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Moldova

Moldova

 Relationship with Russia


The independent Moldova inherited from the Soviet Union faces several serious challenges rooted in the cultural and ethnic makeup of its population. The USSR tried to undermine the ethnic identity of Moldovans by promoting the super-ethnos of the Soviet nation, built on Russian language and culture to educate a new kind of people.[1] The very idea of independence was questioned not only by large segments of Moldova’s minority and titular ethnic groups, which supported the preservation of the Soviet Union, but also by a substantial portion of the titular group’s political and cultural elite, which saw unification with Romania as the ultimate goal of Moldova’s political transformation.[2]

Moldova circumstances are further complicated by its geographic location and its strong connections to the committed EU and NATO member Romania, and due to its historical ties with Russia and the presence of a Russian minority. Romania works to further its European integration, whereas Russia does everything to incorporate it into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Moldova has an Agreement of Association with the European Union (EU), and since May 2018 has an Observer status in the EEU. The existence of the self-proclaimed Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) of Transnistria—which is a separatist entity over which Moldova technically has no control—is the most prominent and most direct threat for potential Russian coercion. [3]

Political acknowledgement


First and foremost, the “hard” threat posed by Russia is acknowledged on governmental level. According to the national Security Strategy approved by the Moldovan Supreme Security Council, political separatism and the illegal presence of foreign military troops pose the biggest security threats, which obviously points to Russia. The frozen Transnistrian conflict and loss of control over the eastern regions are a continuous threat to independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and national security. The fundamental rights and freedoms of the population from the left Nistru bank are systematically violated by the separatist regime’s structures. Furthermore, constitutional Moldovan authorities lack control over the Transnistrian segment of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. Smuggling goods is common on this part of the border, seriously harming the country’s economic security and fuels cross-border organized crime and the illegal traffic of ammunition, drugs, and humans.

Vladimir Plahatniuc is one of the most influential men in Moldova. As Chairman of the Democratic Party (which leads the current ruling parliamentary coalition) and a wealthy businessman, he maintains extensive connections within Moldova’s government institutions, as well as to its media, business, financial industries.[4] Plahatniuc had been widely known as the Communists’ chief financial benefactor. Plahatniuc consistently ranks highest on polls gauging how corrupt Moldovans view certain politicians. Plahatniuc actively supports continuing Moldova’s EU integration and vehemently opposes the prospect of any further integration with Russia. However, his pro-EU declarations should be taken with caution, and be viewed as a rhetorical device , since significant quantities of the content on TV channels owned by him are directly Russia-made programs. In January 2017, Plahatniuc addressed a message to United States president-elect Donald Trump asserting that “Moldova is willing to become a bridge between East and West, not a battleground for the world powers.”[5]

On the other hand, the President from the Party of Socialists of the Moldovan Republic  (PSRM), Igor Dodon, is openly pro-Russian. He personally admires Putin, claiming “Moldova needs a patriot like Putin” and is forcing tighter cooperation with Russia. During the 2016 election campaign and in the first year of his presidency, he called for establishing closer ties with Russia and for revoking Moldova's association agreement with the European Union. [6] He also declared that focusing on the West was a big mistake.[7] This pro-Russianness is not only occurring on the level of rhetoric, but was also manifested in a formal cooperation with Dmitry Medvedev’s United Russia Party. “Our party has a lot in common with the United Russia Party. First of all, we have a common approach to processes of integration in the post-Soviet space. PSRM constantly supports the joining of the Republic of Moldova to the Eurasian Economic Union and the systematical development of this international organization. We support the initiative of the President of the Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon, to obtain the status of observer in the Eurasian Economic Union,” declared Zinaida Greceanîi, President of the PSRM.[8]

Intelligence services


The Republic of Moldova faces many challenges, including the informational infrastructure’s slow development, low competitiveness in the IT sector, low quality of information processing, and unsatisfactory use of information of national interest, and a lack of the  capability react quickly against misleading and biased information. Internal vulnerabilities also include the connectivity between national and former Soviet Union informational systems, and the continued inconstancies in the protection of classified information.

Moldova has a Security and Intelligence Service (SIS), but they are primarily concerned with terrorism in general. The main event in the realm of security at the regional level was the proliferation of terrorist activity on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. In this context, the SIS has uncovered a transit network of elements related to international terrorism. The SIS has thwarted the attempt of a group of natives from the Russian Federation and Tajikistan to travel through the country with Syria as their potential final destination.[9] As for counterintelligence and military counterintelligence, the SIS’s official website is reticent. Russia is not named or highlighted as a source of potential threats.[10]

Governmental efforts


Measures against fake news were taken by a ban on rebroadcasted content on TV. The ban, legislated via amendments to the country’s broadcasting code, applies to all foreign news and analytical programming produced outside the EU, the United States, Canada or other signatory countries of the European Convention on Transfrontier Television. Broadcasters that violate the law will face an initial of fine of 40,000-70,000 lei (£1,700-£2,950) and subsequent fines of 70,000-100,000 lei (£2,950-£4,200). The Democrats’ intention to ban Russian news broadcasts became public knowledge in the summer of last year. Announcing the plans, Vladimir Plahatniuc—leader of Moldova’s Democratic Party, oligarch, and media magnate—asserted that “Moldova is vulnerable to media manipulation campaigns waged from without. The content [of Russian news broadcasts] is very frequently defamatory towards our country and our development partners from the USA and the EU.”[11]

President Igor Dodon, who is in favour of rapprochement with Russia, flatly refused to sign the bill, saying that it “dovetails with a general global narrative directed against Russia.” However, Dodon’s refusal to sign the bill did not prevent Moldova’s parliament from re-passing it.[12] After Dodon repeatedly declined to sign the bill, the Democrats appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Court ruled that Dodon be suspended from office, and the bill was signed by parliament speaker Andrian Candu instead.

