Maia Sandu and her fight for Moldova

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Maia Sandu and her fight for Moldova
Pro-EU Maia Sandu was elected Prime Minister of Moldova on 8 June 2019.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Republic of Moldova, a small post-Soviet republic, today the poorest European country.

All these years, the essence of domestic politics has been determined by the clash of two diametrically opposite and mutually exclusive vectors – pro-European and pro-Russian. The paradox of Moldovan politics is that even in cases when pro-Western forces are victorious, the Kremlin always finds leverage to maintain control over the situation and does not let Moldova out of its orbit of influence.

And even “today”, after the brilliant victory of the pro-European candidate Maia Sandu in the presidential elections over the pro-Kremlin ex-president Igor Dodon, supported personally by Vladimir Putin, nothing has really changed in Moldova. The real power lies not with the president, but with the parliamentary majority, which forms the government.

Currently there is no full-fledged government in the country. There is no parliamentary majority either. And Igor Dodon, who after the defeat heads the Socialist Party, does everything in his power to prevent early parliamentary elections and prevent Maia Sand from forming a reformist government loyal to herself.

Dodon’s tactics are simple: sabotage any initiative of the new head of the state, create a feeling of uncontrollability and chaos in the country, make Sandu responsible for this, as the highest legitimate representative of the official authority in the state, hence reducing her popularity, discredit the European course. Only after that succession happens, go to the elections. The way the Kremlin curators of the “Moldovan project” see the configuration of the future Moldovan government is obvious today.

In order to prevent Maia Sandu from forming a government, the socialists of Igor Dodon will ally with the party of the eccentric populist, the incumbent mayor of Moldova’s second largest city, Renato Usatii. In theory, Renato Usatii presents himself as almost Dodon’s personal enemy. But a politician who lived for a long time in Russia and got rich there, cannot really be free from Moscow’s grip. Media reported that Renato Usatii is a “project” of the all-powerful Russian security agency, the FSB. The future union of Dodon and Usatii will be (or is already) the subject of the agreements between the Administration of President Putin, which supervises the ex-President of Moldova, and the Lubyanka, which controls Usatii.

This ambitious plan, which does not meet the current needs and aspirations of the pro-European population of Moldova, has every chance of success. Moscow, which suffered a painful defeat in the presidential elections in Moldova, will not risk any more. And so, the Kremlin is establishing total control over the political processes in Moldova, despite the victory of Maia Sandu.

The main Russian mass media sources  support Dodon and his party structures. Russian TV channels, print media and online portals are traditionally popular for Moldovans. Today, about 80 percent of the country’s media market is controlled by Moscow through companies related to Dodon. Having already lost the presidential elections, the socialists of Dodon, taking advantage of the current situation in the Parliament, canceled all existing restrictions on the broadcasting of Russian TV channels, completely opening Moldova to Kremlin propaganda.

Undoubtedly, this was done to enhance Moscow’s influence on the  internal political processes and to use Russian information resources in future parliamentary elections.

Social networks are equally used as a tool of permanent influence. The popularity of the Russian “Odnoklassniki” among the conservative part of the Moldovan electorate is several times higher than the Facebook rating.

And while Moscow invests practically nothing in the Moldovan economy and infrastructure, it actively finances the party of Dodon and a number of other pro-Russian political parties or groups, and buys the loyalty of the intellectual and creative elite, experts, analysts, and public opinion polling services. All these actions are directed at building up a massive rejection of Western values, while making any pro-Russian political project attractive from an electoral point of view.

More than once, high representatives of the European Union and the United States declared that although they financed numerous social and infrastructure projects and spent hundreds of millions of euros in the country, they could not win in the “competition for the minds” of the citizens of Moldova. And this situation should only get worse, since, having outlined the contours of the future pro-Russian coalition in Moldova, Moscow does not intend to allow pro-Western forces to access the levers of real power in the country.

And this means that the Moldovans will not receive convincing evidence of their competitive advantage. Maia Sandu, as a statesman and a symbol of the country’s European course, is very likely, under the current circumstances, to become a real disappointment. According to the elements of above highlighted plan, Moldova should receive an eternal “inoculation” from the desire to link its future with the European Union and remain in the orbit of Russian influence now and for decades to come.

