With rare exceptions, nothing was written about the Chişinău electoral campaign. But its results and their consequences were widely discussed. Many times hastily, with a parade, self-justifying enthusiasm. The stake of this text, in terms of LARICS analysis dedicated to the Republic of Moldova in the last two years, is triple:
- Let’s assess the opinion promptly launched on the market according to which “Russia was defeated in Chişinău”. In reality, the thesis is based on an abusive simplification which overlaps the interests of Russia on the left side of the Prut strictly with the “pro-Russia” project and, at the same time, with the political score of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) and / or of Igor Dodon. Completely fake.
- Let’s show that the deeper and more dangerous stake Russia has in the Republic of Moldova is not (only) the “pro-Russia” project, but the ideological „pro-Moldova” project – the real Russian victory beyond the Prut – owned today explicitly by the PDM of Vladimir Plahotniuc and the PSRM of Igor Dodon, with all its strategic/geopolitical, and not only political consequences.
- Let’s show that the only organic, natural coalition in Chişinău is that of the Socialist Party (Igor Dodon) and the Democratic Party (Vladimir Plahotniuc). If not today or tomorrow, the day after tomorrow it will become reality.
Let’s take them step by step.
Was Russia defeated in Chişinău?
I would rather say this is dodging things. If we were to compare the PSRM score (35 seats in Parliament) with that of the 2014 elections, we will notice that then Igor Dodon’s pro-Russian party obtained 20.5% and 25 seats respectively, so 10 mandates less than in 2019 (with an electoral system that disadvantaged them in 2019 compared to 2014). Then where is Russia’s defeat in 2019?
Those who speak of a presumed defeat of Russia in the Republic of Moldova are tacitly referring to something else, namely the comparison with the presidential elections of 2016 when Igor Dodon won 52% and became president. In general, it is risky to compare apples to pears, but even so, comparing presidential elections with parliamentary elections, things do not connect.
Photo: an example of the series of manipulations launched during the presidential elections in 2016 against the candidate Maia Sandu and distributed on the TV channels of the trust owned by General Media Grup Corp SRL, company which has Vlad Plahotniuc as flounder.
First of all, the 2016 victory of Igor Dodon – when it is said that Russia has won – was obtained with the direct and indubitable support of the media network and of the party infrastructure of Vladimir Plahotniuc and of the Democratic Party (PDM) lead by him. The mobilization of these structures against the pro-European candidate Maia Sandu is notorious, obvious and undeniable. From incalculable and irreproducible accusations against her up to a media campaign, stating she will bring – once elected president – about 30,000 Syrians to Chişinău – everything has been used.
The conclusion is obvious: not only Moscow won in 2016, but Moscow plus the direct support of Vladimir Plahotniuc’s campaign. And if in 2019, in the parliamentary elections, the Russia was apparently “defeated”, also with the help of Vladimir Plahotniuc, who extracted from the vote of the socialists the votes for the Party of Ilan Shor (a figure invented and kept in a leash by PDM), so about 10% of the vote that in 2016 went to Igor Dodon. Add this to the PDM votes which did not go now to Igor Dodon’s PSRM – how they went in 2016 to the presidential candidate Igor Dodon – and you will have the full picture.
Therefore, it is not first of all about Russia here, but about domestic political arrangements, it is not clear to what extent and in what way accepted by Moscow, which decided the outcome.. These internal political arrangements (The Plahotniuc-Dodon arrangement) are actually those we need to understand and decipher beyond the Prut and, especially, beyond Russia’s tolerance attitude in relation to them.
In themselves, the figures of the parliamentary elections say nothing relevant.
Who pulled the hand brake of socialists? And why?
Photo: Igor Dodon in Moscow.
