Russia Determined to Take Over Moldova or Break It (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 64

(Source: RIA Novosti)

Executive Summary:

  • Leaders of Moldova’s Russophile parties recently launched a new political bloc at a congress in Moscow, heavily covered by Russian state media.
  • The Kremlin aims to replace Moldova’s Western-oriented leadership with one loyal to Russia, ruling out the former model of Moldova balancing between Russia and the West.
  • The newly created bloc comprises militant elements without a broad base at this time, but the Kremlin will work to enlarge it ahead of Moldova’s upcoming elections.

On April 21, in Moscow, leaders of five Russophile parties from Moldova formed a political bloc, Pobeda (“Victory”), to contest Moldova’s upcoming elections and the referendum on European choice. Russian state media provided ample coverage of the event and have continued to focus on it in the aftermath (TASS; RIA Novosti; Russian TV Channel One; Izvestiya, April 21–24). The bloc’s five parties are clustered around tycoon Ilan Shor, who has been operating out of Moscow since February and was elected head of the bloc’s executive committee at the April 21 constitutive congress. The leader of the Gagauz autonomous territory, Shor-affiliated Yevgenia Gutsul (on her third visit to Moscow in the past six weeks, see EDM, March 20, 21), holds the second-highest post in the new bloc’s leadership.

Shor, reputedly a billionaire, has built a multi-tentacular political organization in Moldova since 2022 through both overt and covert activities. With inexplicable sources of cash largesse, Shor is likely the frontman for a Russian state-driven political operation in Moldova.  His spouse is known for her close friendship with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s family. The party delegations from Moldova attending the Moscow congress—several hundred persons in all—reflected the tip of Shor’s organizational iceberg in the country.

Shor’s keynote speech and the interventions of other Pobeda leaders declared the following objectives:

  • Propagandize voting “No” in the October 2024 referendum on Moldova’s European choice and resist the “values alien to us” associated with the European Union,
  • Advocate for Moldova to pursue close partnership with Russia and membership in the Moscow-led Eurasia Economic Union,
  • Unseat President Maia Sandu in the October 2024 presidential election to deprive the governing Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) of its main electoral asset in the July 2025 parliamentary elections,
  • Protect Moldova’s “national interests and sovereignty” against “external control” by the “collective West,”
  • Turn Moldova into a federation by establishing “Russian-speaking” federal units in Gagauzia, in the city of Balti (the second-largest city in the government-controlled territory), and Transnistria through Russian mediation (TASS, RIA Novosti, Russian TV Channel One, April 23).

The final proposal is consistent with the Shor organization’s strategy to take control of certain jurisdictions via local elections. Since 2023, it has taken control of the Gagauz leadership, the Bulgarian-inhabited Taraclia (deemed “Russian-speaking” like Gagauzia next door), and the Moldovan-inhabited Orhei district, having narrowly missed another success in the “Russian-speaking” Balti. Federalization on this (or any) basis would amount to breaking up Moldova as a state.

The new bloc will be made up of several primary components. First, the parliamentary group of the “Party of Ilan Shor” (six parliamentary seats, including Shor’s vacant seat) would wield supreme influence along with its local networks. Although Moldovan authorities deregistered the party in June 2023, its parliamentary deputies retain their seats for the duration of their mandates and attended the Moscow congress. Second, the Vozrozhdenie (“Renaissance”) Party, with four parliamentary seats and some elected officials in local jurisdictions, would also have more decision-making power. This long-dormant party was reactivated as a legally registered substitute for the banned Shor Party. Third, three recently created shell parties would also become central players: the Chance Party, Victory Party, and Alternative Force for Moldova’s Salvation Party. These apparently comprise a reserve bench for Vozrozhdenie in the event that the latter is banned from elections. They may also serve to convey tailored messages to specific groups of voters in the upcoming elections. Finally, the Gagauz leadership under Gutsul also serves as an important component.

For now, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, led by Moldova’s former presidents Igor Dodon and Vladimir Voronin, are absent from this construction. The country’s Russophile left has been divided into two rival camps since the Kremlin practically abandoned Dodon and placed its main stake on Shor (see EDM, October 20, 2022, June 21, 22, 2023).

Shor and his allies propose to assemble all pro-Russian forces into a political bloc and designate a common presidential candidate. In that case, Shor would lead the bloc so long as he handles its finances. He is ineligible to run for president this year as he has just turned 37 years old. The minimum age required for presidential candidates in Moldova is 40.

Meanwhile, the Socialist Party remains the largest pro-Russian party in Moldova, notwithstanding its fall from the Kremlin’s favor and the switch of some Socialists to Shor’s parties. These elements, in fact, have grown by poaching some of the Socialist Party’s local organizations, elected officials, and parliamentary deputies. The Socialists are still a genuinely mass-based party. They took second place overall in the 2023 countrywide local elections (behind the pro-presidential PAS) and hold (together with their Communist allies) 25 seats in the 101-seat parliament. They are indignant at the poaching of their ranks by Shor’s organization, blaming these defections on Shor’s money and privately complaining about biased Kremlin consultants.

The Socialist-Communist bloc and Shor’s organization conduct anti-government protests separately from each other and run against each other in local elections. All public opinion polls show support for the Socialist Party consistently higher than the total support for the Shor-affiliated parties (Newsmaker, April 23). PAS and Sandu hold the first position in all public opinion polls, though considerably short of the 50-percent mark.

Shor personally, the Vozrozhdenie leaders, Gutsul, and Dodon have separately announced that they will attend the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June. Apparently, the Kremlin has invited all the parties there to seat them around the table and form them into a broader political bloc to replace Moldova’s Western-oriented leadership with one loyal to Russia.