Stable Moldova is key to southeast Europe’s stability
Arriving in Moldova, a strongly agricultural country with huge social problems, I was told I could feel perfectly safe. The reason, I was told, was because all the thieves and robbers are concentrated in government, parliament and the political parties so they are not on the streets, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
This seems to be the public perception of government and political life.
Moldova, with its three million inhabitants, is squeezed between Ukraine and Romania. It declared independence in 1990 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The river Dniester crosses Moldova and a small strip of Moldova’s land, between the river to the west and Ukraine to the east, refused to recognise Moldova’s government on independence and formed the Republic of Transnistria.
Russian troops have been deployed in Transnistria since its inception and it serves as an important storage facility for Russian military equipment. It was and is a paradise for smugglers and illegal arms traders.
Moldova depends on exporting agricultural products, especially wine, to Russia. Thousands of Moldovans work in Russia and the money they send back to their families is vitally important to the country. Such dependencies can keep Moldova hostage to Russian pressure.
To Russia's dismay, Moldova signed the European Union's eastern partnership agreement in 2013.
There are a number of political parties in Moldova’s parliament, forcing the government to form coalitions. The pro-EU and pro-Russia factions have virtual parity. But what all parties appear to have in common is a high level of corruption.
People suspect that their whole political class - even the pro-EU parties - are on Russia's payroll.
The population has a strong mood of resignation and hopelessness. Young, educated people are leaving.
Moldova is ideal for Russian attempts at destabilisation. Economically it is highly dependent on Russia for jobs, remittances and exports. Criminal politicians appear to be paid by Russia and are therefore also dependent and can be blackmailed.
Moldova is strategically of the utmost importance to Russia, close to Ukraine and Russia’s bridge to the Balkans and then to the Mediterranean.
Russia already controls part of Moldova – Transnistria, which decided to join the Russian Federation in 2014.
The Moldovan people, especially the young and students, yearn for a good future, but the situation looks depressing with the existing political oligarchy.
Moldova demands Europe's closest attention. Its people want to feel that Europe accepts them after they have joined the partnership.
This will give Moldova's population the strength and leverage to dare oppose Russian pressure.
A good first step was made when Moldovans were given visa-free entry to the EU in 2014.
Europe has reasons to support Moldova. Every country has to solve its own problems but Europe can help, mainly by providing markets for Moldovan products and services.
Moldova also needs an efficient judicial system which guarantees property rights and, in consequence, provides a functioning economy and market. However, Moldova should be able to trade with both Russia and Europe.
It is against all European strategic interests to allow Russia to open this gate and further destabilise the Balkans.