We have to dig a little deeper with the explanations. Let’s assume that this narrative – Russia equals Dodon and the Socialist Party – is valid. Then we would have expected Moscow to make all possible efforts to raise the socialist’s score as much as possible. Including with political and financial support. There was political support, if we were to talk about Dodon’s visit to Putin, just we don’t know what was discussed there. Another question mark already widely discussed by LARICS, that President Igor Dodon, after a series of public sudden and belligerent outbursts, that he will be top of the socialists’ list in the parliamentary elections – a perfectly legal matter in Moldova! – on the eve of the election campaign suddenly gave this up . If Russia had all bets on Igor Dodon, how come Moscow did not insist that Igor Dodon, the man with the greatest rating beyond the Prut, opens the list of socialists, implicitly increase their chances and face the rest of the political actors, especially Vladimir Plahotniuc (PDM) and the ACUM Block? And still, Dodon withdrew without a word as soon as Adrian Candu, PDM member and Parliament speaker, warned him to stop.
Why did Russia not finance the Socialist party?
And another thing. If we take a moment to look on the parties’ expense lists in the campaign, submitted to the Central European Commission (CEC), we will notice the following figures next to the parliamentary parties:
- Democratic Party (Vladimir Plahotniuc) – 30 295 772 lei
- Shor Party (Ilan Shor) – 19 860 000 lei
- Socialist Party (Igor Dodon) – 5 471 523 lei
- ACUM Block (Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase) – 1 859 503 lei
What is the conclusion? In the previous 2014 campaign, Dodon’s socialists spent about 14 000 million lei. In 2014, after they also have the president, only a little over 5 million. Almost three times less! How come? If PSRM is Moscow’s party, and Russia played exclusively this card, how can one explain not only that it accepts the withdrawal of Igor Dodon from the list, but also leaves the party unfunded as Vladimir Plahontiuc spends about six times more, and Ilan Shor about four times more? There is an economic crisis in the Russian Federation, but that big a crisis?
There is something fishy here, and obviously the explanation is somewhere else. Respectively, in the fact that Moldova did not bet in these elections only on Igor Dodon’s socialist party, but on a bigger project and with much higher strategic importance. Project which is now on-going.
Why did Russia not give the Moldavian prisoners in Afghanistan to Igor Dodon?
PHOTO: The two Moldavian pilots released from Afghanistan and remained in the custody of Moscow in the first interview after the release, where they thank Russia and the president Dodon.
And the cherry on the cake, now. One of the hottest topics in the last part of the Chișinău electoral campaign was linked to two Moldovan pilots, Lionel Buruiană and Mihai Crihană, who were captured by the Taliban during a UN assistance mission on 24 November 2015, after a helicopter forced landing. Nobody had talked about them for three years, but during the election campaign in Chișinău there is news that Russia succeeded in getting the two released when it received a delegation from the Islamist group for peace talks with mediators in Moscow from the Afghan power, including former President Hamid Karzai. Igor Dodon urgently made the announcement in a press briefing on February 11: “We managed to solve the problem only because of help from the leadership of the Russian Federation who responded to my personal request.” And he indicated that pilots Lionel Buruiana and Mihai Crihană are now in Moscow, where they are recovering in a medical centre. In addition, he announced that “at the end of this week or at the beginning of the next one I will personally fly to Moscow to bring back the pilots to Chişinău”. Let’s also note that in their first interview, on February 2019, the two pilots thanked, from Moscow, the president Igor Dodon and the Russian Federation for being released.
We should also add that Igor Dodon announced on February 13th, on Accent TV, that after attending the Munich Security Conference – we will go back to that – we will go directly to Moscow , before returning to the Republic of Moldova, where he would come back with the two released pilots there was so much talk about in Chişinău.
All seemed fixed. What should have been a hit for Igor Dodon’s and the Socialist Party’s electoral campaign was nothing in the end. All ended as suddenly as it started, after a series of protests of Vladimir Plahotniuc’s governmental group. Despite the initial marching band sounds, Dodon did not receive anything. Russia changed its mind, for reasons known only by it.
