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“The conflict in the Sea of Azov represents a reason to worry for Moldova” The crisis overview and the experts’ opinion

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A dangerous new crisis between Russia and Ukraine began after Russia seized 3 Ukrainian naval ships on Sunday morning, preventing them to enter the Kerch Strait – a narrow strip of water that links the Black and Azov seas and holds strategic importance for both countries.

According to the Ukrainian navy cited in the international media, a Russian vessel bumped into a Ukrainian tugboat Yany Kapu. Along with Berdiansk and Nikopol gunboats, it was transiting from Odessa to the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov. The Russian vessel opened fire and wounded several sailors. The tugboat Yany Kapu and the gunboat Berdiansk were disabled by the Russian forces and the undamaged Nikopol was taken under control. Russia sent two combat helicopters to the location of the incident, as reported by the Ukrainian Navy. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry declares in a statement that Russia acted “aggressively” and “illegally used force against the ships of the Ukrainian Navy.”

The office of the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko qualified the Russian action against the Ukrainian navy ships as “an act of aggression aimed at deliberately escalating the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.” It also called for international condemnation of Moscow and the imposition of new sanctions. “We consider such actions categorically unacceptable and this aggression has already led to consequences,” said Petro Poroshenko.

On the other hand, the Russian FSB security service states that the border patrol boats captured the Ukrainian naval vessels by using weapons. The FSB declared it was forced to take action as the Ukrainian boats illegally entered its territorial waters and ignored warnings to stop, according to the news agency TASS. “Weapons were used with the aim of forcibly stopping the Ukrainian warships,” the FSB said. The Russian media speculates that the incident in the Kerch Strait was a conspiracy between the U.S. and Ukrainian authorities for endangering the upcoming meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit.

Source: Twitter

As a response to the crisis, Russia temporarily blocked the passage to the Kerch Strait by placing a tanker in the waters under a bridge controlled by Russians. The access way was reopened for the civilian ships only, according to TASS.

The conflict seems to escalate even more as on Monday the Ukrainian lawmakers voted, at the initiative of the country’s president Petro Poroshenko, to declare martial law in 10 regions of Ukraine for a term of 30 days, starting in the morning of November 28th. The martial law also specifies that the election of President of Ukraine was set to March 31st, 2019.

International community

European Union and NATO support the Ukraine sovereignty and its territorial integrity and calls on Russia “to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea,” as Oana Lungescu, the spokesperson of NATO, declares in a statement to CNN. At the same time, Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs urged Ukraine and Russia “to refrain from any ratcheting up of actions or rhetoric,” as UN News reports. “[We] remind both [Russia and Ukraine] of the need to contain this incident so as to prevent a serious escalation that may have unforeseen consequences,” she said.

Source: UN News

Several European states, including Romania and Republic of Moldova expressed their concern regarding the development of the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait conflict. “Aggression & violation of international law undermine the security of the whole region,” declares the service of the Romanian Ministry of External Affairs. The Moldovan Ministry of External Affairs and European Integration expressed its “profound concern” regarding the occurring events as well. “We firmly blame any acts of aggression and provocation that undermine the regional security,” the ministry said. Both Romanian and Moldovan Ministries support “the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and its rights to use its territorial waters.”

Experts’ opinion

Rosian Vasiloi, the IDIS “Viitorul” expert in security policies, qualifies the Ukrainian actions of transferring its vessels through the Kerch Strait as “not illegal,” taking into consideration the previous agreements between Russia and Ukraine. Whereas the Russian actions “are a flagrant violation of the established agreements, Kremlin trying to set new game rules in the Black and Azov seas and maintaining the position that those are territorial waters under the Russian control,” says Vasiloi.

He considers that the main objectives of the Russian actions is to discourage assistance and support from the European institutions to Ukraine in the defence and security sector, to hinder the intention of joining NATO, as well as convincing the Ukrainian citizens about the weakness of the Navy Forces and promoting the propagandist messages in the context of future Ukrainian elections.

