26 May 2020

Gheorghe Russu

Vice-director, The Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption

Parties-Phantoms, Parties - State Institutions, Parties - State Enterprises


20 parties have registered in the current election campaign. Many people say it is a too big number for such a small country as Moldova. At the same time, much more parties could take part in the election campaign.

Last week illustrated

Activists launch Moldova’s first ‘Space Camp’ © Susan Coughtrie

There are no natural prerequisites for federalism in Moldova

The latest events and actions of the stakeholders in the Transnistrian conflict settlement raised once again the issue of federalization of Moldova. Thus, in an article recently published by Nezavisimaya Moldova newspaper, the interviewed expert mentioned that "the situation created in Moldova allows for a compromise…there is a base a compromise could be built on - the federalization of Moldova, which in fact was the essence of the Kozak plan". How come Russia is so keen on federalization of Moldova, what are its possible consequences and how necessary is it for Moldova?
Dumitru MANZARARI, 29 October 2008, 12:44

About Unrealizable Hopes and... Trojan Horses

After the Caucasian war it seems that the Russian authorities are worried that the West and Moldova might take the opportunity and make a parallel with Georgia, raising the issue of the role of Russia in the Transnistrian conflict. They might argue that Russia is not an intermediary, but a party to the Transnistrian conflict, which uses the position of an intermediary to promote its political agenda. This is the most probable explanation of such an urgent meeting between President Medvedev and President Voronin in Sochi in August, especially since it was preceded by the visit of the Romanian President Basescu to GUAM member states and to Turkey, as well as by the call of the Ukrainian President Yushchenko for "unfreezing" the Transnistrian conflict. There is an opinion that Yushchenko's call was what made Medveded advice Vladimir Voronin that a lesson must be learned from the South Ossetian crisis.

Many factors point to the fact that Russia, too busy trying to make the story of its "legitimate" invasion of Georgia look believable, has not had time and resources to direct all its forces towards Moldova yet. I do not fully agree with this opinion. It is more probable that the suspicious strategy of Russia in Georgia can undermine its efforts in Moldova, if the two problems are solved at the same time. Moreover, Russia, if acting wisely, can create in Georgia what Brussels will potentially perceive as a successful platform of cooperation with the EU, in the settlement of conflicts. And this will be an advantage for Russia in the settlement of the Moldovan problem. But it is also obvious that Russia needs a break in order not to work on the issue of Georgia and Moldova simultaneously. Moscow tried to prevent the efforts of the West related to Transnistria, in the period when it was busy with the recognition of two separatist regions of Georgia.

In this situation the declarations of Mr. Lavrov that the Transnistrian case can not be compared to the Georgian conflicts, intentionally gives hope to Moldova ...but the hope is not real. Since Russia gives such hope only to buy some time to solve all its problems in Caucasus first. The intentions of Russia regarding Moldova (I will write about that below) have not changed at all. Minister Lavrov made it clear too, underlying the fact that Moldova had already agreed to certain parts of Kozak plan. One of the parts Mr. Lavrov referred to was federalization.
Thus, showing a piece of imaginary cheese to the Moldovan mouse (using the old hope of Chisinau that Moscow will listen to its concerns regarding the settlement of the conflict) and putting this bait in the Transnistrian trap, Russia started consolidating the format fashionably called today "2+1". Soon, the group of Moldovan experts have published a document presenting the analysis of the situation and warning about the dangers in case Moldova accepts this format in the detriment of "5+1".

The warning of the expert commission is logical and difficult to disagree with. And this is not only because the participants in the "5+2" format that are not included in the tripartite format, are namely those who act as a counterbalance to such a huge force in the negotiations format like Russia.

There are at least two other reasons why it is vital for Chisinau to maintain the format, in which the USA and the EU are present. One of the reasons lies in the purposes of the negotiations, which are different depending on the format. In case of a smaller format (2+1), whether Moldova wants it or not, the goal of the negotiations, although officially declared as being the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, is in fact different. The achievement of this goal involves the logical finalization of Russian plans and the objectives laying behind the armed conflict in 1992, and namely, to establish a constant institutional mechanism in Moldova, which would ensure the long-term functioning of Moldova as Russia's satellite and proxy. After all, Russia does not even raise the issue of solving the problem of separatism in Moldova. Under these circumstances, Chisinau has a dilemma, to pay or not to pay the price that Moscow claims for withdrawing its support of separatism in Moldova.

The second reason is that a broader format (5+1) includes important actors in international relations, who by participating in negotiations start acknowledging the real nature of the problem, the real goals of Russia and their own growing interest. These countries are the second half in the political balance, which Moldova can rely on in order to promote its interests. In a broader format Moldova at least has a chance to be listened to and to have a certain influence on the process. In such a format Moldova can limit Russia's pressure and get more support from the West not only in this issue. The "5+2" format is a platform that can be successfully used to influence other foreign policy issues of interest to Chisinau. Another advantage is the participation of the USA that can support Moldova in case the EU makes any concessions in favor of Russia. And this is extremely important given Russia's objectives in the Transnistrian issue, which are so unfavorable for Moldova.

