Ukraine’s Stake in Moldova’s Post-Election Maneuvering

December 9, 2010
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, American Institute in Ukraine

In line with predictions, the November 28 vote in Moldova produced what amounts to a virtual replay of the pre-election lineup. Former president Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party, Moldova’s largest, lost six seats and now holds 42. The loose three-party “Alliance for European Integration” (AEI) collectively gained 59 seats, still two short of the number needed to elect a new president.

Thus, Moldova’s third election in two years appears to have produced yet another deadlock. Or perhaps not – if Kiev takes the opportunity to reach out to its western neighbor to protect Ukraine’s interests and shore up regional stability.

To be sure, with the Communists challenging the election results on claims of “massive irregularities,” and with multisided coalition talks in full swing, it is hard to predict what might happen in Kishinev. It is of course possible that the three AEI partners will join in a minority government to perpetuate the current stalemate. We can then wait a few months until Moldova holds its fourth election, with possibly the same pointless outcome.

The more productive alternative would be for moderate parties, with the encouragement of Moldova’s neighbors, especially Ukraine, to take a serious look at the issues confronting the country and try to form a governing coalition accordingly.

At the top of the list is the growing realization that simple sloganeering about Moldova’s “pro-Western,” “pro-EU,” “pro-NATO” path – which in the Moldovan context effectively means pro-Romania – simply won’t wash. As the American Institute in Ukraine recently warned, the question for “Great Romania” (Romania mare) emanating from the administration of President Traian Basescu in Bucharest – which encompasses designs on Ukraine’s territory as well – is a declining stock. As one well-informed Romanian expatriate now living in Spain laments:

“I love my country dearly, but at a distance. It is difficult to return and find it in ruins: a Romania from which its people continue to flee because of its paucity of opportunities, fair wages, and employment. Economists sum up the situation thusly: imports without exports, a lack of factories, and vehicles without roads. Currently, Romania’s underground economy represents 40 percent of GDP, having grown throughout the worldwide financial crisis of the last two years. Unemployment has risen to 7.2 percent, while Romania may need as much as 60 million Euros in aid. Romania figures as an eccentric country that appears to have only learned to lurch from crisis to crisis, from one system to another, as a place that is robbed blind by corrupt hands but by all appearances is indifferent to its own fate.”

Or to put it another way, if Romania were in the euro zone, it would be a candidate for a bailout right along with Greece, Ireland, perhaps soon Spain – but not even the Germans have enough money or patience for Romania. There can be little attractiveness in the far-off prospect of Moldova’s union with Romania, other than among a small minority still subject to the ideological appeal of extreme Romanian chauvinism of the sort that inflicted terrible violence on peaceful citizens in Pridnestrovie – most of Ukrainian ethnic origin. (Unfortunately, that appeal still has the support of some political forces in Moldova, notably in the Liberal Party of acting President Mihai Ghimpu, with 12 seats.)

It is noteworthy that Russia was quick to weigh in with a mission to Moldova by head of the presidential administration Sergei Naryshkin, who appealed for an outcome based on “development prospects and bilateral relations in all spheres, including economy, social and humanitarian affairs and key aspects of international life.” Naryshkin noted in particular his talks with Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu (15 seats) and Communist leader Voronin, who spoke positively of possible “accession to the [Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan] Customs Union and deeper strategic partnership with the Russian Federation.” Lupu confirmed that Voronin’s party had made him a “very generous” coalition offer, though even a Communist-DP alliance would still be short of a majority. (Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Vlad Filat, with 32 seats, has ruled out coalition talks with the Communists.)

If Moscow can send a top-level envoy to extend its good offices to help achieve a forward-looking coalition that excludes radical elements, so can Kiev. Indeed, given the obvious fact that Moldova is Ukraine’s neighbor, not Russia’s, Kiev has even more of a direct interest in playing the honest broker that can help move Moldova out of its seemingly perpetual paralysis.

Moreover, the current administration in Kiev can speak credibly to Kishinev in one crucial respect very relevant to Moldova’s current plight. Ukraine saw five years wasted by squabbling within a “pro-western” Orange coalition that offered a “Euro-Atlantic” geopolitical orientation and ideology in place of real, achievable goals in cooperation with Russia and other former Soviet states. At a time when Moscow is moving on a fast track with Berlin and Paris to build a solid basis for economic progress that doesn’t depend on elusive accession to a tottering European Union, it is increasingly clear that Kiev’s best and easiest path to western partnership lies, perhaps paradoxically, to the east.

That is the case that needs to be made to Moldovans as well. Who better to make it than Ukraine?