Rosian Vasiloi expresses his expectations concerning a tough reaction from the international community, as tolerating such actions from the Russian side “is way too much.”

“I expect that the Ukrainian authorities and the EU institutions would concentrate their forces for promoting policies and measures that would sanction a possible Russia’s aggression against its neighbouring state.”

The Republic of Moldova should align to these sanctions, considers Vasiloi. “The eventual war declaration from the Russian side is not a thing to be ignored. The risks for the Republic of Moldova are high, taking into consideration the presence of Russian troops on the Moldovan territory. Therefore, a clear reaction and concrete measures from Moldovan side regarding this subject is needed.”

Denis Cenușă, the associated expert at Expert-Grup, considers that the development of the Kerch Strait conflict “will largely depend on the international community’s response.” The actions and decisions of UN, NATO and EU international organizations, as well as the position of individual countries such as the US, Germany, France and the UK, will determine the Moscow’s further steps.

“Taking into account the previous reactions of the international community to Russian aggression (Crime annexation, military action in Donbass, civilian plane MH17 crash, etc.), there is a low probability that other measures than economic and individual sanctions can stop the Russian Federation,” says Cenușă. On the other hand, he mentions that such measures may be followed by reactions of the Russian Federation, including shortening natural gas supplies, reactivating the crisis in Syria, extending economic sanctions, or triggering hybrid activities in countries vulnerable to populist movements.

“The fact that for Putin’s regime the military agenda prevails over diplomacy and “soft power” confirms an alarming direction that the Russian Federation is taking by rejecting international law and bilateral agreements.” This shows that the reformist segments of the Russian society are incapable of sanctioning Putin’s authoritarian regime, whose foreign policy is wholly dominated by militaristic visions, according to Cenușă.

Regarding the conflicting information that appeared in the Russian and Ukrainian media, the expert notices that the Russian Federation is interested in exposing the events in a way it suits. “In the last two decades, the Russian crisis situations have always been misinterpreted by the pro-government press and Russian officials. Therefore, there are no reasons to trust the statements made in the Russian media this time.”

On the background of the information mismatch, one can see what the intentions of the Russian Federation are. First, Cenușă states that Russia uses military atrocities against Ukrainian ships to discredit Petr Poroshenko’s presidency in the context of the presidential election, in which Moscow relies on the candidacy of Yulia Tymoshenko. Second, Moscow wants to flood the national and international public space with the idea that the Azov Sea is treated as a Russian internal geographical area, although in reality this area belongs to Ukraine or it is shared with Ukraine. “So, we are witnessing a new act of legitimizing the illegal integration of Crimea into the Russian territory.” Third, a new trend of expanding the Russian aggression from the earth to the sea can be observed. If in the Donbass region, Moscow claimed that the problem is in the separatist forces, which it can somehow masquerade, then in the waters of the Azov Sea this trend comes to the foreground, regardless of the misinformation angle.

Concerning the possible influence of the conflict in the region, particularly for Moldova, Cenușă points out the opinion of the international military experts suggesting that Russia is capable of anything.

“In a way, we are faced with a security and geopolitical reality easily disputed by Moscow whenever it deems necessary and neglecting any existing diplomatic framework. This represents a reason to worry, as Moldova has Russian military forces stationed in the Transnistrian region, low military training, lack of any solid strategic vision, and a local political context fragile or tolerant of Russian interference.”

The conflict backgrounds

Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, an act that is not legally recognized by the international community, and a war with the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, these two countries have been locked in a continuous conflict. Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been steadily escalating in recent months.

For example, last month, the conflict extended into the area of religion when the Ukrainian Orthodox Church officially broke free from Moscow’s control. Besides, Ukraine and the United States have been accusing Russia of interfering with international shipping in and out of the Kerch Strait for some months now.

Featured image source: CNN

Opinion

The experts’ opinions: What are the possible ‘combinations’ in the future parliament?

