End of pro-Russianism? Administration of Gagauzia says narrow foreign policy is noxious, OP-ED
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05:02, 10 Oct 2017

The slogans concerning the rapprochement with Russia in building the relations with the Western partners represented, to say the least, not the most suitable background. That’s why the decision to detach oneself from these was predictable and reasonable. But how much will the pragmatism of the current Gagauz power last?
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Gagauzia changes its imaged and gets rid of geopolitical labels. According to the Bashkan of Gagauzia Irina Vlah, to achieve economic success, one should be equally open to all the partners. As practice shows, the deep-rooted image of pro-Russian autonomous unit increasingly runs counter to practical actions.
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Separation from geopolitics

Irina Vlah uttered the idea of renouncing geopolitics in an economic conference entitled “Macro-2017: Moldova in 2030”, which was held in Chisinau last Friday. Speaking about the economic crisis in the country, she said the only way out of the situation is to maximally attract investment and made it clear that this is possible only based on pragmatic foreign policy.

“To achieve economic success, Moldova should rethink its own situation and separate itself from geopolitics. A new economic model is needed, based on the maximal attraction of investment, including for the implementation of interstate investment projects,” stated Irina Vlah.

In this connection, she referred to the positive example of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia. “Gagauzia distances itself from the foreign policy course. It is open 360 degrees and is ready to cooperate with all the countries and business entities that are willing to help develop the region’s economy,” said the Governor of Gagauzia.

The foreign policy was the key issue in the electoral program that Irina Vlah presented to the voters of the region at the start of 2015. Before telling the voters about her plans to develop the economy and culture and to build her relations with the central power, candidate Irina Vlah described in detail how she would develop the “strategic partnership” with Russia.

One of the slogans of the election campaign of the future Bashkan of Gagauzia was: “It is in our power to be together with Russia!” This slogan, which allowed for phantasy and appealed to emotions, hasn’t been put into practice. After she took up the post of Governor of the region, Irina Vlah started to promote a pragmatic policy without stopping at conditionality and geopolitical limits.

“Strategic partners” in figures

The cooperation with Russia evolved indeed rather actively. During two years and a half, there were implemented a number of projects where the ATU Gagauzia benefitted from presents in the form of dozens of units of special equipment and medical apparatus, books and other goods of a humanitarian character. At the same time, it is rather hard to put Russia on the list of strategic partners, if we judge by the volume of assistance provided by the partners.

A confirmation of this is found in the Gagauz General Foreign Affairs Division’s report on the results of the cooperation between the autonomous unit and the foreign partners in 2016. Thus, the volume of humanitarian aid received from Russia came to 24.392 million lei. Turkey offered 21 million lei in assistance to Gagauzia, while the European Union, which was placed by the report authors last, invested €5 million in the region, which is almost five times more than the “strategic partnership”.
 
In the recent period, the cooperation with the foreign donors has considerably intensified. Under the Bashkan, there was created a Special Coordination Council for distributing the foreign aid. In the last meeting of this Council at the end of September, there was presented a long list of organizations and countries that provide development assistance to Gagauzia. The official press release issued after that meeting included the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TICA), USAID, the Moldova Social Investment Fund, the German Development Agency GIZ, Rotary Club, OSCE, UN and the representatives of foreign embassies. 

Pragmatism from before the elections

It is evident that geopolitics, which played its role in elections, turned out to be unsuitable in administration. The slogans concerning the rapprochement with Russia in building the relations with the Western partners represented, to say the least, not the most suitable background. That’s why the decision to detach oneself from these was predictable and reasonable. But how much will the pragmatism of the current Gagauz power last?

A new election campaign will start in a year and the temptation to benefit from the “pro-Russia trump card” will be rather big. Most of the candidates will definitely resort to this technique. If Irina Vlah decides to compete for a second term, she will find herself in a delicate situation. Any attempt to make use of the “strategic partnership” will cause reactions among the competitors, who will remind her that she distanced herself from geopolitics a year ago. But this offers no guarantees that Vlah will not “change her mind”. Most probably, the general content of the electoral race, where Russia will be often mentioned, will not change. However, her statement that the foreign policy theme is not in the forefront in Gagauzia can represent the start of a serious discussion in Gagauz society and of the reassessment of the usual orientations.

Veaceslav Craciun, Comrat


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