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Pro-Russian revanche in Moldova. Ukraine and the EU should be on alert

The first round of the presidential election in Moldova, in which Socialist Party candidate Igor Dodon received the largest number of votes (48.7 per cent), has shown that the European model of post-Soviet development may fail. The revanche of pro-Russian forces headed by Dodon could become the third failure of the EU after the Dutch referendum and the Brexit. And it may become the last one if the EU's geopolitical blindness persists. Furthermore, amid the growing Eurosceptic sentiments in the EU, it can speed up the process of the future segmentation of the EU: into new or old European, Eastern or Western, pro- or anti-Russian, and so on.

Igor Solovey Igor Solovey , World editor at LB.ua

Photo: EPA/UPG

Clearly, Dodon owes his lead to pensioners and elderly people who, unlike young people, came to polling stations and voted in an organized manner. The same group of people is the most susceptible to pro-Russian propaganda which feels unrestrained in Moldova. Meanwhile, young and pro-European citizens, by not casting their ballots, expressed their disapproval of the current "pro-European" coalition, which has discredited itself, in particular by blatant theft (1bn dollars vanished from the bank).

Igor Dodon's likely victory, if the supporters of pro-Western candidate Maia Sandu (who got 38 per cent of votes) fail to mobilize those who feel disappointed, will entail a number of negative scenarios.

First, we can expect Moldova to make a blunt political U-turn from Europe to Russia. Dodon has already pledged to denounce the agreement on association with the EU (which Ukraine still seeks to secure despite the Dutch blockade). Instead, Dodon is going to "restore strategic partnership with Russia to fully open the Russian market to Moldovan products and lift all the restrictions on Moldovan citizens' stay in Russia." To make a public step towards Russia, Dodon said that he considered Ukraine's occupied Crimea to be "Russian".

Second, with Dodon in office, cooperation with NATO will be curtailed as he has already announced his intention to "build a tripartite commission with the participation of the United States, Russia and the EU to provide international guarantees of Moldova's neutrality."

Third, Dodon's presidency will complicate Moldova's bilateral relations with its closest neighbors, Romania and Ukraine. In particular, he promises to ban unionism: the movement for unification with Romania, and to have the border with that country delineated.

Election poster of the Socialist Party of Moldova: Putin meeting party leader Dodon, Chisinau 2014
Photo: EPA/UPG
Election poster of the Socialist Party of Moldova: Putin meeting party leader Dodon, Chisinau 2014

Dodon spoilt relations with Ukraine long before the election: back on 6 Apri 2015 in Odessa, his supporters took part in the so-called "congress of Bessarabia", where they read out Dodon's greetings. Thus the future Moldovan president has long been involved in the separatist and sabotage project of the Russian special services against Ukraine.

Ukraine has already recalled its ambassador from Chisinau for consultations and President Poroshenko consulted with him. It is not yet clear how far official Kyiv will dare to go, but it is clear that Dodon's subversive activities will not be forgotten. And if a decision on the stringent scenario is made, restrictions on the transit of Moldovan goods through Ukraine alone can lay to rest Dodon's "daydreaming" about the return of Moldovan products to the Russian market.

"After he (Dodon - LB.ua) recognised Crimea [as Russian] and we risk having our relations with Ukraine 'frozen', great prospects are opening up for Dodon. He needs to recognise Abkhazia and Ossetia, and then the Kuril Islands and Karabakh," Moldovan Defence Minister Anatol Solaru commented on Dodon's behaviour.

Fourth, Dodon professes the idea of federalization of Moldova and will most likely choose the 2004 Russian scenario for the settlement of the Dniester conflict, the so-called "Kozak plan" (which, by the way, was rejected by the Communist Party of Moldova, which at the time included Dodon, and which drew opposition from the EU and USA). Thus, Moldova will become a federation composed of at least Moldova itself, as well as the Dniester region and Gagauzia.

This scenario is promoted and actively supported by Russia, seeking at least to relieve itself of the burden of financing the Dniester region. But most importantly, Moldova could be used as an example to impose a federalization scenario on Ukraine where Russia also occupies a part of the territoryOnly in this case, can the Kremlin agree to return some of the areas it occupied in Donbass to Ukraine. And even, dare I say (or rather, if Moscow gets tired of dealing with Western sanctions), Crimea (except Sevastopol where the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based) .

