Moldova between Brussels and Moscow – Repeating Ukraine’s Mistakes?

February 19, 2014
Anthony T. Salvia
Director, American Institute in Ukraine

Moldova’s former prime minister and current head of the Liberal Democratic party Vlad Filat recently told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: "I am very upset by what is happening in Ukraine."

And with good reason. Moldova initialed an Association Agreement with the European Union last November in Vilnius, and is expected to follow through and sign the thing in August with parliamentary elections looming in November.

While the governing, pro-EU coalition supports the AA, its grasp on power is shaky. Internecine rivalries among liberal factions (largely unrelated to the AA) could bring the government down before the scheduled signing of the agreement – with the possibility of a PCMR (Communist Party) victory at the polls in November. This is not to be discounted as the PCMR is the largest party in Moldova. It is now polling at about 39%. Moreover, austerity measures undertaken at the EU’s behest to prepare for associate membership have contributed to the government’s unpopularity.

If early elections were to happen and the PCMR-led government were to refuse to sign the AA, what would be the popular reaction? Would the streets of Kishiniev come to resemble those of Kiev? Pro-EU rallies in the Moldovan capital have attracted some 100,000 participants (whereas anti-AA rallies brought a mere 7,000 people into the streets.)

The PCMR is an avowed opponent of the AA. If the current pro-EU coalition were to hang on until the scheduled November election, and the PCMR were to win, would the Communists honor the AA that presumably will have been signed in August? Would any effort to renege on the agreement or insist on its revision lead to domestic disturbances along the lines of Euromaidan?

Moldova and Ukraine are similar in some ways – both are multi-lingual, multi-ethnic states formerly under the sway of a powerful near neighbor, and are two of the poorest countries in Europe. But in other ways, they are quite different: Romania actively seeks the incorporation of Moldova and sees Kishniev’s acquisition of associate membership (in the form of the AA) and ultimate full membership of the EU as steps that will hasten its eventual absorption.

As if the threat to Moldovan sovereignty posed by Romania were not enough, there is the breakaway province of Prednestrovie to contend with, as well as Gagauzia (composed of Turkic-language Christians) which recently voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for accession to the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union. Both provinces are factors for internal instability and serve as conduits for outside (Russian) influence to a greater degree perhaps than any analogous situation inside Ukraine.

Does it occur to anyone in Kishniev that the pursuit of eurointegration – on the terms now being offered by Washington/Brussels – is incompatible with the cause of Moldovan sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic tranquility?

Having witnessed (since last November) the violence and mayhem that can ensue in the streets of your capital city when you get mixed up with the likes of Barrosso, Fuele, and Bildt, pro-EU politicos like Filat must now be wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

It is unsettling enough that Bucharest makes no bones about its goal of eventually absorbing Moldova and clearly sees the EU-Moldova Association Agreement as a means of hastening that day.

But now – as Ukrainian events reveal -- there is the prospect of Moldova becoming a battlefield as the Western powers pursue their encirclement of Russia, and Russia pushes back. Filat, as well as President Timofti, Prime Minister Leancă and other Moldovan elites – if they are patriots -- must be asking themselves if Moldova really needs this.

So what should Moldova -- and other ex-Soviet republics in the crosshairs of the EU’s Eastern Partnership – do instead?

They should tell Brussels: “Do as France and Germany did in creating the European Coal and Steel Community – seek pan-European integration, not the division of the continent. Do not force us to make wholly unnecessary and potentially ruinous choices between two aspects of European identity – eastern and western -- both of which are dear to us and innate. When you are ready to act in the spirit of Adenauer and de Gaulle, Reagan and Gorbachev, then talk to us.”

Moldova should hold out for a common free trade area from Lisbon to Vladivostok as the best way to achieve continental peace and prosperity. There is no advantage for Kishiniev in collaborating with Brussels/Washington in the perpetuation of the division of Europe into hostile blocs.