Following polling on 30th October, the Moldavian presidential elections will go to a second round – this time a head to head between pro-EU Maya Sandu and Kremlin friendly Igor Dodon.
Mr Dodon received 48.7% of the votes in the first round, with Ms Sandu garnering 37.96% – by far the highest percentage of the pro-EU contenders.
The electoral questions now presented are whether the pro-EU votes that went to other candidates will consolidate around Ms Sandu or not, and also the extent of voter turnout for the second round.
The first round demographics displayed a notably higher turnout of both grey-haired and also female voters. Ms Sandu is more likely to benefit from a far higher turn out of young men than Mr Dodon, if they can be encouraged to vote (either in Moldova or abroad where so many work).
During his campaigning Mr Dodon has made comment regarding Crimea – noting that de jure it may be part of Ukraine as far as international recognition goes, but de facto it is Russia.
Such statements calling into question the territorial integrity of another nation, and a neighbour, may or may not be campaign rhetoric – and a reader may well ponder the response of Mr Dodon should a campaigning/electioneering Ukrainian politician state that de jure Transnistria may be part of Moldova as far as international recognition is concerned, but de facto it is Russia.
Needless to say such comment entering the public realm by a presidential candidate of a neighbouring nation has not gone unnoticed by either the Ukrainian leadership or the Ukrainian media.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry duly summonsed its Moldavian Ambassador to Kyiv “for consultations”.
Meanwhile, Moldavian Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Galbur made a very clear apology “I would not like to comment on the statements of the participants of the election campaign. At the same time, referring to this specific case, I would like to express regret to our partners in Kyiv, our Ukrainian partners, to all citizens of this country, including those who live in our country, who have Ukrainian origin. The expressed position does not correspond to the official position of the Republic of Moldova. We clearly recognize the territorial integrity and sovereignty of neighboring Ukraine within the borders recognized at the international level, do not recognize the annexation of all territories, regardless of whether we are talking about Ukraine or other countries. Such a situation we have in Georgia. Moreover, we too are suffering from a serious territorial crisis. I do not know, therefore, those who made such a declaration, if would be nice to hear from officials from Ukraine, Transnistria belongs to the Russian Federation? I’m just sorry.”
So be it. We currently suffer a public arena in which there is seemingly no limit to the amount of spurious, or misleading, or absolute bollocks that can be uttered by the political class in attempts to sway public opinion – public apologies will probably become more and more necessary, albeit they probably will not come when owed. Kudos therefore to Andrei Galbur for such a swift and clear statement on behalf of the Moldavian State.
But what if Mr Dodon wins and becomes President Dodon – which he very well might?
There are mutterings within the Ukrainian media that Ivan Hnatsyhyn, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova should be recalled.
So should he?
Clearly the recalling of the Ukrainian Ambassador to the Russian Federation in 2014 was very much in order. That a temporary Charges d’Affairs now heads the diplomatic missions of Ukraine within Russia is quite right, for it signals a formal downgrading of diplomatic ties. Nevertheless Ukrainian diplomatic missions throughout the Russian Federation continue to function – and so they should for embassies and consulates do not exist simply to hand out consular assistance to its citizenry, nor for Ambassadors to enjoy erudite chats over canapes and “drinkies” on an organised and revolving hosting calendar sponsored by turn-taking national taxpayers.
Even as President Dodon, and even if he maintains his position publicly regarding his statements about Crimea, that is still not the official position of Moldova. Moldova is a parliamentary democracy by constitution. It is therefore parliament that adopts the official Moldavian position. (That said, Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential democracy, though a reader (and a citizen) could be forgiven if they perceived matters the other way around.)
Having a controversial and problematic individual as President is survivable – as the Czech Republic clearly displays.
Therefore if a Kremlin friendly President Dodon is the fate awaiting Moldova, does it pay to recall the Ukrainian Ambassador, downgrading the diplomatic mission there to that of a temporary Charges d’Affairs as occurred with Russia over his personal comment/position?
Perhaps – but removing emotion from the equation, with a very Kremlin friendly President Dodon, does it not pay to have an Ambassador in Moldova to “manage things” as they inevitably become far more “testy” and ‘prickly” – not to mention probably witnessing an increase in covert action too?
To be sure the Romanians and the SIE are hardly likely to lessen their interest in matters Moldavian under a President Dodon – quite the opposite.
Ergo, with a longer term and less emotional view, (and the game is indeed long) rather than retreating from Moldova if a President Dodon does come to pass, no differently than the predictable Romanian response, is it not wise to retain as much presence and influence “on plot” as there currently is? (Perhaps even increase it – one way or another).
If a President Dodon begins to become problematic – which he very well may – there will be a lot of Moldavian “people” wanting to “talk” privately and discreetly to neighbours and western “friends”.
“Drinkies” and canapes, official appointments/visits (and “unofficial” chats) provide for a top level communication channel directly to the MFA (unlike the spooks naturally). Recalling the Ukrainian Ambassador and downgrading relations to that of a temporary Charge d’Affair may well see many of those anticipated communications and “chats” being held with others instead.
Thus, on balance, if a President Dodon is soon upon us, then unless the official Moldavian position shifts significantly and adopts his personal and current electioneering rhetoric, it is perhaps not only disproportionate, but indeed foolish to recall the Ukrainian Ambassador. There are other levers to employ when showing displeasure.
The inauguration of a President Dodon, it that is what is to be, probably requires a greater rather than lesser presence.