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Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania at the end of 2018: More Challenges for the United States

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This opinion piece was written by Dr. Nicholas Dima. Dr. Dima was formerly a Professor of Geography and Geopolitics at Djibouti University, St. Mary’s University College and James Madison University. From 1975 to 1985 and from 1989 to 2001, Dr. Dima was a Writer and Field Reporter at Voice of America. The opinion does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editorial staff of Moldova.org.

***

Two important events are occurring currently in Eastern Europe and they could shape the future of the region and challenge U.S. national security interests. First, a quasi-religious war is shaking the Orthodox Church that may have consequences similar to the great schism which split Christendom in 1044. Second, Romania feels threatened by Russia and is strengthening its alliance with America. Moscow is wary of both evolutions.

After the Russo-Ukrainian war of 2014 and the Russian annexation of Crimea, the conflict between the two countries has been largely frozen. Yet, it has continued to simmer inside Ukraine and is now about to explode in the open. And this time the conflict is spiritual and involves the Orthodox Church.

Most Orthodox Churches are autocephalous (self-governing) and are led by national patriarchs. In turn, they are under the Universal Patriarch of Constantinople, who is considered primus inter pares. Ukraine, however, the second largest Orthodox Church, has never received autocephaly from Constantinople. Historically, Russia, which is the largest Orthodox Church, exercised leadership over all the orthodox people in the east, including Ukrainians and Belarusians. As long as Russia controlled the land, it also assumed spiritual control of the people through the Russian church headquartered in Moscow.

Currently, the Universal Orthodox Patriarchate led by Bartholomew I is about to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. This is dangerous for Moscow because it means an end to its spiritual control over the country and would also encroach greatly on Russia’s political role over the east. As Paul Goble, a researcher of the field, put it… autocephaly for Ukraine is a major defeat for both political and religious reasons… It represents the end of President Vladimir Putin’s dream of a ‘Russian World…’ (Eurasia Daily Monitor, October 16, 2018). In fact, Putin and Moscow were aiming at controlling the entire Orthodox world which extends from the Baltic to the Mediterranean seas. Ukrainian autocephaly would put a firm end to this goal. Besides losing Ukraine, Moscow also risks losing leverage over Belarus and over the ethnic Russian minorities in Moldova and other former Soviet republics.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has always been an obedient arm of the government, reacted immediately. It broke relations with Constantinople and threatened to anathemize (excommunicate) the Universal Patriarchate. The answer of the Patriarchate was in kind and this marked the beginning of a new stage of a religious conflict. The canonical conflict would split deeply the Orthodox Church and would spill over into politics. Russia is already nervous, is threatening, and is becoming increasingly more aggressive.

The individual Eastern Orthodox Churches are divided on the issue. Canonically, they may align themselves with the Patriarch in Constantinople but politically is a different matter. The Armenians in the Caucasus and the Serbians and Bulgarians in south-east Europe will probably back Russia. That will isolate Romania, which is predominantly Orthodox but is overwhelmingly pro-Western. As for the Western reaction, Washington has already signaled that it will help Ukraine achieve autocephaly. The imminent canonical independence of the Kyiv church may lead to ethnic Russian riots in Ukraine and potentially to another military intervention. And a new conflict will be more widely spread than the previous one and may affect Romania directly.

Romania has canonical and territorial claims over Bessarabia and over other lands held now by Ukraine and Moldova. In the Republic of Moldova, like in Ukraine, the orthodox churches are split. Some belong to the Romanian Patriarchate in Bucharest and the others belong to Moscow. What will happen to the pro-Russian Moldovan churches if Ukraine acquires autocephaly?

On December 1 this year Romania marks one hundred years of modern independence, but instead of celebrating, it is worried about Russia. In the current confusion in the European Union, Bucharest is turning increasingly toward Washington for political, military, and geopolitical support. In fact, Romania is now one of the main pivots of U.S. policy in Eastern Europe. This is reflected in several bilateral treaties and accords. One such accord states:

Romania shares the U.S. commitment to transatlantic security, and fully supports endeavors to improve the effectiveness of NATO and strengthen its capabilities to address the current challenges… Thus, we are particularly appreciative to our U.S. ally for its strong political support and substantial contribution to projects such as the multinational brigade hosted by Romania, the enhanced maritime presence in the Black Sea or the Combined Joint Enhanced Training Program…’

The official statements stress that this year, besides celebrating the Romanian centennial, Bucharest also marks the 21st anniversary of the U.S.-Romanian Strategic Partnership. This treaty, signed in Washington in 1994, is considered a key factor in shaping Romania’s strategy as an American ally. Accordingly, Romanian and U.S. troops participated together on military missions in various operation areas such as the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Since its first deployment, the Romanian military contributed with more than 46,000 uniformed personnel and of these 34 were killed in action and 226 were wounded.

