In Europe - East

By David M. Herszenhorndec, New York Times, Dec. 1, 2014

MOSCOW — Three pro-European political parties appeared to have won enough votes in a weekend election to control Moldova’s Parliament, despite a surprising first-place finish by the pro-Russian Socialist Party, according to preliminary results on Monday.

Shadowed by the continuing violence in neighboring Ukraine, the election in Moldova, one of Europe’s smallest and poorest nations, became another fierce contest between the West and Russia for influence in a former Soviet republic.

Moldova, like Ukraine, has moved steadily toward greater political and economic integration with the European Union. But it has come under severe pressure from Russia to change course. Russia banned the import of Moldovan wine last year, and in recent months, it followed up with bans on apples, meat and other food products — brutal blows to the nation’s economy, which depends heavily on agriculture.

Russia already plays a significant role in Moldova because of the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, which declared independence in 1990 and was the subject of a military conflict in 1992. Russian troops have long been stationed in Transnistria as peacekeeping forces.

Senior Russian officials, including a deputy prime minister, Dmitri O. Rogozin, said the election results were rigged by Moldova’s current, pro-European government. On Wednesday, just four days before the vote, the country’s Central Election Commission barred the participation of another pro-Russian party, Patria, saying it had received illegal foreign financing.

Mr. Rogozin, commenting on Twitter, said pro-Russian parties would have secured control of Parliament if Patria had been allowed on the ballot, and if it had been easier for thousands of Moldovan migrant workers in Russia to vote.

According to preliminary results, with more than 97 percent of ballots counted, the pro-Russian Socialist Party was ahead with 20.7 percent, followed by the pro-Western Democratic Party, with 20 percent.

The country’s Communist Party, perhaps the most resilient in the former Soviet Union, was in third place, with 17.8 percent, followed by the strongly pro-European Liberal Democratic Party, which is led by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, with 16 percent, and the pro-Western Liberal Party, with 9.5 percent.

Taken together, the pro-Western parties had about 45 percent of the vote, while the pro-Russian parties secured about 39 percent. Because other parties are not expected to clear the 6 percent threshold to enter Parliament, the pro-Western parties are likely to emerge with a slim, controlling majority.

That said, forming a government is expected to be extremely difficult and to entail intense negotiations in the coming weeks. Although the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the ban on Patria in a ruling on Saturday, the late disqualification gave further ammunition to Russian officials who have complained of European meddling aimed at undercutting the Kremlin’s influence in the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Rogozin has forcefully conveyed Russia’s view. Last year, on a visit to Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, he noted the country’s reliance on Russian natural gas to heat homes in winter, and warned, “We hope that you will not freeze.” Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story Continue reading the main story

On Monday, he said again that Moldovan officials should rethink their pro-Western stance given the election results.

“Add to this, the votes of supporters of the Patria party, withdrawn from the election on the eve of the vote, plus 700,000 Moldovan migrant workers in Russia whom the Chisinau authorities did not allow to vote, and you get the real weight of the Eurointegrators in this country,” he wrote in his commentary. “For Chisinau, it’s worth thinking about: Are you going on the correct path/road, comrades?”

Patria was created by Renato Usatii, a wealthy businessman with strong ties to Russia. Mr. Usatii is president of VPT-NN, a tool-and-die company that is an official supplier to Russian Railways, the national railroad. Russian Railways is controlled by one of President Vladimir V. Putin’s closest allies.

New Cold War editors’ note: In the 2010 parliamentary election in Moldova, pro-Europe parties won 52 percent. In the Dec. 2, 2014 election, they won 38.5 per cent.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea this spring, some officials in Transnistria have called for Russia to annex their territory as well, reflecting the results of a referendum held in 2006 in which voters overwhelmingly expressed support for joining Russia.


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