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Perception of foreign relations (Part II)

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Igor Botan / March 4, 2007
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Relevant but informal trends

The internal political stability in Moldova is strongly influenced by its foreign relations in the virtue of certain factors. However, it seems that authorities are not steadfast in ensuring an appropriate legal support for new trends, though the perception of foreign relations by citizens has essentially changed after the March 2005 parliamentary elections. Recently, notably on March 1, 2006, it was exactly one year since the chief of state received the drafts of the new concept of foreign policy and security of Moldova. These documents have been drafted by two national commissions created under presidential decrees. It is significant that these decrees have been issued immediately after the findings of the Barometer of Opinion conducted by the Institute of Public Policy (IPP) in December 2005 were made public. The barometer revealed an essential change of how citizens perceive the foreign relations, while further measures confirmed and outlined the new trends.

Although the documents mentioned above have been drafted and delivered to the chief of state in due terms, a fact that revealed the interest for them at the stage of elaboration, very little things were known about their fate — when opposition lawmakers tried to introduce the problem of Moldova’s withdrawal from CIS in the Parliament’s agenda and on less sounding occasions. At present, it seems that the problem of adoption of concepts of new security and foreign policy does not concern the authorities any longer. In this respect, it was hinted that new security and foreign policies, which would limit the field of manoeuvre in relations with foreign partners and produce useless talks, must not be officialised indeed.

How do you appreciate present relation of Moldova with these states? (good/very good)

It is clear from findings of barometers that the rhetoric and lines of conduct of Moldovan authorities in relations with foreign partners are followed by perceptions of citizens in a more or less adequate manner. This is due first of all to coverage of events linked to foreign policy by mass media.

CIS — commonwealth of discrepancy between words and actions

Relations with Russia

The perception of Moldova’s worse relations with Russia is the most discernible. Approximately 40 percent of citizens have noted this trend in the past two years. Accusations brought against Moldovan authorities that they have broken up with the strategic partner are not grounded after Russia had broken off with its most loyal ally — Belarus. The conduct of the Russian Federation toward CIS member states reveals that this commonwealth is provisory. The three resolutions adopted by Russia’s State Duma in February 2005, with 2–3 weeks before the parliamentary elections, were particularly addressed to Moldova, containing open threats against it. Russia has realised almost all threats by embargoing the vegetal, animal products and wines made in Moldova.

At present, the bad relations between Moldova and Russia are a fact that does not raise doubts. This happens in spite of talks that took place between Moldovan and Russian presidents on November 28, 2006 during the CIS summit in Minsk, with the two sides announcing the thawing of bilateral relations and elimination of barriers on way of Moldovan exports to the Russian market. That was a propagandistic statement, being useful both to President Putin and President Voronin.

The situation during the summit was extremely difficult for President Vladimir Putin:

  1. The Minsk summit was taking place on background of the NATO summit discussing the energy security problem in the capital of a former Soviet republic, Riga. Putin wanted much to prevent this proximity of the two summits, but Belarusian president did not warm the conduct of the summit in Kazakhstan, whose president was expected to propose a plan on reformation of CIS;
  2. The Minsk CIS summit was taking place in a very negative international media context for the Russian president, with only one month and half after journalist Ana Politkovskaya was killed and immediately after Vladimir Litvinenko has died;
  3. Russia was in an acute, very dangerous conflict with a CIS member, Georgia, in a zone of strategic interest for the United States and the European Union — the Black Sea region;
  4. The official agenda of the CIS summit has completely fallen, so that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will table the CIS reformation project at the next summit.
President Putin needed at least a positive event on this negative background. And he invented such an event on the spot, meeting ad hoc with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin by making abstraction of the policy promoted conscientiously by his own Government. He did this, probably, to demonstrate that there are also positive developments in the CIS and that not only bad things such as undermining of sovereignty of member states through a direct support for separatist regimes are happening there; blackmails followed by ceasing of energy deliveries; trade embargoes, etc. Notably in this context President Putin was willing to discuss the elimination of obstacles on way of Moldovan exports and warming of bilateral relations. The effect was surprising. The Russian controlled media has immediately turned the only positive event at the CIS summit into a sensational development. But the true meaning of “thawing” of relations between Russia and Moldova becomes clear, if taking into consideration the fact that the chief sanitary doctor and minister of agriculture of Russia delivered public statements with a couple of hours before the discussion of the two presidents, saying that Moldovan agro-food products and wines will never enter the Russian market and noting that Russia is taking measures against re-exportation of Moldovan products via third states. The last detail just reveals that President Putin has resorted to derogation from policy promoted by his Government to fabricate at least one positive event at the CIS summit in Minsk. Of course, the things have become “normal” again later.

