August 18, 2008

The impact of Georgia-Russia conflict on Moldova

Juba eelmise nädala neljapäevast kestva Venemaa Gruusia-vastase sõja eelloo üks viimastest etappidest algas tegelikult juba aprillis, praeguseks teiseks rindeks osutunud Abhaasias.

Juba eelmise nädala neljapäevast kestva Venemaa Gruusia-vastase sõja eelloo üks viimastest etappidest algas tegelikult juba aprillis, praeguseks teiseks rindeks osutunud Abhaasias.

The civil society conclusions are that regardless of the view on who started the conflict, both groups of the civil society analysts who spoke on the Georgian topic (and representing the majority of political analysts in Moldova), share the same opinion that Russia did not have the right to military intervene in Georgia. Its reaction was not legitimate and the actions were unjustified and exaggerated.
A call was made to set up a bank account for Georgia although, of course, it is clear that such an initiative would be difficult since Moldova was hit by an extremely severe flooding that devastated the North and the South of the country and people, who live in the poorest country of Europe, already transferred money to the local calamities account. That diminishes the possibilities to raise money for Georgia, although a simple set up of an account could at least send a positive signal to Tbilisi.

Within the political scene, two political parties picketed in front of the Russian Embassy. One is the Liberal Party (PL) of the current Chisinau Mayor (with some, although limited, prospects to enter the Parliament in 2009) and the other party is People’s Christian-Democrats Party (PPCD), which supports the Governing Communist party. The fact that this party (PPCD) reacted is interesting due to their close relationship with party in power. PPCD however is used with meetings of protests, as it is an inheritor of the National Front Movement of 80’s and later used this tactics to gain political points. Currently in decline, some can argue that PPCD’s reaction is either populist or represents a principled decision. It seems, though, that there is a close feeling for Georgia in PPCD. However, the decision to picket the Russian Embassy might indeed use the opportunity and incorporates both the support for Georgia and making needed political points in an already familiar and recognizable stile before 2009 elections. At the same time, it also might mean that the governing party allows PPCD such actions since these parties are not comfortable with the Georgian military defeat and Russian actions.
We are aware that Russia allegedly warned Moldova in 2006-2008 to be more obedient, which should be, in Moscow’s view, a positive step in the light of “future events”, which will prove that a more moderate stance of Moldova would pay off. It is clear that Russian warnings, if true, meant that Moscow was preparing a destabilization in Georgia, including a military campaign. That was not a scenario that Moldova would like or support.

Consequently the official State position was expressed by the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued a careful statement only on 11 August. The three days delay shows the indecision and confusion of the Moldovan leadership with regard to what position Moldova should take. It was understood by the Government that Georgian precedent can have an extremely negative impact on Moldova, which faces a Russian controlled separatist conflict as well. It was also understood that now, when Russia did not respond to Moldovan initiative on Transnistrian conflict up to this moment, the Moldovan position in negotiation with Moscow, particularly before 2009 elections, would weaken even more. The Government, through this rather weak statement, shows that they still hope for the “mercy” of Moscow and would not make harsh statements before 2009 elections. It is not clear yet, how they would react further – would they finally and completely give in, or rather start preparations to ensure more autonomy from Russia.

It is very much worth mentioning that Transnistrian separatist leadership already on the next day, on 12 August, announced that they are withdrawing from conflict resolution negotiations that have just restarted after several years of blockage from Transnistrian side.
The separatists conditioned their return to the talks by a Moldovan condemnation of Georgian aggression over South Ossetia.
Previously, in April 2008, the Transnistrian leadership launched a precondition to restart negotiations – Moldova should sign an Agreement/Treaty between two countries (Moldova and Moldovan Transnistrian Republic). Moldova did not react to the Transnistrian draft Agreement/Treaty. However, after Georgian events, in the above mentioned 12 August Transnistrian statement, the separatists also stated that they “examine the opportunity to draft and sign a new agreement regarding the guarantees of peace, security and stability in the region, which would correspond to the real situation”.
Transnistrian leader also reminded the people of Transnistria and South Ossetia that they voted for independence in 2006 referendums (see text in Russian on the website of the “Transnistrian Presidency”: presidentpmr.org/material/659.html). That confirms that conflict resolution negotiations in Moldova might be seriously damaged, despite governmental hopes. Transnistrian leadership is casually used by Moscow to block negotiations to extract more concessions from Moldova, or the West. The most probable scenario, therefore, is that Russia will now use the “tougher stand” of Transnistrian separatists to attempt extracting more concessions out of Moldova, US and EU.
Another worrying statement comes from the Russia oriented Gagauz autonomy located in the South of Moldova.
Probably, again on the local political scene, a sign of worry for the governing communist party that is not sure yet whether it is supported by Moscow or not yet is the 13 August reaction of the semi-communist/semi-Russian ethnic Movement “Ravnopravie” (Equality) that is alleged to be directly supported by Kremlin and by the Russian Embassy. The leader of that movement, usually voicing Moscow’s stance, declared that 31 volunteers addressed his movement with a request to fight on South Ossetian side and that Presidents Saakashvili and Bush should be trialled for genocide, while, most importantly, he called for the withdrawal of Moldova from GUAM.

