Tensions Are Growing in Moldovan-Russian Relations. Here’s Why
2 October, 2019

Moldova’s new governing coalition came to power in June, representing an unprecedented level of cooperation between the country’s pro-European Union and pro-Russian political forces in an effort to free the state from oligarchic capture. But ever since, speculation has revolved around how long this marriage of convenience will last – and which international force will prove more influential. 

The division between the coalition’s constituent parties is best represented by comparing the Head of Government and the Head of State. The country’s Prime Minister Maia Sandu (of the pro-E.U. ACUM Bloc) has been making visits to Brussels, Bucharest and Kyiv to shore up relations with Moldova’s European neighbors and has successfully restored the country’s funding from the European Commission, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. 

Although Prime Minister Sandu told the Russian News Agency TASS that she was also planning a visit to Moscow, with the aim of discussing the “entire spectrum of the bilateral agenda” between Moldova and Russia, the date of the trip has yet to be announced. 

Meanwhile, Moldova’s President Igor Dodon (from the pro-Russian Socialist Party) has been making regular trips to Moscow since his inauguration in 2016 – visiting Russia more often than any European Union country. Although Dodon made a visit to Brussels on September 5, 2019, it was only his second trip there in his three years as president. 

READ MORE: Russia or EU: Where do Moldovans See Their Country Headed?

But despite the close ties between the Kremlin and Moldova’s President, there are still a number of controversial issues that Chişinău and Moscow have yet to resolve. Hromadske breaks down the points of contention in Moldovan-Russian relations. 

Negotiations Over Russian Gas

President Dodon made two trips to Moscow during the first week of September,  meeting with a number of officials on September 2, 2019 and then returning to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on September 7. During these trips, Dodon’s number one priority was negotiating gas prices, as Moldova’s current agreement for obtaining Russian gas is up at the end of this year. 

Given its few natural energy resources, Moldova relies heavily on Russian gas and transit. And although a new contract between Moldovagaz and Russia’s Gazprom is set to begin in 2020, Moldova has also been seeking to diversify its energy resources. Most recently, this has involved a new partnership with Ukraine’s state gas company Ukrtransgaz, to transport an additional 1.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Romania. 

In addition to replacing Russian gas for Ukraine after the country’s current supply contract with Russia expires at the end of 2019, the agreement also allows Moldova to create its own gas reserves in Ukrainian underground gas storage units. 

After meeting with Putin, President Dodon announced in a briefing on September 9, 2019, that Moldova would pay 10 to 15 dollars less for Russian gas as of October 1 – a reduction from the current price of 235 dollars per thousand cubic meters. According to Dodon, the price is set to go down in January 2020 and then again in April of next year,  Reuters reported

The Transnistrian Settlement

Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Nicu Popescu, paid a visit to Moscow on September 11, 2019. The official purpose of his visit was to “normalize” Moldova’s relations with Russia – but he also went with the intention of asking for an unconditional and complete withdrawal of Russian troops and ammunition from Moldovan territory. 

Russia has had troops stationed in Moldova’s unrecognized breakaway territory of Transnistria since the five-month Transnistria War was fought in 1992; effectively backing the region’s self-proclaimed government. Although Moldova has previously requested the removal of Russian ammunition from the Transnistrian region, the self-proclaimed authorities in Tiraspol have effectively blocked previous attempts at withdrawal. 

In Moscow, Popescu gave a press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, during which Lavrov insisted that preparing for the removal of Russian ammunition from the warehouses in Cobasna (a Tiraspol-controlled commune made up of three villages in the northern Transnistria region) would take about a year. Meanwhile, Popescu suggested involving the OSCE in the disposal process and expressed hopes that the withdrawal of ammunition would not be obstructed.

As members of the Joint Control Commission, Russia, Moldova and self-proclaimed Transnistrian authorities are meant to operate a joint peacekeeping force in the Transnistrian Security Zone – but have recently been clashing over Moldova’s attempts to unfreeze the border with the Transnistrian region. 

