One of Moldova’s most popular pro-Russian political parties has been wiped off the political landscape over allegations of foreign funding and ties to the FSB. The Patria party, expected to accumulate about 13 percent of the overall vote, will still appear on the ballot as the decision conveniently arrives too late for a reprint. Western media holds with the decision to remove the Patria party, however many Moldovans are crying foul over the last minute decision, calling it one corrupt policy of many intended to prevent the country from changing course on its European bearing.
Clouding the Election's Legitimacy
Renato Usatii, the Patria party’s leader and a Russian business owner, is at the center of the growing schism between pro-Russian and pro-European political parties in Moldova. Earlier this week, billboards were erected showing Usatii meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin above the slogan “Together with Russia,” intended to garner support from citizens disillusioned with the promises of the EU and those who yearn for the stability and peace Moldova experienced under Soviet rule. Days later, his party was ejected from the elections over allegations that the party had illegally received approximately USD 500,000 to fund its campaign and he was discredited by an audio file that appeared to show him discussing close connections with the FSB. The Patria party immediately appealed to Moldova’s supreme court to overturn the decision, but was rejected a day prior to the elections.
In the latest of many parallels between Moldova and the crisis in Ukraine, Usatii fled to Russia after the ruling for fear of being arrested. Now calling on voters to defy public corruption and cast their votes in favor of the party anyways, Usatii is now essentially waging war from afar on the Moldovan ruling elite. Meanwhile, many of the Moldovans who supported Patria are expected to change their vote in favor of the Coalition rather than support the PCRM.
Usatii is not the only one to flee the country for Russia. Grigori Petrenko, one of Patria’s senior leaders and the alleged leader of a militant antifascist movement, quickly left the country after police unearthed caches of weapons and military supplies in a series of raids on the movement’s members. Petrenko has not yet commented on his position or on his connection to the movement.
So are the allegations legitimate, or a method of gaining the upper hand after pre-election polls turned just barely in favor of the pro-Russian parties? Corruption is so common in the Moldovan government that it’s impossible to tell. Russia has certainly shown its willingness to undermine foreign administrations and supply separatists with weapons, though, considering the punishing effect Western sanctions have had, its hard to believe that Russia would further antagonize the West with violence. On the other hand, the pro-European government has already shown its willingness to make whatever rules are necessary to hold on to power. Whatever the truth is, both sides have an extensive array of corruption accusations available to them and threaten to enflame the country in the worst civil conflict since the war in Transnistria.
What To Watch For
The upcoming elections are widely seen as the most important since Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union and the results will almost certainly be contested. Protests are sure to follow in the wake of the results regardless of which party is declared the victor and some Moldovans go so far as to draw parallels with the April 2007 elections, when protestors stormed Parliament and burned what they were able to seize, including Moldova’s Declaration of Independence.
Western leaders should be strongly concerned with any outbreaks of violence, which are unfortunately becoming increasingly likely and will be the strongest indicator yet that Moldova is repeating the crisis in Ukraine. Russia, if it decides to intervene, will almost certainly limit itself to covert methods for fear of Western retribution, though the lesson Russia learned in Ukraine’s Independence Square concerning the effectiveness of violence cannot be ignored.
Special thank you to Alina M., Nataly N., Anatoly B., Motricala S., and Paul S. for their contributions and perspectives on the upcoming elections.