Moldova-Russia relations: At the lowest point?Despite electing a pro-Russian president, Moldova is said to have the worst ever relations with Russia. Moldovan foreign affairs expert Denis Cenusa talks to The Politicon about Moldova-Russia relations, its effect on Transnistria and Moldovan economy. 

 

Interviewer: Turana Aliyeva

 

 

Aliyeva: In May of 2017 the president of Moldova Igor Dodon stated that the bilateral relations between Russia and Moldova have never deteriorated since its establishment to such extent as it is now. What are the factors worsening diplomatic relations between the Republic of Moldova and Russia? Do you think that the decisions taken by Moldavian government are somehow effected by the Western curators as the President Dodon mentioned?

Cenusa: The Moldova-Russia bilateral relations went through difficulties many times. The latest major crises were provoked by Russia’s politicized embargoes on Moldovan wine and various foodstuffs, including the vegetables and fruits, with first one being introduced in 2006. Russia never hid that some economic actions applied against Moldovan producers resulted from Moldova’s decision of initialing and signing the Association Agreement with EU. What is different in 2016-17 tensions between two countries is that Moldovan side is the main trigger. Democrats who rule the country use the Russian card in order to raise their political position within Moldovan political spectrum, sensitize the electorate ahead of 2018 legislative elections, and try their chance in softening and persuading Western countries’ views about Democratic Party and its controversial leader Vladimir Plahotniuc. The accusations about Western countries influencing the decisions of Moldovan authorities have no proof and are repeated by Socialists and by Moscow in order to discredit the West. On contrary, both the EU and the USA opt for restoring the bilateral relations between Moldova and Russia, but with the respect of the sovereign right of the countries to choose the model of development.

 

The Transnistrian conflict which escalated after the dissolution of the USSR remains unresolved until now. In August of 2017 Moldova has brought a question of withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from Transnistria up to the agenda of the United Nations General Assembly. What can be the consequences of withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from the conflict region? Will it create prerequisites for the resolution of a conflict? And will it mitigate tense relations between Russia and Moldova?

Seeking to deviate the attention of the electorate and the Western partners from real issues of the country, the ruling party decided to renew the old requests that demand Russia withdraw its military forces located in Transnistrian region. Additionally, the Moldovan authorities underlined the previous proposal of transforming the current peacekeeping mission into an international civil one. Shortly, the Moldovan authorities want the withdrawal of the Russian soldiers and weapons from the breakaway region. At the same time, they didn’t ask to dismantle the existing mission, but rather to transform it into a new one that could support the reintegration efforts. Russia is not interested in giving up on the current status-quo in the region. Therefore, both Moscow and the pro-Russian Moldova President frighten the public with idea of a new war on Dniester river once the Russian peacekeepers leave. 

 

Russia is home to some 500,000 Moldovan workers and is the second-largest export market for Moldovan goods, at $241 million in 2015. Russia supplies most of Moldova’s energy. Moldova owes to Russia over $6 billion, a large portion of which is owed by Transnistria to the Russian energy giant Gazprom for gas deliveries but was recognized by Moldovan President Igor Dodon as part of Moldova’s overall debt to Russia. In case of further deterioration or even break-up of diplomatic relations between Russia and Moldova how is Moldova going to overcome the socio-economic consequences of it?

According to Russian official statistics, the number of Moldovans looking for jobs in Russia has decreased in the last few years, and is below 500,000. The exports to Russia have lowered to approx. 12% in 2016, while the exports towards the EU accounting for 65% of total external trade are becoming more diverse. The gas debt have amounted to approx. 7 billion USD belonging to Moldova-Gaz, a company with state shares, and with 50% of shares controlled by Gazprom. However, the almost full dependence on Russian gas increases the probability of the debts transformation into the public one. Therefore the gas interconnection with Romania should be build at higher speed and functional by the end of 2019, when the renewed contracts with Gazprom will expire.  Russia is not interested in destroying the economic leverages that it still maintains over Moldova. Less leverages and linkages exist, more difficult it is for Russia to bring Moldova back into its orbit of influence. 

 

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