And speaking of Moldova

First, Scraps of Moscow has had some good coverage of the Moldova elections. If you’re interested, check out some of the recent posts over there.

Second, my recent post on Vladimir Voronin neglected to mention one of the most obnoxious aspects of his regime: his useless and disgusting son Oleg. I should correct that.

So: Oleg Voronin has used his position to become one of the richest men in Moldova; depending on who you talk to, his fortune is estimated at tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or “over a billion” dollars. One analysis suggests it’s around $600 million, which would be roughly 10% of Moldova’s GDP. (Keep in mind, this is a country whose per capita GDP is lower than the Philippines or Mongolia.) Whatever the amount, it’s pretty impressive for a podgy fortysomething guy who, up until the collapse of Communism, was a biologist working for a milk cooperative. Continue reading

Wait, where did the astroturf go?

I just noticed that a number of pro-Russian astroturf websites — including some that I used to read regularly — have gone dark.

First off, there are the Transnistria pages. The Tiraspol Times used to provide a weekly dose of happy, upbeat news about the good times in Transnistria. It’s gone now — “account suspended”.

Then there was transnistria.co.uk, a more or less daily blog that did the same thing, interspersed with some whining about how nobody was nice to Transnistria. That’s gone too. I can’t find archives for either of them, which is a shame — there was some wonderfully wacky stuff in there.

Visitpmr,com, the site for Transnistrian tourism (really) is still up, but it hasn’t been updated for a long time now. Pridenestrovie.net, same thing — still exists, nothing new since 2007. EODE.org, purporting to be an NGO, published one “report” about the wonderful state of Transnistrian democracy three years ago and has been “under construction” ever since. And transnistria.info hasn’t updated its news feed since March.

Okay, so someone was funding a disinformation/propaganda campaign for Transnistria, and they stopped. That’s no big deal. But some of the louder voices of the pro-Russian disinformatsiya have also fallen silent. Remember the British Helsinki Human Rights Group? Their website is gone, as is their “partner” OSCE Watch. (BHHRG’s loudest voice, professional nuisance John Laughland, has moved to Paris, where he’s working for a Russian-funded think tank. Can’t find what’s happened to the rest of them.) And ICDISS — the “International Council for Democratic Institutions and State Sovereignty” — hasn’t updated their website in over a year.

It was always obvious that these various outlets were pieces of the same organism. It’s a little weird to see it confirmed this way, though. Wonder if we’ll ever find out how it all fit together behind the scenes. Eh, probably not.

Meanwhile: does anyone know a good English-language source for news about Transnistria? There’s a German-language site that’s still live, but it doesn’t update very often. There’s the Transnistrian Parliament’s website, which is interesting to look at — basically it’s like glimpsing an alternate universe where the USSR survived into the age of the internet — but not very informative. Otherwise, it’s a lot of scavenging among blogs and human rights reports and other such odds and ends.

I never thought I’d miss the Tiraspol Times and its friends, but it’s surprising how little is left now that they’re gone.

Moldova: don’t let the door hit you, Vladimir

God, it’ll be good to see the back of Vladimir Voronin. There were post-Communist leaders who were far more corrupt (Djukanovic), far more evil (Milosevic), sleazier (Iliescu), slimier (Aliyev pere), crazier (Niyazov), creepier (Nazarbayev), more authoritarian (Lukashenko), and more incompetent (Gamsakhurdia). But for all-around total tool-ness, nobody really beat Voronin. He was the decathlete of political crappiness.

Voronin was a stupid, corrupt, mean-spirited, small-minded, old-fashioned provincial Communist whose world-view was permanently frozen sometime around 1982. He hated the west, the US, the EU, Romania, the Ukraine, Turks and Gypsies. He hadn’t the slightest idea of how to run a modern economy, and he didn’t want to learn. Under his leadership, Moldova slumped from being a modestly prosperous backwater province of the Soviet Union to being in a dead heat with Kosovo for “poorest country in Europe”. It’s the most miserable country in Europe by almost any measurement. The PPP adjusted GDP is roughly that of India, and lower than the Philippines or Mongolia; one out of every five adult Moldovans works abroad.

But it’s not so much that he was corrupt and incompetent — hell, pretty much all the post-Soviet leaders were one or the other, or both. What made Voronin so unbearable was that he was a whiny bitch. Nothing was ever Moldova’s fault. It was always some outside force — the West, Romania, Ukraine, Russia (rarely, but it happened), Romania, the ungrateful ethnic minorities, the weather, “color revolutionaries”, capitalists, the CIA, organized crime, foreign agitators, and Romania.

There were things to like or at least respect about almost every post-Communist leader, no matter how crappy. Milosevic was an evil, relentlessly selfish scumbag who ruined his country, but he was a cunning political tactician and he never gave up. Iliescu was an unctuous smirking sleazeball, but he got his country through an incredibly difficult period without disaster; Romania could have done worse. Even Gamsakhurdia had a certain forlorn, cracked dignity. But Voronin? He… wasn’t an anti-Semite. Continue reading

Transnistria: a solution?

