Republic of Moldova: fugitive oligarchs play the Gagauz card

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Analysis, Republic of Moldova | 0 comments

Certainly, disagreements between Chisinau (the capital of the Republic of Moldova) and Comrat (the capital of Gagauzia) have been present in the relationship between the two entities in recent decades, often related to issues of autonomy, local governance, cultural identity, and control over resources
Foto: Wikipedia

The autumn of 2023 promises to be geopolitically active in the southern regions of the Republic of Moldova. Political forces funded by fugitive oligarchs Ilan Șor and Vladimir Plahotniuc are stirring up tensions in the autonomous Gagauz region as local elections draw near. The Republic of Moldova has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in recent weeks

Republic of Găgăuzia

One local leader, the President of the regional legislature, the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Dmitri Constantinov, does not rule out the creation of a “Gagauz Republic.” He stated in an interview with a TV station from the separatist Transnistria region that “people are demanding it,” although he did not provide evidence of this statement. Constantinov later reaffirmed his statement to the media in Chisinau, stating that the Republic of Moldova has been “somewhat negligent in its attitude towards Gagauzia’s laws.” On September 9, a meeting of deputies of all levels will take place in Comrat, and, as Constantinov mentioned, “it is possible” that “some of the deputies may support this idea.”

Dmitri Constantinov subsequently declared that he would appear before the Prosecutor’s Office if summoned for explanations following his statements about the possible proclamation of the Gagauzia Republic. He also maintains that he is not a proponent of this idea, mentioning that his statement was not correctly understood.

Constantinov’s response came after the Secretary-General of the DA Platform, Liviu Vovc, announced on Facebook that he had filed a complaint with the relevant authorities against him. According to Vovc, the President of the People’s Assembly, in his capacity as a public figure, advocates against the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. This comes after he said that Gagauzia could self-proclaim as a “republic.”

Referring to the statements of the local elected official from Gagauzia, Victor Petrov, a political ally of Shor, who had characterized Constantinov’s statements as a provocation that could lead to the elimination of autonomy a few days ago, the President of the People’s Assembly stated that his statement was not correctly understood. Furthermore, a few days after the declaration about creating a republic, Constantinov declared that he was renouncing this idea. “I said that on the 9th, there would be a continuation of the session, where deputies, those with mandates, would be summoned, and I have a mandate. I was asked if the question of the Gagauz Republic could be raised there, and I said I can’t tell you what questions will be discussed there and how they will be voted on. I can’t know. That’s why I can’t guarantee,” he said.

Every year, on August 19th, Gagauzia celebrates the proclamation of the Gagauz Republic. From 1990 to 1994, Gagauzia self-proclaimed itself as a separate republic from Moldova, but from December 1994 to July 1995, Gagauzia was reintegrated into Moldova, becoming an autonomous region.

What is Gagauzia?

Gagauzia is an autonomous region located in the southern part of the Republic of Moldova. It possesses a distinct ethnic, cultural, and linguistic character and is renowned for its predominantly Gagauz population, who speak the Gagauz language, a Turkic language.

Gagauzia has a complex history, with the Gagauz people being descendants of the Oghuz Turks, as some researchers think. They have developed a unique traditional culture, influenced by other peoples who have lived in the area over time, especially in the Balkan region. The Gagauz people were colonized by the Russian Empire in the current region as part of its imperial policy.

Gagauzia obtained the status of an autonomous region within the Republic of Moldova in 1994. This autonomy grants Gagauzia partial control over internal affairs, including the right to choose its local leadership and promote Gagauz culture and language.

The predominant religion in Gagauzia is Orthodox Christianity. The Gagauz Orthodox Church plays a significant role in the religious and cultural life of the region, while also serving as one of the means through which Russian influence is exerted in the area.

The economy of Gagauzia is primarily based on agriculture and the food industry. The region is known for its wine production and animal husbandry.

