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Nicolae Timofti elected Moldova’s President: political future of the state

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Nicolae Timofti’s election as the President of Moldova is stipulated by the search of a compromise figure that would be able to consolidate political forces-members of governing coalition.

Timofti became Mihai Ghimpu’s protégé, thus causing the Liberals to refuse struggling for the post of Parliamentary speaker.

He hasn’t revealed his political ambitions before; moreover he hasn’t got his own team.

All above-listed testifies ambiguity of his own political game, thus meaning maximal concentration on implementation of the political course that would be in behalf of the AEI (The Alliance for European Integration).

We’re expecting the policy of the new Moldova’s President to be oriented towards relatively fast systematic reforms’ implementation, in the legal sphere uppermost.

We estimate that the opposition law adoption would be one of the primary N.Timofti’s initiatives, aiming at the relocation of the opposition forces’ activity from the streets to the interior of the Parliament.

We’re supposing that the whole block of this draft law would be devoted to the creation of the system of opposition forces’ responsibility and would restrict their possibilities of radical counteraction to the governing regime.

Being a lawyer, the current President would take legal reform implementation (judicial system, prosecutor’s office, procedural legislation) under control in the framework of directions  designated by the AEI program “The European integration: Freedom, Democracy, Wellbeing” 2009-2013.

The particular accent could be made on the creation of the independent judicial system and depolitization of law-enforcement machinery.

Timofti’s statements as for his becoming “the president for every citizen” may suggest that the policy of the country’s leader will also be concentrated on fulfillment of the part of the program in the sphere of civil society consolidation and cooperation with public sector.

It foresees the creation of the legislative base favorable for the civil society development in the capacity of the intermediary for the greater public good and the partner of public authority bodies in the process of internal policy implementation.

We’re supposing the main President’s task on a mid-term horizon would mean becoming a mediator between the power and the opposition, thus providing the maximum possible non-conflict and fast harmonization of the European standards with the national legislation.

In our opinion, N.Timofti is likely to initiate the changes in the Constitution of Moldova in so far as it relates to the Presidential election.

Preparation for the Presidential election was accompanied by the active discussion of the national idea search in the Moldovan mass-media.

In the course of his speech in the parliament Timofti said: “Society consolidation is the biggest problem. We need an idea integrating the whole society. And European integration should become this idea”.

According to our assessments, the process of Moldovan European integration, on the whole, is identical to the integration with Romania for the most part of the AEI and the unionists.

In particular, in the beginning of March 2012 members of the National Council for the unification of Romania and Moldova claimed their intentions to conduct the propaganda company inside the country, one of the main theses being: “unification with the neighbor country [Romania] is the most effective way of Europeanisation of the Republic of Moldova”.

Despite the fact that Timofti does not declare officially his support to the unification with Rumania in his comments, confining himself just to the thesis of ill-timing of such discussions, the representatives of the AEI, especially the leader of the National Liberal Party Vitalia Pavlichenko hailed the candidate for presidency not being antiunionist.

It’s worth paying attention that Timofti held talks with the representative of the Moldovan Socialists Dodon, saying that “we shouldn’t discuss the question of unification today, but it doesn’t mean that the generations to come shouldn’t discuss it”.

In response to Dodon’s objection as for the necessity to create conditions in order to exclude the rise of this question for the generations to come, Timofti emphasized that he didn’t know how to do it.

According to our assessments, it means that Timofti’s election, who had received Socialists’ votes in the Parliament, evidently took place as a change to non-stating publicly the unification with Romania.

But there is high probability that the Presidential stand would be altered into more open support of the unification after implementing necessary legal and constitutional reforms.

It should be noted that such scenario will be supported by the official Bucharest.

In January 2011, The President of Romania Traian Băsescu stated: “The Republic of Moldova remains the priority! Romania will further support the process of its approaching to the EU. I hope that in 2012 Kishinev will have the President, and the process of reforms will be intensified”.

In December 2010 «Da Vinci AG» issued the operational report “Scenarios of Romanian policy development in relation to Moldova” where two scenarios of Moldova and Romania unification were mentioned: historical reunification and unification following the EU integration.

At that time we emphasized that the fall of electoral support of the Communists in Moldova favored the realization of the EU integration scenario by Kishinev followed by the further unification with Bucharest.