In addition, the United States built an important anti-missile base in southern Romania which is already operational and which has made Russia fume. A new conflict in Ukraine will also involve the current Republic of Moldova and will bring to the fore the old and unresolved question of Bessarabia…

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

Diaspora

Stories from diaspora: Andrei Juc – the nomad architect from Moldova who gained his experience from all across Europe

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His name is Andrei Juc. He is a young architect that believes that beauty can make the world a better place and does everything he can to contribute to it. Andrei declares himself a wanderer that still has a lot to discover. He lived, studied and worked in several European countries and hasn’t decided yet where to settle in. Andrei is our new protagonist for the “Stories from Diaspora” series of articles.

About his ‘reason for being’

He started his career in architecture in Moldova, while working as a draftsman for a private summer pavilion. Then, he had an opportunity to work for a museum project in Warsaw. Andrei also had an experience of studying and working in Portugal, where the team he was a part of, won the contest for a hotel reconstruction in the historical centre of Lisbon. Now he lives and has a job in Basel, Switzerland working as a trainee at an architectural bureau. “There are still a lot of things I have to learn. But I like to see that people are happier when helping them make their dreams come true. It can be a new house, a better working environment or a kitchen that would have everything they need. The scale doesn’t matter, it’s the quality that does,” says Andrei.

Photo source: personal archive, photo by Vaniko Katamashvili

Andrei is an assiduous and curious person that looks for perfectionism in every artistic creation of his or of other architects. “The trick is to set the goal so high, that the journey of achieving would bring you lots of happiness. The curiosity for new things is my IKIGAI (a Japanese concept that means a reason for being).” Andrei assumes that by enjoying hard work on a daily basis, his professional limits could be achieved.

About becoming an architect

“I remember that I had big doubts about choosing my future vocation. I liked most of the subjects taught at school, and I could not decide for something, so that I would not lose any important part of my personality that could have been developed.” Andrei thinks that the architecture area encompasses all his interests. “I was thinking of studying philosophy or to become an IT specialist, but, finally, I chose architecture.”

About finding his place in the sun

Andrei changed his location because he thought his educational background would not be complete when staying just in one place. Every time an opportunity to shake things up appeared, he took advantage of it. “I enrolled in several exchange programs. So, I had the opportunity to study at 3 different universities in 3 different countries. My horizons have widened, it is like changing the resolution of a video from 240p to 1080p. Life is the same, but I can see it in much more detail than I did before,” Andrei states.

Photo source: personal archive

For our protagonist, each change of location was a big leap, leaving behind a comfortable workplace and good friends with whom Andrei still tries to keep in touch. “My nomad story starts in Poland where I had an Erasmus exchange program for 10 months. I liked the country a lot and I observed that learning the Polish language would help follow the regular courses there.”

Afterwards, the possibility to study in Portugal came to Andrei. The master’s degree in architecture seemed to be a great option. He spent there more time than he thought at first and met great people there. “I had a great chance to learn from Polish and Portuguese professionals. However, I was still feeling that I shall keep moving. I believe young people shall often change places. Jack Ma advises young people to to that before their 30s,” states Andrei while smiling. Hence, here he is in Switzerland.

About conquering mountains

The first years of studies were hard for Andrei. “We had a lot of heavy tasks with quite restricted deadlines. It was quite stressful so I started to think about some kind of activity that might take me away from the drawing desk and, preferably, help me stay in shape.”

Photo source: personal archive

After trying various sports, Andrei settled upon climbing. He managed to transpose the steep ‘cliffs’ from the office to the real ones. The difference? The real cliffs were a reboot button that were releasing all the stress accumulated during the working week. “The best way to refresh my mind is climbing in some isolated place, away from the civilisation. It is my kind of meditation. After a long day of climbing, I find answers to both professional and personal life questions. Nature is the ultimate therapist.”

