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Moldova Weekly News Digest, 19 March 2017

-On March 17th, Moldova’s President, Igor Dodon, met with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow. The meeting, a follow-up of the one from January 17th, was delayed by almost 4 hours, making Dodon wait for Putin.

First, Dodon thanked the Russian President for the positive solution to the problem of wine exports to Russia. He even brought, presumably as a gift, some wine bottles of Putin’s collection from Cricova cellars, to which the latter was surprised to receive gifts of his own.

Second, the Moldovan President expressed his gratitude for the migration amnesty for Moldovan migrant workers, at the same time asking to introduce a prolonged amnesty after March 20th for other 33 thousand Moldovan citizens with residence penalties. Putin reportedly promised to prolong the amnesty. In this context, another proposed measure was to sign a citizenship agreement on the dual citizenship, so that the Moldovans living in Russia do not give up their citizenship.

To stress his friendly position towards Russia, Dodon condemned and called “demarche” the note sent by the Parliament and Government regarding the abuses Moldovan officials recently faced at the Russian border control.

On the Transnistrian conflict settlement, Dodon told Putin he would plan a meeting with the Transnistrian leader Vadim Krasnoselsky until the end of March.

Last, but not least, Dodon proposed to the Russian leader to have a consultation on concluding a new Treaty of “Strategic Partnership” between Moldova and Russia, beside the already existing Friendship and Collaboration Treaty.

EU Commission report: Moldova needs to continue reforms in rule of law, media freedom, to investigate the banking fraud

On March 13th, the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, together with the High Representative of EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, presented the new report on the Implementation of the Association Agreement with the Republic of Moldova.

The report reads that Moldova has adopted a number of reforms within the frame of the Association Agenda, but needs to continue the efforts in order to improve a series of domains such as rule of law, business environment, media freedom, public administration, public finance management, detention conditions and gender equality.

Progress has been made – this is detailed in today’s report. Further work is needed, and on this path Moldova can count on the European Union, on our common work, for the sake of our citizens. (Federica Mogherini)

The EU Commission welcomes the political stability achieved in 2016 and qualifies it as favorable for further reforms and efforts in undertaking important actions in the Transnistrian conflict settlement and the investigation of the banking frauds from 2014.

Uninominal electoral system proposed by the Democrats- already draft law registered at the Moldova Parliament, pending review from the Venice Commission

On March 15th, the Parliament speaker, Andrian Candu, announced that his Democratic Party submitted the draft law on introducing the single member constituency system for the Parliamentary elections.

Instead of the current proportional system, the Democrats propose a majoritarian one, where MPs are elected from constituencies of approx. 30000 voters, including some elected by Moldovans living abroad. The deputies would be also liable to dismissal by local referendums during their terms.

The draft law was already registered at the Parliament of Moldova and waits the approval of the Venice Commission (Council of Europe).

Poll: 70% of Moldovan diaspora appreciate Maia Sandu, 72% would agree to a majoritarian electoral system

A poll conducted by IMAS among the Moldovans living abroad revealed their political preferences.

The politician the most appreciated by the Moldovan diaspora is former Education Minister and Presidential candidate Maia Sandu- 70%. She is followed by Platform DA Andrei Năstase- 42%, Chișinău mayor Dorin Chirtoacă- 34%, ex-PM Iurie Leancă- 31%, PM Pavel Filip- 18%, ex-President Vladimir Voronin- 18%, current President Igor Dodon- 15%, Parliament speaker Andrian Candu- 14%, “Our Party” and Bălți mayor Renato Usatîi- 14%, Liberal leader Mihai Ghimpu- 14%. The Democrat leader and oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc enjoys 11% of diaspora’s appreciation.

Out of the 599 respondents, 66% said they appreciated PAS (Action and Solidarity Party)- 66%, European People’s Party of Moldova- 26%, Liberal-Democratic Party- 19%, Liberal Party- 18%, Communists’ Party- 14%, Socialists’ Party- 13%, “Our Party”- 13%, Democratic Party- 12%.

Asked about the possibility of introducing a majoritarian or mixed electoral system for the Parliamentary elections, 72% of the Moldovans said they would agree to a new electoral system, 87% agreed to have deputies elected from those living abroad and 79% favored the idea of withdrawing the mandate during the term. Interestingly, this poll was conducted before the Democrat oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc announced the intention of introducing a new majoritarian electoral system.

