On the 28th of April, after a prolonged governmental crisis and upon a positive opinion from the Republic of Moldova’s Constitutional Court, president Maia Sandu announced the dissolving of the Socialist-dominated parliament and early legislative elections on the 11th of July 2021. The elections took place as scheduled, with voters having to choose among 23 electoral candidates (20 political parties, two electoral blocks and one independent candidate). With a 48.41% voting presence, the electorate sent in the new parliament three political formations: PAS (Partidul Acțiune și Solidaritate, Action and Solidarity Party, with 63 mandates), BeCS (Blocul Electoral al Comuniștilor și Socialiștilor, Electoral Block of Communists and Socialists, with 32 mandates) and “Șor” Party (PPS, with 6 mandates). With legal requirements being met, the elections are considered valid, and the Republic of Moldova is preparing to have its 11th post-independence parliament.
With a visibly polarized political arena, the Republic of Moldova has been undergoing multiple changes in the post-communist period. The international community and media are keeping the post-Soviet country under their radar, but news coming out of it rarely make the headlines or the main flux of information available to large audiences. The latest elections make no exception. The Russian officials and media have subscribed this time to the same paradigm. The attention granted to this round of legislative elections is rather underwhelming, both on official and media levels.
Reactions in the Russian press
With a few exceptions, the latest elections were presented in the Russian press on an informative note and only as a secondary subject, seldom making the headlines of televised or online press. However, after perusing the main publications and media agencies it can be noted that all have granted some attention to the electoral process and some dominant ideas could be identified, such as: the significance of PAS’s victory, the reasons behind socialists and communists failure, and the post-elections choices for foreign policy.
One of the reiterated ideas aims at highlighting the historic, political and geopolitical significance of the PAS’ victory, with a recurrent stress on president Maia Sandu’s influence and informal leadership of the party, and presently its absolute majority in the legislature of the country. Two dominant approaches could be acknowledged in this sense: one that hints at the potential to carry on the anti-corruption and economic programme launched by PAS, and a second that criticizes the “absolute power” gained through the elections.
Following the first approach, Kommersant, in its “Maia Sandu is raising the party to clean up the Motherland”, named the elections “historic”, reflecting on the uniqueness of the election results, as they were the first in the 30 years of independence to bring to power a pro-European party. While appreciating the historical significance of the matter, the article underlined the extent of corruption and economic problems the country is facing and PAS’ commitment to address them, by quoting Natalia Gavrilita, vice-president of the party and potential nominee for Prime Minister, in presenting briefly her vision on the path the Republic of Moldova should embark on. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, in an article named “Maia Sandu received absolute power in [the Republic of] Moldova”, goes further into noticing how it is for the first time in the country’s history when a right-wing party came to power, but also how with this definite victory comes a “huge responsibility”, quoting analyst Anatol Țaranu, a well-known analyst in Chișinău. The article put a clear focus on the economic dimension of the elections, hence on the urgent economic problems the new legislative is to address and, by bringing forward Victor Șelin’s appreciation (leader of Social Democratic Party) it stressed how Maia Sandu played an important role in attracting voters with her promises of removing “thieves from the parliament and from power in general”.
On the other hand, some other publications oriented towards attacking this new status quo on the political arena, with PAS obtaining “absolute power”. Russia Today, in its Russian version, noticed how Maia Sandu won “all the main levers of governing the country” after the snap elections, implying further how the president had pushed for early elections shortly after taking office, by intentionally provoking the dissolution of the parliament with the actions she had undergone. Mikhail Rostovsky, Moskovski Komsomolets’ editorialist, in an article that launched both clear criticism and mild appreciations on Maia Sandu, started his analysis with a historical evocation of Margaret Thatcher , “the only man in the British cabinet”, with the purpose of stating how the president “won the unconditional moral right to the informal title of the only man in the political world of Chisinau.” While this could be counted as an appreciation, Rostovsky went on calling Sandu “Soros’ girl with burning eyes”, “fierce persecutor of the Russian language” (while being Minister of Education), and evaluated her first international visit as president to Ukraine a defiant act. Despite all these, the editorialist, even from his “frankly biased point of view”, acknowledged how Maia Sandu “still looked more advantageous than her competitors”, while still questioning her ability and readiness to rid the Republic of Moldova of its “usual status of a ‘failed state’” and expressing his hope that the president will not let her country down.