In this truly dubious plan, the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Moldova, Alexandr Stoianoglo, plays a special role. A native of Gagauzia, a Turkic-speaking region in the southern Moldova with a special attitude towards Russia, a Soviet-school prosecutor and deputy general prosecutor under communist Vladimir Voronin’s rule, Stoianoglo took over as head of the prosecutor’s office just over a year ago. His appointment was accompanied by a scandal and provoked a political and governmental crisis. It was Stoianoglo who became the direct reason for the resignation of the reform government headed by Maia Sandu.

Maia Sandu perfectly understood that the competition for the position of prosecutor organized by Dodon’s people was fictitious, and its results were rigged and programmed a certain candidate to win. She was quite clearly aware of the consequences that would await Moldova if Alexandr Stoianoglo took this position – from the sabotage by the Prosecutor General’s Office of her anti-corruption program to the strengthening of Moscow’s position in Moldova.

Her desperate attempt to obstruct this appointment, to block it, led to the resignation of the government and Maia Sandu’s moving  into the opposition. By the way, the Constitutional Court later recognized that the appointment of Stoianoglo took place  with violations of the Constitution. But it was already too late. In Moldova, such decisions are not retroactive. And for seven long years, Alexandr Stoianoglo, a man of Dodon and the Kremlin, was installed as the head of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Pushing Stoianoglo’s candidacy for the highest prosecutor’s post in Moldova, Moscow was solving several problems at once. Firstly, it protected it’s corrupt protege Igor Dodon and, secondly,  temporarily eliminated Sandu, whose pro-Western cabinet was becoming more and more popular. As a  result,  the Dodon’s absolute rule was prolongued for about a year. And Moldova turned out to be thrown back for years.

Several Moldovan observers highlighted Stoianoglo’s dependence on Moscow. At one time, back in the 90s, the young lawyer Alexandr Stoianoglo was a lawyer of one of the most terrible and cruel leaders of Moldovan crime – Grigorii Karamalak. Today, officially sentenced for 20 years imprisonment, Karamalak lives in Moscow, where he is a full-time employee of the FSB. The connection between him and Stoianoglo is still maintained. Accidentally or not, but since Stoianoglo became the head of the prosecutor’s office, the cases brought against Karamalak start to close.

Not every secret service in the world can boast of a “special” relationship with the attorney general. During the year Stoianoglo worked out all the advances given to him. For example, due to him, such personages convicted for spying for Russia were released from prison. It was Stoianoglo who declared the Russian Laundromat case closed, has not pursued 13 judges involved in the Laundromat case, and released from prison one of the authors of the scheme to withdraw billions of dollars from Russia, the scandalous businessman and raider Vyacheslav Platon, whose connection with the Lubyanka also seems obvious.

Moreover, Platon also became an unofficial consultant to the attorney general. Platon, who seems to thoroughly know how to seize someone else’s property, launder money through offshores, blackmail and corrupt politicians, is undoubtedly a valuable consultant for such a general prosecutor.

Platon, who was directly involved in the so-called theft of the century, the theft of a billion euros from the banking system of Moldova, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. But Stoianoglo found a quasi-legal opportunity to simply release the scandalous businessman without revising the sentence, without amnesty. This is impossible without political cover. And the cover was, almost certainly, provided by Dodon. After leaving the walls of the Chisinau prison, Platon, apparently, generously paid off Stoianoglo.

The wife of the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Moldova became the happy owner of two Ukrainian companies, on the balance sheet of which there are a number of shares of MoldInconbank, the second largest bank in Moldova, in the amount of 10.5 million euros. Information about the transfer of these companies to the ownership of Stoianoglo’s wife appears on the website of the state register of Ukraine. Stoyanoglo himself denies the accusations, but the investigation of this scandalous deal, which became public, is understandably not being conducted.