It is true that President Voronin also needed the positive event from Minsk to improve the perception of his foreign policy:

  1. One part of opposition was accusing the chief of state of promoting a foreign policy in the detriment of good relations with Russia and, therefore, Russia has introduced the commercial embargo and increased the gas prices;
  2. A positive signal regarding the rapid resumption of wine exports was needed before the election of a governor of the Gagauz autonomy, which mainly exports wines, and the excessively mediated statements by President Voronin that “Russian citizens will meet the New Year with Moldovan champagne” came in this context;
  3. Representatives of Moldovan Government were negotiating with GAZPROM a gas delivery agreement and prices for these deliveries and this could be easier done in a relaxing atmosphere.
Later, Moldovan authorities were satisfied with the negotiated gas delivery agreement, but the opposition has contested the alleged success in light of ceding and undermining the solidarity in GUAM in the period when Russia has completely blocked Georgia, a blockade that could not be compared with the one that Russian authorities were claiming that Moldovan authorities were applying on a region — Transnistria.

Three months after the discussion of Presidents Voronin and Putin we have an official proof that the “thawing” of relations was butaphorical, a PR action. Thus, on March 1, exactly one year after the chief of state received the new draft concepts of foreign and security policy, the state-owned official agency “Moldpres” made public an ample commentary saying that:

  1. Chisinau had all reasons to hope that the period of hostile actions against Moldovan authorities was behind forever in spite of some reservations, after the meeting between Moldovan and Russian presidents that took place in Minsk last year, followed by statements on the need of settling divergences regarding exportation of Moldovan wines and agro-food products to Russia;
  2. So far, Moldova did not export wines, fruits or meat to Russia in spite of all statements;
  3. There is an impression that influent politicians from Russia pledged to delay a solution to the problem of Moldovan exports till summer 2007, so that the hole in Moldova’s budget become larger and Chisinau become more conciliatory at Transnistria settlement negotiations;
  4. A new congress of the movement “Patria-Moldova”, a structure created in Russia under guardianship of some persons from the Kremlin executive structures, is being prepared in Moscow. There are serious reasons to think that their final goal is to compromise the Transnistrian settlement process in order to allow some business and political personalities to raise big money through the “black hole” on the Dniester[1].

It is normal on such an information background that citizens perceive the relations with Russia as very bad. Even more, the official agency “Moldpres” has drawn the conclusions with only several days after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration raised dissatisfaction that the Russian Foreign Ministry is using an inadequate language when it names the separatist Tiraspol leader, Igor Smirnov, as “president of Transnistria”. Another conclusion of “Moldpres” is that such things would be impossible “without the consent of high-ranking dignitaries” from Moscow. However, it is true that conclusions of the Chisinau-based official news agency cannot be others but those reflecting the point of view of “high-ranking dignitaries”. It is worth to note that “Moldpres” tells the things in an attenuated manner. Saying that “certain Moscow politicians make enemies with own hands” when it is known that the “vertical of the power” was set up there is a palliative. A “vertical of the power” was set up in Chisinau, too, then why not to follow the examples of expression of the “highest-ranking dignitaries” from Moscow, saying that “Comrade Wolf is eating all and does not listen to anybody” in close neighbourhood in the CIS?

Relations with Ukraine

Of course, Ukraine is another partner of Moldova in CIS, whose relations raise the interest of respondents. It was expected that the perception of relations with Ukraine would change after the presidential elections held in this country in late 2004. Truly, the number of those who consider that relations between Moldova and Ukraine are good or very good has grown by 15 percent in one year and half. These trends are explained by fact that positive news about Ukraine released by Moldovan media referred to a new attitude of the new authorities toward the separatist Transnistrian regime and joint actions within GUAM.