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The future Parliament of the Republic of Moldova could be divided between several political parties: The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM), the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), the Dignity and Truth Platform Party (DTPP) – that form the electoral bloc ACUM, and the “Șor” Party. No party has the majority; therefore, a political coalition needs to be formed for voting the future Government. That is where the public, media and the political analysts started to speculate on possible options.

The DPM-PSRM coalition

Igor Boțan, the Executive Director of the Association for Participatory Democracy ADEPT, believes that the most probable and realistic option is a DPM-PSRM coalition, as both the DPM and the PSRM have adopted a “pro-Moldova” attitude and already have experience with forming an alliance. “Regarding the Moldova’s foreign relations, Vlad Plahotniuc and Igor Dodon plead for the idea that Moldova should become a sort of bridge between East and West,” as Boțan states for REL/RL. Boțan considers that the DPM and the PSRM have always had common interests.

“When addressing the bloc ACUM for negotiations, the Democratic Party actually makes a proposal to the Party of Socialists.”

The only impediment in a smooth process of negotiations between the DPM and the PSRM would be an eventual disagreement with Russia, which is interested in maintaining the current political situation in Transnistria, in controlling the Moldova’s exports and imports volumes to the EU and keeping its dominance over Moldova through the Orthodox church and Russian media influence, according to Igor Boțan.

The DPM-ACUM coalition

The decision taken by the electoral bloc ACUM to not create any coalitions with any party that passed the threshold of the people’s vote for entering in the parliament has been heavily criticized, especially by the political experts whose position is favourable to the DPM. Therefore, the political pundit Corneliu Ciurea, declared for PublikaTV – a channel controlled by the Democratic Party that “the bloc ACUM does not want to sit at the negotiating table.” He believes that without a support from the Western partners that would encourage those from the bloc ACUM to have a dialogue, they won’t be willing to negotiate with the Democratic Party, as IPN reports.

On March 1st, the DPM deputy chairman Vlad Cebotari announced during a press conference that the Democratic Party sent letters to the DTPP and the PAS inviting them to negotiate a parliamentary majority, so as to ensure effective government of the Republic of Moldova, in line with people’s expectations, as the DPM press release states.

On the other hand, Andrei Năstase, one of the leaders of the bloc ACUM, declared for ProTV that the DPM is trying to imitate the process of forming an alliance. “From that letter, I deduced the hurry in which the Democrats try to mimic the process of forming an alliance. The bloc ACUM will never form an alliance with the thieves, the ruling mafia, those who degraded the country and its people. One of our main commitments was to not form an alliance with the party of Plahotniuc (the DPM), the party of Dodon (the PSRM), the party of Șor or the party of Usatîi – all the oligarchic and anti-European parties”, stated Năstase.

The PSRM-ACUM coalition

Discussing a possible temporary coalition between the bloc ACUM and the PSRM is an idea promoted by some analysts as the most relevant possibility of the majority creation in the Parliament.

In the opinion of Alexei Tulbure, a political commentator from Moldova, a temporary coalition could be created, based on the fact that more than 60 mandates were obtained by the parties that, at least formally, declared themselves against the current system. “I understand that it is impossible to have a long-term, stable coalition between the PSRM and ACUM, because the priorities are very different, but it is a possibility for a ‘stalemate’ against the DPM in an attempt to free the state institutions from Plahotniuc’s people,” said Tulbure for JurnalTV.

In the same time, Igor Boțan declared that “if there is no trust between the partners, even if the partners have different visions, no provisional coalitions are possible. The part who swallows the bait will suffer afterwards.”

Such a combination would mean a ‘political suicide’ for ACUM, according to the publicist Vitalie Ciobanu. “The socialists are just as rotten and corruptible as the democrats. In addition, the PSRM is a Kremlin’s ‘remote control’,” said Ciobanu.  He asks himself how an alliance of the bloc ACUM with those who want the federalization of the Republic of Moldova would look like. “To make all these sacrifices for the sake of an alliance that would break at the first turn – ACUM would be a political loser and a traitor in the eyes of the people who set their hopes on them,” commented Ciobanu.

