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Moldova on the alert

Vitalie Călugăreanu, Robert Schwartz / reMay 7, 2014

The Moldovan security forces at the Ukrainian-Moldovan border are on the alert due to the escalation of the Ukraine crisis and possible provocations.

Cars are driving in front of a large Hotel (Foto: Yulia Semenowa/DW)
Image: DW /Y. Semenowa

Pro-European Moldovans felt slightly relieved when visa-free travel came into effect at the end of April 2014. Many considered it an historical event and a clear signal from the West that it takes seriously Moldovan efforts to integrate into Europe. That enjoyment was cut short as the threat civil war came even closer to the borders of the Republic of Moldova.

Unrest in Odessa, the Ukrainian port city at the Black Sea just 120 kilometers (75 miles) away from the Moldovan capital Chisinau, has raised concerns among members of the Western-orientated government.

On Monday (05.05.2014) President Nicoleae Timofti convened an extraordinary meeting with Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, parliamentary speaker Igor Corman and leading representatives of the military and security forces. After the meeting, Moldova's army was put on alert, and the Russian ambassador to Moldova was summoned to the country's foreign ministry.

A Young woman holds her assport in front of a "no visa" poster (Foto: Simion Ciochină/DW)
Pro-European Moldavians felt relieved when visa-free travel came into effect at the end of AprilImage: Simion Ciochină

Russian propaganda

The background for the alert was not only the recent developments in Ukraine. Domestic celebrations on May 9 are expected to add to societal tensions.

On that day, parts of Moldova will celebrate the EU's annual Europe Day; other Moldovan citizens will instead be celebrating the victory over fascism on Victory Day, which in former Soviet territories is celebrated on May 9. The latter, made up primarily of pro-Russian oppositional communists and socialists, have announced that they will parade through Grand National Assembly Square on May 9 to celebrate the victory over Nazi-Germany in World War II. Typically, the pro-European parties celebrate Europe Day on the same square.

"There could be serious unrest," said Anatol Taranu, former Moldovan ambassador to Russia. "We have to explain to our citizens that we are a victim of Russian propaganda," he told DW.

For days, the Moldovan public has been inundated with propaganda which appears to be further inflaming national-linguistic sentiment. Russian opinion makers, retired KGB officers and even representatives of the separatists of the Republic of Transnistria - the latter blacklisted by the EU - have been appearing on pro-Russian television channels.

During those broadcasts, they speak openly about a looming war in the Republic of Moldova if the country resists federalization.

Signaling calm

By putting the army on alert, pro-European leaders of Moldova hope to signal that they are ready and able to react to any possible provocations within the country. Summoning Russia's ambassador to Moldova, Farit Mukhametshin, to the foreign ministry is an extension of that policy. There he was asked to explain the background of the upcoming visit of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to the Transnistrian Capital Tiraspol on May 9.

A Young Boy stands next to a memorial showing a tank (Foto: Alexandra Scherle /DW)
The Moldovan government is expecting provocations from the separatist Republic of TransnistriaImage: DW/A. Scherle

Rogozin, the former Russian ambassador to NATO and a close confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced the visit through social networks. He wants to congratulate the people who want to celebrate May 9 as Victory Day, he writes, and who are confused by Europe Day.

Rogozin admitted in one of his books that in 1992 he had fought against the army of the Republic of Moldova on the side of the renegade region of Transnistria. The separatist Republic of Transnistria, which is internationally unrecognized, still belongs to the Republic of Moldova under international law. Moscow openly supports Transnistria.

More than 2,000 Russian troops have remained in the region since it split off. After the beginning of the Ukraine crisis and the Russian annexation of Crimea, Transnistria applied for accession to the Russian Federation.

A concrete gate with a large Gaugasia lettering (Foto: Simion Chiochina/DW)
The Gagauz voted against an association agreement with the EUImage: DW/Simion Chiochina

First Transnistria, then Gagausia?

According to Moldovan political expert Oazu Nantoi, Moscow has no real interest at the moment in utilizing war measures to integrate Transinstria into the Russian Federation. The Republic of Moldova, in any case, remains in Russia's sphere of influence due to Transnistria.

Nantoi sees the risk much more in the separatist efforts of another autonomous region of Moldova under the influence of Moscow: Gagausia. Some 155,000 people live there, and most of them are members of the Christian Turkic people of the Gagauz.

At the beginning of 2014, nearly 99 percent of the Gagauz voted in a referendum against an association agreement with the EU and for a customs union with Russia.

"We have to prepare ourselves for separatist provocations in the south of the Republic of Moldova - in the autonomous region of Gagausia," said Nantoi.

The political expert is convinced that parliamentarian elections in November 2014 will be a crucial test for democracy in the country. Moscow will try with all its strength to bring pro-Russian parties into power in Moldova's capital, Chisinau. And then, with their help, it will implement a federalization of the three republics - Moldova, Transnistria and Gagausia, thereby preventing any chances for an EU accession for the Republic of Moldova.

Decisive elections

Moldova's parliamentary speaker and former ambassador to Germany (2004-2009) Igor Coman seems to have recognized the same danger.

He recently said that, in 2014, Moldova needs reconciliation and political stability more than ever. In the current difficult geopolitical context - and ahead of the parliamentarian elections - the signing of the association agreement with the EU is essential.

"We have to sign and ratify this agreement. It's important that the pro-European parties win the upcoming elections, so that the agreement can be implemented, and the Republic of Moldova will obtain EU candidate status," Coman said.

The association agreement with the EU is expected to be signed at the end of June.