The comeback of the Party of Regions headed by Viktor Yanukovich to the power on summer 2006 reduced the number of people who were optimistic with relations with Ukraine. The perceptions have changed much before former foreign minister Boris Tarasyuk revealed that the minister of transportation from Yanukovich cabinet was an accomplice of Russian authorities in blocking the railway communication of Moldova via Ukraine, in order to force the Moldovan authorities to accept a railway communication that favours the Transnistrian regime.

Later, it was reported that Ukrainian magnates are co-owners of the Ribnita-based metallurgical plant together with Russian magnates and they have a huge capacity of making lobby in order to weaken pressures on the separatist regime in Transnistria. Also, Ukrainian analytical media has started warning insistently that the participation of Kiev in border control within EUBAM harms Ukraine in favour of Russia, which has established a quasi-territorial control on Transnistrian economy. Thus, it becomes clear for Moldovan authorities and citizens that two factors only make the Ukrainian authorities plead for EUBAM: the interest of E.U. for controlling the Transnistrian section of the border, which Kiev cannot ignore in the virtue of the need to maintain good relations with Brussels; fears that modalities of settling the Transnistrian conflict promoted by Russia could be dangerous precedents to encourage the separatist trends in Crimea and eventually in the south-east region of Ukraine.

Given these relations of Moldova with the main partners from CIS, it is not surprising that the percentage of those thinking that the national security of Moldova could be ensured on basis of bilateral treaties has declined. Even more, the number of those thinking that Moldova’s accession to the Collective Security Treaty of CIS would solve security problems has significantly declined.

How do you think, what would be the best solution to ensure the security of Moldova?
Instead, the option of Moldovan authorities for keeping the neutrality of Moldova is found in perceptions of interviewed citizens. At the same time, it is interesting that attitudes toward an eventual accession to NATO are more or less constant. It is important that the percentage of those who would vote for an eventual accession to NATO is higher than of those who do not know. It is also important that respondents who do not know could be converted in favour of a positive option, if authorities make a political decision.
Would on next Sunday a referenda on Moldova's accession to NATO take place, how would you vote?

Perception of relations with E.U.

Surveys conducted the last years confirm that the E.U. integration would be the most wanted objective for Moldovan citizens. Starting 2003, when the ruling party pledged to become a promoter of European integration of Moldova, the number of Moldovan citizens who would vote this objective count constantly for between 60 and 70 percent. It is clear what Moldovan citizens would like and what the E.U. is giving us within the European Neighbourhood Policy.

Would on next Sunday a referenda on Moldova's accession to E.U. take place, how would you vote?
What is unclear for Moldovan citizens is the capacity of Moldovan authorities to achieve the goal of European integration. Maintenance of drastic limitation of move of Moldovan citizens by E.U. member states makes Moldovan authorities start looking just now for a solution. Meantime, Moldovan citizens have found an alternative solution — to regain the Romanian citizenship. The option for this solution has become massive on the eve of Romania’s accession to the E.U. At the same time the intentions to leave Moldova temporarily have significantly grown.
Would you enjoy an opportunity to leave Moldova, what would you do?
In this context, the “danger of massively loosing citizens” is the last thing that raised among others the concern of Moldovan authorities. The concerns were manifested through actions and official rhetoric capable to dramatically deteriorate the relations with the close neighbour from E.U. This is a regrettable fact particularly because the bilateral relations have improved much after the December 2004 presidential elections in Romania and the March 2005 parliamentary elections in Moldova. Apparently, the recent involutions have started occurring when President Voronin asked the secretary-general of the E.U. Council, Javier Solana, during his June 2006 visit to Brussels to press Romania to sign basic and border treaties with Moldova. President Basescu replied in early July, saying that he proposed Moldova to unite efforts in order to join the E.U. together with Romania, but his Moldovan counterpart did not answer.

The recent rhetoric of Chisinau authorities aimed to discourage new trends has appeared on background of massive applications of more than half a million Moldovan citizens for Romanian citizenship and promises of Romanian authorities to facilitate the procedures in this respect. Concerns of Moldovan authorities were also amplified by a wider political context: Russia and Romania signed the basic treaty in 2003, condemning the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact; in 2005, Russia started supporting ostentatiously the separatist Transnistrian regime, while in late 2006 the Romanian justice was asked to declare its opinion on “Antonescu case” in the light of the same Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact; in 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended member states to condemn crimes of communist regimes and both close neighbours of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, did this in different manners, with the latter condemning the “Golodomor”. Of course, leaders of the Moldovan ruling Party of Communists do not like such evolutions, particularly when they do not have field of manoeuvre, as Russia has embargoed some CIS members and the Russia-Belarus conflict leaves very little hopes for reanimation of the CIS.

