Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Was Gagauz Referendum a Trial Run of Moscow’s Plans for Ukraine?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 4 – The Sunday referendum in Gagauzia which showed that residents of that Turkic but Orthodox Christian region in Moldova are overwhelmingly opposed to being part of the European Union and want to be part of the Moscow-led Eurasian one instead was directed in the first instance at Chisinau but also at Kyiv, according to one commentator.

            Despite Chisinau’s objections, officials in the Gagauz districts of southeastern Moldova organized a referendum in which they said 70.42 percent of the population took part. The referendum was monitored by 275 local activists as well as observers from Poland, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

            According to preliminary results, 94.49 percent voted for the integration of Gagauzia into the Customs Union which currently consists of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Just over one percent voted against that idea.  At the same time, 67.3 percent voted against integration with Europe, while 2.69 percent voted for. And 68 percent voted for Gagauz independence, while 1.75 percent voted against (regnum.ru/news/1762092.html).

            Commenting on these result, Semyon Uralov, editor in chief of “Odnako.Evraziya,” said that the Gagauz referendum is “the best illustration of what could happen with Ukraine if the central authorities do not turn away from the dead end ... of European integration,” because the course of political development in Ukraine and Moldova has followed the same trajectory.

            The results in Gagauzia were “completely predictable,” Uralov said, and they would be repeated if similar referenda were held in parts of Ukraine.

            With regard to Gagauzia, the commentator continued, “there is no better agitation for the Customs Union and Eurasian integration than Romanianization, nationalism and European integration via the ‘Eastern Partnership’ scheme.” 

            “The small Gagauz people” who number approximately 200,000 “feel uncomfortable in the national republic of Moldava where they are assigned the role of ‘fifth column,’ ‘incorrect Moldovans,’ and ‘separatists.’” Given Chisinau’s increasing links with Romania, “the choice of the Gagauz” in this referendum “is completely understandable and logical.”

            But more significant than its implications for Moldova, Uralov continued, is the value of the Gagauz referendum as “a precedent for Ukrainian regions which are dissatisfied with the policy of Kyiv” given that there are regions in Ukraine “analogous to Gagauzia,” including “in the first instance Crimea and so-called Novorossiya centered on Odessa.”

             If Western Ukraine supports the Maidan and the eastern portions of that country are “still somehow represented among the authorities in the form of financial-industrial groups and regional elites in the framework of the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party,” Uralov says, “the southern regions are completely deprived of rights of self-administration and identity.”

            Odessa, Mykolayev and Cherson have not had their own mayors for a long time, Uralov continues, and the governors in such places are “more loyal to the ‘Donetsk’ people” than to the regions to which they have been assigned.  And in Crimea, all power belongs to the “Donetsk” crowd.

            But, according to Uralov, “any action always gives birth to a reaction.”  And that is what one can see in Gagauzia and may soon see in Ukraine as well.

            Two aspects of Uralov’s argument are worth noting. One is his suggestion that those in Moscow who hope to break Kyiv may now be thinking about using the same strategy there they have been employing in Moldova. And the other is his implicit acknowledgement that many Russian regions in Ukraine are not on Moscow’s side.

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