CIVICUS speaks about recent political changes in Moldova in the context of the global energy crisis with Victoria Nemerenco, coordinator of the Europeanization, Foreign and Security Policy Program at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE). Founded in 2015, IPRE is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit action centre for research and analysis. Its mission is to accelerate Moldova’s European integration by promoting systemic reforms, increasing participatory democracy and strengthening the role of citizens in decision-making processes at the national and local levels.
What have been the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Moldovan politics?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had limited repercussions on Moldova’s political stability. The invasion marked the beginning of a series of challenges for the Moldovan government. Prior to the war, Moldova was buying around one-third of its electricity from Ukraine, with the rest coming from the Cuciurgan power plant in the Transnistria region, an unrecognised breakaway state. With the suspension of Ukraine’s supply of electricity and the decrease in the Russian gas supply, Moldova has been forced to look for alternatives.
Moldova has been a target of the hybrid warfare launched by Russia and energy has been one of the tools used to put pressure on people and the government. However, the energy crisis also led to overwhelming support from international partners, and especially from Romania and other European Union (EU) member states. International allies provided direct budgetary support to compensate for the increase in prices, along with alternative electricity supplies by connecting Moldova to the European grid. This has increased Moldova’s resilience.
If last year a Russian attack on Moldova was a remote possibility, this year things have taken a new turn. The statement by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy about Russia’s plan to establish full control over Moldova was not all that surprising given the repeated references made by the Russian Foreign Minister to the ‘Ukrainian scenario’ being replicated in Moldova. Lately, Russian authorities have also made claims about an alleged Ukrainian attack on the Transnistria region. The Moldovan authorities are doing all they can to prevent an escalation of the situation, even if Russia is trying to exploit Moldova’s vulnerabilities to its advantage.
The hybrid war aimed at Moldova has justified the extension of the state of emergency and the need to restrict certain freedoms, especially media freedoms, as disinformation is being used as a destabilisation tool.
The energy crisis has increased people’s dissatisfaction with the government, but rather than a reflection of such dissatisfaction, the recent wave of organised protests was part of an attempt to replace the pro-European government with a pro-Kremlin puppet regime. Two parties with clear connections with Russia, the Socialists and the Şor Party – which has even been included on the US sanctions list – are attempting to sabotage governance through paid protests. Images of the protests and exaggerated numbers of protesters collectively brought to Chişinău are being widely used by the Russia-affiliated media to convey the idea of broad dissatisfaction and negatively influence people’s perception of the pro-European government.
What were the reasons for the recent resignation of the prime minister?
Natalia Gavrilița was appointed as a prime minister in August 2021, following the July parliamentary election in which Party of Action and Solidarity, a liberal pro-European party that was founded amid the mass anti-corruption protests of 2015-2016, obtained the majority of seats for the first time.
Gavrilița faced one of the most difficult mandates since independence, marked by multiple crises: the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the resulting humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of refugees, the security crisis and energy blackmail aggravated by unprecedented inflation.
The fact that pro-reform forces were in power helped advance the dialogue with European partners and facilitated Moldova’s access to vital resources from the EU, which were used for more effective crisis management. At the same time, the government reassessed its objectives, putting state resilience in the foreground.
In the drive to speed up pro-European reforms, the principles of transparency and inclusiveness were overlooked and there were serious deficiencies in terms of strategic communication. This was heavily criticised by both the opposition and international institutions. In February 2023, Gavrilița resigned and was replaced by Dorin Recean, who served as Minister of Interior Affairs from 2012 to 2015 and as Secretary of the Supreme Security Council. The change of government was a planned action. The replacement of Gavrilița with Recean was intended to speed up the reform of the security and defence sector, which is Recean’s area of expertise.
What have been the implications of the change of government?
Recean’s government programme emphasises state security and stronger institutions.
Progress on this dimension will have implications for many other key areas, including European integration. Justice and anti-corruption are the areas in which international partners have the highest expectations, as reflected in the fact that six of the nine recommendations of the European Commission (EC) for Moldova are about this.
One of the recommendations of the EC concerned the cooperation of state institutions with civil society. Thus, before being invested, Recean organised a consultative meeting to which the members of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) were invited to establish reform priorities for advancing the European integration agenda. Following this discussion, Moldovan civil society elaborated policy recommendations for the new government in the areas of anti-corruption, democracy, good governance, human rights, justice and the enabling environment for civil society.
Recean also highlighted the role of civil society in developing policies in these areas and stressed the need for more transparency in decision-making process, especially at the parliamentary level. He specifically mentioned the need to change the practice of adopting laws and modifying existing laws without sufficient civil society involvement in this process.
Are Moldovan civil society organisations (CSOs) able to operate in Transnistria and Gagauzia?
In the breakaway Transnistria region, changes in the criminal code have resulted in the criminalisation, including with incarceration, of any attempt to protest or criticise the illegalities committed by the regime. There is no genuine civil society left in the area. The regime has made civil society activity impossible for fear that it could erode its power. There are some CSOs that work on social services provision and the assistance of disadvantaged populations, but those focused on human rights have been relentlessly persecuted. Civil society as a key force for democracy no longer exists in Transnistria.
One of the recommendations made by the national platform of the EaP CSF to the government concerned support to CSOs to defend democratic values in the Transnistrian region and the development of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders both in Transnistria and the rest of Moldova. But the political situation in Transnistria has been particularly tense since the beginning of the war due to its strong pro-Russian tendencies. However, the governments of Moldova and Transnistria have maintained dialogue to keep peace and stability and prevent any escalation.
In Gagauzia, CSOs do not encounter problems in operating.
What further support does Moldovan civil society need from the international community?
Moldovan CSOs play an important role in defending democracy as they implement a great variety of projects and are actively involved in monitoring Moldova’s reform agenda.
The EU has reconfirmed its support by granting Moldova EU candidate status in 2022, further stressing the importance of the country abiding by democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law. Civil society continues to monitor the situation and is in touch with its international partners and donors, communicating the latest developments and the support required.
Civic space in Moldova is rated ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with IPRE through its website or its Facebook page, and follow @IPREMD on Twitter.