Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Spectator: Let us help plucky Moldova

The Spectator, a well-known British weekly, published an editorial about Moldova in its Saturday issue.

The article is called "Let us help plucky Moldova" and urges the European Union to take a more pro-active approach in helping the country develop closer ties to the West.

An excerpt:
"Now that the post-Cold War era has ended it is hard to find small, inspirational states who seek to cement a new-found independence and yearn for what the West has to offer. Georgia looked like such a state until Russian aggression and Tblisi's behaviour put an end to the country's westward journey. Ukraine is too big, and too bolshy to count. Belarus is happy in Moscow's embrace.

But one country still fits the bill - Moldova."

The whole article can be read here.

The Economist: Europe's bear problem: The trouble with the European Union’s attempts to woo Russia

The Economist recently published an article on the European Union and Russia. The article can be read here.

25 percent of Ukrainian vineyards freeze, authorities predict pressure from importers of Moldovan wines

According to UkrInform, about 25 percent of Ukrainian vineyards have been affected by frost this season.

The regions that were most affected included Odessa, Kherson, and Zakarpatia.

Serhyi Petrenko, head of the Association of Winegrowers and Winemakers of Ukraine (AWWU), said that, given the circumstances, Kyiv might witness pressure from importers of Moldovan wines. Moldova was not very affected by frost this season.

Russian paper: "Transnistria has enough weaponry to destroy every Moldovan and Romanian soldier"

Argumenti Nedeli, a sister publication to Argumenti i Facti, one of the most circulated papers in Russia, recently published an article about the Russian weaponry stores in Transnistria and the missile controversy.

The paper describes Tiraspol's recent announcement that it would be willing to host Russian Iskander missiles on its territory as a response to Romania accepting to host elements of the American missile system on its territory. It notes that if Moscow accepts this offer, Romania would be covered entirely by the Iskander.

Argumenti Nedeli goes on to say that the Transnistrian army is much stronger than the Moldovan army, and that it has enough weaponry and equipment to destoy all Moldovan and Romanian soldiers should a conflict emerge in the region.

Yaroslav Vyatkin, the article's author, notes that due to the fact that "almost everyone [in Transnistria] has Russian passports, we will have to defend our citizens if something happens."

Mr. Vyatkin says that this is one of the reasons why Russia has not yet withdrawn its soldiers from the separatist republic.

Chisinau has repeatedly asked Russia to withdraw. The Moldovan Constitution says that the country is neutral and does not allow the presence of foreign troops on its territory.

The article, in the original Russian, is available here.

[The report translated some of the paper directly from Russian]

Gagauz head meets Northern Cyprus Prime Minister

This weekend, Gagauz Baskan (Governor) Mihail Formuzal met with Dervis Eroglu, the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

The two officials spoke about possibilities of improving economic ties. Mr. Formuzal noted that students in the Gagauz region in Moldova are interested in attending universities in Northern Cyprus.

The Gagauz region in Moldova covers a portion of land in the South. It is inhabited mostly by a Christianized Turkic population. Most people there speak Russian, however.

The region has often had tense ties with Chisinau and has engaged in some foreign policy activities separately from the central Government, especially with Russia, Belarus, and Turkey. Leaders in the Gagauz region have also been pro-active in establishing cultural ties with Turkic countries.

The TRNC proclaimed independence in 1983 and is only recognized as a sovereign state by Turkey.

Parliament fails to dismiss Supreme Court of Justice head after Communists walk out in protest

Ion Muruianu, the head of the Supreme Court of Justice, will keep his job for at least a few more days after Parliament failed to dismiss him this weekend.

Mr. Muruanu said a couple of weeks ago that journalists in Moldova were "rabid dogs" because they criticized legal authorities in the country. Moldova has lost numerous cases at the European Court for Human Rights because judges inside the country ruled incorrectly.

During the legislative session, which lasted until about 9 p.m., the ruling Alliance for European Integration asked for Mr. Muruianu's dismissal. The Communists objected and walked out, causing the meeting to be closed because quorum could not be achieved.

The issue was therefore delayed until next week.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Feature on Moldovan who became an American soldier

Medill Reports Chicago recently posted a news story on a Moldovan citizen who became sped up the process to receive an American citizenship by becoming a member of the U.S. military.

The full article can be read here.

State-owned news agencies in Moldova and Romania resume ties

State-owned Moldovan news agency Moldpres and Romanian state-run Agerpress announced today that they are resuming cooperation ties.

The two agencies had cut ties while the Communists were in power, when Moldpres was accused by independent media reports of being pro-Communist.

The heads of the two agencies agreed to exchange information and organize news projects of interest in both Moldova and Romania.

This seems to be yet another step in the resumption of contacts between Chisinau and Bucharest after the two countries had a rocky relationship while the Party of Communists governed Moldova.

Desecretized document shows Communist President mocking gypsies, Roma community unhappy

The Government has continued to release formerly secret documents put together by the Communist Government (2001-2009).

One of the more recent ones reveals deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc asking then-President and current Party of Communists (PC) head Vladimir Voronin for nearly two million lei (200,000 U.S. dollars) to pay artists to sing during the PC's electoral campaign prior to the April 5, 2009 elections.

The letter shows a handwritten note by Mr. Voronin that says "with money, even gypsies sing and dance!?"

This note has displeased the Roma community in Moldova, whose representatives said will report it to authorities.

The Communists registered a very high score in the North of Moldova, where a considerable Roma population lives. It is unclear whether this statement will cause the Communists to lose some popularity among this ethnic group.

According to the most recent national census (2004), about 12,000 Roma live in Moldova.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Desecretized document reveals former Communist Government's plans to "fight against Romanianism" in Moldova

The current Government has initiated a campaign to publish secret policy documents released by the former Communist Government (2001-2009). In the process, media outlets have published documents that indicated, for example, that the Communists had expelled students and dismissed college faculty for participating in the anti-Communist April 2009 protests.