Ex-President Voronin’s resignation, political crisis and election of the AEI candidate, supporting the plans of signing The EU accession agreement, increase the scenario realization probability.

In this case Kishinev and Bucharest may appeal to Serbia’s precedent that is preparing to the EU joining, regardless the existence of conflict territories.

Timofti’s policy as to Transnistria will apparently correspond to the AEI program of the PMR reintegration.

The main emphasis will be made on the renewal of «5+2» talks, as well as on the attempt to replace peace-keeping forces by the civil mission, thus giving the opportunity to level integration barriers.

The process of “soft integration” with Romania may be dramatized by Bucharest itself.

Romania is supposed to probably start speeding up the events within 1,5 years and try to expedite the process of states convergence at the economical and social and cultural levels.

Two main factors say much for it:

  1. A) Domestic policy problems among the ruling groups in Romania connected with the deterioration of social and economic welfare of the citizens and upcoming hustings.

As the result of post-crisis agreements with the IMF, budget salaries in Romania have been reduced by 30%, pensions – by 15%, retirement age increasing up to 65 years.

Sales tax has been increased likewise.

In the end of 2011 the decision to “freeze” salaries and pensions increase has also been made.

These and some other measures resulted in the protest moods intensifying, mass riots and negatively influence authorities rating.

In its turn, “The Great Romania” theme, including first of all Moldova affiliation, is traditionally exploited by current ruling groups in order to raise their own rating inside the country, remove social tension and unite the nation.

We consider this technology to be used this time likewise as a response to the social challenges that the new government faces.

It means that the question of Romania and Moldova unification may be enforced by the ruling groups of Bucharest in order to maintain domestic and social stability.

Closer to 2014, when Romania faces fierce presidential election campaign without the direct participation of Traian Băsescu, “Moldovan issue” may become the key point for the electors. Upcomingchanges in the UE structure.

As of today the most likely scenario is to change the EU structure further, alongside with centrifugal tendencies intensification.

Every next year the probability of new members joining the EU or entry of new territories in any other way will decrease.

That’s why the long-term and leisurely strategy as for Moldova will unlikely be convenient for Bucharest, where these risks are estimated beyond all doubt.

At the same time, macroeconomic performance of Moldova as of today is capable of impairing fatally social and economic situation in Romania.

For instance, Moldovan export in 2011 amounted USD 2221,6 mln., whereas import – USD  5191,6 mln.

Meanwhile Romania occupies only the third place in the geographic structure of Moldova’s import after Russia and Ukraine.

So, Romania’s economics, especially at its current, crisis-like stage of development won’t bear the “unification strike”.

Thereby, it is extremely beneficial for official Bucharest to create more effective social and economic model in Moldova and to conduct pro-european reforms.

The main directions of such steps are estimated to be the following:

  1. Unification of Moldova’s legislative base in social and economic sphere with the Romanian legislation under the auspices of the all-European standards.
  2. Activation of mutual cooperation at the governmental level, aiming at elaboration of similar development model for two countries.
  3. Energy resources supply diversification in order to reduce Russia’s influence on Moldova.

Particularly, this direction includes “Iași – Ungheni” gas pipeline construction and mutual link-up of power lines.

  1. Increase of the level of goods interpenetration to the markets of both countries. The main emphasis particularly being on creation of joint projects in agricultural sector.
  2. Joint projects in defense sphere and border guard.
  3. Activation of “Transnistria question” approach and finding compromise in favor of Moldova. It’s worth noting that recently the leaders of Moldova and Transnistria have been trying to start developing constructive dialogue.
  4. Activation of educational and training projects for Moldovan youth.
  5. Active propaganda campaign in Moldova as for the European integration of the country alongside with activation of “The Great Romania” thesis implementation by Bucharest on its territory.

