Thursday, September 17, 2015

Moldova – An Object Lesson of How Russia is Losing Influence across Former Soviet Space

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 17 – Russia is making the same mistake with the former Soviet republics that the West is making with Russia, according to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.” Like the West, Russia is angry at some governments but is taking steps that harm the population, costing it the trust of the population and its “zone of traditional influence.”

            In a lead article yesterday, the paper says that this is happening apparently without the Russian authorities noticing it, although the powers that be should be able to see how this is happening in the case of Moldova, hitherto a country positively disposed to Russia and Russians (

            “There was a time,” the editors say, and not so long ago, “when Moldovans trusted Russian more than they did ‘fraternal Romania’ and the European Union.”  Five years ago, for example, polls found that “more than half of the population considered the Russian Federation as [their country’s] chief strategic partner,” far more than named the EU or Romania.

            Moldovans’ trust in Vladimir Putin at that time was truly striking: At a time when his rating in Russia itself only slightly exceeded 40 percent, in Moldova, two-thirds of those surveyed “considered him the best politician in the world,” the paper’s editors continue.

            This view of the Russian president “had not changed even by the summer of 2014” when Chisinau had already signed an EU association agreement and Moscow in response prohibited the importation of Moldovan agricultural products into Russia.  The Moldovans expected the EU to buy up their surplus, but that didn’t happened.

            Russia could have but didn’t.  Such a step would have been good for Russians given the high quality of Moldovan agricultural products, and it would have been good for Moscow given the sympathy such purchases would have generated among the Moldovan population.  But instead, the Russian authorities made a situation already bad for them worse.

            The Russian government agreed to import foodstuffs from Gagauzia and Transdnestria, areas whose leaders are traditionally pro-Moscow, but not to do so with regard to food produced elsewhere in Moldova, whose population up to that point had been remarkably positive in its assessment of Russians and Putin as well.

            Such selectivity may make sense to Russian agricultural officials, but it doesn’t more broadly given Russia’s own needs and the state of Russian influence in Moldova, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says.  “Moldova,” it points out, “is the only country in the CIS besides Belarus where the majority of the population despite everything continues to trust Russia and its president.”

            One could say something similar about the Georgians and their relations with Russia and Russians, the paper continues.  “Even in the most complicated times when it appeared that nothing linked us together any more, ordinary Georgians, while cursing the Russian government always related with warms to ordinary ‘simple Russians.’” 

            That was true, the paper says, “during the rose revolution and later when Sukhumi became Sukhum and Tskhinvali Tskhinval.” But it isn’t true any longer: “Today Georgians are uprooting their centuries-old vineyards because ‘Russians are refusing to buy our wine.’ But we, ‘simple Russians,’ haven’t refused.”

            Moscow’s focus exclusively on governments rather than populations is costing it far more than it appears to know and quite possibly creating situations where however successful the Kremlin is in bringing this or that government to heel for the time being, it is ensuring that in the future the populations of these countries and hence their regimes won’t be positive about Russia.    

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