Russian establishment quick to congratulate Moldova's new president-elect

Russian establishment quick to congratulate Moldova's new president-elect
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 18, 2020

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia followed President Vladimir Putin in congratulating Moldova’s pro-EU president-elect Maia Sandu, who defeated pro-Russian incumbent President Igor Dodon in the second round of the presidential elections on November 15.

A strong foe is better than a weak friend, a quote by American novelist Edward Dahlberg, best illustrates Russia’s positioning versus Moldova recently.

Beside being diplomatic routine among states that were once part of the same empire, the congratulations expressed by the Russian authorities seem to include their disappointment with the performance of their protegee Dodon.

Dodon was extended limited, conditional support by Moscow and he was reportedly helped by a team of Russian experts during the electoral campaign, but he failed to build a credible narrative to win the hearts and minds of the pro-Russian electorate that still makes up a significant part of the population.  

The aggressive and unsubtle attacks against Sandu during the final week before the election and the failure to gain the support of Renato Usatii, who came in third in the first round of voting, were perhaps only reflections of Dodon’s weak strategy and rhetoric that relied on obsolete messages. These were epitomised by claims that Moldova’s fruit exports depend on Russia — a fake claim that was recently floated by Putin, and which Dodon quickly included in his rhetoric.

On November 17, Dodon held a meeting with Russia’s ambassador in Chisinau, where “a broad range of bilateral issues were discussed”, according to the presidency’s statement. Dodon’s position at the head of the Socialist Party (PSRM) might have been among them.

The PSRM and the government of Ion Chicu have received no sign of support from any of the other political forces in Moldova, despite statements from Dodon about a robust post-election majority and rumours that he planned to replace Chicu at the head of the executive.

The PSRM scheduled a congress on November 18 to decide on its future strategy.

The team of Russian electoral experts that visited the former Soviet republic ahead of the presidential elections seem to have returned to their base to reconsider their strategy in the country. Their services might be needed soon, as the incoming president's plans for early elections look more likely to be realised than they did last week. "I am sure about Sandu's seat as a president, but not anymore about mine at the government," Chicu reportedly said after the election, indicating a smooth transition. Chicu is believed by some to be eying the top position in the Socialist Party — a seat seen as reserved for Dodon until recently.