Unipolar? Multipolar?

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Ed. Note: Is the answer for our future a Unipolar World Order? A Multipolar World Order? Or better yet No World Order? A Unipolar World Order means Full Spectrum Domination by one power – no ifs, ands or buts. We all are enslaved to the one supreme leader. A Multipolar World Order means that some of us are enslaved by one power and some others are enslaved by another power. It results in a constant state of war, conflict, instability, insecurity for all the subordinates. A No World Order is a world in permanent disorder.

What is your choice?

Mexico President AMLO: “I don’t know if it’s CIA or DEA but I’m facing a vulgar and slanderous campaign… the US has no control: CIA has its policy, DEA has its policy, State Dept. has its policy, the White House has its policy, the Judiciary has its policy … and all we ask for them is to respect us.” https://twitter.com/upholdreality/status/1785070791283068970

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Is Moldova a new battleground in Russia’s war?

by Orysia Lutsevych and Valeriu Pasha via Chatham House


Since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, concern has grown that neighbouring Moldova would be next in Moscow’s bid to regain control over the former Soviet republics. Moldova’s pro-European leaders have long been aware of Russian efforts to destabilize their country. With two key polls in Moldova this year, those efforts are expected to intensify.

Fuelling that expectation is Transnistria, a region that broke away from Moldova around 30 years ago with Russia’s support. In February, pro-Russian separatist leaders of Transnistria issued an appeal to Moscow for protection. That echoed similar ‘appeals’ from inside Ukraine which set in motion the illegal Russian annexations of its territories: the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in 2022. 

But just how vulnerable is Moldova to Russian encroachment? Is its home-grown resilience improving? What tactics is Moscow already deploying in the country and how are Moldova’s leaders countering these? 

How vulnerable is Moldova to Russian interference?

Moldova is sandwiched between Ukraine to the east and Romania to the west. Along Moldova’s eastern edge runs the breakaway region of Transnistria. Moldova does not share a border with Russia.

Before 2014, Russia could access Transnistria by transiting Ukraine or via Moldova’s port on the River Danube. But these routes are now closed, and Chisinau has introduced tough checks on Russian military personnel moving through the capital’s airport.

Previous revisionist speeches from the Russian president, the Kremlin’s actions and official doctrines all suggest that Russia sees Moldova as ‘a historical Russian territory’

Later in 2024, Moldova is due to hold presidential elections and a referendum about its future membership of the European Union. 

Both are opportunities for Moscow to strengthen its influence over the country and to subvert Moldova’s possible integration into the EU. In perhaps another parallel to Ukraine, the EU decided to open accession negotiations with Moldova in December 2023.

Although Vladimir Putin did not refer to Transnistria in his 29 February address, previous revisionist speeches from the Russian president, the Kremlin’s actions and official doctrines all suggest that Russia sees Moldova as ‘a historical Russian territory’. 

This reflects Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions to restore control over former Soviet republics and push the European and US presence out of eastern Europe.  

Ousting the pro-European Moldovan president Maya Sandu in favour of the pro-Russian opposition is an active part of that strategy, according to authorities in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. Election interference is among the areas where Moldova is vulnerable to Russian malign influence. 

Research by Chatham House suggests that Moscow is also targeting the Moldovan public information space with toxic disinformation and is seeking ways to undermine the country’s social cohesion. 

Moldova was chosen as a focus country to test a new methodology – the Resilience Barometer – devised by Chatham House for measuring societies’ resilience to Russian malign influence. Initial results from a survey of experts for the barometer suggest that Moldova has strong societal support for democracy, but weaker support for EU integration and other alliances.

A chart from the Chatham House Resilience Barometer.
— A chart from the Chatham House Resilience Barometer.

Another major vulnerability is Moldova’s governance and attempts to tackle corruption, confirmed by low scores in the Resilience Barometer for limiting the influence of kleptocratic groups on state institutions. 

These weaknesses could be actively exploited by Russia in the coming months, in the run-up to the referendum on joining the EU and the presidential elections due in October. 

How does Russia destabilize Moldova?

With the Russian army bogged down in Ukraine and its failed offensive on Odesa, Moscow is dialling up its non-military methods – also known as ‘hybrid’ measures – to exert more pressure on Moldova. These can include, among others: economic pressure, information operations, cyberattacks, internal destabilization, election interference, corruption and use of proxy groups.  

In Moldova, several of these measures are being deployed – notably during the 2023 local elections. Those elections were a prime target for Russian interference. 

The head of Moldova’s Information and Security Service said that in 2023 alone, Russia illegally channelled more than $55 million, or almost 0.4 per cent of Moldova’s nominal GDP, into influencing elections and buying votes in the country.

