EXCLUSIVE/ Early elections would only profit the pro-Russian forces, former Prime Minister Vlad Filat told EURACTIV, as tens of thousands of Moldovans are protesting in Chisinau, demanding the resignation of the president, and early elections, over a $1 billion bank fraud that has hit living standards.
In an egregious scam that has exposed endemic corruption and highlighted the power of oligarchs in the country of 3.5 million, $1 billion has disappeared from the banking system – roughly one eighth of Moldova’s gross domestic output. Protests are ongoing, with calls for the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti, who has presided over a pro-European Union leadership since early 2012.
The situation in Moldova is “not simple”, with a fragile pro-European majority, and a government put in place last July, with a platform aiming at EU integration, said Filat, who was the premier of Moldova in the period 2009-2013. He is the founder of the EPP-affiliated Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM). In the last parliamentary elections, his party took 20% of the vote and 23 MPs in the 101 member parliament. Current Prime Minister Valeriu Strele? is a member of PDLM, as well as six of his 18 ministers.
The banking scandal, which affected three banks, needs to be investigated first, statements about theft amounting to $1 billion need to be confirmed, and the responsibilities should be established, Filat stated. He said that the government had contracted the US corporate investigations company Kroll to investigate the case, and to recover the depleted funds.
“It is important to see how big was the prejudice, but even more importantly, we need to take all measures to make sure that the banking sector of the Republic of Moldova becomes strong and immune to such scenarios,” he said.
Regarding the protests, Filat said that on the one hand, people were right to protest, but on the other hand, there were “organisers” who aimed at using this “protest energy” for their political objectives.
“Categorically, we don’t accept demands for the resignation of the president, of the government, which would bring early elections. This would be a catastrophe for Moldova,” he added.
Filat explained that in the context of what he called “the war in Ukraine”, which has affected directly effected the situation in Moldova, the stakes were “very high”.
He said that he hoped that in the beginning of October decisions would be taken in Parliament to abandon the “election” rhetoric and to adopt decisions leading to the strengthening of the institutions. In that sense, he mentioned the need of de-pollicisation of institutions such as the law-enforcement services, the customs and tax administration and others.
Asked about the pro-Russian forces, he said:
“Let’s be honest. The pro-Russian forces have always scored well in Moldovan elections. The victories of the pro-European forces have always been by small margins. […] But the problem is that if in the past, these were pro-Russian forces. Now we have forces which represent the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova. It’s a big change in attitude and in approach.”
Asked to explain, he said:
“The Communist party has always had a pro-Russian tendency. But I must recognise that it has been supportive of the European integration of Moldova. This was the case when the Communist party rejected a memorandum which had foreseen the federalisation of Moldova, with the legalisation of the presence of Russian troops and armament in Transnistria. But now the new political actors depend totally on the Russian Federation, financially, logistically, they are docile actors who will only implement the interest of the Russia Federation, if they accede to power”.
Reportedly, the new Moldovan “Part of Socialists”, at the difference with the Communist Party, is a pro-Putin rather than a pro-Russian force. A recent mayoral election in Chisinau has revealed the strength of this new force.
Filat said that in his opinion, Moldova’s integration in the EU was not posing big issues to Moscow. However, he argued that the psychological effect of pushing through a pro-Russian victory in Moldova was precious for Moscow in the context of the Ukraine crisis.
“We always knew that they are not going to come to us with tanks. Their objective is to take over the political control of Moldova, and here instruments are used, such as economic pressure, various obstructions, and an information war aiming at discrediting everything related to the EU,” he said.
Filat recognised that Russia’s propaganda had a deep impact on Moldovan society.
“The impact of Russian media, espescially TV, is enormous. We need to recognise that the manipulation is been made in a very professional way,” he said.
The former prime minister said that those who were protesting today were pro-European Moldovans, disgusted with the banking scandal. But he said that in the coming days other protests were expected by the pro-Kremlin forces, which would be very well organised and with a completely different agenda.
Moldova is a former Soviet republic, and was part of Romania before being annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. It is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. Moldovans speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls it the 'Moldovan language'. Russian is also widely spoken.
Moldova has signed its EU Association Agreement on 27 June 2014 and has ratified it only five days later. Russia doesn't approve this pro-EU move and tries to keep Moldova in its orbit.
Transnistria, a Moldovan region east of the Dniester River, has been considered a 'frozen conflict' area since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It has ethnic Russian and Ukrainian populations. Although internationally Transnistria is part of Moldova, de facto its authorities do not exercise any power there.