Moldova Agriculture Minister, Eduard Grama, accused of corruption in a land scam, under home arrest for 30 days, Prime-Minister asks President for dismissal

On March 17th, the Buiucani Court of Chișinău issued a arrest warrant of 30 days for Moldova’s Agriculture Minister Eduard Grama. The Minister, accused of passive corruption in a case of land appropriation, will stay under arrest at home for at least 30 days.

His lawyers believe the decision of the court is unfounded and lacks proof.

On the same day, Prime-Minister Pavel Filip sent a letter to President Igor Dodon demanding to dismiss Grama from the position of Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry, at the request of the Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office. A press-release of the Government mentions that Grama himself asked for his resignation on March 16th.

Russian Laundromat: Cases of four employees of Moldova National Bank sent to court

On March 10th, the Anti-Corruption Prosecution Office announced that the prosecutors finished the investigation and sent to the court the case regarding the involvement of four persons from the leadership of Moldova’s National Bank in the “Russian Laundromat”.

According to the prosecutors, the employees of the National Bank allowed, by bad practice of their service attributions, the laundering of some 22 billion US dollars through Moldinconbank.

Ex-Vice Governor of the National Bank Emma Tăbârță, the Director of Banking Supervision Department Matei Dohotaru, the Director of Regulation and Authorization Department Vladimir Țurcan, and the deputy head of the latter department.

During 2011-2014, the accused persons reportedly admitted or did not undertake actions towards the Moldindconbank, under supervision for one year, which led to the facilitation of suspect transactions of more than 22 billion USD. Moreover, the officials did not undertake any post-factum actions like fines, replacing the bank administrators or withdrawing the banking licence, thus damaging the image of the Republic of Moldova.

If they are found guilty, the four National Bank officials risk up to 6 years of imprisonment, together with the ban to have a public position for up to 10 years.

The scheme revealed by prosecutors show that hundreds of millions of US dollars were transferred from Russian companies, through accounts at Moldindconbank, as guarantees for the Moldovan guarantee persons. The latter, in their turn, were guaranteeing the supposed return of loan from a debtor to an off-shore creditor. The creditor was suing the Moldovan guarantee person in a court in Moldova, asking for the return of the money by allegedly submitting fake contracts. As a result, the guarantee person was forced to make the Russian companies to pay with no guarantee of getting the resources back.

-In February 2017, Gazprom sent a request to the International Commercial Arbitration Court (of Russia) claiming to recover a gas supply debt of $768,5 million US dollars from 2014 belonging to Moldovagaz, reports RIA Novosti, quoting a report of the Russian corporation.

“In February 2017, Gazprom filed with the International Commercial Arbitration Court to Moldovagaz about receiving the debt for the supplied gas in 2014 worth 768,5 million dollars”, cites RIA. The dates of hearings are not indicated.

The cited document mentions that the Arbitration Court previously approved the claims of Gazprom to receive the payments of Moldovagaz’s debts for 2012 and 2013- 830,767 million USD and 562,3 million USD, respectively.

-Russia Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, in Transnistria: 5+2 dialogue should not include political matters.

On March 13th, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Grigory Karasin, paid a visit to the Republic of Moldova and first had a talk with leader of the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic, Vadim Krasnoselsky.

The two officials talked on matters of Russian-Transnistrian commercial-economic cooperation and humanitarian ties, taking in account the environment in the region. Krasnoselsky and Karasin touched upon the 5+2 dialogue format in the conflict settlement between the constitutional authorities of Moldova and the separatist authorities.

Karasin emphasized that Russia insists on making the 5+2 dialogue more frequent and focusing it on basic needs of Transnistrian people, rather than theoretical questions:

“Russia, as a guarantee state, mediator, intends to reinforce its participation, and we insist that the international 5+2 format should be convened more frequently and that it should discuss, not some temporary, theoretical messages, but fully down-to-earth needs of the Pridnestrovian people, Pridnestrovian structure. All of this is doable, there are no extraordinary requests”, declared the diplomat.

Krasnoselsky only had to confirm that his administration is a supporter of any format, be it 1+1 or 5+2, not only for dialogue, but for practical solutions to concrete questions on both sides- Moldovan one and Transnistrian one.

Asked by a journalist about the problem of the opening of joint Moldo-Ukrainian checkpoint at Cuciurgan, Karasin responded that the understandable discontent attitude of Transnistrian authorities can be discussed during the 5+2 dialogue together with Ukraine. He expressed hope that a new round of 5+2 discussions would be soon organized. The Russian diplomat, together with the Transnistrian leader, think that there are no impediments to that, since the Moldovan President Igor Nikolaevich (Dodon) also emphasized on solving practical questions.