The leader of the main opposition party Our Moldova Alliance (AMN) made a statement condemning the genocide made by Georgians in South Ossetia (NB), which seems to be exactly the words of Ravnopravie Movement. Despite the fact that he also condemns Moscow in his statement for its reaction, this clear piece of Russian propaganda restated by Urecehan raises a number of serious questions with regard to his affiliation, or his and his staff qualification.
The issue of withdrawing from CIS has floated immediately after Georgian statements of withdrawal from this organization. The Communists are not reacting in any way, while one pro-governmental party (Democrats Party – PD) is suggesting this will not happen as Moldova is not in the same situation as Georgia.
The reactions of Ukraine and Romania were of interest as well. The tougher stance of Ukraine was probably welcomed not only by the Moldovan civil society. I was probably deemed positive by the Communist Party in power, as they understand that Ukraine could provide the necessary buffer with Russia. Ukraine was a country that was swinging in time between support to Moscow in negotiations and support to Moldova, although permanently declaring its good intentions towards Chisinau, and, I would dare suggest towards Moscow as well. It is my impression that at this point it would be better for Ukraine to change it’s very soft, if not even supportive, stance towards Transnistrian separatist leadership and come closer to Moldova. It will be difficult to do, since Moldova is not clear yet how to proceed, as it seems. The planned visit by the Ukrainian President would probably clear some issues; however such high level contacts between Kiev and Chisinau should intensify dramatically to ensure coordination and support to each other, which is absolutely necessary, in my opinion.

Another country with which the relations are rather bad is Romania that is, with Russian pressure, accused by Moldovan authorities of imperial revisionism, which is far from being true. More intense contacts with historically supportive Bucharest would have been very important for Chisinau, instead of quarrelling on Moscow’s request with Romania to prove loyalty to Russia in order to dissipate fear of reunification with Romania. The Romanian reaction, although voiced by a more populist and popular President is also interesting. Romanian President Traian Basescu answered to a question from a student from the Republic of Moldova that the situation in Moldova is far different from Georgia, as it does not border Russia, and due to the fact that it borders Romania, a NATO member. Most importantly the Romanian president stated that the task of Bucharest is to protect Romanian citizens wherever they live, as in Moldova there are a very high number of Romanian citizens. That statement comes after years of handing over Romanian passports in Moldova to the population whose parents only 60 years ago were all Romanian citizens. However, most importantly, this statement repeats Moscow’s rhetoric of right of intervention to protect Russian citizens abroad, quoted in the case of South Ossetia.

The discussions on the Georgian issue are continuing both in the political, State and civil society sectors of Moldova, although the intensity of these discussions is diminishing with the armed conflict in Georgia slowing down. The two most important views probably exist now in Moldova – one may be reflecting the official way of not annoying Russia and Moldovan submissions to Moscow might be presented again as an anti-Georgia, good way, of doing business with Moscow by the pro-governmental mass-media, which controls the entire national TV broadcast and rural newspaper readers. Another point of view comes from within the civil society – it is considered that there is a new political and geopolitical reality emerging in relations between the EU and US on one side, and Russian on the other – these new relations are no longer in favour of Moscow, which showed its real intentions, both in terms of cutting alternatives for European energy and being a rising neo-colonial empire. This should be used for Moldova’s advantage. Hopefully this point of view would be finally embraced, silently and with a great delay, as usual, by the Moldovan State.

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