Relationship with the Republic of Moldova

Gagauzia has a complex relationship with the Republic of Moldova. Over the years, there have been debates and negotiations concerning its status and autonomy. Gagauzia maintains its distinct identity but also collaborates with the central administration of the Republic of Moldova. Gagauzia has its own autonomous government and legislation. It has a regional government and an autonomous president who oversees local affairs.

Certainly, disagreements between Chisinau (the capital of the Republic of Moldova) and Comrat (the capital of Gagauzia) have been present in the relationship between the two entities in recent decades, often related to issues of autonomy, local governance, cultural identity, and control over resources. One of the main sources of tension has been Gagauzia’s autonomous status within the Republic of Moldova. Gagauzia gained its autonomy status in 1994, granting it a significant degree of self-governance in certain areas. However, there have been disagreements regarding the boundaries of this status and the extent to which Gagauzia can exercise its autonomy.

Disputes have also arisen regarding control over resources, including agricultural land, industries, and sources of income. Gagauzia’s economy is largely based on agriculture and the food industry, and questions about rights to these resources can lead to tensions with the central administration in Chisinau.

Political aspects and local elections can also contribute to tensions. In some cases, the election of the president and government of Gagauzia can lead to divergences and affect relations with the central administration of the Republic of Moldova.

Dialogue, negotiation, and a commitment to the peaceful development of the relationship between the two entities are essential for maintaining stability and cooperation in the Republic of Moldova.

Transnistrian Precedent

The threat of a new Transnistrian scenario in the context of Russia’s illegal military aggression against Ukraine should raise questions for all sensible individuals in autonomy. The authorities in Chisinau must swiftly clarify the rights and obligations of both parties, including those of Gagauzia, to remove this leverage favorable to Russian interests.

Just a year ago, Mustafa Şentop, former President of the Turkish Parliament, delivered a message of unity during his visit to Comrat in the context of the war in Ukraine. “The future of Gagauzia is not elsewhere but in Moldova. Gagauzia is an integral part of Moldova. It is more important than ever to have a constructive attitude in relations with Chisinau,” said the former head of the Ankara Legislature, an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His statements are clear evidence that Gagauz separatist ambitions are fueled by the Russian Federation, while Turkey, a NATO member state and a candidate for EU membership, does not view Gagauzia as an independent state but an integral part of the Republic of Moldova.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

The Şor Executive

During a recent special session of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (APG), deputies managed to approve the structure of the executive committee, but with some reservations, which were accepted by Governor Evghenia Guțul. The condition set by the deputies is that “by November 2023, when the autonomy’s 2024 budget is to be formed, the structure should be optimized, and the number of departments and officials reduced.” The second significant point is the reduction of the budget for maintaining the executive committee’s staff.

Deputy Mihail Jelezoglo reminded that some candidates in the governor’s team did not pass the Gagauz language proficiency exam – Doiceva, Kendighelean, and Cîlcic. “Our approval of these candidates in the executive committee structure will give any court the right to challenge today’s decision of the APG,” he mentioned.

Vice President of the APG Alexandr Tarnavschi stated, “It’s not the governor’s fault that she doesn’t know all the people in the proposed executive committee, as the list was not made by her but by Ilan Şor.” He continued, “You are not to blame for this; perhaps you are an honest person but inexperienced. I believe it would be more honest to resign because you are being used by others. They do not support this executive committee because its members cannot distance themselves from Şor. You will not be able to work because you will not find common ground with Chisinau or European structures,” said the deputy.

Nicolai Dudoglo, former mayor of Comrat, later stated that “we must defend her, and the central authorities should not scare the autonomy authorities with criminal cases. We all need a little patience now that we have chosen a new governor,” he said, emphasizing that Evghenia Guțul “learns quickly and is different now.” He mentioned that he would run as an independent candidate for the position of mayor of Comrat, pointing out his desire to join the political team of oligarch Şor.

Dudoglo admitted that he had suggested that the President of the People’s Assembly, Dmitri Constantinov, resign. “Enough, leave, you’ve done everything you can in this position,” he told him. “I have nothing against Constantinov, but I consider him guilty of the deadlock in Gagauzia,” said Dudoglo, who is close to Vladimir Plahotniuc.