-Chișinău-Tiraspol talks on latin script schools, farmer lands, transportation, petrol import, penal cases ended with no results.

On March 14th, the political representatives of Moldova’s constitutional authorities and those of the Transnistrian separatist administration (Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic- PMR) had a formal discussion on the bilateral issues at the OSCE Mission Office in Chișinău.

Both negotiators, Tiraspol’s Vitaly Ignatiev and Chișinău’s George Bălan, separately that the parties achieved little to no agreement in domains like transportation, petrol imports and border control. Moreover, the two officials seemed to speak about two different discussions and different topics.

Tiraspol’s negotiations

As Tiraspol’s foreign ministry reports, the discussions were not so successful. According to Transnistria’s negotiator Vitaly Ignatiev, the Moldovan party did not offer a clear response to the issue of the petrol products imports in the north of the region. Ignatiev claimed that the Moldovan negotiator rejected any talks about solving the so-called politically motivated penal cases, thus derailing from the Berlin Protocol.

Furthermore, the Transnistrian official stressed that PMR is against the opening of the joint Moldo-Ukrainian checkpoint at Cuciurgan-Pervomaiskoe, because it would limit the free movement of Transnistrian people and exports. He even brought up the number of 38 million USD as the preliminary costs of instituting the “three-times” control, to which the Moldovan negotiator allegedly did not even pay attention. Ignatiev added that he hopes to talk about the mentioned issues during the 5+2 negotiations.

Chișinău’s negotiators

In his turn, Moldova’s Reintegration Minister, George Bălan, mentioned some other almost totally different subjects during his briefing. To his disappointment, issues like the preservation and support of the Latin script schools, the access of farmers to their lands in Dubăsari district, the registration of Transnistrian cars with Moldovan number plates and others were not taken seriously by Tiraspol.

In regard to the problem of petrol imports in Transnistria, Bălan told journalists that the issue, rather technical, is to be discussed between the joint experts groups and not between the political negotiators. Asked about the politically motivated cases, Bălan declared that there is no such thing in the relations between the two banks of Nistru, stressing out the lack of this kind of terminology in the bilateral agreements and protocols.

Bălan tried to convince that the Cuciurgan-Pervomaiskoe joint checkpoint will not limit the movement of anyone but criminals, and anything but counterfeit. “The checkpoint is a matter of bilateral relations between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine and is not directed against anyone”, he added.

-On March 9th, the Economy Ministry of Moldova announced about its decision to correct the growth forecast for 2017.

The previous 3,5%-6,5% forecast for GDP growth was replaced by one of 4,5%. The Ministry expects an annual growth rate of 3,5%-4,5% during 2017-2020, reportedly determined by the improvement of the world economic context, the intense promotion of exports, development and support of the private sector, continuation of structural reforms.

The Economy Ministry forecasts a 6,5% inflation rate at the end of the year, 5,5% for 2018 and 5% for 2019 and 2020 respectively.

-On 15 March 2017, the National Bureau of Statistics of Moldova published the final data regarding the Gross Domestic Product in 2016.

The data reveal that the total Gross Domestic Product in 2016 amounted 133,476 billion lei, or 6,79 billion US dollars, 4,1% more than in 2015.

Positive contributions to the GDP were those of the Agriculture (+2,2%), Commerce and Car Repair (+0,9%), Industry, Transportation, Information and Scientific and technical activities (+0,3% each). The gross added value increased in total by 4,1%, while the volume of taxes on products grew by 3,1%. A negative impact was brought by the +0,2% decrease in constructions, -0,1% in public spending and 0,7% in other activities.

The 4,1% GDP growth in 2016 compared to 2015 should be taken in the context of the 2014 and 2015 economic crises, caused by the banking frauds that left Moldova without approximately one eighth of its GDP.

Currently studying International Relations at the University of Pécs, Hungary. Study focus: Transnistrian conflict settlement, Moldovan statehood, Moldovan democracy.

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Chișinău and Tiraspol sign protocols to solve issues of Latin script schools, telecommunication, diploma recognition and land ownership

On November 25th, the political negotiators of the Republic of Moldova and the separatist Transnistrian administration met in Bender to discuss technical issues ahead of the upcoming 5+2 negotiations in Vienna.