Moscow sees no point in solving the conflict, if it is not solved in its favor. Since Moscow already holds all the aces and the promises of Moldovan authorities regarding neutrality of Moldova do not make much of an impression. It needs a loyal Moldova, playing the role of an obeying member of its team during the next anti-Western campaign that Moscow will initiate, after the consolidation of its positions in the CIS. It does not need Moldova as a member of the EU, it needs a Moldova led by Moscow. That is why the mechanism officially called federalization is necessary, but which in fact would imply a confederative organization of Moldova according to a structure suggested by Moscow. Such a structure among other things determines the need of Russian military presence on the territory of Moldova, in any form: peace keeping forces, allies, "joint" anti-terror group, CIS emergency reaction group, anti-trafficking group etc. Whatever the imagination can come up with. However, the truth is that Moldova does not need Russian military forces, but Moscow insists on it. It is also true that there are no natural premises for federalization of Moldova.

About federalization

Let us determine what federalization means and what it is used for. Federalism can be defined as a form of government in which the sovereignty is constitutionally divided between the center (the central government) and the political units (regions) of the state. In other words, the power is divided between the national and the regional governments. This is a rather general definition, but it is sufficient for our purposes. What is federalism used for?

а) For a more efficient administration of big territories;
б) To ensure the co-existence of territorial formations with distinct religious, ethnical, cultural, historical and other characteristics (like Russia, Switzerland, Belgium);
в) In certain cases it is determined by historical events, used for the unification of territorial units populated by a single ethnical/cultural group, which have developed separately and in parallel - as a rule these are rather big territories (this happened to USA, Germany, Great Britain).

It means that federalism, by definition, aims at increasing the efficiency and justice of state government. In case of Moldova, federalism contributes neither to efficiency, nor to justice; and on the contrary, it limits the application of these principles. Moldova is too small as a country, it can be effectively governed by one government, and the creation of other state structures will increase the costs for state employees and will reduce the effectiveness of administration. When a state is developing, like Moldova is, and there are no own democratic traditions, no consolidated and balanced institutes, the federalization will also lead the creation of regional clans, abuses and violations, it will increase the vulnerability of the state to external pressure, it will create conflicts between irresponsible elites and will dramatically increase the risk of separatism. Agreeing to federalization, Chisinau will practically legalize separatism. Because after accepting federalism, Moldova will not be able to reestablish its administrative and political control over the left bank. Moreover, it will make it possible for Russian citizens and officials, acting as the leaders on the left bank, to increase their control over the political decisions made by Moldova, both at domestic and international levels. It may also set a precedent and determine a further division of the country, leading to the intensification of separatist trends in the Southern regions. Administrative division is sufficient for the administration of Moldovan regions. The regions of the country are too small to act as republics and continue functioning efficiently as economic units. It is only necessary to increase regional autonomy, creating conditions for their economic growth.

In case of Transnistria, granting federal status does not aim at ensuring the interests of a particular ethnic group, as the population of the left bank of Nistru river has the same ethnical structure as the rest of Moldova. If someone tries to insist that the officials in Tiraspol will better protect the interests of Moldovan citizens of Russian origin living on the left bank, a natural question arises - what about the ethnical Russians living on the right bank? If their interests are protected by Chisinau, why wouldn't Chisinau be able to take care of the Russians living on the left bank? There is also another question - if the same logic is followed, how will the interests of Moldovans and Ukrainians living on the left bank be protected? If the left bank was predominantly populated by an ethnic group, other than Moldovans, the positions of the supporters of federalization would be stronger. But anyway they wouldn't be able to explain the economic and organizational reason of such a division.
Despite the arguments presented in this article, there are sufficient actors who have tried and are still trying to convince Moldova that federalization is the only possible solution to the conflict. Earlier this opinion was supported by certain officials in the USA, OSCE and some European countries. To understand the reasons for these suggestions, we have to understand the political culture of the West, which is based on a political compromise. And those educated in this system are used to federalization being only one of the mechanisms for such compromises, which does not imply big risks for the state integrity. Moreover, according to the events and the experience following the collapse of the Soviet Union, even Western experts on post-Soviet territory do not always entirely understand the processes happening in this region. The proof of that is the fact that Western experts and academicians fail to understand why the waves of democratic change in Latin America, in South and Central Europe were relatively successful, while the former Soviet Republics are slipping towards an authoritarian government. The truth is that the reasons for authoritarianism, among which a week political culture, the remains of the Soviet identity and new identities not formed yet or unstable, informal individual and institutional relations of the officials in the post-Soviet countries etc. are those determining the crisis potential implied by federalization for Moldova.

