Vladimir Putin has made no secret that he aspires to return Russia to a position of global power, similar to the glory days of the Soviet Union. Toward that end, he has engineered efforts to disrupt and discredit Western democracies like the United States and United Kingdom, while aggressively intervening in former Soviet states to bring them under his control.
From the annexation of Crimea and meddling in Eastern European elections to infiltrating the highest levels of neighboring governments, Russian efforts are in full swing. The small and little-known country of Moldova is the latest target.
Russia’s progress in turning Moldova away from the West will be on full display this week when Moldovan President Igor Dodon addresses the United Nations General Assembly. If recent events are any indication, Dodon will take this opportunity on the world stage to laud Moldova’s newly revitalized relationship with Russia.
Dodon makes no secret that he wants Moldova to pivot toward the Kremlin. To date, Dodon has visited Russia more than 30 times since in the last two plus years – a rate that even Putin has poked fun of, joking that President Dodon never misses a chance to visit Moscow. And if that wasn’t enough face time, Dodon recently welcomed Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu to Moldova and dispatched his foreign minister to Moscow to continue what he clearly sees as the important work of building a special relationship.
This new posture with Russia is already paying off politically for Dodon. He announced the other day that Russia has cut gas prices for Moldova, a huge win for a country heavily reliant on Russian energy.
But Dodon’s relationship with Putin and Russia reaches far beyond official visits and energy deals. It’s personal. Dodon vigorously defends Russia from criticism in Moldova, has invested in lucrative Russian companies with his brother and vacations in Moscow with his family.
The admiration appears to be mutual. Putin has publicly supported Dodon through recent political upheaval in Moldovia, invited Dodon to a Victory Day parade in Moscow and even helped fund Dodon’s political party to the tune of a million dollars every month.
As Dodon cozies up to Russia, Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu has taken a more pro-Western position, which is in keeping with the previous government. She advocates a more open and democratic government, anti-corruption measures and closer ties with the European Union and other Western allies. This rhetoric appears to be just enough to keep the European Union and the United States complacent as Russia strengthens its grip on Moldovia.
This is a major change for Moldova. For much of the last decade, Moldova has been moving closer to the West. Former Moldovan Parliament First Deputy Vladimir Plahotniuc led the charge to seek better relations with the United States, the European Union and the West in general as way to improve economic conditions in Moldova and bring it out of the shadow of its Communist past.
But Plahotniuc’s efforts threatened to undermine Russian progress in Moldova and drew the ire of Putin. This led to death threats, fabricated criminal charges against him and even an assassination attempt, forcing Plahotniuc to flee Moldova.
As a former U.S. ambassador and U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly, I haven’t seen this level of Russian aggression since the Cold War. Putin’s mission to realize Russia as a global super-power, on par with the United States, demands our attention.
A new Iron Curtain is falling across Eastern Europe. First it was Crimea. Now it’s Moldova. The United States and our allies must be prepared to counter this unchecked interference or risk a new Cold War and a world in which Putin is pulling many more strings of power.
Amb. Ned L. Siegel, (Ret.) served as the senior adviser to the U.S. Mission and as the U.S. representative to the 61st Session of the United Nations General Assembly and as the United States ambassador to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas from 2007-2009.
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