Calling snap elections or other ‘creative’ alternatives

In the same time, the political analysts admit the possibility that the DPM would ‘convince’ some politicians from other parties to adhere to the DPM, just like it happened in the previous parliament.

According to the political analyst Dionis Cenușă, the Bloc ACUM needs to decide, whether to influence the governance process or to hold the opposition role in the parliament. “The difficulty of such a decision depends equally on the success of the Democrats’ ultimate establishment of a coalition with the “Șor” Party, the three independent candidates, and necessarily at least 11 representatives of the Socialists (PSRM). If the slightest risk of such a scenario persists, then the Bloc ACUM needs to prepare for early elections or for the forced prolongation of the current government,” stated Cenușă for IPN.

Recently. all 35 members of the PSRM, elected in the national and single-seat constituencies, presented a statement obliging them to work  within a single faction in the future legislature.
The PSRM president, Zinaida Greceanîi, declared that at the moment the party does not negotiate any alliances, and the allegations regarding the possible coalitions between the PSRM and other parties are just speculations.

Another possible scenario seems to be prepared by the DPM, as the party member Sergiu Sîrbu filed a petition to the Constitutional Court on February 28th, demanding the transfer of the Parliament’s powers to the Government in case of blocked parliamentary activity. In other words, Sîrbu asked for the settlement of an interim period for the Government in office, where it could issue normative acts, including in the area of ​​regulating laws to ensure the continuity of power.

The best conclusion for this article can be made using the declarations of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM) former president – Viorel Cibotaru: “There are no suitable options, miracle solutions. We expect a long and hard positional war, close fights in the parliament and other public institutions.” Cibotaru thinks that people must organize strikes, protests, demonstrations, any kind of national resistance, if necessary, to establish the values they share. In the same time, he advises the public to not put pressure on the newly entered in the parliament parties. 

“Let our new politicians invent something new, amaze us with something else. Do not bother them and teach them what to do. Let them manage it by themselves. We will help them not slip into the labyrinth of power … “,

Photo: sputnik.md

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A former Liberal Democratic Party president about the pressure on “ACUM” opposition bloc and the DPM-SPM link

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Former Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, Viorel Ciboraru, says that the pressure put on bloc “ACUM”(PAS + Dignity and Truth Platform) to create a majority with the Socialist Party for Democratic Party’s “situational” elimination is aimed at further justifying the alliance between DPM-SPM. In this schematic of the politician, the “ACUM” bloc will be declared guilty because it would not have made an alliance with the Socialist Party.

“All the pressure put on us today to create a non-bloc with PSRM for the “situational” elimination of the Democratic Party from power has a clear purpose: to lay down a most credible story for the true DPM-SPM alliance, lived in 2016 (and earlier, but in 2016 it became evident).

I’m waiting for another DPM move. To propose to “ACUM”, concretely – a hyper-European and reformist program: approaching NATO, the EU membership, the integration programs and intensive cooperation with Romania, the 50/50 government (and the post of prime minister, of course). But in this program, there will be a comma or two that will annihilate the virtual proposal. That is to demotivate the West: “you see how far we were ready to go …” Again, Maia and Andrei – the guilty ones.

However, there are no good variants. Miracle solutions – not even. As anticipated by more people, we expect a long and hard “positional war”, “melee” battles in parliament, in public institutions, on the ground. Ready with slogans, more grueling work of analyzing, monitoring, observing, criticizing, unmasking, and depicting the corrupt power being re-installed. And strikes, protests, demonstrations, any kind of national resistance, if necessary, to establish the values ​​that we share and which we can no longer deny.

Civil society (the associative sector, independent and corporate affiliates, freelancers and bloggers, alternative media, progressive priests, beta-unionists, teachers and researchers) must re-invent, revive, be more dynamic and more self-sustaining, more ingenious and … more optimistic, after all.”, declared Viorel Cibotaru.

