Moldova takes tough stance on Transnistria military drills ahead of presidential elections

Moldova takes tough stance on Transnistria military drills ahead of presidential elections
By bne IntelliNews August 18, 2016

Moldova’s foreign affairs and European integration ministry has summoned the representative of Russia’s embassy in Chisinau over military drills carried out by Russian troops in the Moldovan separatist republic of Transnistria. The recent military actions are “provocative and unacceptable”, the ministry stressed in a July 18 statement.

Such tough remarks, generally avoided in the past for diplomatic reasons, came in the context of a column published by Moldova’s Prime Minister Pavel Filip on the blog of the US Congress calling for more support from the country's Western partners. The coincidence of messages seem to be aimed at stressing the pro-Western stance of the ruling coalition in Moldova ahead of the autumn 2016 presidential elections.

The ministry said the activity of the Russian troops in Transnistria was “illegal”, reiterated that Transnistria is an entity that is recognised by no foreign partner and also called for the replacement of Russian peacemakers with neutral international forces.

Russian troops in Transnistria have carried out military drills in partnership with Transnistrian forces in the last few days, most recently on August 16. The drills simulated terrorist attacks, which the separatist regime in Tiraspol claimed were increasingly likely from Moldova and Ukraine.

Transnistria has often capitalised on the confusion between the legitimate Russian peacekeeping troops in Transnistria, which operate within the framework of an agreement between the Moldovan and Transnistrian authorities, and the illegal Russian troops that claim to protect the ammunition deposits in Transnistria that should have been transferred to Russia from the former Soviet republic a long time ago.

In his blog post, Filip mentioned the Russian military drills in Transnistria and Russia’s soft propaganda ahead of the presidential elections.

“Meanwhile, early this summer Russia conducted military exercises in Transnistria, a breakaway region within Moldova’s recognised international borders – barely 30 miles from our capital of Chisinau – that has been under the Kremlin’s control for more than two decades. Russia’s soft power – using its propaganda machine to flood our media with anti-Western messages – is equally dangerous and a clear effort to tarnish our pro-EU government and throw the upcoming election to its political allies,” the prime minister wrote.

Moldova will organise presidential elections on October 30 through a direct ballot after more than a decade of indirect presidential elections. The leading candidate is the pro-Russian head of the Moldovan Socialist Party, Igor Dodon.

In 10 weeks, Moldova’s voters will elect a new president who favours either remaining on the pro-Western government’s path toward the European Union or veering more closely toward Russia’s orbit, Filip said in the column published on August 17. For Moldova, integration into the Euro-Atlantic community is more than a diplomatic initiative or an economic expedient, he stressed.

However, the ostensibly pro-EU orientation of the ruling coalition, specifically of the senior ruling Democratic Party backed by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, has been seriously questioned by voters, who see it as opportunistic. The ruling coalition has not yet appointed its own candidate, and it was recently suspected of considering an alliance with Dodon should he win the presidential elections.