Tomorrow's Timpul publishes another document that shows deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc's frustrations about the fact that a large number of high school teachers refused to teach Government-mandated textbooks that challenged the idea that Moldova is inhabited by Romanians. The deputy premier also complains that about 70 percent of college faculty in Moldova is pro-Romanian.

Mr. Stepaniuc mentions at the end of the document that the Government needs to call a forum of historians and experts with whom to discuss ways of "fighting Romanianism in Moldovan society." By "Romanianism," Mr. Stepaniuc is referring to anything suggesting a commonality between Romania and Moldova - ethnically, linguistically, or historically.

Victor Stepaniuc is a leading proponent of a school of thought called "Moldovenism," which argues that the Republic of Moldova's statehood is 650 years old, that Moldova should have close historical, political, and cultural ties with Russia, and that the ethnicity of the majority population in Moldova is "Moldovan" instead of Romanian. Critics of this school of thought say that Mr. Stepaniuc supports Stalinist notions of ethnicity and a Soviet interpretation of history that praises Russia and criticizes Romania and the West in general.

The Party of Communists (PC) fostered very close ties with the Moldovenists during their rule (2001-2009), although there seems to have been a recent falling out. Mr. Stepaniuc recently left the PC to join the Moldova Unita [United Moldova] Party, a pro-Russian left-wing group that proposes to challenge the PC's supremacy on the left.

Another Moldovenist historian - Sergiu Nazaria - has been a quite vocal critic of the Communists after initially being their ally.

World Politics Review: Moscow Goes Ballistic Again over U.S. Missile Defense

World Politics Review, a respected news and commentary portal, recently posted an editorial about the recent spat over the installation of elements of the U.S. missile defense shield in Romania.

An excerpt:
"Russian officials have let it be known that they are considering all sorts of response options, from resurrecting an earlier threat to deploy Iskander missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad region to deploying defensive or offensive missile systems in Transdnestr, a separatist region in Moldova. Although the latter measure would not present any military problems for NATO, it would help solidify Moscow's influence in yet another breakaway republic in a potential conflict zone. Russian troops have been stationed in Transdnestr since it separated from Moldova in 1992."

The full article can be read here.

Interim President Mihai Ghimpu congratulates Yanukovich on victory

Interim President and Speaker Mihai Ghimpu has congratulated Viktor Yanikovich on winning the Ukrainian presidency. Mr. Ghimpu has expressed his hope that Chisinau and Kyiv will continue to cooperate.

It is still unclear what impact Mr. Yanukovich's victory will have on ties with Chisinau. The victor is perceived by many analysts in Moldova as being more pro-Russian than his predecessor, whereas Chisinau has turned more toward the West since the new Alliance for European Integration came to power.

Moldova signs Copenhagen Accord, pledges to cut emissions by no less than 25 percent from 1990 levels

The Copenhagen Accord to reduce climate change has thus far gotten the support of about 100 signatory countries.

Moldova is one of them. It pledges to cut emissions by no less than 25 percent from levels registered in 1990.

Chisinau is considered to be a small emitter. Russia, India, China, and the United States are among the biggest greenhouse emitters globally.

Interior Minister takes police officers to theater play, says "we're in deep crap"

Interior Minister Victor Catan took police officers to a theater play today. The performance, called Made in Moldova, was written by famous editorialist and screenwriter Constantin Cheianu and directed by Sandu Grecu. It covers issues like corruption and institutional indifference in the country.

Mr. Catan expressed his hope that the play would be a good lesson to police forces in Moldova, who have often been accused of corruption and incompetence, and who have very low positive polling numbers. The Minister quoted a line in the play at one point, saying that "we're in deep crap."

A lot of Moldovans were also shocked by the alleged police abuse and torture of anti-Communist protesters in April.

A Stirea Zilei reporter who was at the play said that few police officers attending found the performance amusing despite the presence of a number of comedic elements in it.

EU temporarily suspends travel ban on Transnistrian leaders in attempt to improve negotiations

The European Union Council of Foreign Ministers decided to temporarily suspend a travel ban on Transnistrian leaders for six months.

The ban has, however, been extended until the end of February 2011.

As a result, separatist leaders can travel to the European Union until September 2010.

The EU made this move to motivate Chisinau and Tiraspol to improve their negotiations for the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict.

The new ruling Alliance for European Integration has also asked the EU to temporarily suspend the travel ban in an attempt to extend an olive branch to the Transnistrians.

Ever since 2003, when the ban was initiated, nearly 20 Transnistrian leaders have been unable to travel to the European Union.

The separatists have complained about these measures as being unfair.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Interim President: Russian newspaper interpreted statement about unification incorrectly

Interim President Mihai Ghimpu released a statement today, in which he tried to clarify statements recently made to Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, which quoted him as saying that Moldova will "never" unify with Romania.

Mr. Ghimpu notes that he told the paper that it is the ruling Alliance for European Integration that will not pursue unification. The Alliance is made up of five parties: the Liberal Democrats, the Liberals, the Democrats, the Moldova Noastra [Our Moldova] Alliance, and the Actiunea Europeana [European Action] Movement.

The Democrats are headed by Communist defector Marian Lupu and are the most centrist member of the coalition. Mr. Ghimpu was probably referring to the fact that the entire Alliance would not be able to agree on unification, especially while the Democrats are in it.

The interim President is most likely trying to do some damage control after his being quoted as saying that Moldova will "never" unify with Romania might have displeased the Liberal electorate (Mr. Ghimpu heads this party), which tends to be adamantly pro-Romanian. Since the Liberals have a few rivals on this part of the political spectrum - most notably Actiunea Europeana and the National Liberal Party - such statements are risky, especially close to early legislative elections.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Former President's son suspected of money laundering, tax evasion

Businessman Oleg Voronin, the son of former President (2001-2009) and current Party of Communists (PC) head Vladimir Voronin, testified today at the Center to Fight Economic Crime and Corruption.