Attack bombers above the Kremlin during a rehearsal in Moscow
Photo: EPA/UPG
Attack bombers above the Kremlin during a rehearsal in Moscow

We can certainly treat Dodon's statements as election rhetoric and hope that Moldova has some "fuses" (trimmed presidential powers, the lack of majority in parliament, tie to the real "owner" of Moldova, oligarch Plahotniuc, who is interested in a peaceful development of the situation, without any sudden movements, to keep his business unaffected). However, based on the example of post-Soviet countries, including Ukraine, we see how presidents turn into dictators by means of manipulation. And Dodon as the president will also become the mouthpiece of the Kremlin, and we will hear from him more than one insidious thesis about Crimea, Donbas and Ukraine as a whole.

Thus, Moldova's potential president Igor Dodon is one of the tools of the Kremlin, therefore what is happening in Moldova directly threatens the very existence of Ukraine.

European cowardice

In this situation, it is not only the Russian revanchism which raises concerns, but also the geopolitical myopia of the EU.

Three years after the 2014 Euro-Maydan, which was the high point for the European Union because it lifted the European idea and values to an unprecedented height, the EU continues to keep Kyiv on the sidelines of European policy. And it publicly sends, despite the significant technical assistance provided, negative signals to the Ukrainian society.

First, the saga with visa-free travel is dragging on: despite the fact that Kyiv has implemented its part of commitments (more than 140 conditions). And it is now waiting for the EU to finally decide within itself on what terms .... visa requirements to Ukrainians should be cancelled. Kyiv hopes that it is still going to happen on 24 November by the EU-Ukraine summit. If, however, it is postponed again, it will be a serious slap in the face of Kyiv.

Second, Germany and France do not lose hope to have the war in Ukraine removed from the European agenda in order to lift the sanctions on Russia (for the sake of their business), as well as to please their voters. The implementation of this scenario is possible only to the detriment of Ukraine: at the last meeting of the Normandy Four in Berlin, Kyiv's demand that elections in Donbas could only be held after it restores control over the Ukrainian-Russian border was not supported by Berlin and Paris.

Presidential press service
Presidential press service

Third, the ratification of the EU-Ukraine association agreement has not been finalized because of the Dutch blockade. Certainly, this last step is of purely ritual and symbolic importance to Ukraine because the EU free trade agreement is in operation anyway. And, most importantly, it will continue to operate in spite of the position of Amsterdam. But it does bring much joy that 2.5 million Dutch people who voted against the association (out of 16.8 million Dutch citizens) are trying to block the strategic course of Ukraine with its 42m people: the Dutch government is trying to push through the adoption of a legally binding instrument, which would rule out Ukraine's full membership in the EU and NATO in the future and the provision of military assistance, and make sure that the agreement does not give Ukrainians the right to work in the EU.

Kiev is unlikely to heed these clearly discriminatory and therefore obviously unacceptable conditions. Therefore either Brussels will find a way to convince the Dutch government to ignore the referendum, whose outcome is of advisory nature, or the agreement will remain in limbo until better times.

"Hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets, protecting their right to choose the European path of development, showing willingness to fight for that right in the conditions when the EU itself is full of Eurosceptics and Eurowhiners was a clear demonstration of how attractive the European idea is. Over the entire history of the EU existence, none of the citizens of its member states sacrificed their life for the European idea. They just held referendums - to join or not. It would seem, what other proof would one need that the European Union is a civilizational choice of our citizens?" well-known journalist Vitaliy Portnykov said.

Indecision on the part of the EU with regard to Ukraine benefits Russia, which does not stop attempts to destabilise the internal situation in Ukraine. And it gives the internal enemies of modern Ukraine more reasons to criticise the government, accusing it of foreign policy failures. Their goal is to bring closer early elections in order to first reformat the government, and then to hold a snap presidential election. And all of this in order to "cross out" the results of the Euro-Maydan and the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014 to make sure that the residents of neighboring Russia do not get inspired by the Ukrainians and do not revolt against local corruption and injustice.

Pro-Russian revanche in Ukraine, by analogy with Moldova, could become another major defeat of the European Union, which would lay its European values to rest. Moreover, the Kremlin's victory in Ukraine would give a new impetus to Moscow's attempts to split the EU.

Igor Solovey Igor Solovey , World editor at LB.ua