Gagauzia becomes new front in Russia’s effort to destabilise Moldova

Gagauzia becomes new front in Russia’s effort to destabilise Moldova
Celebrations of Comrat wine day in Gagauzia's administrative capital. / Haley Bader
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest April 28, 2023

Many of the eight candidates in the running to head Moldova’s semi-autonomous Gagauzia region are “agents of the Russian Federation rather than politicians who want to work for citizens”, President Maia Sandu claimed ahead of the April 30 election. 

After mixed results in the separatist republic of Transnistria, Russia is believed to be trying to turn Gagauzia into Moldova’s weak point and the centre of instability for the entire country.

Eight candidates, some of them backed by major parties such as the Shor Party and Socialist Party (PSRM), but also Moldova’s ambassador to Turkey Dmitrii Croitor, are competing for the position of head of the region.

The governor (bashkan) of Gagauzia is elected for a period of four years. The candidates for the position of governor must have reached the age of 35 and must know the Gagauz language.

Chisinau has already sparked a diplomatic row by banning entry to the head of Russia’s Tatarstan Republic, Rustam Minnikhanov, who was understood to have travelled to Moldova to support a pro-Russian candidate in the election. 

While not openly boycotting the vote, Sandu’s pro-EU Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) is neither directly nor indirectly involved in the election to appoint a new head of the predominantly pro-Russian region.

Speaking to Jurnal TV, Sandu argued that Russian propaganda is successful in Gagauzia because the residents of the region do not speak Romanian and she insisted that a programme of teaching the Romanian language be implemented so that people can integrate.

There are three official languages in Gagauzia, but the authorities and the population predominantly use Russian. The population lost the practice of the Gagauz language during the Communist regime and they never used Romanian. There is hardly any independent Russian-language media in Moldova and the Gagauz population relies on Russian media instead.

With one third of the population of Transnistria, which is home to less than 500,000 residents itself, Gagauzia is far from having the same industrial heritage as the other Russian-speaking region. Transnistria hosts Moldova’s major power plant and important industrial facilities including steel and cement plants, while Gagauzia's economy is dominated by agriculture and rather underdeveloped even by Moldovan standards. Militarily, Transnistria is far more important as well as it hosts Russian troops, a situation not found in Gagauzia.

Most of the Gagauz politicians insist on ties with Tatarstan and Russia rather than the European Union.