Taking into account the above mentioned the main risks for such Romanian strategy in regard of Moldova would be the following:

  1. Russia’s position as for Transnistria and Moldova. Vladimir Putin, after being elected the President of Russia once more, is likely to pay more attention to the “Moldovan vector” trying to limit Romania’s influence in the region that is strategic for the Kremlin. The latest is evidently to activate its work with left-wing political forces (The Communist Party of Moldova first of all), as well as with political movements representing national minorities’ interests.
  2. Imbalance in social and economic development of Moldova and Romania. Per capita income in Moldova, according to World Banks’ data, totals USD 1810, in Romania – USD 7840. The average pension amount, in accordance with statistics data, amounts EUR 52, in Romania – EUR 175.
  3. Antiunionist forces counteraction inside Moldova (with the support of Russia as well), whose actions may be aimed at destabilization of the situation, internal political conflict and republic crushing.

None of these risks is estimated to be insuperable for Bucharest, though the weight of these factors is evident. Thus, we evaluate the possibility of the above-mentioned scenario realization at the level of “probable”.

Thereby we deem necessary to indicate the risks that Ukraine may face in case of Romania’s implementation of this scenario as for Moldova.

  1. Decline in Ukrainian goods’ part at Moldova’s market. Increase in Romanian goods’ part at Moldova’s market required by Bucharest may be realized through the lowering of the role  of two eastern state’s partners: Ukraine and Russia. It’s worth mentioning that in comparison with 2008, export of Ukrainian goods to Moldova has decreased from USD 1,17 bln. to USD 874,4 mln. annually.
  2. Strengthening of the informational, cultural and diplomatic tension, alongside with the intensification of Romanian intelligence services activity as for Ukraine regarding the territorial questions of Bukovina and the southern part of Odessa region in the framework of strategy of “The Great Romania” construction.
  3. Decrease in Kyiv’s influence on the processes in Transnistria, reduction of protection possibilities for Ukrainians living within the territory of PMR, and also of Ukrainian capital interests and of the state economic interests within this territory.

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Eastern Europe

Georgia Returns to the Old New Silk Road

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Georgia has historically been at the edge of empires. This has been both an asset and a hindrance to the development of the country. Hindrance because Georgia’s geography requires major investments to override its mountains, gorges and rivers. An asset because Georgia’s location allowed the country from time to time to position itself as a major transit territory between Europe and the Central Asia, and China further away.

This geographic paradigm has been well in play in shaping Georgia’s geopolitical position even since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of modern technologies. Thereafter, Georgia has been playing a rebalancing game by turning to other regional powers to counter the resurgent Russia. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran (partly) and bigger players such as the EU and the US are those which have their own interest in the South Caucasus. However, over the past several years yet another power, China, with its still evolving Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been slowly emerging in the South Caucasus.

This how a new Silk Road concept gradually emerged at the borders of Georgia. In fact, a closer look at historical sources from the ancient, medieval or even 15th-19th cc. history of Georgia shows an unchanged pattern of major trade routes running to the south, west, east and north of Georgia. Those routes were usually connected to outer Middle East, Central Asia, and the Russian hinterland.

Only rarely did the routes include parts of the Georgian land and, when it happened, it lasted for merely a short period of time as geography precluded transit through Georgia: the Caucasus Mountains and seas constrained movement, while general geographic knowledge for centuries remained limited.

It was only in the 11th-12th cc. that Georgian kings, David IV, Giorgi III and Queen Tamar, spent decades of their rule trying to gain control over neighboring territories with the goal to control the famous Silk Roads. Since, foreign invasions (Mongols, Ottomans, Persians, Russians) have largely prevented Georgia from playing a major transit role for transcontinental trade.

This lasted until the break-up of the Soviet Union. After 1991, Georgia has returned to its positioning between the Black and Caspian seas, between Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Major roads, pipelines and railway lines go through Georgian territory. Moreover, major works are being done to expand and build existing and new Georgian ports on the Black Sea with the potential to transform Georgia into a sea trade hub.

A good representation of Georgia’s rising position on the Silk Road was a major event held in Tbilisi on October 22-23 when up to 2000 politicians, potential investors from all over the world, visited the Georgian capital. The event was held for the third time since 2015 and attracted due attention. In total, 300 different meetings were held during the event.

The hosting of the event underscores how Georgia has recently upped its historical role as a regional hub connecting Europe and Asia. On the map, it is in fact the shortest route between China and Europe. There is a revitalization of the ancient Silk Road taking place in Georgia. This could in turn make the country an increasingly attractive destination for foreign investment. Indeed, the regional context also helps Tbilisi to position itself, as Georgia has Free Trade Agreements with Turkey, the CIS countries, the EFTA and China and a DCFTA with the European Union, comprising a 2.3 billion consumer market.