Under these conditions, Moldovan authorities consider that signing basic and border treaties with Romania and rejecting Romania as a promoter and advocate of its interests for European integration would be a salvation. They insist on this though the sides have agreed to work on the two treaties after President Basescu visited Chisinau in January. More, a month after Basescu visit to Chisinau Moldovan authorities launched a campaign of “protection of the rights of ethnic minorities in Romania”, with the last detail being a clear indicator of deterioration of the Chisinau-Bucharest relations.

Those events come in contrast with the progress achieved in a very sensitive problem such as identity of Romanian and Moldovan languages. Thus, President Voronin has acknowledged in a recent interview with the official news agency “Moldpres” that Romanian and Moldovan languages are identical. Perhaps this is due to Chisinau’s desire to sign the two treaties as soon as possible and avoid talks on language of the documents. But a compromise in this respect was reached already in 2000, when the text of the Moldovan-Romanian treaty was initialled. The progress is remarkable particularly on background of the stance expressed immediately after the Party of Communists gained the power in February 2001, when an ideologist of the party, Ivan Grec, stated to party press that: “Be the Moldovan language three times identical with the Romanian language, we must insist on the name of Moldovan language from geopolitical and ethno-political reasons.” It is even more curious that the Party of Communists publishes on its official website an article by Victor Borsevici, former ambassador of Moldova to China, titled “Trajectory of Moldovan myth in mirror of geopolitical reality”RO, telling unimaginable things: “Yes, by origin and language we are Romanians. But our mentality and — most important — self-identification rest with Moldovan; one can easily call us dumb and forgetful of the «spirit of Romanianism», even though hundreds of academicians and linguists keep reminding us about that.” In this context, the author tried to indicate in a fogged manner the risks faced by Romania for what he calls as “spreading of Romanianism” in Moldova. He hinted that Bucharest authorities should avoid annexing Moldova because this could turn into federalisation of Romania, as Moldova and Transylvania could claim the status of subjects of federation. He substantiates his thesis invoking that “Union to Moldovans,” not “Union to Romanians” was the main slogan of the National Rebirth Movement in the former Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic when part of USSR.

From this perspective, relations between Moldova’s ruling Party of Communists and the newly-created “Community of Moldovans from Romania” want to be a fist impulse to raise the awareness of “10 million” Romanian citizens that they are a Moldovan minority indeed, with Chisinau authorities pledging to protect their rights to identification. This event was widely mediated, condemned and ridiculed. However, Moldovan authorities should be aware that they run a very high risk by getting involved in such a project. In particular, they should do this now, when the “Patria-Moldova” organisation, declared opponent of Moldovan authorities that claims to represent the interests of more than half a million Moldovan season workers, is preparing the third congress in Moscow to raise pretensions against authorities of their native country. It is known that “Patria-Moldova” also pledges to protect the rights of minorities from Moldova and it has already called for better Moldovan-Russian relations, including by supporting the claims of Transnistria and Gagauzia for federalisation or even con-federalisation of Moldova. Apart from this, the Chisinau authorities will have to meet at beginning the wishes of the new Gagauz leadership regarding the right of creating regional parties, better saying ethnical parties, as well as the right of territories to be represented in the supreme legislative body of the country, etc. From this point of view, the option of Moldovan authorities for rights of minorities from Romania should first be confirmed by respect and awarding of similar rights in the own country.

The facts ascertained above were necessary to reveal the problems that concern the Moldovan authorities in the European integration process and to try understanding why concepts of foreign and security policy are not adopted.

Evolution of perceptions of social-economic and political situation (Part I)

  1. “Certain Moscow politicians make enemies with own hands”, political commentary by Moldpres news agency.
Evolution of perceptions of social-economic and political situation (Part I) Transnistrian party-building: a new or well-forgotten past?