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Moldova at the crossroads between Russia, Romania and EU

Illustration: aboutromania.com

Contradictory interests of Romania (EU) and Russia have intertwisted around the Republic of Moldova (RM). There are many scenarios of Moldova’s future: balancing between EU and the Russian Federation; splitting into three parts – Bessarabia with Chisinau as capital city, Transnistria with Tiraspol as capital city, and Gagauzia with Komrat as capital city; accession to the EU; reunification of Bessarabia and Romania and separation of Transnistria and Gagauzia that will appeal for aligning with the Eurasian Union or directly Russia. None of the conflicting parties is sure enough in its strength to demand a referendum, for instance, for unification with Romania. Some citizens in Moldova think that during the war, Bucharest not always behaved correctly with regard to Bessarabians after the reunification under leadership of Marshal Ion Antonescu, Adolf Hitler’s ally. In Romania, they suspect nothing. Many authors glorify him as the man who made true the century-old dream of Romanians on both the banks of the Prut River to unite.

The Moldovan public has been split on the grounds of geopolitics and nationality. The Russian-speaking citizens advocate for rapprochement with Russia, while the Romanian-speaking population is striving for the EU or reunification with Romania. In due course, the pro-Romanian and pro-European citizens will have advantage of the pro-Russian ones, especially the young generation, as many young people in Moldova study in Romania or at home but on the Romanian grants. It is normal – they are answering to the call of the blood. Furthermore, Russian mass media, especially the state-controlled ones, should not frighten them with “Romanization” as a deadly disease. Denying that the Moldovan language is the same with Romanian is silly, unfair and not pragmatic. It is important to find a transitional harmonizing option even if it may result in Moldova’s splitting. The people must have an opportunity to decide their fate through a referendum, and not the decisions made behind the scenes. It will put the freeze at least on part of the “hotheads” that demand reunification with Romania “here and now.”

Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova has nearly no access to the Black Sea. These countries can control all its transport and population flow. Nevertheless, Moldova has two “paths” to the sea: the southwest end and southeast end. In the southwest, Moldova can access the sea through the Danube it has an extremely short (some 0.5km) contact with in the place where the Prut mouths Danube forming the western border of Moldova and Romania.

Giurgiulesti village, Cahul region of Moldova is located on this southwest end. The village is the only port of Moldova on the Danube to have access to the Black Sea and the status of a free economic zone. Farther the Danube and its northern arm Chilia – one of the biggest arms of Delta running mainly in Romania – form the Romanian-Ukrainian border.

In the southeast of Moldova, access to the sea is possible through the Dniester Liman – a territory of Ukraine. Palanca village, Stefan-Voda region, is located on the southeast end of Moldova. The shortest route of the highway from the southwest of Odessa region to its northeast part runs through that village. There is a narrow neck of land here. It has been slightly widened due to the highway that earlier belonged to Moldova. The Odessa region is divided by the Dniester Liman. To the west from it, along the Prut River – Danube – Chilia arm - there are Budjak steppes that were transferred to the Ukraine SSR after the war and were an autonomous Ismail region of Ukraine. Later, it was transferred to Odessa region.

On the western bank of the Dniester Liman, from the side of the Ismail region, there is Belgorod-Dnestrovski, previously Akkerman in Turkish. In Moldova and Romania, it is called Cetatea Alba i.e. a white fortress. The existence of the name in the Romanian language means that the town and its entire territory to the west of the Dniester Liman – now the southwest of Odessa region – were part of the medieval Moldova.

Ukraine exchanged the given part of the highway near Palanca in the 1990s with the above mentioned 0,5km-long part of the Danube left bank area that previously belonged to Ukraine and where Moldova’s border with Romania stretches now. The Moldovan SSR had no access to the Danube or the Black Sea. But it was not a problem in the USSR. Now, in conditions of independence, the given territorial exchange is mutually advantageous.

Torn by ethnic, language, cultural, and political discrepancies and economic problems, having no normal access to the sea, Moldova will hardly survive within its current borders. Three regions of Moldova densely populated with Ukrainians. Russians and Bulgarians have been transferred to Ukraine. It is the south of Bessarabia. The other six regions were populated mainly with Moldovans and Gagauzians. These regions were united into the Moldovan SSR in 1940 in addition to the Moldovan ASSR, autonomy as part of the Ukrainian SSR, which was established in 1924 – now it is Transnistria. Historical Moldova from Carpathia to Dniester has always had Budjak steppes. The territory beyond Dniester – Transnistria - belonged to Moldova episodically, but it has always had access to the sea between the Danube arm Chilia and Dniester. Rallies of two opposing each other camps are shattering Chisinau. These are the pro-European Justice and Truth Movement and pro-Russian Party of Socialists led by Igor Dodon and Our Party led by Renato Usatii opposing the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) governmental coalition.

Vladimir Filat, the former prime minister, leader of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM) - one of the three parties of the AEI along with LPM and DPM (Liberal and Democratic Parties of Moldova) - has been arrested for the theft of century - loss of $1 billion from the banking system of Moldova in 2015.

Losing elections in 2014, the opposition insists on new snap elections this spring. On January 20 2016, the ruling majority elected the new government led by Pavel Filip, deputy head of the Democratic Party of Moldova, which sparked large-scale protests.

The Romanian public and authorities need to comprehend that unification of Moldova will prove rather costly. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It will be very costly to include Moldova into the economic turnover of Romania.

There are also ethnic-political aspects. For instance, in Moldova there are many Russian, Ukrainians and other Russian-speaking people. In case of uniting with Romania, they will demand their rights to be protected. Is the Romanian public ready for it?

This problem will be added to the existing problem with the local Hungarians (“Sekui”) who organized the Sekui territorial ethnic autonomy not recognized by Bucharest. There is also the Gypsies minority that is growing and expanding due to the high birthrate.

The Romanian people’s long-cherished dream of reunification with the once lost peripheral regions will, in fact, result in emergence of a third big ethnic minority. Are they ready for it? Lippovans - a Russian-speaking minority – have been living in Romania’s Danube Delta for a long time already. In late 17th century and early 18th century, they fled from Russia after Patriarch Nikon’s church reform. Famous Romanian sportsmen are Lippovans by origin. The most prominent is Ivan Patzaichin, spring canoer, a four-time (!) Olympic Champion and nine-time (!) world champion. Lippovans is exoticism for Romania like the Germans called “Sachsen” (from medieval Saxonia). New president Klaus Iohannis is “Sachsen” by origin like the Jews that did not migrate to Israel. In Moldova, the fourth of the population (800,000 people) are Russian-speaking.

It appears that the entire territory of Moldova cannot be integrated. Bessarabia without Transnistria and Gagauzia will be enough. However, this will prompt surprises from the regions and towns on the right Bessarabian bank of Dniester: Belts and Benders.

There is one more aspect connected with EU. As the Moldovan economy is in a poor state, it will hardly be admitted to EU soon. EU is facing migration crisis. It will be admitting the last European countries basing on political not economic reasons and will be doing it very slowly.

However, chairman of the People’s Movement Party Eugen Tomak - the right hand of its leader and former president Traian Băsescu - forces reunification and recalls that his patron offered all the three presidents of Moldova the president’s post in the united Romania reserving the post of the vice president. A Bucharest-based analyst Christian Kympianu says it will be easier for the two countries to solve their problems in a united state rather than now. Meantime, Igor Dodon and Renato Usatii see themselves as presidents and prime ministers. The activity of the Justice and Truth Movement with pro-Romania and pro-European orientation is something new. Its leaders do not want to serve the interests of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Actually, the political situation in Moldova is becoming very complicate and any forecasts are risky.

Valentin Seguru-Zaytsev, independent political analyst (Moscow) for EADaily

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