From a certain point, the subject disappeared in the media landscape. The discussion about the two pilots ended as suddenly as it started. Suddenly, instantaneously almost, all media, like after an order, went silent, all the politicians, especially the ones involved in the PSRM and the PDM and their media trusts – abandoned the subject at once. The Moldavian pilots are still in Moscow, in an “NGO”, but nobody is interested in them anymore…
And there is the question too many people have ignored: why did the Russians not give the two prisoners to Igor Don if he was their only candidate in these elections? Why did Moscow not do everything to increase the popularity and number of votes of the chief of the socialist party?
One of the unanswered questions in this campaign.
Why does the PDM government ignore the federalization project submitted by Igor Dodon also in Munich?
Photo: The leaders of the ACUM Block, Andrei Năstase (left) and Maia Sandu (centre), plus the candidate on the list of the Igor Munteanu block (right), publicly revealing Chișinău, as a first, the plan of Igor Dodon („bolshoi paket”)
The main element that reveals this enormous lie that Russia only bet on Dodon and therefore lost, is the following. More than two months ago, Andrei Năstase was the first politician in the Republic of Moldova – and the only one! – which talked about Dodon’s plan to federalize the Republic of Moldova. This is a document that has already been sent to Brussels, Berlin, Rome and Washington since last year. It would obviously be naive to think that the government did not know about it. Of course they knew, but they kept silent. During the election campaign, President Igor Dodon was invited to the Munich Conference (February 16-18) to submit that plan and the government, faking indignation, refused to attend. They pretended to write a protest letter to the organizers, separating from the position of Igor Dodon, but that letter was never published. Nobody has seen it, and the media agency which requested the MAEIE position did not request nor insist about it.
But there is something more important than this, that is, the messages that Dodon gave around his trip to the Munich Conference and which configure its political and strategic position. On his home television, Accent TV, he announced that he would have formal and informal meetings in Germany, and expressed his presence there in the following way: “This will be a plus for us, because if Moldova appears on the agenda of the big powers as a possible compromise between the West and Russia, we believe that we can very quickly solve the great problems of Moldova. ” What those problems are is not hard to guess, especially if he goes with the federalization plan in his pocket. In Munich, a round table dedicated to the situation in the Republic of Moldova was organized, and with this occasion the concept „balanced external policy” was introduced. And Dodon continued, with some words that the Democratic Party, led by Vladimir Plahotniuc, after his adherence to the pro-Moldova doctrine, could have said in a chorus: “the implementation of this agenda depends on what will be on the 24th of February. If we have a parliamentary majority based on these principles – that it will be neither pro-Russian nor pro-American, neither anti-Russian nor anti-European, but pro-Moldova – then this plan has serious chances to be implemented starting with April -May”.
Does it have to be clearer than this? The PDM of Vladimir Plahotniuc and the PSRM of Igor Dodon are “pro-Moldova”, so what does ideologically prevent them from cooperating, not only informally, as until now, but also formally, after the elections? Obviously nothing. On the contrary! So, once again, here we can see the mockery we are currently assisting to on the Chişinău electoral scene, with the Tom and Jerry confrontation between PDM and PSRM.
Let’s go back to the other mockery, respectively to the federalization project of Igor Dodon. Things are like this: the President of Moldova has made a special status plan for Transnistria, meaning a federal plan, the government finds out, is indignant and opposes, but the ruling party does not say anything about it in the electoral campaign, although it claims that Dodon is the main enemy! Dodon goes to Munich ad presents the plan, comes back home, nothing happens. Nobody asks him, nobody holds him accountable. If the two camps, meaning PDM led by Vladimir Plahotniuc and the PSRM led by Igor Dodon were real enemies, it is obvious that the DPM, which controls the government and the MFAEI and the secret services, should have went in public and accuse Igor Dodon, in front of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, of betrayal complicity with Russia, even violation of Moldovan law since he wants the political settlement of the Transnistrian issue before demilitarization and decriminalization, which is not legal, as explicitly stated in the “2005 Act regarding the status of the Eastern Territory of the Republic of Moldova (Transnistria) “.
