Moldova’s new pro-Russian president to dismiss Nato-oriented defence minister

Moldova’s new pro-Russian president to dismiss Nato-oriented defence minister
Moldovan Defence Minister Anatol Salaru (R) with former head of Nato's European command centre Philip M. Breedlove.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 21, 2016

Moldova’s pro-Russian president elect Igor Dodon said on November 17 he wants to dismiss Defence Minister Anatol Salaru in one of his first moves after he is sworn in. 

The dismissal of the Nato-enthusiast minister would demonstrate Dodon’s external orientation, thus helping him strengthen credibility among Russian officials. His vow to dismiss the minister also puts pressure on the Moldovan government and prepares the ground for his party's campaign for the next parliamentary elections, whether they take place as scheduled in 2018 or earlier.

“Such a person who breaches the constitution and constantly launches provocations, cannot serve as defence minister,” Dodon explained in an interview with broadcaster NTV. He should be replaced by a "patriot", someone who comes from within the army and observes the constitution, he added. 

“If Salaru refuses to resign, we are going to expose his entire past: how he has ruined the railway company [as former transport and infrastructure minister], how he has sold the locomotives to Romania and how he has sold weaponry,” Dodon warned. Dodon also mentioned Salaru’s “provocations” - most likely his attempts to strengthen ties with Nato.  

Dodon admitted that, under the constitution, the president cannot dismiss a minister by decree of his own volition, only after a request is submitted by the prime minister. However, he explained that he plans to make use of his role of commander in chief of the army to ask for Salaru’s resignation. 

The move looks like an attempt by Dodon to raise his profile in Moscow as he seeks to deliver on his pre-election promises. Dodon pledged to restore access to the Russian market for Moldovan farmers but he needs arguments in the negotiations, other than the quality of Moldovan apples and wines. Although Dodon is widely seen as a pro-Russian candidate, support for him from Moscow was much less ostentatious in the run-up to the presidential election than it had been before the parliamentary election in 2014, Kamil Calus, an analyst with the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), argued in a commentary on the implications of Dodon’s victory.

At the same time, Dodon’s gesture would reinforce his support among voters, most of whom disapprove of the country’s ties with the Western alliance. Dodon will have to rely on popular support to a large extent, since his legal institutional instruments as president are rather limited.

Finally, the move might create tensions within the fragile ruling coalition. Salaru is a member of the Liberal Party (PL), whose votes in parliament are critical for the fragile majority. The Liberals are also the only significant party in Moldova advocating for the country’s Nato membership and for reunification with Romania – two unpopular goals even among pro-EU voters. If early elections take place, PL will probably not join a new majority formed by Dodon’s Socialist Party (PSRM) and the Communist Party (PCRM), but its breaking the ties with the ruling coalition would open the door to early elections – one of Dodon’s declared goals.

This is not the first conflict between Dodon and Salaru. Earlier this year, when the defence minister invited Nato troops to take part in joint drills in the country to attend the May 9 Victory Day ceremony in Chisinau, Dodon and his supporters blocked the road and kept the impressive military convoy outside the capital city.

In line with the policy of the pro-EU ruling coalitions since 2009, Salaru has tightened the country’s ties with Nato. In July, at the alliance’s summit in Warsaw, he asked for Nato assistance for the evacuation of Russian troops from the Moldovan secessionist republic of Transnistria. He said Russian GOTR troops with no mandate should be simply evacuated and the legitimate peacekeeping Russian troops should be replaced with UN troops under an OSCE mandate. However, his calls have not received any answer yet and Nato will probably avoid direct involvement in the Transistrian dispute, New York-based Eurasianet organisation said in a comment in July.

At the Warsaw summit, Salaru also proposed an initiative to hold in 2019 a NATO Partnership for Peace military exercise of the REGEX type in Moldova, as a platform for creating a regional training centre.

“Moldova will spare no effort to become a reliable partner to the Alliance,” stressed Salaru at the time.

In 2016, several joint military exercises have been held in Moldova together with the US.

Earlier this month, Salaru announced an agreement with his counterpart in Kyiv Stepan Poltorak for a so-called “green corridor” through Ukraine aimed at evacuating the Russian troops. The proposal stirred protests from Transnistria and Russia.