Thus, from a historical perspective, the modern Silk Road concept emanating from China arguably represents the biggest opportunity Georgia has had since the dissolution of the unified Georgian monarchy in 1490 when major roads criss-crossed the Georgian territory. In the future, when/if successive Georgian governments continue to carry out large infrastructural projects (roads, railways, sea ports), Tbilisi will be able to use those modern ‘Silk Roads’ to its geopolitical benefit, namely, gain bigger security guarantees from various global and regional powers to uphold its territorial integrity.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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Eastern Europe

Strategic Black Sea falls by the wayside in impeachment controversy

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Presidents Donald J. Trump and Recep Tayyip Erdogan had a plateful of thorny issues on their agenda when they met in the White House this week.

None of the issues, including Turkey’s recent invasion of northern Syria, its acquisition of a Russian anti-missile system and its close ties to Russia and Iran, appear to have been resolved during the meeting between the two men in which five Republican senators critical of Turkey participated.

The failure to narrow differences didn’t stop Mr. Trump from declaring that “we’ve been friends for a long time, almost from day-one. We understand each other’s country. We understand where we are coming from.”

Mr. Trump’s display of empathy for an illiberal leader was however not the only tell-tale sign of the president’s instincts. So was what was not on the two men’s agenda: security in the Black Sea that lies at the crossroads of Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and NATO member Turkey.

The Black Sea is a flashpoint in multiple disputes involving Russia and its civilizationalist definition of a Russian world that stretches far beyond the country’s internationally recognized borders and justifies its interventions in Black Sea littoral states like Ukraine and Georgia.

The significance of the absence of the Black Sea on the White House agenda is magnified by the disclosure days earlier that Mr. Trump had initially cancelled a US freedom of navigation naval mission in the Black Sea after CNN had portrayed it as American pushback in the region.

The disclosure came in a transcript of closed-door testimony in the US House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump’s policy towards Ukraine by Christopher Anderson, a former advisor to Kurt Volker, the US special representative to Ukraine until he resigned in September.

Mr. Anderson testified that Mr. Trump phoned his then national security advisor, John Bolton, at home to complain about the CNN story. He said the story prompted the president to cancel the routine operation of which Turkey had already been notified.

The cancellation occurred at a moment that reports were circulating in the State Department about an effort to review US assistance to Ukraine.

“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report… I can’t speculate as to why…but that…operation was cancelled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February. And we had an Arleigh-class destroyer arrive in Odessa on the fifth anniversary of the Crimea invasion,” Mr. Anderson said.

The operation was cancelled weeks after the Russian coast guard fired on Ukrainian vessels transiting the Strait of Kerch that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov and separates Russian-annexed Crimea from Russian mainland. ‘This was a dramatic escalation,” Mr. Anderson said.

Mr. Trump at the time put a temporary hold on a condemnatory statement similar to ones that had been issued by America’s European allies. Ultimately, statements were issued by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley but not by the White House.

The Black Sea’s absence in Mr. Trump’s talks with the Turkish leader coupled with the initial cancellation of the freedom of navigation operation, the initially meek US response to the Strait of Kerch incident, and the fallout of the impeachment inquiry do little to inspire confidence in US policy in key Black Sea countries that include not only Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, a strategic gateway to Central Asia, but also NATO members Bulgaria and Romania.

In Georgia, protesters gathered this week outside of parliament after lawmakers failed to pass a constitutional amendment that would have introduced a proportional election system in advance of elections scheduled for next year.

The amendment was one demand of protesters that have taken to the streets in Georgia since June in demonstrations that at times included anti-Russian slogans.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008 and Russia has since recognized the self-declared independence of two Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Some 1500 US troops participated in June in annual joint exercises with the Georgian military that were originally initiated to prepare Georgian units for service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The absence of the Black Sea in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Erdogan raises the spectre that the region could become a victim of the partisan divide in Washington and/or Mr. Trump’s political priorities.

The Republican-dominated US Senate has yet to consider a bipartisan Georgia Support Act that was last month passed by the House of Representatives. The act would significantly strengthen US defense, economic, and cyber security ties with Georgia.

