Moldova's new pro-Russian president says EU ties unchanged but plans talks with Russia

Moldova's new pro-Russian president says EU ties unchanged but plans talks with Russia
Moldova’s new pro-Russian President Igor Dodon.
By bne IntelliNews November 17, 2016

Moldova’s new pro-Russian President Igor Dodon said in his first interview since winning the election on November 13 that his country’s relationship with the EU would “remain intact”, but there will be bilateral and trilateral talks with Moscow, for instance aimed at enabling the return of Moldovan goods to the Russian market.

In interviews, Dodon has toned down his pro-Russian rhetoric, but he firmly stressed his main intention to change the parliamentary majority through early elections and of revising the country’s political orientation based on economic rather than political grounds. While Dodon’s claim that membership of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union would bring more economic benefits than the EU free trade and association agreement is seen as having some merit, it overlooks the benefits implied by tighter ties with the EU in terms of rule of law and judicial reforms.

Besides criticism of the EU Association Agreement, Dodon expressed objections to the government’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The reforms stipulated by the IMF agreement are mainly welcome, Dodon admitted, underlining his own support for economic and judicial reforms, but he argued there are inappropriate provisions such as the ones on raising the retirement age, liberalising energy prices without the preparation of a safety net, and curbing the subsidies to farmers.

Some changes can take place when the people agree over them and when there is a majority in parliament to support them, he added.

In fact, the room for manoeuvre is very limited for Dodon. Failure to comply with the provisions of the Association Agreement would result in immediate cancellation of the EU visa-free arrangement – a cost that Dodon cannot afford in the short term. Any talk of plans to cancel the Association Agreement at the cost of the visa-free agreement during the election campaign would have reduced his vote well below 50%. In the end, Igor Dodon won 52.2% of the vote, while his opponent in the race, Maia Sandu, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had 47.8%.

Dodon stressed that he is all for maintaining good relationships with the EU, but added that Moldova must restore economic ties with Russia and so his first visit would be to Moscow. Access to the Russian market and the situation of Moldovans working in Russia will be high on the agenda, he assured.

Moldova will aim to maintain a balance in terms of external orientation, he added, addressing concerns related to any swift re-orientation of the country toward Russia at the expense of scrapping its European integration ambitions.

The talks with Russia will start from square one, with Dodon saying that he is not aware of the so-called ‘Road Map’ drafted by Moscow and submitted by former Russian deputy PM Dimitry Rogozin to the Moldovan authorities. The Road Map conditions the return of Moldovan goods on the Russian market with the resolution of the conflict in the breakaway region of Transnistria, according to the draft document leaked to the media earlier this year.

Speaking of the separatist region, Dodon argued in favour of finding a solution under the OSCE-mediated 5+2 talks. The outcome of the talks, after their resumption this year, were broadly seen by analysts in Moldova, including some government officials, as detrimental to Moldova.

After such a solution is identified, public referenda should be held in both Modolova and Transnistria, and a new constitution should be endorsed, he explained, implying the federalisation of the country. He rejected the term of “federalisation” as politically biased, but admitted that Transnistria deserves special status within the state of Moldova.