Moldova’s national security service has accused fugitive pro-Russian oligarchs – such as Ilan Shor who was convicted in absentia on fraud charges– of paying millions in euros to stage anti-government protests and commit election fraud.

— Valeriu Pasha, Chairman of the WatchDog.md Community, discusses Moldova’s vulnerabilities and policies to strengthen its resilience. 

The 2023 local elections highlighted Moldova’s inability to block such interference backed by corrupt oligarchs. Moldovan prosecutors have initiated several criminal cases against the illegal financing of political activities, but the trial process is slow and public trust in the judiciary is low. 

Some judges and prosecutors remain loyal to the former leader of the Democratic Party, Vladimir Plahotniuc. He is sanctioned by the US Treasury, which says he retains control over the country’s law enforcement apparatus to target political and business rivals. 

Online disinformation is also used by Russian-backed entities to destabilize the country, particularly its democratic processes, according to Moldovan authorities. The operation to undermine the local elections was in part controlled by the 161 Intelligence Training Centre of the Russian Military Intelligence (GRU). Moscow can channel influence through a cohort of openly pro-Russian parties: the Socialists, the Communists, and Ilan Shor’s Renaissance party. It may also be helped by a few alleged ‘Trojan horses’ – prominent individuals who claim support for the EU, but refuse to denounce Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and who push Russian narratives. 

It is notable that Yuriy Gudilin, a former officer with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and now an election aid to the mayor of Chisinau, is sanctioned by the US Treasury for attempts to interfere in the 2020 national elections on Russia’s behalf.

An upcoming celebration on World War II Victory Day on 9 May could be a focal point for mass demonstrations against Sandu.  

Looking ahead to the next national elections, the Russian-speaking autonomous region of Gagauzia could play an important role, given previous attempts there to stage provocation and stoke separatist sentiments by hosting illegal referendums. 

An upcoming celebration on World War II Victory Day on 9 May could be a focal point for mass demonstrations against Sandu.  

With this in mind, a meeting on 7 March between the current governor of Gaugazia, Yevgenia Gutsul, and Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Chief of Staff of Putin’s administration, is a worrying sign.

Internal Kremlin documents, reviewed by the Washington Post, show that Kiriyenko was responsible for running subversive activities both inside Ukraine and abroad to undermine Western support for Kyiv’s war effort.

How is Moldova boosting its national resilience? 

The next few months will be a critical test for Moldova’s internal resilience to Russian aggressive encroachment. The country is working actively to counter Russian influence in several ways, although some gaps remain.

Just over three-quarters (76 per cent) of the experts surveyed for the Chatham House Resilience Barometer agree that Moldova is becoming more resilient to Russian interference. Under Prime Minister Dorin Recean, the government is focusing on increasing societal and institutional resilience against Russian interference. 

The new National Security Strategy, for the first time since independence, acknowledges Russia as an existential threat to national security. While this has been obvious since the Russia-orchestrated secessionist war in 1992, no Moldovan leader has dared to state this openly. The new strategy prioritises building societal resilience, strengthening the national army and the civil security sector, and combating Russia’s malign interference in domestic politics.

Another decisive step was to create a new institution responsible for strategic communication and combating disinformation. Its new director, Anna Revenco, a former minister of interior, has pledged to apply a ‘whole of society approach’ to resilience. In parallel, resolute efforts are being made to reduce Moldova’s energy dependence on Russia. 

President Sandu has tried to address the lack of public faith in the judiciary’s independence, announcing the of a new court to try major corruption cases. She maintains that some judges have allowed the illegal financing of Russia’s actions in Moldova to continue. The pro-Russian Socialist Party of Moldova (PSRM) alleges that Sandu and her party are themselves attempting to influence the judicial system.

An active group of non-profit organizations and independent media is fighting Russian disinformation but their efforts may be futile if not curbed at the source. 

While Moldova is gradually building a strategic vision of how to get rid of Russia’s toxic influence, these solutions will only pay off in the long term. Substantial gaps remain, especially in providing for human security, delivering accountable governance and strengthening social cohesion, as the Resilience Barometer research found. 

The country is not helped by an apparent lack of interest among tech giants to limit disinformation on their platforms, including paid electoral ads in Moldova. An active group of non-profit organizations and independent media is fighting Russian disinformation but their efforts may be futile if not curbed at the source. 

How could external actors help Moldova in strengthening its resilience?  

Whether Transnistria’s appeal to Russia becomes an event that will set in motion a wider destabilizing chain reaction will depend on how effectively the Moldovan government and its partners can counter the Russian efforts. 

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