However, many suspect that Plahatniuc only poses as a defender against Russian fake news. If he truly was concerned, he could have stopped rebroadcasting it on his own channels long ago. Since the bill contains an obligation for TV channels to air eight hours of domestically produced content—which will be much more costly than rebroadcasting Russian programs—the smaller players in the media market will face tremendous difficulties. In an interesting coincidence, Plahatniuc recently finished building his Media City Chișinău production studio for his TV channels. [13]

Dodon was even suspended after he vetoed the bill, saying it was "censorship based on double standards" and "an encroachment on Moldovan citizens' freedom of information."[14]  One major concern about the legislative ban on Russian-based broadcasting is its potential for setting a dangerous precedent.  Namely, it stands to reason that if the validity of the current law is accepted, there is nothing stopping a pro-Russian Parliament from enacting legislation to effectively ban other foreign media outlets from western Europe or the United States.[15]  In addition, the new law may strain relations between Moldova and the EU, which EU Ambassador to Moldova Peter Michalko has denounced as an inadmissible restriction on free access to information.[16] 

NGOs


The Moldovan government has weakened the NGO sector, which could lead to tremendous security threats. Much like Moldova’s Communist Party did during the 2000s, the country’s current ruling establishment, first and foremost the Democratic Party, coopts the church, divides trade unions, and delegitimises prominent civil society leaders by labeling them as agents of the opposition. Things took a turn for the worse in June, when the Ministry of Justice proposed adding several controversial provisions to a draft law on non-commercial organizations.[17] These proposed amendments contain stronger regulations that would restrict the right to freedom of association and the independence of NGOs. The government would force NGOs that receive foreign funding and participate in what is hazily defined as “political activities” to publish quarterly and annual financial reports.[18] They’d also have to disclose the origin and use of their funding, report specifically on expenses towards their “political activities,” and disclose the income of their staff and board members. The parallels with Russia’s controversial 2012 law “on foreign agents”[19] are uncanny.

As about ninety percent of NGOs receive some sort of foreign assistance[20] and most engage in advocacy in one field or another, this undue burden, coupled with severe penalties for non-compliance, creates a straightjacket limiting NGO independence. Ironically, in addition to fines and potential shutdowns, NGOs also risk being excluded from the public funding mechanism that allows taxpayers to donate two percent of their taxes to NGOs—a measure intended to reduce reliance on foreign funding, and regarded as a major achievement[21] by domestic stakeholders and international partners alike.[22]

Civil society organizations enjoined a period of prosperity when they worked closely with the government on social development, but this ended after a huge fraud causing massive riots and leaving a bitter taste in citizens’ mouths in 2014.[23]



[1] Igor Munteanu, 2018 CIVIL SOCIETY IN MOLDOVA. PROJECTIONS FOR 2017

[2] http://www.policy.hu/protsyk/Publications/NationalisminMoldova.pdf 
[3] Viorel Cibutaru, Arcadie Barbarosie National Security and Defene of the Republic of Moldova,Institute for Public Policy, Editura Arc, 2002

 [4] http://geohistory.today/moldovan-politics-vladimir-Plahatniuc/ 
[5] http://neweasterneurope.eu/2017/06/01/moldova-s-odd-couple-Plahatniuc-and-dodon/ 
[6] http://www.dw.com/en/president-igor-dodon-moldova-needs-a-patriot-like-putin/a-42745175 
[7] http://www.dw.com/en/moldovan-president-slams-eu-for-enabling-graft/a-38299976 
[8] http://www.moldova.org/en/moldova-socialists-sign-cooperation-agreement-united-russia-party/ 
[9] http://www.sis.md/en/sis-combating-terrorism-overriding-global-problem 
[10] http://www.sis.md/en/counterintelligence 
[11] https://www.stopfake.org/en/why-moldova-s-battle-against-russian-propaganda-isn-t-what-it-seems/ 
[12] http://www.euronews.com/2018/03/27/despite-ban-on-russian-propaganda-moldovans-find-ways-to-get-news-from-moscow 
[13] https://www.stopfake.org/en/why-moldova-s-battle-against-russian-propaganda-isn-t-what-it-seems/ 
[14] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42583628 
[15] https://www.msuilr.org/msuilr-legalforum-blogs/2018/5/15/1yho0mtqk7x0zh45w5o9q9vw07pewr 
[16] Moldovan Parliament Speaker Passes Law Against Russian Propaganda, RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty (Jan.11, 2018); see also Madalin Necsutu, Moldova Introduces Fines for ‘Russian Propaganda’, BalkanInsight (Feb. 13, 2018).
[17] http://justice.gov.md/public/files/transparenta_in_procesul_decizional/coordonare/2017/iulie/11/2017_07_11_proiect_lege_ONG_final.pdf  
[18] eu-russia-sf.org/fileadmin/Policy_Papers/Others/Policy_brief_Four_final4.6.13.pdf 
[19] https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/daria-skibo/five-years-of-russia-s-foreign-agent-law 
[20] https://freedomhouse.org/blog/draft-law-ngos-could-imperil-moldovan-democracy 
[21] http://www.fhi360.md/index.php/en/newsroom/news-archive/518-2-percent-law-passed-in-moldova-will-strengthen-civil-society-sustainability.html 
[22] https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mihai-popsoi/moldova-s-civil-society-braces-for-another-attack; Igor Munteanu ,CIVIL SOCIETY IN MOLDOVA. PROJECTIONS FOR 2017
[23] https://www.reuters.com/article/moldova-banking-platon-idUSL8N1HS3T0 

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