September marked the fourth consecutive month that Russia presented a compromise proposal for examining the new unsanctioned border checks the Tiraspol authorities have installed in the Security Zone. And although the proposal had the support of the representatives of Moldova, Ukraine and the OSCE Mission in Moldova, the Transnistrian delegation rejected it once again.

The future of the Transnistrian settlement was also the main point in President Dodon’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September, 26, 2019, where he called for the de facto recognition and observance of Moldova’s military neutrality status as a means of advancing the settlement process.

Transnistria Unresolved

With Russian troops still occupying a chunk of Moldovan breakaway territory, the unresolved situation in Transnistria has made severe human rights violations an ongoing issue there – bringing consequences for both Moldova and Russia at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). On September 3, 2019, the Court ruled against Moldova and Russia in six cases involving human rights violations in Transnistria, ordering the two countries to pay a total of 130,550 euros (over 143,000 dollars) in damages and fees. 

In the six cases, the ECtHR found violations of multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the prohibition on torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” the right to freedom and security, the right to a fair trial and the right to an effective remedy. The Court also established that Article 2 of Protocol No.4 – the article on freedom of movement – had also been violated. 

On September 17, 2019, the ECtHR issued two more decisions against Moldova and Russia, in the cases of Ghennadi Negruta – who has been detained in the unrecognized Transnistria region for four years – and Oleg Filin, who has been in prison there for six years. The Court accused Moldovan constitutional law institutions of collaboration with representatives of the self-proclaimed Transnistrian region, who have no right to examine cases and apply criminal penalties. 

Moldova and Russia were found guilty of violating the right not to be subjected to torture and inhumane treatment, as well as the right to liberty and security. The ECtHR ordered the two countries to collectively pay 15,000 euros (over 16,000 dollars) in the Negruta case and 20,000 euros (nearly 22,000 dollars) in the Filin case, both for moral damages. 

Family Business

Business relations between Moldova and Russia have also been drawing attention recently, as President Dodon’s younger brother has been deepening his ties to Russian businessman Igor Chaika. The relationship is notable not only because of the Moldovan President’s pro-Russian stance, but also because of Chaika’s links to the Kremlin as the son of Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yury Chaika. 

Alexandru Dodon first partnered with Igor Chaika in July 2019 – acquiring 15% of the shares in the Russian construction company Archplay Development and taking over the company’s construction department. According to Balkan Insight, Chaika founded Archplay Development in 2017 and currently holds 45% of its shares. At the moment, the company is reportedly planning a large-scale luxury development in Moscow and the Moscow region. 

Since then, Chaika and Dodon have embarked on another business venture; its timing coinciding with President Dodon’s official visit to Russia on September 2, 2019.

According to Russian media group RBC, Alexandru Dodon became a co-owner of the Russian industrial waste management company Promyshlenny Ekologichesky Operator (Industrial Ecological Operator – PEO), after acquiring 10% of its shares. Chaika owns 40% of the company’s shares along with another partner, who holds the remaining 50%. 

The company, which is planning to work in Russia’s Central Federal District, was founded on August 30 – just two days before the Moldovan President’s visit to Moscow. 

The connection between Chaika and Dodon can also be traced back further, to the end of the February 2019 parliamentary campaign in Moldova. At that time, Igor Chaika (acting as co-president of the public organization Business Russia or Delovaya Rossiya) was credited with successfully negotiated the release of two Moldovan pilots, who the Taliban had been holding captive in Afghanistan since the beginning of November 2015.

Meanwhile, during the election campaign, Igor Dodon suggested that the two hostages were released thanks to his involvement. 

The company Business Russia has a number of current and planned enterprises across Russia and Eastern Europe, including in Moldova. Chaika has also visited Chișinău and Comrat on several occasions, to plan businesses in Moldova’s Autonomous Territorial Unit of Găgăuzia, as well as in the Transnistria region, where he is planning a number of important Russian investments. 

READ MORE: Moldovan-Russian Relations During Putin’s Two Decades in Power

/Adapted by Eilish Hart using materials by Hromadske’s partner, Ziarul de Gardă. Courtesy of the Russian Language News Exchange.