Weak Opposition

Within the autonomy, there are several leaders opposing the feudalization policy promoted by Şor, including the Vice President of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Alexandr Tarnavschi. He stated that the new governor, Evghenia Guțul, and her team affiliated with the former “ŞOR” Party, which was banned by the Constitutional Court, are not prepared to govern Gagauzia. Vice President of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Alexandr Tarnavschi, shares this opinion.

It should be noted that the head of autonomy and the team she has presented have not distanced themselves from the unconstitutional “ŞOR” party and the convicted politician Ilan Şor. Furthermore, Guțul does not position herself as the head of Gagauzia for the entire autonomy but as a representative of the “ŞOR” Party, and she constantly speaks about it. This makes the authorities in Chisinau increasingly cautious about Gagauzia, especially since autonomy, after the assumption of power by Evghenia Guțul, is isolated from external partners and donors.

It is hard to believe that the republican authorities will negotiate with the Executive Committee of Comrat, given that without dialogue, you cannot develop the economy and manage social issues. The lack of dialogue between the Moldovan Government and the Executive Committee will worsen the situation in Gagauzia.

On the agenda of the Moldovan Parliament is the draft law of Deputy Radu Marian regarding the reimbursement of taxes to economic agents from the Gagauzia budget. In this case, the lack of dialogue between Comrat and Chisinau can lead to the approval of this project in its initial version, which would mean the collapse of the Gagauzia budget system.

Foto: Facebook
Foto: Facebook

Fantasy Promises

The “ȘOR” Party and its oligarchic leader have promised to build an airport, investments of 500 million euros, and natural gas at 12 lei/m3. These promises have allowed Șor members to exert public pressure, including through massive protests, even though it is evident that the governor will not fulfill these promises.

It should be noted that the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia have repeatedly refused to discuss topics related to the structure and composition of the new Executive Committee (local government). Parliamentarians are dissatisfied that the proposed list includes individuals affiliated with the fugitive politician Ilan Șor. At the last session held on August 25, deputies only managed to approve the structure of the Committee, suggesting to the governor to modify the list of members and only then seek the vote of the People’s Assembly.

Some deputies expressed dissatisfaction with the candidate for the position of deputy governor, Mihail Vlah. According to them, Vlah was involved in a case of voter bribery during the polling stations set up in Gagauzia during the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria. They also mentioned that the public television station in Gagauzia, GRT, is at risk of disappearing due to mismanagement. Deputies from Gagauzia reminded Guțul about Marina Tauber’s statements, according to which the vote in the People’s Assembly for the new composition of the Executive Committee is “a mere formality.”

By the decision of the People’s Assembly, Evghenia Guțul has until November 15 to present the new composition of the Executive Committee.

Spy War

The situation in Gagauzia has also influenced the recent spy war between Chisinau and Comrat. Dozens of Russian diplomats and their families recently left the territory of the Republic of Moldova after the authorities in Chisinau decided to reduce the staff at the Russian Embassy due to “destabilizing” actions in the country. Some of them carried out official and unofficial activities in southern Moldova. At the end of July, the Moldovan government announced that the number of accredited diplomats and “technical-administrative” staff working at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Chisinau would be reduced from over 80 individuals to 25. Chisinau’s decision came “as a result of numerous unfriendly actions towards the Republic of Moldova, unrelated to diplomatic mandates, as well as attempts to destabilize the internal situation in our country.”

In response, Moscow announced through the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that it would not remain without a response. “This is a new step towards the destruction of bilateral relations on the part of the regime in Chisinau. In its desire to stand out in front of its Western sponsors in terms of Russophobia, the official Chisinau is falling to ever greater depths, borrowing the Ukrainian and Baltic experiences, as well as standard measures, including public offenses against our country, banning the Russian-language press, and attacking the Russian language,” said Maris Zaharova.

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