Mr. Voronin was there to explain why he had spent 67 million lei (about six million U.S. dollars) in his personal bank account in 2008-2009 despite the fact that his reported personal income was much lower.

Authorities say that the former President's son is being investigated for money laundering and tax evasion.

Oleg Voronin told the press that the new Government should learn from his father, whom he called a "grand President," instead of interviewing him.

Mr. Voronin became notorious during Communist rule (2001-2009) as a very wealthy businessman. Opposition parties at the time accused the Government of helping Oleg Voronin grow wealthy by pressuring other businesses.

Vladimir Voronin said recently that the investigation of his son's financial dealings is organized by the ruling Alliance for European Integration to incur revenge on him.

The Center to Fight Economic Crime and Corruption, which is investigating Mr. Voronin's case, has denied all accusations.

American ice dancing couple use Moldovan folk for routine

American ice dancing couple Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who have won the American championship five times, used a Moldovan folk routine to perform during the 2010 Winter Olympics tonight. They took fourth after judges' scores came in.

The material seems to be a combination of a number of folk songs, including a Moldovan Dance performed during the Soviet Union by the Moiseyev Dance Ensemble, and Ciocirlia (The Lark), a famous Romanian folk dance commonly used to show skill at playing an instrument because of its complicated structure.

The couple is trained by Russian Olympic ice dancing champions Natalia Linichuk and Ghennadi Karponosov, which could be why it might have picked a Moldovan dance. Folk dancing from Moldova was rather popular in the Soviet Union.

The couple also wore garb resembling the Moldovan national costume.

A version of the dance can be seen here.

Former President and Communist leader tells reporter she looks "fine" in her spring dress despite her TV station spreading "lies"

Former President (2001-2009) and current Party of Communists (PC) head Vladimir Voronin held a short meeting with reporters on Saturday. Upon being asked by ProTV reporter Angela Gonta about his son Oleg allegedly making huge money transactions on his personal bank account, Mr. Voronin chose instead to accuse ProTV of spreading "lies."

The former President then went on to say that "you looked fine yesterday during the news, when you wore a spring dress."

Mr. Voronin has been known to make colorful statements in the past. At one point, he expressed the desire to stick a rat down Chisinay mayor Dorin Chirtoaca's pants, and has insulted Communist defectors like Marian Lupu by saying that his height might have prevented his development as a person. He also recently said that he picked a "very handsome man" as his successor to head the PC.

(VIDEO) Council of Foreign Relation hosts meeting on Russia and its neighbors, Moldova mentioned

The Council of Foreign Relations, a famous American foreign policy think tank, recently hosted a meeting entitled 'Russia, Its Neighbors, and the Future of Post-Cold War Europe.'

Moldova is brought up in some of the discussions.

The Council offers a full video report on its website.

The Economist: America’s reconfigured anti-missile shield still irks Russia

The Economist recently posted a news story about elements of the new American missile shield being hosted in Romania. Moldova is mentioned in the article, as well. It can be read here.

President: Moldova will "never" unite with Romania

Moldovan interim President and Speaker Mihai Ghimpu told reporters last week that the country will never unite with Moldova.

"The fact that we speak Romanian does not mean that Moldova has to unify with Romania. That's a bluff. There will never be unification with Romania," Mr. Ghimpu added.

He explained that, especially after Romanian President Traian Basescu's visit, "it became clear that no unification is possible with Romania. Moldova is a sovereign state."

Mr. Ghimpu heads the Liberal Party, which is one of the more openly pro-Romanian groups in the Alliance for European Integration. As a result, the interim President and other Liberal officials have been accused by the Communist opposition of wanting unification with Romania.

Moldova 30th country to ratify cluster-mine ban, makes ban binding international law

Moldova ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions last week, bringing the number of countries that have done so to the necessary 30 to make it binding on August 1, 2010. About 104 countries have signed the Convention thus far since it was adopted in May 2008. The ratifying countries will meet in Laos in 2010.

The Convention - also known as the Oslo Agreement - bans the use, production, storage, or sale of such mines. The law also requires assistance for victims of cluster bombs, which blow up before hitting ground and release tens of smaller bombs across a large swath of territory. As a result, the exact location of these bombs hitting the ground is often random. Some of them do not explode right away and become dormant explosives.

The U.S., Israel, Russia, and China have refused to ratify the treaty.

According to the United Nations, an overwhelming number of cluster bomb victims - 98 percent - are civilians. About 40 percent of those are children.

The weapons were first used by the Soviet Union in 1943. They have most recently been used during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 and the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006.

Moldova still has stockpiles of cluster bombs. The convention requires that it destroy these munitions within eight years.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Secret documents reveal Communist persecution of April protesters: teachers and student were expelled and warned

The Filat cabinet has decided to release a number of secret documents put together by the Communists when they were in power.

A set of these indicate that the former ruling party initiated a series of persecutions of teachers, professors, and students after the April events in 2009. Many students participated in anti-Communist demonstrations at the time, and the Communists have always accused both teachers and students of being too critical of the Government.

According to a document, two students at the Academy of Economic Studies in Chisinau were expelled, as was the head of a college in the capital. Numerous others were warned and sactioned.

Another document reveals attempts by the Communists to find a way to force the protesters or their parents to pay for the damage caused by vandalism on April 7.

A third one shows a message from the Interior Ministry to then-deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc. Mr. Stepaniuc apparently gave a list of students to the Ministry and asked them to investigate whether the students were involved in the protests. The reply says that "the Ministry has no information about the involvement" of the students.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Transnistrian leader: We are willing to host Russian missiles on our territory

Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov said earlier this week that the separatist region would be willing to host Russian missiles on its territory.

The move is most likely a response to Romania accepting to host parts of the American missile shield system directed to protect against threats from the Middle East.

Transnistria still hosts over 1,000 Russian troops on its territory, as well as a large array of Soviet-era arsenals. Chisinau does not control this piece of land.