It turns out that federalization is imposed on Moldova even if it is not reasonable for such a small state. In other words, just like the name of the article suggests, there are no natural premises for federalization in Moldova. Imposing the federalization on Moldova under the current circumstances is the same as giving a crutch to a person with a headache, trying to convince him that it is his leg that hurts. We have to ask ourselves, why so much pressure? Then it becomes obvious that Russia needs the federalism of Moldova in order to establish the institutional mechanism that will allow it to turn Chisinau into a satellite of Moscow. Meaning Moldova literally concedes its sovereignty to another state, Russia, which has an authoritarian governing style. Based on empirical experience and on theoretical knowledge, it becomes very probable that Russia will export the elements of its political system to Moldova too. Thus, federalism will have at least four negative consequences for our country:

1) Gradual complete loss of sovereignty and an actual transformation into a sort of hybrid of the USSR, created by Russia;
2) Increase of authoritarianism, which under conditions of a more agrarian society in Moldova compared to the Russian one, can turn into totalitarianism;
3) Complete stop of the movement towards integration into European organizations and institutes, including the EU;
4) Imposed need to support the foreign Russian policy towards the West, which will be a confrontational one, especially towards the USA.

Together with the elements specified above, it will frighten Western investments away and will cause an economic regression of Moldova and respectively a deterioration of living standards of Moldovan population. We must also take into account the fact that Russia itself needs investments of the same quality, which are necessary for Moldova.

Buying a Pig in a Poke

The history and empirical experience are undoubtedly useful sources of knowledge for politicians and researchers. Let us look at the example of how exaggerated self-confidence and insufficient preparation of the French president for the visit to Russia played a trick on him. The aspiration for leadership lead to a document with Russia agreed by France on behalf of the EU, rejecting the experience and the knowledge related to Russia of the experts from the USA and some other EU countries. Because of "inaccurate translation" the EU and Georgia face a strong opposition from Russia regarding the evacuation of the Russian military forces. Moldova must learn from this mistake made by the EU and also by Georgia.

The Russian description of the federation in Moldova is more similar to a confederation and it does raise concerns. Moldova could take advantage of the experience of Western diplomats in order to avoid the mistakes made by the French president. In this case, France did not wish to take advantage of the experience of its colleagues in the EU. On the other hand, Chisinau must not entirely rely on the West, as it must take into account the interests that individual Western actors may have, including their possible desire to make concessions to Russia. In this situation there are prerequisites for the EU to tend to make concessions in favor of Russia, especially with regard to federalization. Moldova must explain to its European partners its concerns regarding this matter.
If some EU members do not want to understand Chisinau, we must fight possible attempts to convince us to make some concessions to Russia on federalization. For this purpose Moldova must use its embassies and develop lobbying initiatives in Brussels and in the national capitals of the EU in order to explain its point of view. If it finds allies and supporters among individual EU member states, Moldova will significantly increase its chances to limit the impact of Russian lobbying in Brussels. The Moldovan civil society represents a great potential, both when it comes to generation of ideas and the possibility to disseminate and promote Moldovan perceptions and interests abroad. Despite certain statements of the authorities regarding the need for a more intense cooperation with civil society, the government does not make any effective efforts to cooperate with it.

Moldova could use the help of the USA against the possible pressure from the EU meant to promote the idea of federalism. And vice versa, if Washington promotes an idea which is against the interests of Moldova, attempts must be made to neutralize it by using the EU. The work of the embassies and other lobby mechanisms in the West is very important, especially in the United States.

Let's say Moldova is not very active when it comes to lobbying and it is not only because of Moldovan diplomacy. The role of the political administration in increasing the efficiency of this foreign policy mechanism is critical. There are different periods in the history of each country when there are certain priorities. The fight around Moldova and on the continent is carried out through diplomacy. Today the priority of Moldova is the need for a strong and diplomatic staff which would promote and protect the interests of the country. Moldova needs diplomats who would be able and would know who to communicate with and in what manner, in order to make the position of Moldova be taken into account. Diplomats who would have knowledge of the culture and the language of the state they are placed in, as well as the detailed political situation; diplomats who would be able to present their opinion in the context of local values, in order to be convincing.

It is practically impossible to be effective in such a country like the USA, for instance, with just a few people working at the embassy. The skills of the staff working abroad are also extremely important. In order to attract the most skillful people into Moldovan diplomacy certain incentives are necessary, and we are not talking here only about financial incentives. It is impossible to generate ideas when the initiative is not only not welcome, but even punished, in an environment where people are used to work by reflex, based only on orders and indications. In order to purchase a good product, it is necessary to have knowledge of the purchased product. The future of Moldova is decided by diplomatic circles, by diplomatic tools and by diplomats. In order to influence its own future, Moldova needs high level diplomats, or at least diplomats who are not worse than their rivals in the diplomatic game. Otherwise Chisinau will once again buy a pig in a poke: "the settlement of the conflict" will turn into federalization, bringing about an increased dependence on Russia and decreased chances to enter the EU, and the federation will become a confederation.

Dumitru MANZARARI is an associate researcher at the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives "Viitorul"


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