Why did not PDM do this in the campaign? It’s as if you find out that someone is lazy, drunk and beats his wife and children every day, but you publicly accuse him out loud that he is just lazy, that he drinks it from time to time, but do not say a word about the fact that he beats his family every day. Why are you keeping quiet? Why do you pretend to not know this. What do you have to hide? It is clear you are an accomplice or have an agreement!
Even more. When the ACUM block went out on February 20 to denounce the plan and reveal it publicly, precisely to avoid any related discussion, Igor Dodon said he will not declare what he did or what he said at Munich. Everything will be postponed for after the elections.
The PDM ruling party led by Vladimir Plahotniuc kept its mouth shut and like and accomplice.
This time also.
What does “pro-Moldova” mean in Russian translation? „Federalization”!
Photo: Dmitri Kozak and Vladimir Putin
Did Russia lose in Chişinău? For now, if we measure its results strictly through the performance and score of Igor Dodon’s socialists, we see that it practically did not play at all. In reality, as we suggested, if we were to accept that the victory in the Republic of Moldova must be measured according to that of the “pro-Moldova” forces, then things radically change. Russia did not lose! And this because “pro-Moldova”, meaning the neutral floating between the East and the West, without the EU and Russia, combined with the rejection of the reunion, meaning without Romania – we have resumed the pro-Moldova ideology – fatally throws you in the arms of Moscow. If not directly, through consequences, respectively the Transnistrian bait. To think there is neutrality in this part of the world is an exercise in stupidity.
More concretely. The involvement of Russia in the Republic of Moldova had/has two levels. Politically, the involvement is not and was not decisive, Russia has its full agenda, Moldova is not a major stake, and neither the European integration nor the union with Romania is imminent – the only things of interest for Russia. Of course Russia has preferred an Igor Dodon with as many votes as possible, but not over 50% at the parliamentary elections, as naively accredited. A Dodon ruling with 51% would be a huge problem for Russia, especially from a financial point of view. And Moscow does not want this, does not want to be the only one responsible or the Republic of Moldova. If Russia wants something, it wants the Transnistrian issue settled (including, or, first of all, from Ukraine’s perspective), but for this it knows that, in terms of a wide negotiation, it needs a majority of at least 3/5 in Moldova, to break the 2005 law, so not a simple majority. The stake was here, not in an elusive majority of the socialists which would rule on their own. Moscow knows that a ruling socialist majority (51%) cannot allow solving the Transnistrian issue in its terms! It seems to be a paradox, but it is a fact.
Second of all, strategically, meaning in the relationship Chişinău – Tiraspol, things change, and the interest of Moldova is high. We have already suggested it. If in Chisinau the Russian ambassador is a future pensioner, meaning he will be retiring after this post, which says a lot about the importance given by the Russian Ministry of External Affairs to Moldova, which is somewhere around zero, for the Transnistrian file the representative is Dmitri Kozak, an important man in the Kremlin power device. And this is a clear indication. Here you can see the Russian interest. First of all, Moscow does not wish to be the only one associated with the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, as it also attempted to do this in 2003 and failed. It doesn’t because it knows it is inefficient, as it was in 2003, and it doesn’t want because it is not willing and cannot pay the costs of a possible solution. It wants the West involved, even silently. So, it wants a ruling coalition in Chişinău with at least one party accredited as “pro-European”, wants this coalition, not Moscow, to put the federalization project on the table, we repeat, a coalition which also includes a “pro-European” party so that the West and Russia keep the appearance. So they can all “save face”, as Anglo-Saxons would say.
So this is Moscow’s major interest. An opportunity. It expects that, after the constitution of the parliamentary / governmental majority, Chişinău may eventually open the door for the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, and let Russia, perhaps with some Westerners and the indifferent Americans, play their game. Meaning to obtain a buffer between the East and the West, but a cheap buffer for the Russians, if possible a free one. And we are not talking about the Republic of Moldova – the Republic of Moldova is not a “buffer”, it is “butter”! – we are talking about Ukraine plus the Republic of Moldova. So the possible solution for the Transnistrian region would be transferred to Ukraine.
This is essentially what we are talking about and Russia’s only major objective there. This is the perspective from which we must look at the elections, victories or defeats of external participants, including Russia, and the possible electoral alliances.
If the things are like this, and Moldova’s stake is not “pro-Russia” but “pro-Moldova”, the elections in the Republic of Moldova are clearly not the end. They are the start of a strategic and political fight which only is only beginning.
Conclusions: the chronicle of an announced end
Photo: the 2003 Chişinău protest movements about the federalization of the Republic of Moldova.
- The only organic, natural coalition in the Republic of Moldova is the one between PDM and PSRM, in the name of the “pro-Moldova” project, meaning making the Plahotniuc-Dodon binomial official. This shall happen, maybe not immediately, but shall happen because it is the only logical evolution from a regional perspective. For now Moscow – which recently called Igor Dodon to rest there! – is waiting to see if the international context is ready for such movement.
- The fact that not the party that won the most mandates is launching the invitations for negotiation (PSRM), but the party on the second place, meaning PDM, shows the “order of precedence” in Chişinău. Moreover, Vladimir Plahotniuc’s principles are clear and expressed in such a way that they do not differ from the political positions recently expressed by Igor Dodon, including at the Munich Security Conference. Here is how they were phrased by the PDM spokesman: “The total Commitment for the Independence, Unity and Territorial Integrity of the Republic of Moldova”; “Adoption of the Pro-Moldova political orientation, which will prevail over any other party or personal political orientation”, “consolidation of the patriotism among the citizens” and “the further improvement of interethnic relations”; “Implementation of the Moldova-EU Association Agreement” (accepted by Igor Dodon); “A multi-sectorial foreign policy”, i.e. Romania and Ukraine, USA and Russia, China and CIS countries; “The peaceful reunification of the Republic of Moldova under the conditions of preservation of the sovereign and unitary status of the country”. This statement outlines the future ruling program in PDM’s Pro-Moldova vision. If it will implement it from the beginning with PSRM or will do this first on its own, through a “gathered army” we will soon see.
- To judge the evolution in the Republic of Moldova in terms of political characters and their “adhesions” is an error Russia does not make. In fact, Moscow suffered the greatest defeat in Chişinău when the power, with full and complete majority, was held by “its man”, namely Vladimir Voronin, who, in 2003, refused to sign the famous Kozak Memorandum. Consequently, not the declared adhesions are the ones that matter. Like the adhesions such as “Russia’s man” or “the man of the West” or „Romania’s man” (see the failed doublets Constantinescu/Lucinschi, Băsescu/Voronin, Băsescu/Filat, today the government of Romania/Plahotniuc) are not relevant. Voronin was not (only) Russia’s man, nor he became the man of the West after 2003, after he rejected the memorandum. He just negotiated the positioning not only from old, Soviet adhesions, but according to the current context, risks and advantages. That is what we are talking about in this area. A “sovereignty” always negotiated, asserted, denied, cancelled according to conjunctions and momentary interests of elites who have neither a strong national identity nor – consequently- the education or vision of statehood. That is where the unpredictability and random nature of the area comes from. This is what is happening now. If Russia will win the game in Chisinau, it will not do it strictly through its “people,” but also through local elites for which Russia’s interest at one point coincides with theirs and they are making comrades on a project or another (the reasons are numerous and diverse: freedom, money, international recognition, entering the “history book”, etc.).
- In relation to Bucharest, the ones which are now happy that “Russia was defeated in Chişinău” are building their hopes up, and the Romanian saying “the one who laughs last…” must not be forgotten. The fundamental strategic error to place all eggs in one basket shall cost Bucharest a lot. Something that Moscow did not do in Chişinău. For now we do not wish to anticipate anything. We will talk about the “pro-Moldova” project and the failure of Romania on the left of the Prut in separate materials. And we will do it widely.
*Dan Dungaciu is a member of the LARICS Experts’ Council.