During their recent, successful electoral campaigns, Moldova’s Party of Communists and President Vladimir Voronin promised to initiate Moldova’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union and to call a national referendum on that issue. The Party leaders correctly calculated that such a promise would help solidify their support base among the “Russian-speaking” electorate, which makes up a full third of Moldova’s registered voters and some 40 percent of the usual voter turnout.
Following their takeover of power, the Communist leaders are softpedaling that promise in their statements to internal Moldovan and Western audiences. Nor does Voronin face Russian pressure to bring Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union any time soon. Transdniester’s authorities, however, want Chisinau to take some steps toward joining the union as one of the preconditions to a political settlement of the conflict in Moldova. Igor Smirnov and the other leaders in Tiraspol reckon that not even a Communist regime in Chisinau would or could meet that precondition.
For the time being, Voronin procrastinates by citing the need for “good preparation” before calling a Moldovan referendum on joining the Russia-Belarus Union. Voronin discussed that issue on three recent occasions: in an interview on Russian state radio on the day of his inauguration as president, in his first interview as president with Belarusan television, and in his first official meeting with Smirnov. On all three occasions, Voronin affirmed the intention to call a Moldovan referendum next year on the issue. It is a measure of Voronin’s habit of saying different things to different audiences that he chose not to publicize those statements in Chisinau. And it is also a measure of the Moldovan political apathy that the Communists’–and indeed Moscow’s–moves affecting the country’s fate often pass unnoticed or uncommented on in Moldova.
In his interview with Alyaksandr Zimousky–the most vitriolic among President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s propagandists–on Belarusan television, Voronin stated with regard to the Russia-Belarus Union: “We support this union as a fundamental political idea. And we would like it to materialize through the efforts of Russians and Byelorussians, so that we can join the union as soon as possible and without delay.” In his interview with Ostankino’s Radio Mayak, Voronin reaffirmed the promise to prepare a Moldovan referendum on joining the Russia-Belarus Union. “It is unlikely that we would call the referendum this year, but it will definitely be done. [However,] it is not only a matter of us wanting to join. They have to want us to join as well.”
“Their” readiness from Voronin’s standpoint is almost certainly linked to preferential economic arrangements for Moldova, particularly for unprivatized or incompletely privatized sectors of Moldova’s agrarian economy. In fairness to the Communists, however, it was Petru Lucinschi–during the final year of his presidency–who initiated a major push for economic ties with Belarus. On an official visit to Minsk, just before last year’s harvest, Lucinschi and Lukashenka signed a set of agreements which made Belarus almost overnight a leading importer of Moldova’s agricultural products. According to Belarusan data, imports of Moldovan produce suddenly rose to nearly US$50 million last year and are slated for further growth in this one. Moldovan export statistics, however, reflect only part of that increase. Specialists in Chisinau suspect that a large part of the exports to Belarus are being routed illegally from right-bank Moldova via Transdniester in order to avoid Moldovan customs.
Meanwhile, Moldova became–thanks to the Communists–the first country anywhere to show interest in rebroadcasting Belarusan state television programs. The Communist chairman of Moldova’s National Television and Radio, Iulian Magaleas, signed in late March in Minsk a cooperation agreement with the Belarusan State Broadcasting Company. The agreement envisages studying each other’s “advanced experience” and exchanging programs for broadcasting in each other’s country.
None of this means that the Communist leaders are eager to take Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union. What does matter is that Moldova has officially regressed from unconditional rejection of that idea to a wait-and-see attitude, that the failure of agrarian reform leaves Moldova heavily dependent on the Russian and Belarusan markets, and that Chisinau’s official pro-European rhetoric is waning while the Communist leaders look to the East for solutions to the country’s economic and security problems (Basapress, March 30; Flux, March 28, April 3; Ostankino Radio Mayak, April 7; Olvia Press (Tiraspol), April 10; Belarusan Television, April 15; see the Monitor, March 5, 7, 9, 13, 21, 27).
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