Will Moldova’s new president tilt the country towards Russia?

  • Mihai Turcanu
  • 10.3.2017 19:25

It has been now almost four months since Igor Dodon became the president of Moldova. As with pretty much everything else concerning Moldova, little attention has been paid initially to this event in the West. And things would have stayed this way if not for the numerous anti-EU, anti-Western and pro-Russian declarations that have finally managed draw a fair share of attention from the West. However, despite his rhetoric, there are currently only slim chances he will be able to implement his foreign policy views.

Dodon’s victory and the current situation in Moldova

If there is anything outstanding about Dodon, it is his opportunism. Despite his pro-Russian stance, in 2012 he provided the critical votes that got Timofti, the presidential candidate of the “pro-Europeans”, elected in parliament. After that, he became actively engaged in criticising, from a populist standpoint, the numerous scandals in which various representatives of the “pro-European forces” got themselves involved in. At the same time, he was busy building himself a patriarchal image of a defender of the faith, order, statehood, as well as that of the only true friend and ally of Russia in Moldova.

What Westerners regard as a liability when it comes to his (currently) unwavering pro-Russian stance, he used as a strength that was placed at the cornerstone of his presidential campaign. And for a good reason: being Russia’s favourite will earn any candidate a very solid support among Moldovans, many of whom have and always will vote for whomever the Russian TV cable tells them to. This is why the polls showed him as a clear favourite from the day one. This also one of the two main reasons why the Socialists have the largest faction in the parliament – 26 deputies. The second faction leaning towards a pro-Russian foreign policy are the Communists (7 deputies), while the “pro-European agenda” is backed by the Democrats (20 deputies), Liberals (13 deputies), Liberal-Democrats (9 deputies), and the Independents (28 deputies). These, however, are not well-defined camps, and there is a lot of struggle going on among the so-called pro-Europeans for reasons that go well beyond the scope of this analysis.  

But the second, and more important reason for his victory is the lamentable failure of the “pro-European forces”. It is a failure akin to that of the Yushchenko’s presidency in Ukraine after the “Orange Revolution”, and quite similar to the setbacks Ukraine is experiencing today when it comes to state-building, and everything that comes with it: the reform of the justice sector, fight against corruption, rule of law, etc. For example, Moldova has dropped 34 positions in the Transparency International Index from 89 to 123 after eight years of “pro-European” governance and “reforms”. The second most relevant example is that of the “disappearance” of more than one billion dollars from the Moldovan banking system. This was a scandalous affair after which the loss was transferred to Moldova’s national debt in a move that caused justified anger and indignation.

"This unfortunate course of events has led to a great deal of Moldovans changing their opinion about everything EU stands for as a civilizational model, a perception constantly nourished by Dodon in his quest for power."

It is because of the bad governance of the forces associated with the pro-European course that the support for the EU currently stands at only 38% compared to 63% in November 2009. This unfortunate course of events has led to a great deal of Moldovans changing their opinion about everything EU stands for as a civilizational model, a perception constantly nourished by Dodon in his quest for power. The latest polls show the support for the Russian-led Eurasian Union at almost 53%, while only 9,2% believe NATO is a viable solution to Moldova’s national security concerns.

Dodon’s foreign policy

Dodon is the first president elected by the people in 16 years, but despite that he doesn’t have much real power since Moldova is a parliamentary republic. Besides issuing statements, his options, in terms of foreign policy and legislative action are very limited. Right after Dodon was elected, the parliament has also quietly passed a law through which the power to appoint the director of the Information and Security Service, the main intelligence agency, was transferred from the president to the legislative. 

When it comes to foreign policy, Dodon’s statements denouncing the Association agreement with the EU and the opening of a NATO office in Chișinău carry little value beyond words. The fact is that in both cases the respective agreements have already been ratified by the Parliament and their implementation cannot be delayed or vetoed by the president. However, Dodon has openly stated on 17 January, while in Moscow during his first foreign visit as a president, that if his party obtains the majority in the next parliamentary elections, he will nullify the agreement. On 8 February, he suggested a similar approach with regard to the NATO liaison office in Chișinău. On this occasion, Dodon has stated that the deepening of the Moldova-NATO ties is hurting the country’s case for a neutral foreign policy and is detrimental for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Transnistria.

"For Dodon to implement his new foreign policy, he must wait for the next year general elections. And things are looking rather complex."

Dodon plans to use his foreign policy prerogatives as early as next month when he files a request for Moldova to join the Russian-led Eurasian Union as an observer. He also stated members of the Economic Commission of the Eurasian Union will visit the country in April, when he aims to sign a framework agreement for the future cooperation with the Eurasian Union. For these future developments to take effect, he has to submit them for a ratification by the parliament. It is unlikely he will succeed. For Dodon to implement his new foreign policy, he must wait for the next year general elections. And things are looking rather complex. The Socialists currently enjoy the highest support among voters (26,1%) and they are expected to team-up with another pro-Russian and Eurosceptic Our Party, securing 7.7% according to estimates right now. On the other side, the current “pro-European” parties are not in winning positions, with the “Action and Solidarity” Party led by Maia Sandu polling at 9,2% and the “Truth and Dignity” Party at 8,5%. Yet, the 24,4% undecided voters can tip the scale in the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Dodon is for now in no position of real power, which gives him the distinct advantage of clearly dissociating himself from the actions of the other branches of power controlled by the extremely unpopular “pro-Europeans”. The presidency is also the most prominent tribune he could hope for in terms of bashing his rivals, as well as the EU and NATO influence in the Republic of Moldova. But any real foreign policy changes will be deferred until after parliamentary elections.

About author: Mihai Turcanu

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