Moldova Votes: Crucial Election Is Latest Battle In EU-Russia Struggle

Moldova will decide between Europe and Russia this Sunday, and Moscow is keeping a careful watch. According to the Wall Street Journal, Moldovan government officials have already barred one candidate, Renato Usatii, for his close ties to the Russian secret service and criminal gangs. As the Ukraine continues to fight insurrection, Moldova will have to decide how much Moscow will influence their politics and economy.

Earlier this summer, Moldova signed an association agreement on political and economic relations with the European Union along with two other former Soviet states: Ukraine and Georgia. Moscow countered by cutting off imports of agricultural products from Moldova, dealing a serious blow to the economy.

Now Moldova’s representatives will have to contemplate a difficult decision: either to continue moving closer to the European Union, or stop now and join Russia’s own customs union. Both courses have their own perils and rewards.

Despite having the Ukraine’s large landmass as a buffer, Russia has enormous influence on Moldova. The eastern part of the country, Transnistria, an autonomous state with little recognition, broke away from Moldova shortly after the Soviet Union fell apart.

The European Court of Human Rights found in a case that the Transnistria region was “under the effective authority or at least decisive influence of Russia.” Thanks to that influence, Vladimir Putin has an eastern base of operations to cause problems in Moldova, much like in Ukraine. And also like Ukraine, Moldova’s voters don’t seem willing to let Moscow decide their countries future.

According to Al Jazeera, the Communist party, which is ironically pro-European, is leading in the polls with 24 percent. The Socialist party, unexpectedly pro-Russian, has about 6 to 8 percent of the vote. No party is strong enough to dominate Moldova’s parliament, but BBC News is saying that the most likely outcome is a pro-European coalition, according to the latest polling.

Political expert Oazu Nantoi summed up the election’s meaning to the Wall Street Journal.

“The Cold War is back and Moldova is a key battlefield. The situation in Ukraine has created a very dangerous situation for the country and there is a prospect of instability and provocations.”

There will be one more punishment for the Moldova if it turns its back on Moscow: a much higher price for gasoline. Russian officials have said that a move further towards the West would mean an end to Russia’s cheap gas exports to the country.

Moldova has about 3.5 million people, about 2.7 million eligible to vote. A majority is required to run Moldova’s 101-seat parliament, which will also be in charge of electing a new president when the current one, Nicolae Timofti, steps down in 2016.

[Image Credit: World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons]