Moldova's political system is split between two main blocs.
The AEI contains three parties: the Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Vlad Filat, the Democratic Party led by acting President Marian Lupu and the Liberal Party led by parliamentary speaker Mihai Ghimpu. The AEI is oriented toward and supported by the West, particularly the European Union. The Communist Party, led by former President Vladimir Voronin, is oriented toward and supported by Russia. These two blocs are not completely under their backers' control, however; the AEI is divided among various personalities, and the Communists are not entirely pro-Russian.
Since 2009, the Moldovan government has been divided between the two groups. The country's current political system requires 61 of the 100 votes in Parliament for a president to be elected. The constituent parties of the AEI have gained seats in every parliamentary election since 2009 (a year that marked the end of the Communists' hold on power) but do not hold the 61 seats needed to elect a president. This situation has rendered Moldova dysfunctional for three years, and the deadlock is not likely to end with the upcoming presidential election. Therefore, rather than politics, the economic and security levers held by Romania and Russia -- the two most important external actors in Moldova -- are the key indicators of what to expect in Chisinau.
Russia holds a great deal of economic weight with Moldova. Russia was the destination of 26 percent of Moldova's exports and the source of 15 percent of its imports in 2010. It is a major market for Moldovan wine, the country's main export, and has cut off imports of the wine in the past for political reasons. Moscow also provides all of Moldova's natural gas supplies, giving it substantial influence in the energy sector, something Russia has taken advantage of in previous natural gas cutoffs.
Moldova's Social Democratic Party plans to hold a referendum on the country's accession to the Russian-led Customs Union, which the Social Democrats favor. This plan likely will not succeed, because the Social Democrats do not hold seats in Parliament and thus are too marginal to make a significant difference. However, the mere existence of supportive groups like the Social Democratic Party in Moldova's political scene plays into Russia's interests.
In the realm of security, Russia's largest advantage is in the breakaway Moldovan territory of Transdniestria, where 1,100 Russian troops are stationed. Russia supports the region financially and maintains an intelligence presence there as well as in Moldova proper. However, Moldova is not a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and instead cooperates with NATO as a security partner.
The sources of Romania's economic sway in Moldova are varied. Romania accounted for 16 percent of Moldova's exports and 10 percent of its imports in 2010. After Russia cut off Moldovan wine imports, Moldovan wine exports to the European Union grew by 50 percent in 2011, and Romania is the third-largest EU importer of Moldovan wine (after Poland and the Czech Republic).
In 2010, the European Union announced that it would grant Moldova nearly 275 million euros ($360 million) from 2011 to 2013 under its European Neighborhood Policy. Romania pledged 100 million euros to Moldova during this same time period, although Romanian officials have said only 5 million euros have actually been distributed.
Prime Minister Vlad Filat announced at a joint meeting of the Moldovan and Romanian governments March 3 that the countries' natural gas transport systems will be interconnected by the end of 2012. The European Union also launched free trade talks with Moldova and Georgia in early March, something for which Romania spent years lobbying.
Romania also plays an important role in Moldova's security. Bucharest led the way for Moldova's closer integration with NATO, although efforts to get Moldova to join NATO have been sidelined. Romanian and Moldovan troops carry out joint exercises, and the Romanians maintain an intelligence presence in Moldova. Romanian officials have led the call for Russia to remove its troops from Transdniestria. Germany followed up on Romania's calls by attempting to negotiate a settlement between Russia and Moldova that would involve EU peacekeepers replacing Russian military personnel in the region, but Moscow was not interested in Germany's solution.
The area in which Romania has a substantial advantage over Russia in Moldova is culture, or soft power. Moldovans are ethnically Romanian and speak Romanian as their first language. Despite the Russification of Moldovan culture and language during the Soviet era, most of the Moldovan population, especially the urban and younger segments, feel a greater cultural affinity with Romania. This relationship has grown over time because new generations have an increasingly weaker connection to the Soviet period.
More concretely, the economic opportunities the European Union offers are appealing to most Moldovans, despite the ongoing financial crisis in Europe. With this in mind, Romania has offered Romanian passports and dual citizenships to Moldovans, which would grant them travel and work/study access to the wider European Union.
Russia's Sustainable Power
Regardless of Romania's cultural ties to Moldova, hard power is what matters most in geopolitics, especially in Eastern Europe and in a small country with a strategic location such as Moldova. Chisinau has been in political stalemate for years, both internally and in terms of the external powers vying for influence in the country. This is not likely to change significantly in the near future.
The competition between Romania and Russia over Moldova will remain largely in the economic and security spheres, where Russia has the advantage. Romania's economic influence over Moldova is growing, but it does not have the institutional support from the European Union and NATO to have a significant effect in the near- to midterm. Therefore, Russia likely will retain greater influence within Moldova, no matter how the country's fractious political system develops in the short term -- but not without a concerted effort to counter Romania's soft and hard power.
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Russia and Romania: The Competition over Moldova is republished with permission of STRATFOR.