A recent article over at Radio Free Europe suggests that Moldova and Russia may be getting close to a solution of the Transnistria conflict. (For some background on Transnistria, here are some articles I wrote last year.)

Now, RFE tends to be pretty Russophobe, so there’s a certain amount of mouth-breathing: Moldova has turned back to Moscow and away from the West! It’s going to become a satellite of Russia once more!

Well… perhaps. But in terms of settling the Transnistrian conflict, the deal described in the article makes a lot of sense. Continue reading

The Lure of Membership in action

If the EU didn’t exist, would we have to create it? Arguably, one of the best reasons for doing so would be the power it has demonstrated to spread democracy, constitutionalism, peace, and other good stuff through the accession process. Today, we had an excellent example of this. On the 7th of July, the European Commission updated the list of airlines that aren’t allowed to land in the EU. In the wake of the ban, the Moldovan government decided to solve the problem by shutting down a succession of really dodgy operations, revoking the Air Operator’s Certificate that is required by international law and grounding the planes.

The reason for such dramatic action is simple enough – it’s not just flight safety that was at stake. The list of dodgy airlines includes one that was involved in a regrettable incident in which 99 tonnes of assorted firearms were purchased from Bosnian war surplus by the US Government, and flown in a couple of Ilyushin 76s to Iraq for the use of the Iraqi government. However, the guns never arrived, and their fate remains a mystery – perhaps the least disturbing theory being that they were never actually shipped, and the Americans were defrauded. More disturbing options include the suggestion that the weapons were offloaded somewhere else, switched with another cargo, and sold God knows where, or that they were delivered all right, but to the former Iraqi army. The airline which was meant to move the guns, Aerocom, was itself later shut down after a plane was seized in Belize with a load of cocaine – but it actually subcontracted the job to one of the current crop, Jet Line International.

The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
Continue reading

Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo…

Just ran across this article at Radio Free Europe. Short version: Russia has decided that independence for Kosovo is probably inevitable, and has decided to milk it for maximum benefit to Russia. Putin’s saying, fine, independence for Kosovo — but then apply “universal principles”, and give independence to the Russian-supported breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and TransDnistria.

Once you get past the initial reaction (“Wow, what a jerk”), this bears a little thinking about.
Continue reading

The Moldova Issue Rumbles On

Little known Moldova has been in the news at Afoe recently (here, and here), and today the story continues:

Russia’s use of energy as a political tool was in the spotlight again on Wednesday as the European Union expressed concern about Moscow’s dispute with Moldova over gas prices…….On Wednesday the European Commission urged Russia and Moldova to return totalks over their gas price dispute.

“Like in the case of Ukraine and Russia, we very strongly encourage the sides to sit down again at the table to continue discussions and to reach an agreement,” said Commission official Hilde Hardeman.

Her remarks followed concerns this week from the Austrian presidency of the EU over the continuing interruption in supplies to Moldova, which has left it dependent on gas imports from neighbouring Ukraine. The EU stepped up its involvement in Moscow’s former domain last year when it signed a deal to help oversee a border between Ukraine and Moldova’s break- away region of Transdnestria…

The continuing interruption in supplies to Moldova is likely to add to concern in Brussels and EU member states over Europe’s growing dependence on Russian energy supplies.

The gas issue is far from over, it looks like all roads lead to the March summit, and it also seems that EU political debate is about to get a good shot of political realism:

Energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs said energy supply has begun to play a key role in EU foreign policy in the past nine months, responding to criticisms of inaction from Polish MEP Bronislaw Geremek on Wednesday (11 January).

“Now, in exeternal relations, energy has moved up the agenda”, he said. “We clearly understand that energy is a priority, it’s always been a priority, but now it’s never missing off the agenda.”

What Gives in Moldova?

Only last week, following the Russian decision to turn of Moldova’s gas supply along with Ukraine, Alex and I were asking ourselves the question: whatever happened to Moldova.

Well here comes the answer, from Randy McDonalds Live Journal, they are either growing wine or leaving it seems:

Moldova, as it happens, shares with Georgia a long tradition of wine-growing, something that ensured Moldova a prestigious position in the domestic wine supplies of the former Soviet Union….

Why wouldn’t mass emigration be a perfectly rational solution for Moldovans tired of their poverty? Moldova’s work force might be depleted, true, but the Moldovans abroad enjoy higher living standards while the Moldovans remaining behind benefit from the fact that their country stands just behind Tonga in the percentage of its GDP derived from remittances, in Moldova’s case by the million or so people scattered across the Russian Federation, Romania, Turkey, and southern Europe.

This sort of mass emigration isn’t going to help Moldova develop securely, though. It will help Moldova become a depopulated periphery, true, with its potential work force gone off to work in larger and wealthier countries,
leaving the old behind to tend the country through its collapse, but it won’t help Moldova grow.

Randy also makes a very positive comparison between Estonia’s recent history and what just happened to Ukraine.