RUSSIAN AND COMMUNIST INTENTIONS IN MOLDOVA.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 46

The Red landslide in the Moldovan parliamentary elections (see the Monitor, March 5), unprecedented in the post-Soviet world, has undoubtedly exceeded the expectations of Moscow’s policy planners. The Party of Communists of Moldova (PCM) now has more than sufficient votes in parliament–71 out of 101–to change the constitution as it sees fit and to elect a Communist president. The PCM Central Committee has mandated its first secretary, Vladimir Voronin, to seek election as head of state by the new parliament, which should convene in late March.

In the run up to the elections, the Kremlin was poised to embark on a novel political and strategic experiment in Moldova. For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as part of efforts to reassemble its former pieces, the Kremlin encouraged Moldova’s communists and the noncommunist state leadership to form a postelection coalition and share political power. Moscow’s underlying goal was and is to provide a broad internal political basis in Moldova for a return of the country into Russia’s political, military and economic orbit. Retaining and possibly legalizing its military presence forms a centerpiece of Russia’s policy in Moldova.

At the same time, Moscow favored the retention of a vaguely pro-European veneer in Chisinau in the persons of President Petru Lucinschi and his long-time ally, Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, both of whom would promote the minimally necessary economic reforms that might help elicit Western acceptance of the Russian-sponsored political experiment in Moldova. For their part, the president and prime minister hoped–quite desperately by the time the presidential and parliamentary election campaigns began–to retain power with Russian support against their internal rivals, including the Communist Party. A power-sharing deal sponsored by Moscow appeared as the preferable solution to all concerned.

As part of the deal-in-the-making, the president and his team shelved any serious demands for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. There were moments when Lucinschi himself and his plenipotentiary envoy negotiated separately with Moscow on the Transdniester problem, behind the back of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Braghis and key presidential aides called more or less openly for acceptance and even legalization of Russia’s military presence. Such suggestions stemmed both from political opportunism and from a desperate need for Russian fuel deliveries and rescheduling of arrears.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry, which is the most openly pro-Western institution in Chisinau, had its operating leash severely curtailed by the new minister Nicolae Cernomaz, a presidential confidant who introduced a policy of “East-West”–that is, Russia-West–equidistance for the first time since 1991. Russia did not demand a full or sudden reorientation eastward and is not likely to do so in the foreseeable future. For economic reasons as well as in the context of its strategy toward the European Union, Moscow will encourage Chisinau to develop ties with the EU to an extent consistent with the primacy of Russian interest in Moldova.

Those considerations explain why official Moscow must regard the Red landslide in Chisinau as a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the PCM as a predominantly “Russian-speaking” party should prove a reliable guarantor of Moscow’s basic strategic, political and to some extent also economic interests in Moldova. On the other hand, the proportions of the PCM’s triumph–particularly if it wins the presidency after capturing the parliament–might embolden the party to take radical steps which could isolate Moldova internationally and turn Russia into an economic donor to its newly won ally, which happens to be even more of a basket case than Belarus is.

With respect to the costs of neo-empire, Moscow’s attitude is ambivalent and its policy far from clear. Official rhetoric, partly attuned to public opinion, disavows any intention of providing economic subsidies to even the closest allies among CIS countries. Nevertheless, the Russian government does provide significant subsidies to Belarus in both direct and indirect ways. That may well be one reason why Voronin’s PCM officially favors Moldova’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union.

The PCM’s electoral program and its slogans also included reversing market reforms, economic “integration” with the CIS, instituting dual Moldovan-Russian citizenship and conferring official status on the Russian language in Moldova on a par with the “Moldovan” [Romanian]. In Moscow, Voronin hinted at the possible reinstatement by Moldova–following Russia’s example–of the Soviet anthem music by Aleksandrov as a parallel Moldovan anthem. Those points pleased many in Moldova’s “Russian-speaking” electorate without antagonizing too many ethnic Moldovan voters. This discrepancy reflects two specific Moldovan factors: first, the latent condition of the Moldovans’ national awareness; and, second, the PCM’s status as the party of social discontent across ethnic lines.

In the wake of its victory, the PCM has begun slightly to equivocate on those goals. Voronin now says that a plebiscite of some type would be necessary on each of those issues. He and other leaders speak alternately about holding referendums or “popular consultations”–the former legally binding, the latter not binding–on those issues. Apparently, the Communist leadership wants to retain tactical flexibility on those issues.

There is very little love lost between Voronin’s group and the leadership of Transdniester. Its Soviet inclinations notwithstanding, Tiraspol refuses to welcome the PCM’s victory in right-bank Moldova. Tiraspol is concerned that Moscow will prefer dealing with the Communists in Chisinau as the legally constituted authority that could officially confer basing rights on the Russian troops in Transdniester (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, February 25-28, March 1-5).

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