The separatists get political and economic support from the Kremlin, and there are most likely over 100,000 residents in the region that hold Russian passports.

Russian officials have not yet commented on this offer. Deputy Prime Minister Victor Osipov, who is responsible for the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, said that since Moldova is a neutral country, foreign military presence on Moldovan soil is unacceptable.

Chisinau mayor gets letter from Brigitte Bardot asking him to stop "bloody and revolting" euthanasia of stray dogs

Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca has been trying to find a solution to the capital's stray dog problem ever since he took office in 2007. Chisinau has a huge problem in this regard; packs of stray dogs, many of them rabid, roam the streets in the city. Some have bitten adults and children, and a few people have died from complications as a result of these bites.

According to a recent decision by the Chisinau city council, stray dogs that are caught and are not claimed by anyone within ten days will be put down.

This decision has led to a reaction from famous French actress Brigitte Bardot, who is a well-known animal rights activist. Ms. Bardot sent a letter to Mr. Chirtoaca, asking him to "disavow, as quickly as possible, this horrible news, that will unite your name forever with this bloody and revolting act that is completely against your position, which gives you an obligation to protect and to find human solutions for every problem that appears in the city."

Mr. Chirtoaca has replied that city hall will develop an answer to Ms. Bardot which will include a death certificate of a city hall official that died because of complications from a stray dog bite, as well pictures of a child who was attacked by stray dogs.

This issue seems to have divided people in Chisinau. On the one hand, many believe the problem needs to be resolved. On the other hand, some say the solution is inhumane.

Justice Minister: A young woman was "beaten to a pulp" by police in April for refusing to take her clothes off in front of them

Justice Minister Alexandru Tanase said during a meeting with Moldovan judges that the legal system in Moldova suffers from "moral crisis" and from corruption, especially after the April 2009 events.

Numerous judges allegedly conducted illegal trials of young people in police stations during the repression campaign initiated right after the vandalization of the Parliamentary and Presidential buildings on April 7.

Mr. Tanase also made a disturbing revelation about one particular case in April.

„I spoke with the father of a woman who told me that she was beaten to a pulp for refusing to take her clothes off in front of police officers. So what did the judge do? Instead of telling the prosecutors about this case, he arrested her for five days and sent her to Drochia [Imedia: a town in the North] so that her bruises could heal,” Mr. Tanase noted.

In April, media outlets in Moldova posted a number of testimonies from young people who were beaten severely in police stations. Most of them were young men and women. No police officers have been punished for abuse thus far.

The extent of the abuse remains unclear, however, since many young people are afraid to come out and share their experiences because they fear for their safety.

Supreme Court of Justice head calls journalists "rabid dogs," media personalities ask for his resignation

Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) president Ion Muruianu sparked considerable controversy this weekend, when he called journalists "rabid dogs" and accused them of trying to compromise judges by writing critically about Moldova's losses at the European Court of Human Rights.

Chisinau has lost more than 150 cases at the ECHR after judges in the country made improper decisions. Moldova gets penalized for these mistakes, sometimes with millions of dollars.

Mr. Muruianu's statement sparked considerable outrage in the media community in the country. Media personalities have asked for his resignation, and the SCJ head had to release a press statement on Monday saying that he did not intend to insult the profession.

The new Alliance for European Integration has pledged to reform the justice system in the country.

Monday, February 15, 2010

General Prosecutor: Police shot real bullets on April 7

General Prosecutor Valeriu Zubco said this weekend that security forces used real bullets during the repression campaign on April 7, right after protesters vandalized the Parliament and Presidential buildings.

An employee of the Moldovan secret service used real bullets to shoot at a car stationed in front of the secret service headquarters.

Mr. Zubco said that this proves that security forces used real bullets during the April events, and said that his office has started a criminal investigation of this case.

The General Prosecutor also noted that Communist-appointed authorities knew about this case in April, but tried to sweet it under the rug.

On the night of April 7 and a few days after, security forces detained over 700 people and tortured 300 of them, according to a recent Soros Foundation report.

According to eye-witnesses shots were heard all night from April 7 to April 8, and it has now become apparent that at least in one case the shots were with real bullets.

Estonia to open Eastern Partnership training center

Estonian Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Paet said during a meeting in Parliament this weekend that his country intends to establish a training center for the Eastern Partnership (EP) countries.

EP was started by the European Union to develop closer ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Mr. Paet noted that the center would be similar to the Mediterranean center on Malta and provide practical support for the good implementation of the Eastern Partnership.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Separatists release four Moldovans, detain other three

Four young men from the village of Oxentea (Dubasari), who were detained a couple of weeks ago by Transnistrian border guards for allegedly crossing into the breakaway republic, have been released. The separatists have also accused the men of illegally cutting down trees.

On the other hand, three villagers from Rascaieti (Stefan Voda) were detained by Transnistrian forces on Tuesday night for the same alleged crimes, says the official Transnistrian news agency Olvia-press.

U.S. Ambassador not allowed into separatist republic

U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Asif J. Chaudhry was not allowed to enter the breakaway republic of Transnistria yesterday.

He took the trip to attend a meeting that relaunched Moldovan-Transnistrian working groups meant to consolidate trust between the two parties.

Mr. Chaudhry had apparently received an official invitation from the separatist leaders, but could not enter the territory.

Moldovan Communist leader to step down, says he has already picked a "very handsome man" as successor

Moldovan Party of Communists (PC) head and former President (2001-2009) Vladimir Voronin told the press today that he will step down as PC head.

Mr. Voronin explained that he has already chosen a successor who is "very energetic, very handsome, very young, and very tall. Well, not that tall, because those have problems with development and don't ripen in time."

Mr. Voronin's joke about height refers to Communist defector Marian Lupu, who is very tall.

It is unclear when exactly the PC head will step down. Mr. Voronin has been heading the party for 15 years. During his rule, he managed to win two legislative elections and become President twice (Parliament picks the head of state in Moldova).