Besides climbing, Andrei learns foreign languages (and he is really having a knack for them, as he speaks 7 already) and reads famous novels in original. “The last one was a José Saramago novel. I hope to improve my German to be able to read Goethe, Kant and Wittgenstein in original,” says Andrei.

One more hobby Andrei has, which is related to his vocation, is sketching. “I have a lot of notebooks with drafts. Often, I make quick sketches while traveling or in museums. My rule – it shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. It’s a skill that helps me capture the most important of a landscape, image, sculpture. When it comes to sketch architecture, it’s an attempt to capture the future project, to try ideas in a context.”

Photo source: Instagram

Photo source: Instagram

Photo source: Instagram

About Moldova

Andrei is grateful to be born in Moldova. It is where he hopes to work in the future. “It makes me happy to see some restauration works in Moldova, such as the Căușeni Church restauration. A year ago, I was invited to work on a project of an old hospital restauration. I hope it will go on soon and I’ll have the opportunity to contribute to its realisation.” Andrei says that participating at projects of perpetuation of the Moldavian heritage would make him happy and proud.

He believes that the way the Moldovans interact with foreigners has a way bigger impact than any news they see about Moldova. However, he recognizes that he is not always able to explain the entire complexity of the Moldovan politics, culture or traditions.

For now, he is staying abroad. “There is a saying that if you want to build big bridges, don’t wait until the big water gets into your own town – move to a place where such a bridge is needed. I wanted a broader educational background. The nomad lifestyle that I have gave it to me.”

Featured photo source: oneday.md

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Opinion

Are the Moldovan citizens prepared for the coming elections? Facts & figures. The expert’s opinion

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The fact that the electoral system was changed to a mixed one for the coming elections on February 24th in the Republic of Moldova was already mentioned too many times in the media. The February election is a widely discussed subject internally and internationally. However, it seems that the common Moldovan citizens don’t know too many things about the new electoral system and the way it works. Is it because of the people’s indifference or maybe because of the limited efforts of the public institutions to clarify this subject? The following presented facts and figures might explain it better.

The public opinion reports

Some TV channels and online news portals from Moldova published materials proving that electors have no idea what the mixed electoral system means, how many ballots they will receive during the voting procedure, what exactly they will elect, what the referendum that will be held on the same day with the elections is about, etc.

Agora.md has posted recently a vox pop that demonstrates that the Moldovan voters are rather uncertain about the process of elections under the new mixt system. People know that there is a new system, however when it comes to explaining it, they shake their heads saying that they have something more important to do or that they will be guided before entering the voting booth.

Some people are even not informed regarding the date of the election and whether the parliamentary or the presidential election is held, according to a similar public opinion report broadcasted by the TV8 channel.

Another vox pop realised by Moldova.org showed that the majority of the questioned people are not aware that a referendum is organised on the same day as the election. Only few persons could name the questions included in the referendum, as well as its scope.

When asked by Ziarul de Gardă (ZdG)about the difference between two electoral candidates that run for the uninominal constituency nr. 33 and have similar names – Andrei Năstase and Andrei Nastas, the inhabitants of the region seemed confused and puzzled. Some of them didn’t know they will find these names on the ballot, others were mixing them up, being quite sure that Andrei Nastas is the leader of the Platform Party Dignity and Truth (PPDT), not Andrei Năstase. In the same time, all of them agreed that such a ‘coincidence’ would create a lot of disorientation during the elections, especially for the elderly people. According to the CEC official website, Andrei Nastas is an independent candidate, whose name was placed right after the Năstase’s name on the ballot.

“If we talk about the Năstase-Nastas case, on the one hand, we have a politician that is quite present on political arena (Năstase) and, on the other hand, a person who is still unknown (Nastas). This is why, we could assume that some electoral distortion is used by certain electoral contestants,” explained the Promo-LEX expert, Igor Bucătaru, for ZdG.

The electoral surveys

One more hint towards the unfamiliarity with the electoral candidates and the electoral process is the result of several surveys conducted before the election. Thus, according to a survey conducted by the iData company, the most trusted politician for whom the highest number of voters (11%) said would vote in the uninominal constituency is Igor Dodon, even though he doesn’t participate in the elections. Furthermore, when asked for whom they would vote in the uninominal constituencies, 63.1% of the respondents have indicated a candidate that doesn’t even run for the respective constituency.

The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) declared that it is imperative to inform the citizens about the new electoral system. As for every election, CEC launched several informational videos, aiming to inform the citizens regarding the mixed electoral system and to motivate them to go to voting. Besides, all the necessary information was posted on their official website. However, as these elections bring a set of novelties, the taken measures seem to be insufficient.

