“The Communist party stole nine years from the people of Moldova,” Soloviev claimed, “and now the pro-Europe coalition has stolen five years; neither the former nor the latter created conditions for independent or strong state institutions”. As a result, Moldovans are split—with 50% currently supporting further European integration, whereas the other 50% favour a customs union with Russia.

Vladimir Soloviev and Konstantin Von Eggert, formerly of the BBC Russian Service, took part in a panel discussion on Moldovan corruption chaired by Anne Applebaum, Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute. 

When Moldova’s pro-European coalition took charge in 2009, everyone hoped for institutional reforms that would galvanise the economy and rekindle trust in the government. Yet today, as they prepare for elections next month, 70% of Moldovans do not trust their politicians, in part due to the nation’s weak institutions and endemic corruption. “The pro-Europe coalition has been reduced to feuding over flows of money”, said Soloviev.

A major fault of the government, he claimed, was its failure to educate citizens about the European Union. This is particularly evident in the Gagauzian republic; a recent poll showed 96% of those voting supported a customs union with Russia.

Applebaum highlighted the similarities between Moldova and Ukraine. After the Orange Revolution in 2004, a supposedly pro-European government came to power, but did not carry out the necessary reforms to prepare Ukraine for further European integration. Infighting and corruption ended with the Yanukovych presidency.

Von Eggert offered a perspective from Moscow. The Russian leadership took great interest in the political situation in Moldova, just as in Ukraine and Georgia. The main issue, he argued, was not geopolitics, but that “Russia sees any deep institutional change in the post-Soviet states as a threat to its own existence”.

The European Union wais considered by both Russian and some Moldovan elites to be “a weak institution, driven by business interests, suffering from slack bureaucracy”, von Eggert explained, “not a real geopolitical entity”. He argued this disillusionment was aggravated by the Russian media’s message that “there are no values in the world, only interests”. At the same time, any European aspirations of post-Soviet countries are viewed as suspicious; von Eggert argued that Russia will continue to attempt to undermine any institutional change in Moldova.

“If it rains in London,” Soloviev illustrated, “you use an umbrella to stay dry and you can still conduct your business. Moscow’s influence in Moldova is like rain, you cannot do anything to stop it directly, but the government can come up with policies, the equivalent of an umbrella, to shield themselves”. He argued that no government, since Moldova’s independence, had made a significant effort to fight Russian influence, “all real problems in the country are being pushed off the agenda by those that can play the system”.

Soloviev pointed out that Romania also had political interests in Moldova. The Romanian prime minister had claimed that by 2018 Romania and Moldova would have joined together in a union. Soloviev said he had never met a Moldovan official claiming to represent the whole country; instead they stand for just one interest group in a polyethnic state. 

Events in Ukraine greatly influenced public attitudes in Moldova, Soloviev concluded. Pro-European Moldovans saw Transnistria as particularly vulnerable, and many feared that that Gagauzian separatists were being trained in Russian camps. “Moscow does not consider Moldova to be a viable state” he argued, “and we will have to wait until after the November elections to see whether they plan on de-stabilising the country”.

About the Speakers

Vladimir Soloviev is a Russian journalist and special correspondent of the Kommersant Publishing House in Moldova. He was formerly editor-in-chief of Kommersant Moldova, a branch of Kommersant Publishing House, considered to be one of the most influential media outlets in Russia. After Kommersant Moldova was shut down in August 2014, he headed newsmaker.md, a new independent Moldovan online publication. Before moving to Chisinau, Soloviev served as special correspondent for Kommersant in Moscow, covering foreign affairs and Russia’s relationship with the European Union and post-Soviet countries, for over six years.

Olga Khvostunova is a Russian journalist who is currently Research Fellow at the Institute of Modern Russia and Editor-in-Chief of imrussia.org. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Communications from Lomonosov Moscow State University. As a Fulbright Scholar, she conducted research at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. Previously, she worked as a contributing editor at Kommersant Publishing House in Moscow.

Konstantin von Eggert was until recently Editor-in-Chief of Kommersant FM, Russia's first privately owned 24-hour 'all news' station. In 1998-2009 he worked for the BBC Russian Service, and was its Moscow bureau chief from 2002 until 2009. In 1992-1998 he was diplomatic correspondent, and later deputy foreign editor of Izvestia daily. His assignments included, among other areas, the Middle East, Iraq, Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and the Balkans. In 2009-2010 Konstantin served as Vice-President of ExxonMobil Russia Inc. for Public and Government Affairs. He lectured at the German Foreign Policy Association Summer School in Berlin, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Royal College of Defense Studies in London and Wilton Park (UK). In 2008 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II created Konstantin Honorary Member of the Civic Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. That same year President Valdas Adamkus awarded him Commander's Cross of the Order of Merits to Lithuania.

Anne Applebaum leads the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum, a series of projects which examine the challenges and opportunities of radical political and economic change. She is also a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate, and the author of several books, including Gulag: A History, which won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction as well as other awards. Her most recent book, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1946, won the 2013 Cundill Prize for Historical Literature and was nominated for a national book award in the US. She is married to Radek Sikorski, Poland's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.