Romanian Euro M.P. appointed as Socialist group's Moldova rapporteur

Romanian European Member of Parliament Ioan Mircea Pascu was appointed by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament as a rapporteur for Moldova.

Mr. Pascu has been assigned to expressing his group's position toward the E.P.'s stand on the association agreement between the European Union and Chisinau.

In the last couple of years, Romanian M.P.s in the European Parliament have been very visible advocates of Chisinau's membership in the E.U. and are usually the ones representing the E.P. in establishing ties with Chisinau. For example, Romanian Democratic Liberal M.P. Monica Macovei is head of the European Parliament delegation for ties with Moldova.

Romanian Government approves non-refundable 100-million-euro grant for Chisinau

The Romanian Government approved a non-refundable 100-million-Euro grant for Moldova today.

The money will be distributed in four 25-million-Euro installments until 2013.

The decision comes after a highly publicized visit by Romanian President Traian Basescu and numerous cabinet members to Chisinau a week ago.

Financial assistance has been forthcoming from the IMF (nearly 600 million dollars), the World Bank (100 million dollars), and a few other sources, which will help Moldova weather the financial crisis.

Foreign Minister: Moldova has no plans to join NATO

Foreign Affairs and European Integration Minister Iurie Leanca, who was in Brussels today to attend a NATO conference, told Russian news agency Itar Tass that Chisinau has no plans to join NATO.

Mr. Leanca stressed that Moldova is a neutral country, according to its constitution, and that Chisinau has ties with NATO based on an individual partnership plan.

The new ruling Alliance for European Integration is visibly more pro-Western than the former ruling Party of Communists (2001-2009), as a result of which some opposition members and media outlets have written about Chisinau's possible plans of joining NATO or at least developing closer ties with the organization.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interim President: Voting age should be lowered to 16

Interim President and Speaker Mihai Ghimpu said yesterday that he would like for the Moldovan Constitution to include a provision that lowers the voting age to 16.

The new authorities have formed a commission to investigate the possibility for constitutional change in Moldova. Several Venice Commission experts will arrive in Chisinau this week to assist in the process.

Lowering the voting age was one of the proposals voiced by the commission. Other proposals are changing the language name from "Romanian" to "Moldovan" and replacing the name of "village" with "commune."


Four young Moldovan men detained by Transnistria still being held

Four young Moldovan men who were detained by Transnistrian forces at the end of January are still being held by the separatists. Their parents have complained that security forces in the breakaway region are asking for huge sums of money to release the young men.

The four were apparently walking on the ice on the river Nistru when they were detained. The Nistru acts as a natural border between the territory controlled by Chisinau and Transnistria.

Deputy Prime Minister Victor Osipov, who is responsible for the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, said yesterday that the detention was a provocation planned by the so-called Security Ministry in Transnistria, which is trying to hurt attempts to solve the conflict in the region.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Moldovan authorities begin releasing previously secret Soviet-era archival documents

The Government released over 1,500 archival files of the Communist Party (CP) of the Soviet Union, as well as logs from meetings of the CP's Central Committee. Information from 1974-1984 is now available.

Authorities plan to release every pre-1991 file that is available.

Many of these documents were previously in restricted-access locations, but are now being made available to a commission that is investigating the crimes of Communism in the country. This commission will eventually write a report that will most likely condemn communism in Moldova.

Aside from clarifying Moldova's Soviet past, this move by the new Government could also be a political blow to the current Party of Communists, which claims some legacy with the Soviet-era version but stresses it is a different political group.


(Analysis) Will defections harm the Party of Communists?

This weekend, the fifth Party of Communists (PC) M.P. announced that she would be leaving the party and moving to the Moldova Unita [United Moldova] Party. Svetlana Rusu is thusly joining four other M.P.s who left last year because they were unhappy with the PC's decision to boycott the presidential elections and to push for an early legislative poll.

Will these defections affect the Party of Communists, however?

History shows that defections by leading Communist figures have produced a mixed record in the past. On the one hand, former Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, who was cabinet head during most of the 2000s and, while in office, had high polling numbers, has been notoriously unable to have any success at the polls with any of the parties he either headed or joined after he had a falling out with the PC.

On the other hand, Marian Lupu seems to have boosted the Democratic Party's popularity after he defected from the Communists in April 2009. Many analysts now say that Mr. Lupu's party will gain even more seats during early legislative elections.

It is unclear how Vladimir Turcan, the leading and most well-known recent Communist defector, will do. He was recently elected as head of Moldova Unita and intends to make his new party a strong left-wing competitor, most of whose electorate will have to come from the Communists and the Democrats. But Mr. Turcan has never stood out as an impressive politician and has always lived in the shadow of PC head and former President Vladimir Voronin. Whether he managed to develop his own political identity remains to be seen.

Some analysts have said that anything that fragments the former ruling party is good for democracy since it weakens what had essentially become an authoritarian monolith headed by former President Vladimir Voronin. But Moldova Noastra is not visibly different in terms of its policy preferences from the PC: both parties are pro-Russian, skeptical of ties with the West, and reject any references to Romanian being Moldova's state language and the main ethnicity in the country (they say this ethnicity and language are Moldovan). Both stress Moldova's statehood and are adamantly against NATO integration.

As a result, we may be witnessing the decentralization of the PC's message instead of its disintegration. The two processes are completely different. The former would suggest that the PC has formed a number of politicians that continue to basically push the party's message, with some tweaks here and there, separately from the party. The latter would indicate the weakening of the Communists.

Moreover, a PC with 43 seats is still a strong party. For a political group shaken by accusations of staging the April mass unrest, of at least being aware of the police forces torturing hundreds of young people after April 7, by the loss of Marian Lupu (one of the most popular politicians in the country, especially with centrist voters), and by Vladimir Turcan's departure, the party's resilience has been impressive thus far. Polls show that the PC continues to remain popular with many Moldovans and that it will be a strong competitor during the early legislative elections. The Communists also seem to have consolidated their popularity among the Russian-speaking minority in Moldova. It is unclear if the Democrats and Moldova Unita will manage to make in-roads into this portion of the electorate.

