Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Russia's Influence Grows After Moldovan Elections

Russia in Review is a weekly intelligence summary (INTSUM) produced by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). This ISW INTSUM series sheds light on key trends and developments related to the Russian government’s objectives and its efforts to secure them. Receive future Russia in Review INTSUM products via-email by signing up for the ISW Mailing List.

Special Topic Update: Moldovan Elections

Author: Darina Regio with Andrea Snyder

Key Takeaway: The Kremlin is successfully increasing its political influence in Moldova. The pro-Kremlin Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PRSM) won the largest share in the February 24 Moldovan Parliamentary Elections. However, Moldova will likely be forced to call new elections within the next forty-five days due to continued deadlock in government-formation negotiations. Russia will likely bolster its disinformation campaign over the next six weeks in order to set conditions ahead of a new vote. Pro-Kremlin Moldovan President Igor Dodon will also likely continue to shape the information space and stress the need for a strategic alliance with Russia rather than the EU in order to ensure a decisive victory for his PSRM. The U.S. should engage diplomatically and work with favorable political parties in order to counter Russia’s agenda in Moldova. 

Moldova sits at a political impasse following a deadlocked result to the February 24 Moldovan Parliamentary Elections. Four political parties won seats in the election but none achieved the simple majority required to form a new Government of Moldova.[1] The pro-Kremlin Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) of Moldovan President Igor Dodon won 35 seats (31.2%) - the largest share in the Moldovan Parliament. The pro-Western Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) led by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc came in second with 30 seats (23.6%) while the pro-EU ACUM Alliance took third with 26 seats (26.8%). The Sor Party - a social conservative party that advocates for Soviet-style agricultural reform - won 7 seats (8.3%). The election marked the first such ballot since the adoption of a Mixed Electoral System Law in 2017. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe had previously concluded that the new system would advantage established political parties such as the PSRM and PDM, both of which increased their seat totals in the Moldovan Parliament. However, the PDM lost both of its coalition partners in the former pro-Western Government of Moldova - the Liberal Party (PL) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM).

Moldova will likely be forced to hold new elections, leaving it vulnerable to further influence from Russia. The Moldovan Parliament faces a forty-five day deadline to form a new government, after which President Dodon has the right to dissolve the legislature and call for new elections. The ongoing government-formation talks will likely fail. The PSRM is opposed by both the PDM and ACUM, and will fall short of a majority even if it aligns with the fringe Sor Party. Meanwhile, ACUM issued pledges prior to the election vowing to remain in opposition and reject any coalition offers from the PSRM or PDM. ACUM has also directed accusations of corruption and attempted assassination against the PDM. President Dodon noted that the "risk is high that it could come to a snap election in the coming few months" on February 24. Russia mounted a robust disinformation campaign to set conditions ahead of the February 24 Moldovan Parliamentary Elections. A repeat election would open further opportunities for Russia to spread overt disinformation, apply covert political pressure, and shape public sentiment in favor of Dodon and the PSRM.

The Kremlin intends to use a favorable Government of Moldova to exert influence over the EU and NATO. Russia aims to win strategic military and diplomatic positioning through its interference in Moldova. Moldova holds a strategic location between Ukraine and Romania - a valuable member of NATO and the EU. Russia has maintained an illegal occupation force in the autonomous region Transnistria in Eastern Moldova on the Moldovan-Ukrainian Border since 1990. A pro-Kremlin Government of Moldova could allow Russia to bolster its footprint in Transnistria and threaten the vital port city of Odesa in Western Ukraine. Russia could at minimum use an expanded presence to create multiple simultaneous dilemmas for the Ukrainian Armed Forces during any escalation in the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine. Russia could also potentially use a pro-Kremlin Government of Moldova as a vector to subvert Romania. Russia already holds strong ties with neighboring Hungary and Hungarian President Viktor Orban. The U.S. and EU should engage diplomatically and work with favorable pro-Western political parties in order to counter Russia’s agenda in Moldova.

[1] [“2019 Moldovan Parliamentary Election Results,”] Moldova CEC, February 25, 2019, https://pv.cec(.)md/cec-template-proportionale-rezultate-preliminarii.html.