Elections in Moldova: A Country Torn Between Russia’s Threats and the Attraction of the West

Since 1991, Moscow has controlled Moldova through the local communists and the Russian minority of the republic. Although most inhabitants are of Romanian origin and would like to join Romania and the European Union, the economy is in the hands of the pro-Russia elements. This dichotomy has split Moldova ever since its independence. Currently, even some pro-Western parties doubt that given Moscow’s power in the region Moldova could change its political orientation.  And the recent events in Ukraine have confirmed their worst fears.


By Nicholas Dima l December 10, 2014


Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Moldova is a small republic located in southeast Europe between Romania and Ukraine and is the poorest country on the continent. Historically, it is a former Romanian province annexed by the USSR in 1940 following the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and transformed into a Soviet Republic. It became independent in 1991 shortly after Ukraine declared its independence. Except for good agricultural land, Moldova lacks any other important resources. For Russia, however, Moldova and Georgia in the Caucasus region are the “gates of the empire” and thus geopolitically very important.

Strategically, Moscow has always taken a long view.

In this regard, Soviet historians claim that the 1940 annexation of Moldova gave the USSR a big advantage by holding the advancing Germans for a month, thus preventing them from reaching Moscow until the cold winter of 1941 set in.  Indeed, the Russians are always thinking ahead. A few years before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Moscow incited the Russian inhabitants of Transnistria, a small sliver of land in eastern Moldova, to declare their own independence. The secession was followed by a now forgotten civil war that became an unresolved conflict. Similar scenarios were played out in Georgia and recently in eastern Ukraine.

Since 1991, Moscow has controlled Moldova through the local communists and the Russian minority of the republic. Although most inhabitants are of Romanian origin and would like to join Romania and the European Union, the economy is in the hands of the pro-Russia elements. This dichotomy has split Moldova ever since its independence. Currently, even some pro-Western parties doubt that given Moscow’s power in the region Moldova could change its political orientation.  And the recent events in Ukraine have confirmed their worst fears.

Throughout the last 25 years, Moldova has gone from one uncertainty to another. At the beginning of the new era, Moldova was led by local patriots and lived through a short period of euphoria. Then, the Communist Party returned to power and it fell into a period of gloom.  Recently, during the last several years, Chisinau adopted a more cautious pro-Western policy.  After Russian President Vladimir Putin effectively annexed Crimea and separatists from eastern Ukraine revolted against Kyiv with Kremlin support, several American and European leaders visited Chisinau, promised economic and political support, and encouraged its pro-European policy.  Moscow, however, mobilized its fifth column to derail this orientation. It is alleged that the former KGB has the highest density of agents in Moldova, higher than anywhere else. And, for this election, Moscow funded new pro-Russian groups and fomented fresh revolts among Moldova’s ethnic minorities. According to official news, the Moldovan police discovered and foiled such a group that intended to start a violent revolt against Chisinau, similar to what happened in Ukraine.

The November 30 parliamentary elections were tense but rather orderly in the territory controlled by the Chisinau authorities. Moscow’s efforts to win over the electorate were only partially successful. One problem was that a big number of young Moldovans live abroad and many of them could not exercise their voting rights. Hundreds of thousands of them study or work in Romania and the European Union. They voted overwhelmingly for a closer association with the West, but many of their votes were discounted. Furthermore, many pro-Western citizens living in Transnistria, where Chisinau has no control, were prevented from voting. As a result, the votes were again split between the pro-European and the pro-Russian parties.

Currently, Moldova is led by President Nicolae Timofti and by a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca. Both are pro-West and seek close ties with the European Union.  Some political leaders even advocate membership in NATO. The current coalition managed to maintain its majority, but the pro-Moscow socialists and communists came in a close second. Thus, five political parties have entered the new parliament of 101 seats. The three parties that form the government, Liberal Democrat, Democrat, and Liberal, obtained 20 percent, 16 percent and 10 percent respectively. Consequently, they maintain a majority of 56 seats. Nevertheless, the socialists and communists obtained 21 and 18 percent respectively, which gives them 45 seats in the new parliament.  According to the Moldovan and Romanian press, the winners vow to continue their pro-Western policy, but the opposition insists on organizing a referendum for the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union in support of Putin’s Eurasianist agenda.

Furthermore, as per the Moldovan Constitution, the president of the republic must be elected by the parliament with a minimum of 61 votes. The coalition government does not have this majority and as a result the pro-Russian parties can bring this poor and small country into another period of uncertainty and turmoil. Given Europe’s ambiguity and America’s weakness toward Moscow, it is likely that ten years from now Moldova and Ukraine will still be in the same limbo.


Nicholas Dima, Ph.D, is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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