The Moldovan citizens express an indifferent and ignorant attitude towards the elections, as they are not really interested in educating themselves regarding the voting process and the candidates that will run on their uninominal constituency. Hence, 70.2 % of the respondents declared they will surely participate in the elections, according to the iData survey and 55.4% declared the same, according to the survey conducted by the Association of Sociologists and Demographers.

The expert’s opinion

“The new electoral system serves the ruling party in first place. Therefore, it wasn’t meant to satisfy people’s real need of fairer political system. As a result, the responsible institutions do not have the capacity to ensure a well-informed right to vote for Moldovan citizens.

Indeed, the electoral responsible institution started to communicate to the public, but a larger engagement with the citizens that need to understand the mixed voting system is required. This takes time, human and financial resources. Moreover, there are a lot of doubts regarding the legitimacy of the new electoral system. Hence, the communication to the social segments that reject the mixed voting would face an additional obstacle.

There is very little time to radically change the situation about the level of information and education regarding the new electoral system. Obviously, it does not mean that misinformed people will not vote. It means that their vote, most probably, would be easier to manipulate by the political parties that invented the electoral change.

Civil society, media and the extra-parliamentary opposition can try to diminish the negative consequences, but they cannot repair the created situation. However, their efforts should be targeted to the mixed electoral system explanation, as there is the real risk to weaken even more the parliament through the coming elections. The online communication is crucial for urban population, especially for youth, but the politicians should also try to reach the maximum possible number of rural populations by the day of elections.”

The conclusions about the media activity

This is the reason why; the media plays a crucial role in instructing the citizens about elections. Moreover, its neutral position towards the political parties is essential, otherwise it risks being transformed into a manipulation tool of masses.

In this regard, the first Report of Mass Media Monitorization during the election period of 2019 was issued by The Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ) and the Association of Independent Press (AIP). The report displays the conclusion regarding the activity and neutrality level when approaching the electoral topics of 12 TV channels and 16 online news portals from the Republic of Moldova, during the period of January 9th – 24th, 2019. According to the report’s conclusion, only 3 TV channels out of 12, were displaying a large spectrum of news regarding all politicians and political parties, in most cases, the tone of reflecting political protagonists on these channels being neutral. An important thing to be highlighted is that 4 private TV channels with national coverage advanced merely positive news about the Democratic Party of Moldova and such politicians as Vlad Plahotniuc and Pavel Filip and mostly negative news about the ACUM electoral bloc. Taking into consideration that the majority of the Moldovan population indicated the TV as their main source of information, according to the survey conducted recently by the Association of Sociologists and Demographers, and that the TV channels in question (Prime TV, Canal 2, Canal 3 and Publika TV) have national coverage and are quite popular, their activity can be interpreted as manipulation.

Among the online news portals that display information in a merely neutral manner are Agora.md, Diez.md, Moldova.org, ZdG.md, Unimedia.info and Newsmaker.md, as the CIJ&AIP report states.

The full information concerning the parliamentary elections in Moldova, as for example, the electoral law, critics, information on political parties, national and uninominal constituencies, the electoral campaign expenses reported by the running political parties, survey results and monitorization reports can be found by any interested person on the website alegeri.md.

Photo source: realitatea.net

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Diaspora

What does the Kremlin regime really want from the upcoming Moldovan elections?

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I was at an international event and was asked by a participant whether Putin still has influence in the Republic of Moldova. The lady was an elderly Russian who has lived in several countries in exile in the European Union and was forced to leave after a long fighting experience for the Russian (including electoral) rights in her native country.

I did not know what to answer at first, because I saw a myriad of ways in which the Kremlin (which is often something other than Russia) exercises its influence in the Republic of Moldova.

The Russian vice is weakening

Naturally, I started off with the army in the Transnistrian conflict, which Yeltsin’s Kremlin had promised to bring home in 1999, but which Putin’s Kremlin had forgotten there. The remnants of this 14th Army have always offered pseudo-authorities in the strip a feared whip for legitimate authorities in Chisinau (or whatever they may be), who have never hurried to solve the problem. And there are no changes, as the OSCE responds to the interests of the East, NATO does not get involved because the Moldovans are afraid of the alliance, and the 5 + 2 negotiation format is long overdue.

