Moldova: East or West?The past several months have seen sharp changes in Moldovan internal and external politics. In early 2017, the newly elected President Dodon visited Russia and said his country should scrap a trade deal with the European Union (EU) and sign one with the Russian-backed Eurasian Union instead. Now, President Dodon and Prime Minister Pavel Filip are criticizing each other’s policies on relations with Russia and Transnistria. Mihai Popșoi, political researcher from Moldova, answers some questions on the recent developments in his country`s domestic and foreign politics. 


Interviewer: Shahana Bilalova


Bilalova: Igor Dodon`s recent statements and actions signal a U-turn in Moldova`s foreign policy. How will it affect Moldova`s domestic politics and overall relations with the West, including with Romania?

Popșoi: Despite the fact that Dodon demonstrates more pro-Russian attitude in terms of foreign policy, currently, the possible shift towards Russian seems not feasible. First of all, it should be noted that Moldova is a parliamentary republic so at the end of the day parliament is the one taking the decision. In this regard, pro-EU attitude is strong enough in Moldovan parliament so any proposal by Dodon will encounter with this obstacle. This can be realistic only in the case that the seats of his party increase so he can follow more pro-Russian foreign policy. In this scenario, Dodon with his pro-Russian attitude would like to stand off as a candidate with a different idea. Also, it is important to add that Dodon is aware of the fact that support of West on Moldova is huge so he cannot forego this in the expense of building relations with Russia. Furthermore, he also knows that he cannot decide on the issue of an association agreement with Brussels and cannot join the Eurasian Economic Union on his own so there should be a will and in this case, this will do not exist. As a result, we can tell that for now there is no risk in terms of relations with West. 


Igor Dodon already stated he would support Moldova`s federalization in order to solve the Transnistrian problem. Do you think federalization will help the settlement process, given the geopolitical interests in Transnistria?

For this stage, the solution seems very difficult since if the conflict is solved then Russia will lose very important leverage in Moldova. Furthermore, Transnistria wants independence so they are not very interested in autonomy. Moldovan official statement was like that Transitrian should be an autonomous region like Gagauzia. Federalization would be a quite compromising step between these two extreme positions. However, there was an attempt to federalize Moldova in 2003 with so-called Kozak memorandum which failed due to the several reasons. Since then the concept of federalization has been discredited in a way and it has become damaging politically. All political parties other than Dodon and socialists consider federalization as not a good idea and oppose to the idea of federalization. So it is very unlikely that even if Dodon wins there is a little chance that he will utilize his political capital to federalize Moldova. First of all, there is an opposition within Moldova, there is an unwillingness in Transnistrian part, and also there is a major uncertainty on the part of Russia. So when you have these uncertainties and difficulties, it is unlikely to see federalization as a realistic solution in a near future. 


Romania-Moldova unification issue has been discussed since Moldova`s independence and supported by some groups. Is this matter still actual or has already slid off the agenda on both sides of the border?

The unification of Romania is an issue of political cleavage. This idea has been there since the creation of Moldova. Even during the Soviet times, the pro-Romanian feeling among people was high, especially in the 1980s. The unification issue is supported by a very small number of people in Moldova about 15-20%. This issue appears in public agenda once in a while especially during national holidays, anniversaries of this historical event. Next year will be the major anniversary of 100 years since Moldova united with Romania in 1918 so there were always speculations going on. However, the issue was never on political agenda or decision-making agenda of either country. Romania made a national holiday for March 27 when Moldova united with Romania in 1918 so people think that Romania tries to create pre-conditions based on the unification but there is nothing to indicate that unification is feasible in near future since as I mentioned there is small number of people in Moldova that support this issue and even in Romania this remains as a complex matter so it was never considered very seriously because it has financial, geopolitical, security, ethnic implications. Moreover, some can argue that Romania does not need to have 1 million Russian speakers in their territory since they had a problem with Hungarian speakers so they might not want to have extra minorities. The issue mainly used during electoral campaigns for boosting more nationalistic parties. Even though there are people who support this idea their number is relatively small to the vast majority who supports Moldovan independence. 


What does possible change in electoral system promise to Moldova? 

Change in the electoral system is a highly contentious issue because the ruling democratic party knows that they are not going to win the next election within the current electoral system which is proportional. Basically, this party wants to stay in power but they do not have enough popular support so country moves to the political crisis since you have a democratic party which has collided with Dodon and they want to change the electoral system, however, five other parties want to keep the existence of the current system. So, things will be escalated if a democratic party, Plahotniuc pushes the change in the electoral system. And it is very important how Western partners, EU and US will react because they hold quite a lot sways with the current government because they are the main sponsors since they are providing quite a lot budgetary support or other kinds of assistance. So, it is quite tough situations in these days. It is very important for the future of the country since if Plahotniuc’s party changes electoral system especially is they introduce first past the post system so he will most likely use his all financial and media resources and he will be able to ensure that his party is in power for the next election.