In short, the PC's seeming fragmentation is much more of a trickle than a deluge, at least so far. And trickles are much easier to stop. The Communists could very well pull that off.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Gagauz leader: Make Russian official language; federalize Moldova

Mihail Formuzal, the Gagauz Baskan (governor), made a series of proposals for constitutional change in Moldova this weekend.

The Gagauz autonomous region is located in Southern Moldova and is made up mostly of a Christianized Turkic people. Most of the population there speaks Russian, however.

The ruling Alliance for European Integration has expressed an interest in changing the Constitution and has founded a commission to investigate possibilities in this regard.

Mr. Formuzal said that he would like for Moldova to become a three-subject federation - Gagauz Yeri, Transnistria, and the rest of Moldova. He also asked that Russian be made the country's official language.

The Gagauz leader sent his proposals to interim President and Speaker Mihai Ghimpu, who rejected his proposals from the outset.

"Moldova never was, is not, nor will it ever be a federal republic," Mr. Ghimpu stressed.

The subject of federalization is very sensitive in Chisinau, where it provokes fears that it would be a first step toward Gagauz secession and that it would consolidate Transnistria's de facto independence and give it veto power over Moldova's pro-Western policies.


Fifth Communist M.P. defects, leaving party with 43 seats; Communist M.P. calls defectors "rats"

Svetlana Rusu, who was initially elected on the Party of Communists (PC) electoral list in 2009, announced this weekend that she is leaving the party.

Ms. Rusu announced that she will be joining the four other Communist defectors who became members of the Moldova Unita [United Moldova] Party (MUP).

Communist M.P. Grigore Petrenco called the defectors "rats."

During its recent congress, MUP elected former Communist M.P. Vladimir Turcan as its head.

At this point, the PC, which came in with 48 seats out of 101 in the legislature, now has 43 seats. The Liberal Democrats follow with 18, the Liberals with 15, the Democrats with 13, Moldova Noastra with 5, MUP with 5, and Actiunea Europeana with 2.

Although these shifts weaken the PC to some degree and make the Alliance's job easier, MUP is positioning itself as a left-wing opposition party. Its members seem to agree with the Communists on most issues (pro-Russian, anti-NATO, against the notion of Moldova being made up by a Romanian majority), and analysts have said they left because of personal disagreements with PC head Vladimir Voronin and conflict about the party's future.

So we are unlikely to witness any significant changes in the dynamics between the opposition and the ruling coalition, which continues to have a very flimsy majority.

Moreover, whereas right after elections the Moldovan Parliament had five parties represented, now there are seven. The ruling Alliance for European Integration, which was made up of four parties, is now a collective of five, after two M.P.s left Moldova Noastra to join Actiunea Europeana.

Romania to host American missiles, Communists blast decision

Romanian President Traian Basescu announced this weekend that his country plans to host interceptor missiles as part of an American missile shield designed to protest Europe against nuclear threats from Iran.

The statement has caused quite a stir in Moldova, where Transnistrian authorities expressed their concern with Romania's decision. More than 1,000 Russian troops are stationed in the separatist republic.

Party of Communists (PC) head and former President (2001-2009) Vladimir Voronin also criticized Bucharest's plan, arguing that Moldova could therefore become a "front-line." Mr. Voronin is referring to the fact that NATO and the European Union both stop at the Moldovan border.

The Communist leader also accused Romania of destabilizing the situation in the region.

The Moldovan Government has not yet released an official position on Romania's plans.

It is clear, however, that Transnistria could be the site of some sort of Russian response to Bucharest's recent decision.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Large portion of small left-wing party migrates to Democrats

A considerable number of members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and local SDP organizations announced that they were leaving to join the Democratic Party.

The defectors announced that they represent about 11,000 members, which is about two-thirds of the total number of local organizations.

SDP is a small left-wing party led by former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis. It did not gain any seats during the two legislative elections in 2009.

In the last few months, there have been some shifts on the left side of the political spectrum in the country. The Democratic Party, which is headed by Communist defector Marian Lupu, has announced that it seeks to consolidate the center-left in order to be able to compete with the Party of Communists.

Mr. Lupu is popular with a considerable number of Moldovans and is likely to win the presidential seat if direct elections are held. As a result, the Democrats are a rising force in Moldovan politics and have attracted more and more support and members of other parties. The SDP defectors seem to be part of this trend.


Authorities ask Communists to return their illegally held diplomatic passports after leaving office

The Foreign Affairs and European Integration Minister Iurie Leanca held a press conference today, during which he provided a list of former Communist authorities who still hold diplomatic passports despite having left office.

Among these are former President Vladimir Voronin and his wife, former Foreign Affairs Minister Andrei Stratan, former General Prosecutor Valeriu Gurbulea, and many others.

Mr. Leanca noted that if the officials do not turn their passports in, they will be invalidated.

The Foreign MInister stressed that Mr. Voronin actually has about six or seven diplomatic passports that he can use to travel, and that his wife also has a couple.


Russia seeks to liberalize immigration policy, move could attract more Moldovans to work there

Igor Shuvalov, Russia's first deputy Prime Minister, said during a press conference yesterday that his country would like to liberalize immigration policy in 2010.

Mr. Shuvalov said that Russia seeks to attract more people from Moldova, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

A considerable number of Moldovans work in Russia, usually in construction. It is easier for Moldovan citizens to go East, because they do not need a visa for Russia whereas they do for European Union countries.

Transnistria rejects higher status for EU and US during negotiations

Transnistrian Foreign Affairs Minister Vladimir Yastrebchak was quoted as saying by Olvia Press (the official news agency of the separatist republic) that he rejects changing the observer status of the United States and the European Union during the negotiations for the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict.

