Monday, August 21, 2017

Moldova Update: Kremlin Will Likely Seek to Realign Chisinau

                                                             Franklin Holcomb, Sean Jones, Nataliya Bugayova

Russia likely perceives a requirement to subvert the Moldovan government before Moldova’s 2018 parliamentary elections or risk surrendering influence over the country’s decision-making. The broadly pro-Western Moldovan government recently took steps to curb Russia’s subversion, and expand its cooperation with Ukraine and NATO. Moldova’s pro-Russia President Igor Dodon has thus far failed to make meaningful progress in pushing Moldova into the Kremlin’s orbit. Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely attempt to destabilize the government of Moldova and empower President Dodon to reset the political situation in Chisinau in the Kremlin’s favor. The U.S. must support the forces in Moldova defending the country’s sovereignty against Russian aggression.

Moldova’s pro-Russia president Igor Dodon is attempting to push Moldova into Russia’s orbit, but is facing effective resistance from pro-Western elements of the government.[1] Dodon, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s key ally in Moldova, supports Moldova’s integration into Russia-controlled structures, including Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). He is currently unable to initiate membership talks or achieve any important progress without parliamentary support.[2] Dodon attempted to transition the country from a parliamentary system to a presidential one in order to expand his power.[3] The Moldovan Constitutional Court disrupted Dodon’s plan on July 27 by finding his planned September 2017 referendum on the issue unconstitutional.[4]  

The pro-Western Moldovan Parliament and the Prime Minister Pavel Filip have taken decisive steps to counter Russian subversion and integrate with Western structures. The Moldovan Parliament demanded that Russia’s “peacekeeping forces,” illegally deployed in the Russian-controlled separatist Transnistria region since 1992, withdraw from Moldovan territory on July 21.[5] Moldova also denied a number of high-profile Russians, including Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and a member of the Russian parliament, access to the country.[6] Moldova also expanded its security cooperation with Ukraine. Moldova reiterated its support for Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s proxy forces in Eastern Ukraine.[7] Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip participated in the opening of a joint border crossing designed to expand customs control and prevent smuggling, and likely intelligence activity, from Transnistria on July 17. The two governments agreed to expand that control on August 14.[8] Moldova continues to fight the ongoing flow of Russian mercenaries to and from Moldova and Eastern Ukraine.[9]  The Moldovan government expelled five Russian diplomats on May 29, whom it accused of recruiting Moldovans to fight alongside Russia’s separatist proxies in Eastern Ukraine.[10] The Moldovan government also continues to expand its ties with NATO, most recently agreeing to open a NATO liaison office in Chisinau.[11]  

Russia views these developments, in particular, Moldova’s steps to advance its cooperation with Ukraine and NATO as a threat to its regional security interests. The Kremlin uses its illegal military basing in Transnistria to threaten Moldova, Ukraine’s western flank and NATO member Romania. The Kremlin sees Moldova-Ukraine border posts as an attempt to isolate its base in Transnistria.[12] Russia has had difficulty moving troops and supplies into Transnistria due to its war in Ukraine, and expanding Ukraine-Moldova cooperation threatens to cut off its access to the region entirely. [13]The Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Defense and Security Bair Zhamsuev said on August 08 that Russia would use military force to protect Transnistria should Moldova or the West attempt to invade it.[14] 

Russia will likely escalate its efforts to undermine Moldova’s broadly pro-Western government. President Dodon’s legal options to achieve his goals are now highly limited, which is likely to prompt the Kremlin to directly subvert the Moldovan government. The Kremlin’s most likely course of action will be to use disinformation and political subversion to weaken the pro-Western government in order expand Dodon’s influence. The Kremlin’s most dangerous course of action would be to use its military and intelligence forces operating out of Transnistria to destabilize and, potentially, collapse the pro-Western government ahead of 2018 parliamentary elections. In both cases, the Kremlin is also likely to frame the Western presence in Moldova as a provocation in order to justify an expansion of Russian involvement in Transnistria.[15] Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has already claimed the U.S. is training Moldovan saboteurs to infiltrate Transnistria at a military base undergoing U.S.-funded renovation in Bulboaca, Moldova on August 07.[16] Dodon promised to watch the base for signs of a regional conflict provoked by the U.S.[17] The Kremlin will also likely exploit the growing political tensions, rising ahead of the 2018 elections. The Moldovan Parliament passed a controversial bill on July 20 that would change Moldova to a mixed electoral system. The legislation, which was criticized for perpetuating larger parties’ control of the government, caused protests and clashes between police and protesters.”[18] The Kremlin may use such discontent to foster further political instability.

The Trump Administration must support pro-Western political forces in Moldova in their efforts to counter Russian subversion and strengthen Moldova’s internal resiliency. The US must help Moldova secure its sovereignty and territorial integrity, develop a transparent and accountable government, and deter potential Russian aggression. Such support should include a range of assistance programs, including military and border security assistance. The US must reemphasize that Russian forces are illegally occupying Transnistria and must withdraw from Moldovan territory.

[1] Inter-Parliamentary Union, “Republic of Moldova Parliament: Last Elections,”, http://www(.)
[2] Alexander Tanas, “Moldova President sees Move Towards Russia-led Trade Union in 2017,” Reuters, July 28, 2017, Novinite Staff, “Moldova President Supports the Eurasian Economic Union,” Novinite, July 12, 2017, http://www.novinite(.)com/articles/181167/Moldova+President+Supports+the+Eurasian+Economic+Union TASS Staff, “Moldovan President Hopes Putin will Visit Moldova Next Year,” TASS, July 25, 2017, http://tass(.)com/world/957763 Allessandra Prentice and Alexander Tanas, “Pro-Russian Candidate Triumphs in Moldova Presidential Race,” Reuters, November 13, 2016, Popsoi, "Why did a Pro-Russian Candidate Win the Presidency in Moldova?" FPRI, November 23, 2016,
[3] Mihai Popsoi, “Moldovan President Seeks Regime Change via Referendum,” Jamestown Foundation, March 06, 2017,
[4] RFERL Staff, “Moldovan Court Finds President Dodon’s Referendum Plan Unconstitutional,” RFERL, July 27, 2017,
[5] Diana Preasca, “The Chisinau Parliament Calls for the Withdrawal of Russian Troops from the Territory of the Republic of Moldova,”, July 21, 2017, [Romanian] http://www.moldova(.)org/parlamentul-de-la-chisinau-cere-retragerea-trupelor-ruse-de-pe-teritoriul-republicii-moldova/Russian Ministry of Defense, "Peacekeeping Operation in Transnistria," Russian Ministry of Defense,
[6] RFERL Staff, “Igor Dodon Threatens to Punish Those who Cause Worsening of Bilateral Relations with Russia,” RFERL, July 28, 2017, [Romanian], https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28645115.html
RFERL Staff, “Dmitry Rogozin, Declared Undesirable in Moldova,” RFERL, August 02, 2017, [Romanian] https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28654834.html
[7] RFERL Staff, “The Republic of Moldova Condemns the Proclamation of the so-called “Malorossiya” by the Secessionists in the Donetsk Region,” RFERL, July 21, 2017, [Romanian] http://www.moldova(.)org/republica-moldova-condamna-proclamarea-de-catre-secesionistii-din-regiunea-donetk-a-asa-zisei-malorusia/
[8] RFERL Staff, “Ukraine and Moldova have Opened a Common Border Crossing,” RFERL, July 17, 2017, [Russian]
RFERL Staff, “Moldova, Ukraine to Extend Joint Control at All Border Crossing Points on the Transnistrian Segment,” RFERL, August 14, 2017, [Romanian] https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28676134.html
[9] Cristi Vlas, “Another Moldovan Mercenary Arrested for Fighting for Separatist Entities in Eastern Ukraine,”, June 28, 2017, http://www.moldova(.)org/en/another-moldovan-mercenary-arrested-fighting-separatist-entities-eastern-ukraine/
[10] UNIAN Staff, “Moldova Expels 5 Russian Diplomats,” UNIAN,  May 29, 2017, https://www.unian(.)info/politics/1948686-moldova-expels-5-russian-diplomats.html
[11] RFERL Staff, “The NATO Liaison Office in Chisinau Could be Opened in August,” RFERL, July 21, 2017, https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28630897.html
[12] RFERL Staff, “Igor Dodon Assures Russia that the Moldovan Authorities will not make Transnistrian Problems Through Joint Customs Control with Ukraine,” RFERL, July 19, 2017, https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28625964.html
[13] Stratfor Staff, “How Ukraine is Obstructing Russia in Transnistria,” Stratfor, June 12, 2017, RFERL Staff, “Moldova Refuses Russia “the Right to Cross its Airspace and Land Aircraft” at Russian Military Airports in Chisinau and Tiraspol,” RFERL, [Romanian] July 20, 2017, https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28628072.html
[14] Nikita Kondratov, “Duma Member: “Russia Will Protect Transnistria,” First Transnistrian, August 08, 2017, [Russian] https://tv.pgtrk(.)ru/news/20170808/59941
[15] Steven L Hall, “Why the West should Pay More Attention to Moldova,” Stratfor, February 20, 2016, TASS Staff, “Transdniestria Leader Accuses Moldova of Stepping up Cooperation with NATO,” TASS, July 05, 2016, http://tass(.)com/world/886438
[16] Realitatea Staff, “Dmitry Rogozin: US Prepares Saboteurs and Soldiers of the Special Forces of Moldova for a new Transnistrian Conflict,”, August 07, 2017, [Romanian] http://www.realitatea(.)md/dmitri-rogozin--sua-pregateste-sabotori-si-militari-ai-fortelor-speciale-din-r--moldova-pentru-un-nou-conflict-transnistrean_62197.html
[17] Arina Livadari, “What Dodon Found at the Bulboaca Military Polygon,”, August 14, 2017, [Romanian] http://www.moldova(.)org/en/dodon-found-bulboaca-military-polygon/ RFERL Staff, “Despite Russian Allegations, Moldova’s Dodon Finds no Fault with Training Base,” RFERL, August 14, 2017. [Romanian] TASS Staff, “Moldovan President Accuses West of Attempting to Involve Chisinau in Regional Conflict,” TASS, August 14, 2017, http://tass(.)com/world/960270
[18]  RFERL Staff, “PPE and ALDE Call on the EU to Stop Moldova’s Funding and Assess the “Decline of the Rule of Law and Democratic Standards,” RFERL, July 26, 2017, [Romanian] https://www.europalibera(.)org/a/28639018.html; RFERL Staff, “The Parliamentary Majority in Chisinau Voted Unexpectedly in Favor of the Transition to the Mixed Electoral System at Final Reading,” RFERL, July 20, 2017, [Romanian] Diana Preasca, “Altercations Wednesday Evening in front of the Parliament in Chisinau. Two People Detained,” [Romanian] http://www.moldova(.)org/altercatii-miercuri-seara-in-fata-parlamentului-de-la-chisinau-doua-persoane-retinute-video/ RFERL Staff, “Appeals from the Opposition from Moldova to Protest Against the Vote in the Parliament on the Modification of the Electoral System,” RFERL, July 19, 2017. [Romanian] http://www.moldova(.)org/igor-dodon-a-promulgat-legea-privind-reforma-guvernului-voi-insista-ca-si-numarul-deputatilor-sa-fie-redus/