Staunton, July 31 – The Kremlin is working hard to expand its leverage against Moldova by expanding its ties with that country’s Gagauz minority, offering the 200,000-strong southern region “the opportunity for integration with the Russian Federation” directly thus “bypassing Chisinau” and further weakening Moldovan statehood.
That is the judgment of Svetlana Gamova, a “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalist who specializes on Russia’s relationship with the countries of the former Soviet space, on the basis of her examination of recent developments in Moscow’s ties with Chisinau, on the one hand, and with Komrat, on the other (ng.ru/cis/2016-07-28/1_gagauzy.html).
Last week, she reports, there was a two-day meeting in Moscow between Russian and Moldovan officials to discuss the lifting of the Russian blockade on Moldovan agricultural products that has been in place since March 2014 in exchange for Chisinau’s ending its blockade of Russian supplies to the breakaway Transdniestr region.
But as Gamova points out, there was “a bonus” from these talks in that Irina Vlakh, the recently elected pro-Moscow head of Gagauzia, took part and reached agreement with Moscow on allowing 43 firms from that region to again send their products to Russian markets. No such opening was offered to other Moldovan firms.
This is a striking development because talks between Moldova and Russia have bogged down over Moscow’s demand that Chisinau denounce part of its association agreement with the European Union, something the Moldovan government does not want to do, preferring instead to develop relations with both Brussels and Moscow.
Moscow’s use of the agricultural weapon against Chisinau both regarding Moldova as a whole and its special approach to the Gagauz reflects the underlying reality that until 2014, Moldovan farmers sent 93 percent of the apples they produced to Russia and 80 percent of the plums.
Only by regaining that market, Gamova suggests, can the Moldovan economy hope to survive. But by discriminating in favor of the Gagauz at the expense of Chisinau, the Russian government is simultaneously putting pressure on Moldova to cave and giving Moldova and its supporters in Europe and the West new reason for concern.
For two decades, the Russian government has sought to use the Gagauz as part of its Transdniestr strategy of weakening Moldova and blocking its moves toward European integration. Last week’s meetings in Moscow strongly suggest that the Kremlin is stepping up this pressure by making ever greater use of Komrat against Chisinau.