I kept going on talking about the economic and energy dependence on the Kremlin, which could shut down the gas tap at any time or reject exports coming from the Republic of Moldova. There is hope that we will finally be able to connect to the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau pipeline. While export leverage can be less and less used, as only 15.5% go to the CIS states compared with 70% of the EU, Russia has gone far beyond Romania (8% versus 29%). We do not need the same amount of investments from the Russians as in the old days, as their investments have reached the 6th place, being exceeded by 5 European states. Workplaces and remittances of Moldovans working in Russia are another chapter in which the Kremlin is losing ground year after year, the first being reoriented to the EU after the Russians’ harassment, but also after the overall decline in Russian living standards. In 2018, money sent home by Moldovans in the EU accounted for 40% of the total, while those in Russia only 28%.

Tanks, propaganda and corrupt politicians

All data from above should make us more optimistic if we live in a democracy where things are in tune with the general interest of the population. But Moldova is not a democracy anymore, and the Moldovan population is not (only) formed of independent and well-informed citizens. The (geo) political orientation of our fellow citizens makes us remain pessimistic. Although the natural aspirations for a better life of Moldovans translate into the weakening of the Russian vignette, the Kremlin remaining only with their traditional tank and the new gas tap, too many of us continue to look at the Moldova Socialist Party/Democratic Party supporters, the subordinates from Chisinau of the Kremlin, with hope and confidence, as if they knew to do nothing but steal and lie in an organized way. In addition, the perception of the Moldovans is that Russia remains our most important economic partner, as it was before the Association Agreement, embargo, and other events that radically changed our dependence in recent years.

Part of the explanation of this attitude has its place in propaganda and in the fake news in the laboratories of Russian manufacturers of information garbage. Being Russian-speaking and having a Soviet past (and present), many Moldovans fall victim to these messages harmful to democracy, cohesion and the well-being of modern society. Moreover, the Kremlin knows this and speculates this vulnerability to the fullest, working hard to plant hatred and mistrust in everything that does not fit in the old Soviet templates, including their partners in Chisinau, people close to the President Dodon’s Moldovan Socialist Party, who control TV/Radio channels such as RTR, NTV, CTC, Accent TV, THT Bravo, Ren-TV and many others. Although only two of these are in the top 6 at the audience, the other ones are very influential among the population looking for entertainment and simple explanations for complicated issues.

These TV channels, duplicated by the Sputnik.md, vedomosti.md or kp.md sites, present the so-called socialists as partners of the Kremlin lords, while they are only fewer children their achievements, which mimic authority, power, and control in a mournful manifestation of people truly incapable of something better. We are talking about a female party leader who has enriched her relatives and colleagues from the money saved by citizens (Zinaida Greceanii); about a candidate who was enriched “only by the district counselor salary” in the Kroll report (Piotr Puscari); about another one who is beating his fellow citizens because he can not be taken into account altogether; or one who swears that he lives only from the financial gifts he received during his birthday (Veaceslav Lupov). Thus, he’s also an important actor in the Kroll report (this time, only a Shor Party member).

The threat of installing anti-European authoritarianism is real

In November, one of the recent credible polls showed us that in any configuration, the Chişinău Parliament will be a pro-Kremlin, anti-European and an anti-Moldovan one (which might turn into a large Transnistria). From the President Dodon’s Socialist Party to the Democratic Party of Moldova, the Moldovan Communist Party – parties with a high chance of forming a post-election coalition – all proved to be adepts of authoritarianism, doubling with a sort of local Soviet patriotism. Only oligarch Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) has been self-titled, since leading a discretionary republic, as a so-called “pro-European” party, and in the summer became a “pro-Moldova”. At that time, the relationship of subordination between Plahotniuc and Dodon began to grow more and more. It became clear that the President of the Republic of Moldova is in the ingrained situation of being pulled by two rails: one from the Armeneasca 44 street in Chisinau and another from the Piata Rosie 1 street.

The threat of the establishment of a Trans-Partisan group of greedy admirers of Putin is real. And if it succeeds, nothing will stop further deepening the crisis in which the Republic of Moldova lies, plundering the resources of the state, destroying families and ruining the lives of those whom they will banish, as did the Putin regime that chased the lady I answered the question to.

Therefore, our participation in the February 24th elections is vital for the Moldovan society, for the relatives, friends and people we hold.

Opinion by Tudor Cojocariu

Translated by Arina Livadari
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