A clear focus of the Russian media while addressing the legislative elections was on the failure of the Dodon-Voronin Bloc, and the reasons therein. Three ideas emerged: lack of support from Russia; the leading politicians of the Bloc had had the chance to prove themselves; and an inefficient electoral campaign on the socialist and communist side. Developing on the first idea, Nezavisimaya Gazeta noticed how despite its previous support and sympathy for Dodon’s socialists, Russia had “distanced itself from this party”, which led to the pro-Russian voters to either “not vote at all or vote for Sandu”.Rossiiskaia Gazeta, in a short but incisive article called “PAS Rumynii”, opened the path to the second idea, declaring how the Socialist Party was in need of an “update” and how Igor Dodon, despite his great contribution to the formation of the party would have to leave room to the “younger generation” for the next electoral cycle. Rostovsky, in his article in Moskovski Komsomolets, expands on the desirability of Maia Sandu in Dodon’s and Voronin’s detriment as they “had already been given a chance to prove themselves”. The editorialist mentioned how they had not used the time they had while in power to convince the citizens at home and abroad, therefore “it’s time to try something fresh”. A third explanation of the defeat of the Communists and Socialists was offered by Russia Today which cited Vitaly Andrievsky, director of the Institute for Effective Politics based in Chișinău, in stating how the result of the elections was a “failure” for the socialists generated by a “incorrectly conducted election campaign”. Vzglyad continued with Andrievsky’s explanation on why the Dodon-Voronin Bloc strategically chose wrongly, observing how it was Dodon’s error in associating himself with Voronin. The association was appraised detrimental to his political persona, as he “didn’t need to unite with Voronin” since he could “well fight on equal terms” with Sandu. Furthermore, the analyst highlighted how the electorate were “already starving for an honest leader”, while Dodon had been involved in corruption scandals and was known for “his empty promises”.
Not surprisingly, the Republic of Moldova’s foreign policy and geopolitical orientation caught the attention of Russian analysts and journalists. Two directions of focus could be noticed: the Republic’s approach towards Russia and their subsequent relations, and relations with Romania (the relations with the EU/Western world being subscribed in roughly the same paradigm).
Interfax, early in the first day following the legislative elections published an article called “Dodon admits defeat in parliamentary elections in [the Republic of] Moldova”, which focused mainly on former president’s post-election reaction, with a clear stress on the future of the country’s foreign policy. The text read Dodon’s predictions on the alteration of Moscow – Chișinău relations, as a result of the pro-European part’s victory in the parliamentary elections: “I think that the period of good relations with Russia, which lasted for four years, is over. I hope that President Maia Sandu and her party, which won the parliamentary elections yesterday, will be smart enough not to aggravate relations with the Russian Federation.” The article went on with the politician’s evaluation of the electoral process, stating how PAS’ victory is also due to the “interference of Western ambassadors in the electoral process”.
In contrast to the socialist leader’s attention for foreign policy,Moskovski Komsomolets noticed how president Sandu, in one of her first statements after the legislative elections, did not say “a word” about foreign policy, rather choosing to focus on ending “the rule of thieves” which was, however, considered to be a “reasonable prioritization”. Nonetheless, the editorialist warned how a “frontal confrontation with Moscow” was not at all desirable; on the contrary, a clash would lead to even deeper internal problems within the country, as the Ukrainian experience had clearly shown. Maia Sandu’s statements on Russia were further discussed by Russia Today. Firstly, they were considered as being “ambiguously perceived” in the Republic of Moldova and the Russian federation alike. The authors particularly brought to light the president’s stance towards the use and status of the Russian language and her statements on the region of Transnistria. Commenting on the latter, the article follows how Sandu had asked for “the complete withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from there” and had suggested to send instead OSCE representatives. The confusion here, according to the authors, was that the Russian troops were stationed in the region of Transnistria following an OSCE mandate, as the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, had clarified.
Izvestia, in a lengthy article published soon after the closure of the voting stations, set a negative prediction on the future unfolding of the relations between Moscow and Chișinău. The article labelled the legislative elections as a competition between a pro-Western party and a pro-Russian bloc, the results probably indicating towards “Chișinău’s turn towards the West” and “the aggravation of the situation around Transnistria”. The editorialist, Lyubov’ Lezhneva, citing “political scientists”, warned from the beginning of the article that Moscow should “clearly define its interests in the region”, with a main purpose of protecting the rights of the “Russian-speaking population”. The author continued with noticing Igor Groșu’s (acting PAS president) statement indicating to PAS’ “intention to build good relations with all countries, including Russia”, however consistently highlighting how PAS is West-oriented and, “in many ways, really anti-Russian”, quoting Dmitry Novikov, communist deputy in the Russian Duma, first deputy chairman of the international affairs committee. The region of Transnistria made a main subject in this article; the author also included Dmitry Fetisov’s view, a political scientist who predicted that the situation in the region will “constantly escalate” as calls for withdrawal of the Russian troops would continue, despite the local residents perceiving them as a “key factor of stability”. Moreover, Fetisov predicted that the leadership in Chișinău would deal with Russia in “an extremely negative way”.
