Moldova Needs the West’s Help Against an Aggressive Russia

27 December 2017

Russian political meddling may be new to Americans, but in Eastern Europe such interference has long been common. That’s particularly true in former Soviet republics that look toward the West while seeking to hold on to their security and sovereignty.

As the leader of Moldova’s main governing party, I understand all too well the weight of unwanted Russian influence. I also know how critical it is that the West support the security and freedom of nations sitting on the front lines of Russia’s military and informational aggression.

More than 25 years after Moldova gained independence, Russian troops are still stationed within our borders, in the breakaway region of Transnistria. Moscow refuses to recognize our sovereignty and, as in Eastern Ukraine and Georgia, provides economic and military support to separatist groups whose chief goal is to prevent former Soviet republics from aligning with the West. Such “frozen conflicts” reflect a Cold War mentality that sees the world as divided into spheres of influence and affords smaller countries no authority. These issues cannot be swept under the carpet anymore. The time has come for the international community to counter Moscow’s defiance firmly.

Like many former Soviet countries, Moldova is dependent on Russian energy. We are seeking to diversify and hope to integrate with the European gas and electricity markets via Romania by the end of next year. But we can’t stop there. We need the European Union to adopt a more cohesive energy policy, one that neutralizes Russian attempts to divide and conquer smaller states like ours.

Between 2011 and 2014, Russian-backed interest groups manipulated Moldova’s banking system to launder more than $20 billion. An investigation by a respected and independent Western company is under way, but Russian interests have sought to undermine the fact-finding. Last year Moldova entered into an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to increase the banking sector’s resilience and security. In addition, by adopting transparent and predictable fiscal rules, Moldova hopes to show international investors that we are a safe, dependable destination for capital.

Only a strong and well-governed state can resist Russian influence. In the past two years, Moldova has committed to implementing an association agreement with the European Union, creating a political, economic, cultural and security framework for our relationship. At the same time, we are working to streamline government, deregulate and strengthen the private sector.

Moldova’s partners in the West have been signaling increased confidence in our government. In 2016 the IMF’s executive board approved $179 million in credit over three years to support Moldova’s economic and financial reforms. We have fulfilled our commitments under that program, and the IMF announced on Dec. 20 that it would release the next batch of funds. In November, our government signed a memorandum of understanding for EU macro-financial assistance worth some $120 million.

More is needed, but Moldova’s progress so far cannot be denied. Our cabinet now has nine ministries, down from 16 before this past summer. The steps taken to reduce red tape and corruption are paying off. In the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business report, Moldova ranks No. 44 out of 190 overall and No. 23 in the ease of starting a business.

Most Moldovans support the country’s efforts to integrate with the West. Some, however, remain nostalgic for the relative stability of the Soviet era. These people are unsettled by the hectic political and economic transformations their country experienced after independence.

Given that a significant percentage of Moldova’s population is exposed to Russian-controlled media, propaganda and the anxiety it stirs are among the biggest threats we face. Inciting ethnic hate and promoting distrust toward the West are Moscow’s ways of trying to stunt democratic reforms. We are determined to stop this propaganda, but we need the West to recognize the challenge Moldova faces and invest in an independent media market.

Unfortunately, powerful political forces, including our pro-Russia president, Igor Dodon, are sympathetic to Moscow’s narrative. That’s why the parliamentary elections in late 2018 will be so critical, offering EU and American officials an opportunity to call out electoral meddling and halt the advancement of pro-Russian political forces.

Moldova is a proud multiethnic state, devoted to reform and democracy. But Russian intervention is undermining our progress. We need the strength of our Western partners to keep us on a path of progress. We cannot go it alone.

​Mr. Plahotniuc is president of the Democratic Party of Moldova.

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