Standing beside Putin in Moscow, Moldova’s newly elected president rebuked the EU and gave fresh proof of his intention to pivot toward Russia. FT:
Moldova could scrap its trade agreement with the EU in favor of a rival Russia-led economic bloc, the country’s president said in Moscow on Tuesday.
The announcement by Igor Dodon, who took office in December after beating his pro-European rival at the polls, marks a potential triumph for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in his efforts to resurrect what Moscow considers as its rightful sphere of influence in countries of the former Soviet Union.
“This agreement hasn’t given Moldova any benefits,” Mr Dodon said at a joint press conference with Mr Putin, referring to the EU deal signed in 2014. “We lost the Russian market and — strangely — our export volumes to the EU have fallen as well.”
He added that he hoped the Socialist party, which he led before becoming president, would win the 2018 parliamentary elections “and this agreement will be annulled”.
For some in Europe, the scene in Moscow may bring uneasy echoes of Ukraine, where Victor Yanukovych likewise made a fateful decision to scrap the EU Association Agreement in 2013. But the comparison is not entirely helpful: whereas that decision triggered a wave of pro-European protests that ultimately forced Yanukovych out of power, Dodon is unlikely to face comparable pressure.
True, Moldova is not entirely united behind a pro-Russian stance, and its prime minister has criticized Dodon for speaking out of turn against the EU. But Moldovans did freely elect Dodon this November, well aware of his explicit alignment with Russia. And the EU’s shine has worn off considerably since 2013, leaving Moscow as an appealing alternative partner for many in the post-Soviet space. In many ways, Dodon’s freely chosen decision to boost ties with Russia only reflects Putin’s improved standing since then. As Julia Ioffe notes by way of contrast with Ukraine, “Putin didn’t have to invade Moldova, a former Soviet republic, to bring it back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.”
Dodon’s rejection of the EU may be a bitter pill to swallow for Atlanticists already concerned about what a Trump presidency will do to enable Putin and divide Europe. But Trump is hardly to blame for countries like Moldova losing faith in the EU, or for Putin’s improved position. It would be difficult for an openly pro-Russian U.S. president to do more to strengthen Russia’s hand than President Obama accomplished out of a mix of poor judgment, irresolution, and lack of strategic vision—failures so amply echoed by the EU that countries like Moldova are now steering away from Brussels and toward Moscow.