A Chinese delegation that included representatives of several Chinese-led business associations as well as mobile operator China Unicom visited the breakaway republic of Abkhazia this week to discuss the creation of a special trade zone to manufacture cell phones as well as electric cars.

The Black Sea is one region where the United States cannot afford to sow doubt. The damage, however, may already have been done.

Warned Black Sea security scholar Iulia-Sabina Joja in a recent study: “The region is (already) inhospitable for Western countries as they struggle to provide security… The primary cause of this insecurity is the Russian Federation… Today, Russia uses its enhanced Black Sea capabilities not only to destabilize the region militarily, politically, and economically, but also to move borders, acquire territory, and project power into the Mediterranean.”

Ms. Joja went on to suggest that “a common threat assessment of NATO members and partners is the key to a stable Black Sea. Only by exploring common ground and working towards shared deterrence can they enhance regional security.”

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Eastern Europe

The Black Sea of Economic Cooperation

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Since the Ukraine crisis of 2014 the security situation in the Black Sea region has significantly deteriorated. The annexation of Crimea by Russia as well as the latter’s military moves around the Kerch Strait and in the Azov Sea destabilized the shaky status quo which had been in place since the end of the Cold War.

To back up the current state of affairs in the Black Sea, many an analysis as well as entire books dedicated to the Ukraine crisis mention various Russian-Turkish wars of 18th-19th centuries, underlying the notion that the Black Sea has always been a space of competition and intermittent confrontation among several powers.

Wars indeed were waged and at least two powers were always competing with each other for influence across the sea. This narrative, however, portrays the Black Sea as a sea of insecurity. In reality, though, seen from a centuries-wide perspective, wars between Russia and Turkey in the Black Sea lasted for a small fraction of time in comparison with the periods of peace in the 18th-19th centuries.

Moreover, the Black Sea, though always surrounded by rival powers, was nevertheless a space of economic exchange. Trade flourished, which contributed to close contacts between coastal states. Take, for example, the period of Greek colonization in the 8th c. BC. Colonies in what is nowadays western Georgia and in the Crimean Peninsula enabled the exchange of goods in the region. During the Roman and Byzantine periods (up to the 7th-8th cc. AD, the coastline of modern western Georgia was closely integrated with great cities in Asia Minor and Crimea.

Under the unified Georgian monarchy (late 10th-15th cc.), despite patchy information in historical sources, there was a wide range of economic activity which connected western Georgia to Byzantium, Crimea and later to the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, this period saw such a large economic interconnection that Georgian traders even visited Constantinople, Thessaloniki and from the late 13th c. onwards, were in close contact with Italian merchants who operated ships and had colonies in Crimea and in Georgian cities – Sokhumi, Poti and Batumi.

Even the period of great empires from the early 18th c. around the Black Sea cannot be considered solely as a time of continuous confrontation. In fact, the Black Sea served as a good merging point for connecting different economic systems represented by Russia and the Muslim world (namely the Ottoman Empire). By the early 20th century, just before the outbreak of World War I, there was much economic activity seeing Russia sending most of its coal and grain through the Bosporus and Dardanelles to different parts of the world. Georgia, too, was connected to the rest of the world by the early 20th century when Batumi operated as a main conduit.

Surprisingly the Soviet period too can be characterized as a period of economic cooperation. Ukraine, Georgia and Russia’s ports transported oil, coal and other natural resources through the straits to the Mediterranean.

Thus, despite the wars we know in history, there have been even longer periods of much deeper economic cooperation which the countries (or empires) around the Black Sea have enjoyed over several centuries.

Back to the current deterioration of the security situation in the Black Sea, it could potentially diminish overall economic activity as the flow of foreign investment may be curbed or diverted elsewhere. In a way, the geopolitical situation in the Black Sea today is more chaotic and unpredictable than it was in the 19th century. A certain order was still in place when the Russian and Ottoman Empires fought each other, whereas in 2019 there is much unpredictability in Russian and NATO behavior. Nevertheless, it is still possible to say that economic cooperation among the countries living around the Black Sea will continue. The sea will again play a role not of a divisive, but rather a unifying character.

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