Mr. Yastrebchak noted that both Washington and Brussels are not even using the opportunities they have now to help solve the conflict. In addition, the separatist official argued that Romania should not be part of the negotiations because it would simply support Moldova against Transnistria.

Romania played a relatively active role during negotiations at the beginning of the 1990s.

Moldova fought a short, but bloody, civil war in 1992, after which Transnistria proclaimed itself an independent country. It is not recognized by any other country in the world, including Russia, which provides both political and financial support to the breakaway region.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Viktor Yanukovich: Importance of GUAM "has been lost in a sense"

Viktor Yanukovich, one of the two contenders to the presidential seat in Ukraine, told the press yesterday that GUAM, a regional organization made up of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, "has lost its importance in a sense."

Mr. Yanukovich added that he believes GUAM is ineffective and that it has not engaged in any significant activities for five years.

GUAM is viewed by Russia as a rival organization to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Georgia and Ukraine have been, at times, vocal opponents of the Kremlin and have tried to turn the organization into a more active regional institution. When the Communists were in power, Chisinau was lukewarm toward GUAM.

Mr. Yanukovich is viewed by many analysts in Moldova as more pro-Russian than his rival Yulia Timoshenko. His victory could have an impact on Ukraine's foreign policy toward Chisinau. Moldova wants a reliable Kyiv to act as an occasional counter-weight to Russian influence, both in the negotiations for the settlement of the Transnistrian issue and generally. In addition, if Ukraine turns more toward Russia and away from the West, Moldova's will essentially become the farthest pro-Western Government in Eastern Europe.

Moldova fosters economic ties with Romania, Russia simultaneously

The Moldova-Russia intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation will meet on Thursday in Chisinau.

The commission has not met for a year, mostly because of the political situation in Moldova. Discussions today will focus on increasing cooperation in fields like agriculture, transportation, and tourism.

In a related news story, a number of businesspeople from Chisinau and Bucharest plan on opening a business and investment office in Chisinau to bolster ties. The office will seek to attract Romanian and European businesses to Moldova.

Although the ruling Alliance for European Integration is visibly more pro-Western than the former ruling Party of Communists (2001-2009), it seems open to cooperation with both Russia and Romania, both in terms of economic and political terms.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

In humorous attempt to call them out for bias, former Communist M.P. gives TV station reporters a cooked duck

Former Communist M.P. Vladimir Turcan held a press conference today. Mr. Turcan, along with three other Communist M.P.s, left the Party of Communists in December 2009 because of displeasure with the party's decision not to vote for a president and thusly push for early legislative elections. The four have joined the Moldova Unita [United Moldova] Party.

At one point during the conference, Mr. Turcan gave reporters from the NIT television station a cooked duck. Analysts and independent media reports have established that NIT's coverage of the news tends to have a pro-Communist bias. In Russian a duck ("utka"), figuratively speaking, means a piece of false information. NIT has said, for example, that Moldova Unita is a project of Prime Minister Vlad Filat's, meant to compromise the Party of Communists.

The duck was tied with a red bow. Mr. Turcan emphasized that it is edible.

The NIT reporter who picked up the delicious fowl ended up leaving it in the press conference room. Unimedia has interesting footage from the ground.

Communist M.P.s arguing about party name change and symbols

Party of Communists (PC) M.P. Igor Dodon recently said during an offline meeting with Moldovan bloggers that he would join the party if members change the name and its symbols, like the hammer and the sickle.

Mr. Dodon is not officially a party member, although he ran on the PC list during legislative elections in 2009.

Communist M.P. Grigore Petrenco has replied, however, that the PC would not make any changes.

The Party of Communists has been discussing these issues for a couple of years, and the debate often reveals some rifts within the former ruling party. On the one hand, people like Mr. Dodon are considered to be more moderate and technocratic, although they have, throughout time, been very vocal critics of anti-Communist parties. On the other hand, M.P.s like Mr. Petrenco and Mark Tkaciuk are more adamant about keeping the Communist label and are considered to be more radical. Mr. Tkaciuk used to be former President Vladimir Voronin's advisor and continues to be a close ally of his. As a result, analysts assume Mr. Voronin is against changing the name and the symbols.

Mr. Dodon's statements could be interpreted as a warning to some PC members that he may be getting offers from other left or center-left parties. Four Communist M.P.s have already defected to Moldova Unita [United Moldova], and the Democratic Party may also be interested in Mr. Dodon.

Russian soldier from Transnistria part of spy ring busted by Ukraine; spies entered Ukraine via Transnistria

Ukrainian media outlets announced on Tuesday morning that authorities in Kyiv had arrested four Russians and detained one other under accusations of espionage in Odessa.

According to Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the head of Kyiv's intelligence service, the Russians were trying to steal military secrets. Mr. Nalyvaychenko said the spies were caught red-handed.

One of the spies is a Russian soldier stationed in a peacekeeping mission in Transnistria. The others seem to be FSB (former KGB) officers. All of the spies entered Ukraine via the Transnistrian region. In Transnistria, the Russians apparently kidnapped a Ukrainian citizen and forced him to provide military secrets.

Among the items confiscated by Ukrainian authorities were flash card and a fountain pen video camera.

Russian secret service authorities have confirmed that at least one Russian "employee" was arrested in Ukraine.

h/t Xinhua, AFP

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Moldovan P.M. goes to Kyiv, meets Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko

Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat was in Kyiv today, where he met with his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko. The two officials spoke about the development of bilateral ties, and Ms. Timoshenko said that after the new ruling Alliance took power in Moldova, ties between the two countries considerably improved, indirectly criticizing the former ruling Party of Communists.

Mr. Filat and Ms. Timoshenko also spoke about the demarcation of the border between the two countries, as well as the cancellation of a Kyiv provision that Moldovans prove they have 1,000 Euros when crossing the border into Ukraine. Ms. Timoshenko promised to get rid of this requirement.