On a different note, a Vzglyad article brought forward political analyst Vitaly Andrievsky’s more positive outlook, who invited the readers not to equate the pro-European choice of PAS with an “anti-Russian political course”. The analyst supported the exact opposite idea, commenting on how president Sandu is interested in “constructive relations with Moscow”. However, Andrievsky advised for a pragmatic approach in building these relations, as the process is a “two-way street”, paved with prejudices on both sides. More so, the analysts labelled the considerations of the socialists on the presumed anti-Russian course of PAS’ foreign policy as “dangerous”, as they “increase tension in society” and that the new power in Chișinău “does not need a confrontation with Russia”.
The Republic of Moldova’s approach and relation with Romania has enjoyed almost the same attention with the relation discussed above. One hot, but sensitive, nonetheless, subject was foreseeably the unionist movement existing on both sides of Prut River. Nezavisimaya Gazeta briefly addressed the issue by quoting Anatol Țaranu’s observation that the unionists did not disappear from the stage, as it could be interpreted by the poor performance of the AUR party, which received less than 1%, but they had rather rallied behind Maia Sandu’s party. On a more determined note, Rossiiskaia Gazeta noticed how the Republic of Moldova’s orientation towards Romania is an “objective process” reflected also in Romania overcoming Russia as the Republic of Moldova’s largest foreign trade partner, but that the “annexation” is not to be done in the foreseeable future, as “Romania itself is not ready”, and the elites in Chișinău are “wary” of Bucharest. Nonetheless, the author warned on how PAS is preparing anyway for union “by introducing Romanization in education and office work.” Similarly, Russia Today, in consecutive articles on the legislative elections addressed the significance of the pro-West orientation of PAS for the developing foreign policy, under president Sandu’s guidance. One of the articles reflects on the president’s ease to address such a “controversial topic”, i.e. the “entry” of the Republic of Moldova into Romania”. The authors noticed how this subject had been actively discussed in the period following the dissolution of the USSR and how Maia Sandu had announced in April 2021 that the Constitution should be amended to rename the “state language from «Moldovan» to Romanian” and how she also has Romanian citizenship.
Vzglyad in an article signed by Vadim Trukhachev, a Russian political scientist, offered an extended perspective on the relations between Bucharest and Chișinău as they could unveil past this cycle of elections. Pertinently titled “How Romania drives Russia out of [the Republic of] Moldova”, the article concluded from its very beginning how the “real winner” of the elections is actually Romania. The author warned how the Romanian state “has been working purposefully for a long time to change the consciousness” and how it had started to be successful in the matter, which should worry Moscow and attract its “urgent” reaction; “Otherwise, [the Republic of] Moldova will be lost completely”. Trukhachev noticed the same ease highlighted by Russia Today’s journalists in Maia Sandu expressing her preference for Romania, considering that the president “does not even hide her Romanian citizenship”, unlike other representative of the elite in the Republic of Moldova. The analyst revised the political and bureaucratic steps Romania had taken towards attracting the Republic of Moldova, such as former Romanian president Traian Basescu’s open pro-union declarations and actions that led to the “2009 coup d’etat” and the subsequent pro-Western policy, the continued “Romanization” and the sustained “distribution” of Romanian passports to citizens of Republic of Moldova. Moreover, the economic development of Romania, which had bypassed Russia both in terms of minimum and average wages, plus the “powerful” fight against corruption started in Romania made it preferably for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova to look up to Romania, and not to Russia, Trykhachev argued. The author concluded that “Romanians have launched a very serious challenge to Russia”, warning Russia that if it didn’t address it, its influence “will remain only in Transnistria and Găgăuzia. Chișinău and other cities of [the Republic of] Moldova will become Romanian.”
The list of observations included above made by the Russian media is not exhaustive, but it does reflect on the overall Russian approach and interpretation of the latest electoral process in the Republic of Moldova. The limited attention and space granted by the Russian media to this subject does not equate with a lack of interest or poverty of ideas. On the contrary, these aspects can represent stand-alone objects of research and analysis.