Always quick to recognize as if new decades-old trends, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has a piece on Moldova’s autonomous region of Gagauzia and its concerns that growing ties with the European Union will lead to a forced Moldovan reunification with Romania, something neither Moldova nor Romania very much wants at this time.
Gagauzia’s history parallels Transnistria’s, except moreso: Where the latter managed a functional breakaway status in the early days of independence (and is now all but supported explicitly by Moscow), the former was wrangled back into the fold through parliamentary maneuvering. (Trivia: Gagauzia marked the rare former Soviet region that did not want to be former.) In a reminder of how the tides of history have washed up a number of oddities in the region, the people here are Orthodox Christians (aligned with the Patriarch of Moscow) Turks whose first language is Russian. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they would rather tilt toward Moscow than Brussels.
But the ruling party in Chisinau is pointed in the other direction, which means that there were a number of possible peaceful resolutions to this affair that would nevertheless have taken some time to finish out. They would have required engagement by Brussels, as well as delicate spadework by Chisinau.
None of those things happened, and so today, Gagauzia held a referendum (an illegal one, to boot) on whether to head toward the European Union or the Russian Customs Union. Moscow has been on the ground with support for the referendum and has been open in its support of Gagauzia, so the result is expect to point back toward Moscow.
So expect Gagauzia to increasingly agitate for independence, and expect Moscow to back that play as it backs Transnistria now. Expect Brussels to be deeply, deeply concerned, and to offer to send missions like EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele’s recent trip to the region, which will do little but make Brussels feel better about itself. The concrete efforts that would help — aid, planning, and direct engagement — will be as lacking as they were with Ukraine during the EU’s bungled handling of the Association Agreement. Ukraine, by contrast, has no real threats of breakaway regions.
The EU is making Moldova its centerpiece of the Eastern Partnership, and in the process, playing a very real Great Game with Moscow. For the first time, the stakes are the existence of the prize; whether Moldova lives or dies depends on the deftness and strength of will Brussels displays.
Given its wretched handling of Ukraine, expect Moldova to fracture.
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