Russia would prefer dealing with a noncommunist president on the issue of troops and bases. A communist president’s consent to host Russian troops would be more difficult to defend internationally and even in Moldova than a noncommunist’s.

The proportions of the communist victory–71 out of 101 parliamentary seats and an all-but-guaranteed election of Voronin as head of state by the parliament–would seem to suggest that Lucinschi and Braghis have become superfluous. In fact, their potential usefulness to Moscow has increased in the wake of the Red landslide. The Kremlin does need Lucinschi’s European face to embellish the Communist power and Braghis’ presence in the government–with his reputation as a reformer–to avoid a freeze in Moldova’s relations with the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The indications are that Moscow and its Chisinau ambassador Pavel Petrovsky are discussing with Voronin, Lucinschi and Braghis the possibility of implementing the power-sharing arrangement that had been envisaged ahead of the elections. Given the disproportion of the political forces in any such arrangement, however, Lucinschi and Braghis would probably end up in the classical role of fellow travelers if they team up with the unreconstructed Party of Moldovan Communists. And by the same token, a noncommunist president–should he accept the post by Moscow’s and Voronin’s grace–would bear the onus of helping perpetuate Russia’s military presence in his country and a Kaliningrad-type exclave in that part of Europe (Itar-Tass, Ekho Moskvy, February 26; Federal News Service, March 5; Gazeta.ru as monitored by the BBC, March 6; Mediafax, March 7; Flux, Basapress, Infotag, February 26-March 7; Monitor interviews, March 5-6; see also the Monitor, February 26, March 5).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions