Moldova’s elections briefly made the news as a strong affirmation of its commitment to Europe.
The news is right and wrong. Undeniably, poor, confused Moldova will keep plodding toward Europe even as the EU bungles opportunity after opportunity in the face of a revanchist Russia — for now. But the real news is not a poll win expected by most domestic and foreign observers for a pro-European coalition, but instead a profoundly, openly pro-Russian party’s real and dynamic growth. This has terrible implications for the rest of the near abroad shared by Russia and the EU, and Moldova’s already precarious situation promises to worsen over the coming year.
The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) went from a backwater, third-tier party to the largest party in parliament for three reasons: (1) Russian money; (2) the incompetence of the communists; and (3) the incompetence of Europe. (The incompetence of the remainder of Moldova’s political firmament is a given.) It is a very bad time to be a former Soviet Republic with a breakaway region or three, seen in Moscow as getting too close to Europe, and aside from some agreements that will in the short term do very little for Moldova, there seems to be no real understanding in the West of how the world has changed in a mere twelve months.
The man who has changed the world, by contrast, does understand it.
Vladimir Putin has been openly cozy with the PSRM, and Moscow’s money has flowed (indirectly) to PSRM causes — and, it has been alleged, to the PSRM. That seems relatively unlikely, as Moscow’s real strength is the power to boost PSRM’s message, and the party has benefited from it. As the pro-Russia communists have faded from the scene, the significantly savvier Socialists have taken their place with gusto.
It bears repeating that PSRM cannot command a majority in Moldova’s parliament, so the danger is not some end of the European project, for now. Instead, the danger is the mode PSRM offers, much as Crimea did, of a new method of Russian influence in its former republics: restive Russian minorities, old-timers whose memories of oppression are glossed with nostalgia, and unemployed and displaced persons looking for a better world, all can be found in every single former Soviet republic, and they can do damage there.
This is the new Russian model: Not overwhelming force and invasion, but crumpling its satellites from within. Whether the West discovers this soon will determine the future of the European project in the old — and new — Russian empire.
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