The EU Eastern Partnership Programme, the aim of which is not so much the modernization and value conversion of the six former Soviet Union countries (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), but rather their integration into a zone of geopolitical interests of the West, is going through hard times. Overall, the project failed to recover after a sharp slowdown in 2013, when Armenia and Ukraine refused to sign the Association Agreement (Kiev joined it only after internal turmoil of the Maidan and in stages) before the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. Recently, the EU Eastern Partnership suffered an additional blow as a result of the presidential elections in Moldova.
If in Ukraine the number of Eurosceptics is gradually increasing because of the collapse of state institutions and socio-economic crisis, and in Georgia a power with pro-Russia constructive disposition appears in the legislature on the results of the parliamentary elections, the situation in Moldova has gone much further. The Socialist Party leader, an outspoken critic of pro-European policy, a supporter of restoring the strategic relationship with Moscow, Igor Dodon, won in the last presidential election. Moreover, he stated that he will first of all visit Moscow, thus predetermining the main vector of Chisinau’s future foreign policy. After the results of the elections were summed up, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Dodon and invited him to visit Moscow.
Many are really surprised at the fact that in Moldova, which was named in the EU as "a success story" of European integration, and was under external control from Brussels for a long time, the disappointment with European integration deepened so much and the pro-Russian sentiments increased accordingly that people voted for Dodon during the election. The pendulum swung in the direction of Russia. "The elections showed that the notorious "success story" was a lie. Rampant corruption and arbitrariness of the authorities, lack of real reforms and a steady decline in living standards were behind beautiful pictures, words and pompous visits. Moldovan citizens were explicitly bored," Moldovan political analyst Nikolai Tsvyatkov told EADaily in an interview. We should note that the modern Ukrainian realities are also very similar to this colorful description of the situation in Moldova.
"Igor Dodon’s victory is logical for several reasons: first, the failed policies of European officials in the Republic of Moldova over the last 7-8 years has led to a decrease in the standard of living, rampant corruption, constant scandals and crises in the power structures. Second, the pro-Moldavan and pro-Russian sentiments are very strong in the country. While the right wing broadcasts just the opposite messages... Russia is an enemy; Moldovans are not able to govern themselves, etc. Third, the Socialist Party candidate held a fairly successful campaign at a time when his competitors were often aggressive and thus, didn’t gain the sympathy of the Moldovan voters," Nikolai Tsvyatkov said, adding that the list goes on.
However, due to significant pro-European sentiments (more than 40% of the population voted for the pro-European candidate) in Moldova, we can hardly expect that the new president will make a sharp turn towards Russia, thus significantly weakening the position of the West. Dodon, however, can break the anti-Russian discourse at the level of top-officials of the country. "In fact, a lot of things are within the power of the newly-elected president: stopping all sorts of offensive outbursts against Russia, which the top officials of the Moldovan state were doing over the last seven years; coming up with an active civil and political stance on a number of sensitive issues for the Moldovan society- neutrality, language, education system, the Transnistrian settlement, relations with Gagauzia, national security concept, the relationship with the European Union; restoring confidence in the institution of the president as one of the government branches," says Tsvyatkov.
The new Moldovan president will also face rather sensitive issues: the existing social and political discourse, unification with Romania that may result in further dilution of ethnic population, the Transnistrian conflict and establishing relations with Romania and Ukraine, in parallel with the restoration of partnership with Russia. Nikolai Tsvyatkov said, Dodon will not succeed in completely eradicating the idea of unification with Romania, but the country's pro-Romanian slogans will be gone at least at the level of top officials. "It is now difficult to predict the developments in this regard," he said adding that the situation around the Transnistrian issue is also very complicated. "Of course, there will be certain thaw: reduction of aggressive notes in the statements of top officials, mutual visits, perhaps. However, as the years of the Transnistrian conflict settlement have shown, the problem cannot be settled hurriedly," he told EADaily. In his opinion, the new president will face the difficult tasks of building relations with neighbors, given the anti-Russian conduct of the authorities, both in Romania and Ukraine. "But, as the saying goes, nothing risk, nothing win," the expert vividly explained the disposition of the new Moldovan authorities.
The problem of the endless cycle in the geopolitical choice for countries such as Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine, in our opinion, stems from the fact that these relatively new political formations are too much focused on foreign policy. For many years, the authorities of these countries have been unable to get out of the state of permanent choice between Russia and the West. Instead of working hard on internal construction, strengthening of their young state institutions and development of the economy using all possible external resources, the elite of these countries consider themselves actors in the global political arena, who are able to draw plans and make a choice. The most interesting thing is that often their external opportunistic choice is not even discussed with their own public. In foreign policy, the elites of some post-Soviet countries set truly global tasks that do not match their weight and knowledge, sometimes showing more activeness than countries with fundamental history and foreign policy traditions. Such impulsive and short-sighted policy is ridiculous. Suffice it to recall Mikhail Saakashvili at the helm of power in Georgia, and the results which he led his country to.
Frankly, the situation in countries that have chosen the path of Eurasian integration is not satisfactory, either. In Armenia, for example, anti-Russian public statements have now become the norm, while they were only exception ten years ago. There are a considerable number of articles objectively or subjectively criticizing Russian policy press. In social networks, especially in times of some acute and Russia-related events, anti-Russian passions run high and the common cliché is “Russia is bad, the West is good”.
In this regard, public discussions in Armenia are a mirror reflection of the moods in Moldova. The prospects for economic development of Armenia, lost by abandoning the EU Free Trade Agreement, are argued about with the same enthusiasm. Pessimists in Armenia, though, are in this case firmly silent about the results actually reached by Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, where pro-Russian and anti-Western sentiments are growing at different rates: especially in Moldova and Ukraine, which have chosen the path of entry into Euro-Atlantic structures, but which in their current state, and against the background of growing migration crisis in the EU, will soon not be allowed even in McDonald's, let alone NATO and the EU".
Therefore, it is not surprising that in Eastern Partnership countries European standard reforms are carried out on a pattern "step forward and two steps back". Local reforms are carried out with funding from the EU and with the attitude, as if the Europeans themselves and not those countries need the reforms. This is a sign that the local elites have no task of the development of their own country at all. The geopolitical vector of the territory controlled by them is put on sale as a commodity under the beautiful label "integration". The powers that be are ready to pay for this product. And Moldovans, Armenians, Georgians and Ukrainians are given nothing but promises: Russia and the EU will now open their multi-million markets for us and we’ll be in paradise; our products will rush to the vast European/Eurasian market, there will be queues in France and Italy for Moldovan and Georgian wines. In fact, the opposite happens. Manufacturers of small countries fail to withstand fierce competition on the way of development of the huge EU or the EAEU markets and appear on the verge of bankruptcy. One of the largest dairy producers of Armenia, Ashtarak Kat CJSC appeared in such a situation. After Russia closed its market to Moldovan wines, the EU opened its market for them for political reasons, but the results were not high, to put it mildly.
In countries whose leaders live in a permanent cycle of geopolitical choice, the task of strengthening the state and economic development fades into insignificance, and in the end populism, demagogy and propaganda win. Therefore, these countries result in "Maidans" and shocks and their presidents escape (Saakashvili, Yanukovych, Bakiyev ...).
Arshaluys Mghdesyan, specially for EADaily