Accompanied by 5+2 mediators and observers, Reintegration Minister George Balan and the so-called “foreign minister” Vitalyi Ignatiev signed 4 protocols elaborated at the expert groups level. The protocols focus on 4 key issues:

  • Recognition of diplomas issued by education institutions in the Transnistrian region– the parties agreed to Chișinău accepting (apostillation) a neutral diploma issued in Transnistria;
  • Elimination of barriers in the telecommunication domain- establishing a direct connection of fixed and the mobile telephone network, as well as internet, after the negotiations between operators on both banks of Nistru river;
  • Elimination of barriers to the functioning of Romanian language (Latin script) schools in Transnistria- setting minimal rent and utility prices for the buildings rented out to these schools, setting 10 years as the minimal rent period for the buildings, providing the adjacent lands in use to the schools, providing conditions for free movement of teachers and pupils of these schools, but also the needed materials for their functioning;
  • Allowing farmers to use their lands across Tiraspol-Camenca road in Dubăsari district- applying the “2006 Mechanism” of distributing the lands to those persons owning them initially, stopping the use of lands by Transnistrian firms or persons (2014 distribution), stopping the penal cases against the latter by Chișinău.

Solutions to these problems are expected to be delivered by the joint expert groups.

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2017 Eastern Partnership Summit ends: EU encourages EaP countries to continue reforms, acknowledges “European choice” of MD, UA, GE

Representatives of the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, the representatives of the European Union and the Heads of State or Government and representatives of its Member States have met in Brussels on 24 November 2017. During their meeting, they agreed on a joint declaration on the Eastern Partnership.

The declaration, however, does not bring new dimensions to the Eastern Partnership. Everyone reconfirmed their commitment and the high importance they attach to the Partnership. The EU, in particular, reaffirmed its commitment to support the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all its partners- a hint on Ukraine’s hybrid war with Russia. Due to the fact that 5 out of 6 EaP countries have such problems, the Summit participants called for renewed efforts to promote the peaceful settlement of unresolved conflicts, though not named in the declaration, in the region on the basis of international law.

In the declaration, the European Union and its Member States acknowledged the European aspirations and European choice of partners who signed association agreements with the EU, namely Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine; while recognizing the right for other partners to choose the level of ambition they aspire to in their relations with the EU. Some compared these statements as being too similar to those from the Riga Summit in 2015.

The 20 deliverables for 2020 framework was welcomed as the way to improve the lives of citizens of the Eastern European states in four priority areas with a focus on good governance, better transport links, energy security, independent media and people mobility.

The European Council President, Donald Tusk, made it clear that the Eastern Partnership will develop on both economic and societal dimensions:

“We want to reinforce Eastern Partnership cooperation in a number of specific areas such as small and medium-sized enterprises, digital economy, broadband investments, and investments in transport, energy and infrastructure projects. The list is long. But above all, we want to strengthen links between our citizens and give more support to civil society”, said Tusk, alongside with Estonia’s PM Juri Ratas and EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker at the closing press conference.

In the margins of the summit, the EU and Armenia signed a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement, as well as an Aviation Agreement.

Moldova’s Prime-Minister Pavel Filip underlined that this EaP Summit was important for all the partners to reevaluate the partnership, its aims, and its future. According to him, the Partnership is very important for Moldova in this critical period of difficult reforms unpopular decisions. However, at the arrival in the morning, Filip, did not approach the journalists and just passed them smiling, as compared to representatives of other states.

The EaP was launched in 2009 to promote the political association and economic integration between the EU and the six Eastern European partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

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New round of 5+2 talks to take place in Vienna during November 27-28

A new round of 5+2 negotiations will take place in Vienna during November 27-28. The information was communicated to IPN by Moldova’s Minister for Reintegration and chief negotiator, George Balan, who received the invitation on the afternoon of November 14th.

According to Balan, Moldova’s proposals for the agenda of the 5+2 meeting will include the “Berlin plus” package (Berlin protocol): the problem of access to farmlands, the situation of Latin script Romanian-language schools, and the movement of vehicles registered in the Transnistrian region.

The invitation was reportedly made by the mediators to the Transnistrian conflict settlement talks Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE.

5+2 negotiations regard the talks on the conflict resolution between the separatist authorities of the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic and the constitutional authorities of the Republic of Moldova, together with the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine as mediators, and the EU and the US as observers.

The latest round of the 5+2 talks was held in Bavaria in July 2016.

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