Alexandr Stoyanoglo named the fact that “prosecutors have stopped engaging in extortion” as his  important achievement on the Prosecutor General post. Judging by the situation around the suddenly wealthy spouse, some (general) prosecutors convert their influence into wealth without resorting to extortion, limiting themselves only to providing expensive “services.”

Stoianoglo played a truly decisive role in the Moldovan politics and elections. Observers explain the participation in the pro-Dodon parliamentary majority of some deputies, who in the past repeatedly sharply criticized Dodon and the Party of Socialists, together with the socialists until the presidential elections lost by Dodon only by the pressure from the prosecutor’s office on them. Indirectly, the Prosecutor General’s Office tried to help Dodon to win.

So, without any reason, on the eve of the elections, the ex-Prime Minister of Moldova Vlad Filat, in whose government Maia Sandu began her activity, was released from prison. Throughout the presidential campaign, Filat harshly criticized Sandu and even put up a spoiler candidate from his own party against her.

Personally, Igor Dodon owes Alexandr Stoianoglo that even after the defeat he continues to engage in (pro-Russian) politics, and does not sit in the dock. Just during  the last year and a half , several corruption scandals have erupted around his name, each of which in any civilized country would provoke a serious investigation and severe punishment.

In May 2020, the deputy of the Moldovan parliament, Iurie Renita, released a video in which the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc hands over a weighty package to Dodon. It clearly follows from the context of the conversation that the package contains money intended to pay for the activities of Dodon’s party. Iurie Renita submitted the video to the prosecutor’s office. But the criminal case was not followed. This decision was made personally by Stoianoglo, who said that the evidence obtained outside an open criminal case is not … evidence.

In August 2020, the same MP Renita released documents that convincingly prove that Igor Dodon received funding for his 2016 election campaign from abroad, which is prohibited by Moldovan legislation. The RISE journalistic investigation demonstrated the entire chain of money movement from Russia (of course!) to offshore companies in the Bahamas and – from there – to prominent representatives of the Party of Socialists of Moldova headed by Dodon.

It was about $ 1.5 million and it is obvious that this was not the first and not the last money that was laundered and used for political purposes on the territory of Moldova. But the prosecutor’s office, headed by Stoianoglo, did not prosecuted this case either.

Those are just two of the many scandalous stories with a clear corruption smell, which were widely discussed in Moldovan society, but did not lead to criminal prosecution of the persons involved. Of course, they had a negative impact on Dodon’s rating and predetermined his defeat to Sandu. But he remained an active political figure and is preparing for revenge.

Ex-adviser to Maia Sandu, recognised expert Vladislav Kulminsky drew attention to the fact that during the year since Stoianoglo is occupying the function of the  Prosecutor General, the prosecutors office has not initiated ANY criminal case on corruption.

Instead, Stoianoglo issued a public statement full of hidden allusions and threats against incumbent President Maia Sandu and the political forces that support her. Without naming persons, he accused the “pro-European forces” of pressure on the prosecutor’s office and attempts to deprive it of independence. The same Vladislav Kulminsky called it the “war” of the prosecutor against the head of state.

It is pretty obvious that Stoianoglo did not unleash this war of his own initiative.

Early parliamentary elections approach fast, and they will decide who will have real power in Moldova and, therefore, what foreign policy course this small and poor country will pursue in the coming years. It is obvious that the Moscow curators have already let the Prosecutor General loose, sending him on the hunt for those politicians with whom the Moldovan society associates Western values and pro-European politics.

First of all – against Maya Sandu. Presumably, in the near future, criminal cases could be initiated against representatives of her entourage on far-fetched pretexts. Experienced FSB “provocateurs” with connections in the illicit world – Platon, Usatii, Karamalak – will play their role in the campaign to discredit the president and her team. But the main role is assigned, of course, to the Attorney General Stoianoglo with his quasi illimited powers and the status of an inviolable figure.

After losing the battle, Putin’s Russia is preparing to win the war. The symbolic success in small Moldova will be indicative for all who, pushing through the desperate resistance to  the “empire”, continue to stubbornly follow the path of Western civilisation’s values.

Vlad Olteanu
EU Affairs Consultant

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