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Important

Were the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova free and fair? The conclusion of election observation missions

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Several national and international elections observation missions issued official statements and reports comprising preliminary findings and conclusions regarding the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova held on February 24th. Some of them raised a red flag, expressing their concerns about the way the election process was organised.

The OSCE International Election Observation Mission of the parliamentary elections mentioned in its report that “The 24 February 2019 parliamentary elections were competitive and fundamental rights were generally respected.”

The report stated that due to the control and ownership of the media by political actors, the range of viewpoints presented to voters was limited. In the same time, “most aspects of the elections were administered in a professional and transparent manner.”

Taking into consideration that these were the first elections held under the mixed electoral system and that a referendum was held on the same day, “the electoral bodies faced difficulties with reconciling result protocols” and it also “caused confusion among some voters and commission members.”

Even though the report highlighted that “the legal framework generally provided an adequate basis for conducting democratic elections,” it also mentioned that the lack of transparency in the way some polling stations were allocated “contributed to the perception that the decision was made for political reasons.” Here is important to add that several polling stations abroad were allocated in small cities of Italy or USA, for example, in contradiction to the Moldovan voters’ preliminary registration for the elections.

The OSCE report brought up the subject of media reflection of the electoral campaigning, saying that some national TV channels did not comply with the legal requirements to provide fair, balanced and impartial campaign coverage.

“Main campaign messages focused on socio-economic issues, while geopolitical and foreign policy topics received less attention.”

Additionally, the report noted the “large-scale bussing of voters from Transnistria and that police initiated an investigation into whether some of them were paid to vote.”

On the other hand, the statement of Transparency International – Moldova on monitoring parliamentary elections was less optimistic:

“Transparency International – Moldova expresses its deep concern about the spread of political corruption in the Republic of Moldova and the superficiality with which some institutions have monitored the parliamentary elections of February 24, 2019.”

The organisation noted that “these elections took place in conditions of state capture, when most of the relevant public institutions demonstrated political fidelity to the ruling party, often neglecting legal rigor.”

The context mentioned by Transparency International – Moldova included money laundering; the legislative initiatives dedicated to legalizing money with fraudulent provenience (the citizenship by investment law and the law on capital liberalization and the fiscal amnesty); modifying the electoral system, despite the recommendations of the Venice Commission; issuing integrity certificates to compromised candidates; massive persecution of political opponents, local leaders, civic activists through law enforcement institutions and controlled media; mass transportation of voters from Transnistria and their compulsion to vote for a specific candidate for payment; launching populist projects involving enormous public resources by the parties in power; impeding the diaspora to vote using expired passports or contest this limitation of the right to vote, etc.

The Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections assessed the parliamentary elections of February 24th, 2019 as incorrect and partially free. The assessment was made based on the electoral system modification prior to the elections, use of the administrative resources in electoral campaigning, voters bribing, restriction of the voting rights of citizens from diaspora, lacunae and errors in the State Electoral Register and voter rolls, intimidation of national observers and attempts to compromise civic education campaigns, etc.

The Promo-LEX Observation Mission for the parliamentary elections of February 24, 2019 presented in a press release 420 incidents that occurred during the election day. The incidents included 8 cases of providing restricted access or obstruction of free observation in the polling station, 22 cases of violence or intimidation of voters, 22 cases of rumours, attempts, or even factual material or monetary rewards offered to voters in the perimeter and /or near the polling station to influence the voters’ choice, 38 cases of unjustified group voting, 24 cases of unjustified presence of unauthorized persons within the polling station, 18 cases of electoral campaigning or adverse campaigning at the entrance to/in the polling station in order to influence the voters’ choice, 39 cases of organised transportation of voters, 61 cases of deficiencies in electoral lists (address discrepancies, deceased voters, signatures in place of other people), 13 cases of deficiencies in the operation of the SIAS Elections System (suspension of operation, situations when SIAS Elections System indicates that the voter voted, and he claims not to), 50 cases of photographing of ballot papers or other violations of the secret voting, 4 cases of voting of a suspiciously large number of voters residing at one and the same address, and others.

Photo: sputnik.md

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