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Moldova's Gagauzia cold on EU

Robert Schwartz / ngMarch 23, 2015

The new governor of the autonomous region of Gagauzia, Irina Vlah, is pro-Russian. Her election is a setback for the Republic of Moldova's prospects in Europe, says DW's Robert Schwartz.

Moldawien Wahlen in der Autonomen Region Gagausien
Image: DW/C. Grigorita

The vast majority of people in Gagauzia are pro-Russian - that much was clear before the election. It wasn't a surprise either that Irina Vlah, supported by the Kremlin and the pro-Russian Moldovan Socialists, would win the first round of the election so decisively.

Her first statement, though, was a bit more of a surprise: "We want better relations with the central government in Chisinau." The second part even sounded conciliatory. "We see our future in the Republic of Moldova." So, no more talk about separatist ambitions in the autonomous region of Gagauzia?

Not so fast. In her manifesto, the pragmatic politician comes out in favor of the federalization of Moldova. And in an exclusive interview with DW, Vlah accused the central Moldovan government of ignoring the problems in Gagauzia.

She also said that the EU had shown no sympathy and that the region could only rely on Moscow. But she says she is ready to offer Chisinau stability in exchange for more rights and, more importantly, more money for her region.

Playing with fire

Her proposal sounds more like blackmail than genuine political dialogue. The new governor is playing with fire. There are hot spots all around this small region of 160,000 people. The war in Ukraine, the frozen conflict in the separatist Republic of Transnistria, and the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have set precedents, have shown very clearly that Russia intends to further strengthen its position of power north and east of the Black Sea.

Deutsche Welle Rumänisch Robert Schwartz
Robert Schwartz heads DW's Romanian serviceImage: DW

Vlah's success in the election means that Moldova's prospects in Europe have become even more distant. The minority government in Chisinau, which relieson the support of the anti-European Communist party, is in a weak position anyway.

Because of the rather murky way the government was formed, some of the trust that has been painstakingly built up over the years, has been shattered. It is also highly doubtful whether Chisinau will have the gumption and the authority to pursue a reform course now.

EU needs new answers

Against this backdrop, the new governor of Gagauzia holds all the trump cards - 98 percent of people in the region favor a customs union with the Russian Federation.

Moscow still imports wine and produce from Gagauzia, despite an embargo in place against Moldova because of its association agreement with the EU. Vlah is unlikely to get more money from the central government in Chisinau, as Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

So, the new strong woman of Gagauzia will stay on a pro-Russian course.

The EU's much-lauded "eastern partnerships" are getting ever more fragile. The situation in Georgia, the war in Ukraine and, now, the growing instability in Moldova: they all warrant a much more decisive response and viable solutions on the part of the EU. As long as these are lacking, there will be no peace in Eastern Europe.