The Moldovan premier also met with Anatoli Kinah, the vice president of the Party of Regions, which is headed by Viktor Yanukovich, Ms. Timoshenko's rival presidential candidate during the second round of elections in the neighboring country.

Analysts say that Mr. Filat was thusly trying to avoid any accusations of favoring one particular presidential candidate. The P.M. even said that Moldova would have good ties and cooperate with whomever the Ukrainian people decide to elect.

Former Moldovan President and Communist head Voronin slams Romania, said it only joined the European Union because it allowed the U.S. to built bases

Former Moldovan President (2001-2009) and Party of Communists head Vladimir Voronin said during a televised interview with a private station that the only reason Romania joined the European Union was because it allowed the United States to build two military bases on its territory.

Mr. Voronin said that Bucharest was not ready to join the E.U. in 2007.

When the Communists were in power, ties with Romania were very tense and culminated in Mr. Voronin accusing Bucharest of a coup in April 2009. Recently, during Romanian President Traian Basescu's visit to Chisinau, Communist M.P. Mark Tkaciuk, who is a close ally of Mr. Voronin's, said Mr. Basescu "had returned to the scene of the crime."


U.K. Express paper: "New wave of immigration" possible after Romania announces easier citizenship granting policy for Moldovans

The Daily Express, a conservative British daily, recently posted an editorial about what it sees as "a new wave of immigration from eastern Europe," which "edged closer last night after Romania promised to fast-track a back-door route into Britain."

The article talks about Romanian President Traian Basescu's recent announcement that Moldovans will have an easier time receiving Romanian citizenship if they have lost it involuntarily. This refers to the fact that anyone who lived in Romania between the two world wars - when Moldova was part of Romania - and relatives up to the third generation can ask and get Romanian citizenship.

The full text can be read here.

Reuters: China's New Foreign Policy Takes Shape - in Moldova

Reuters recently posted a feature on Moldova and China's interest in increasing its influence there.

An excerpt:
"Yet China is taking a growing interest in Moldova, a former Soviet state that is poorer than many countries in Africa. Here, horse-drawn carts loaded with hay trundle on battered roads alongside top-end Mercedes and Lexus cars, and villagers get water from daily trips to wells."

The full article can be read here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Kyiv and Chisinau initiate demarcation of border, separatists in Transnistria promise not to interfere

Kyiv and Chisinau have initiated the demarcation of the border between the two countries by unveiling a border sign around the central section of the border.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko said that he hopes this process is over by 2012.

The two countries agreed on the demarcation in 2008.

Thus far, Transnistrian authorities have said that they will not impede the process as long as the demarcation is done outside Transnistrian territory. The separatist republic shares about 450 km of the 1,222-km border between the two countries.

P.M. Vlad Filat will be in Kyiv tomorrow, as well, to talk to P.M. Yulia Timoshenko about border and property issues.

Romania and Moldova to open new border checkpoint in the north

Local authorities from Romania announced that Bucharest and Chisinau would soon open up a new border checkpoint around the locations of Radauti Prut and Lipcani. Radauti Prut is very close to Northern Moldova, more than 300 km away from Chisinau.

The checkpoint is expected to open by February 12.

The European Union contributed three million Euros to building a bridge in the area to connect the two countries.


U.S. State Sec Clinton: "Continuance of Russian troops on Moldovan territory" is "matter of concern"

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a January 29 interview with Voice of America that "we [the United States] want to assist Moldova in improving the lives of its people and hopefully over time the problems that it faces can be addressed."

Ms. Clinton added that "I discussed [territorial issues in Moldova] at length with the prime minister. Moldova is struggling to consolidate democracy to improve its economy, it is eligible for Millennium Challenge compact because it is still a poor country in need of a lot of help. Certainly the border disputes with Romania, the continuance of Russian troops on Moldovan territory are matters of concern."

A week ago, Prime Minister Vlad Filat and a number of other officials were on a visit to the United States, where they met with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Moldovan officials also received a 262-million-dollar grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

(ANALYSIS) In outpouring of Western funding, Moldova to get nearly one billion dollars in financial assistance

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund announced this weekend that it would provide nearly 600 million U.S. dollars to Moldova. The loan will be used to fill budget gaps and to help revive the ailing Moldovan economy, which has been heavily affected by the world economic crisis.

The announcement comes in the wake of Prime Minister Vlad Filat's recent visit to the United States, where he signed an agreement with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, whereby Chisinau will get a 262-million-dollar grant it does not have to pay back. The money will be utilized to modernize agriculture and repair roads.

In addition, the World Bank has announced its willingness to provide Chisinau with about 80 million dollars in loans.

The volume of financial assistance Chisinau is going to be receiving, therefore, reaches a whopping one billion U.S. dollars, the largest sum of money the country has ever gotten from the outside since independence. Most of this money comes from the West, which carries an important political significance, especially compared to the situation in the country when the Communists were in power last year.

In 2009, Communist authorities announced that China had offered Chisinau the possibility of negotiating for a one-billion-dollar loan. Moscow was going to provide 500 million U.S. dollars, as well. Had these sums been obtained by Chisinau, the shape of the country's debt would have been considerably skewed in favor of non-Western countries.

Under the current circumstances, however, the pro-Western orientation of the ruling Alliance for European Integration is reflected in the sources of its funding. Moscow did say that it would still be interested in providing financial help to Chisinau, except that the 500 million dollars turned into 150 million after the ruling coalition came to power. Talks seem to be ongoing about this loan, although statements on the topic both in Chisinau and Moscow have been rather anemic.

Whatever the case may be, the IMF's decision, along with assistance from the MCC and the World Bank, is a much needed boost to the current Government, which has to struggle with a staggering budget deficit and rising prices that might anger part of the population.

The next couple of years will most likely be marred by political instability and conflict as Chisinau braces for another early legislative poll. That could prevent some of the money from coming into the country. But, at this point, the economic situation in Moldova does not look as dire.