President Dodon’s official visit to Moscow was an attempt to start a new chapter in Russia-Moldova relations. Several years after Moldova’s accession to the free (and comprehensive) trade area with the EU showed that Moldova has no alternative to the CIS market in the foreseeable future. The EU doesn’t need agricultural products (fresh or processed), which is the mainstay of Moldovan exports, in quantities comparable to those that were exported to Russia and the CIS countries.
President Dodon’s official visit to Moscow on January 17-18, 2017 was a landmark event in Russia-Moldova relations, not only because it was the first such visit in nine years, but also because of what he said. The agenda of the talks between Vladimir Putin and Igor Dodon proved to be much more substantial than initially thought. Experts commenting on the upcoming visit emphasized the fact that the talks would focus primarily on restoring Russia-Moldova economic relations and discussing the Moldovan labor migrants who committed minor offenses and are now denied entry to Russia. This is important for Moldova as these issues are on the list of priority anti-crisis measures designed to rescue the Moldovan economy.
Having signed the Association Agreement with the EU in June 2014, Moldova not only failed to benefit from it in terms of access to the European markets (it saw a decline in its exports to the EU instead of a much touted double-digit increase), but also lost a large portion of the vast Russian market. As you may be aware, Russia introduced a temporary ban on importing the products of a number of Moldovan companies to prevent European re-exports to Russia under the guise of Moldovan-made goods. Most favored nation treatment was introduced with regard to trade with Moldova, which made Moldovan exports less competitive.
Several years after Moldova’s accession to the free (and comprehensive) trade area with the EU showed that Moldova has no alternative to the CIS market in the foreseeable future. The EU doesn’t need agricultural products (fresh or processed), which is the mainstay of Moldovan exports, in quantities comparable to those that were exported to Russia and the CIS countries.
In this connection, President Dodon made a high-profile statement about the possibility of withdrawing from the EU Association Agreement (previously, the issue was only about revising individual provisions), if he manages to win the parliamentary majority in early elections in 2017 or regular elections in 2018. In addition, in his talks with Vladimir Putin, the president of Moldova expressed his willingness to sign a framework agreement on cooperation with the EAEU and also requested that Moldova be considered for observer status in the EAEU Eurasian Economic Commission.
No less important for Moldova is the issue of migrant workers. According to the National Bank of Moldova, almost two-thirds of official remittances to individuals residing in that country came from Russia. Following the introduction of new migration rules on January 1, 2014, which toughened the procedure governing the stay of migrant workers in Russia, the influx of currency into Moldova declined by over 25 percent by 2017, thus putting in jeopardy the survival of many households, especially in rural areas. In a gesture of goodwill, the Russian leadership agreed to clear for entry 50,000 Moldovan citizens in the coming weeks (according to official data, there are about 500,000 Moldovans in Russia now).
The issue of resolving the protracted Transnistrian conflict also came up during the talks. "Unfortunately, we missed an opportunity to resolve this issue in the early 2000s,” President Dodon said. “We believe that the current geopolitical situation offers us a new opportunity to address this issue. Hopefully, we will be able to reach a political settlement of the Transnistrian conflict within the next two to three years." The issue is about the "Kozak Memorandum" which is a plan to resolve the Transnistrian conflict through the federalization of Moldova, which, at the last moment, was rejected by then President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin. Even though the Party of Socialists, which Dodon led before becoming president, has already articulated its vision for the country's integration based on federalization, the newly elected president reiterating this statement came as another political sensation given the political clout of those in Moldova who oppose such a plan.
Indeed, Igor Dodon’s statements were instantly criticized by the opposition-controlled parliament (particularly the Democratic Party), which wants to affirm the commitment to European integration for Moldova contained in its platform. The Liberal Party’s legislative initiative to remove Igor Dodon from office, which was put forward several days before his visit to Moscow, stood no chance, not least because Dodon is a popularly elected president and removing him would require a referendum that might not turn out the way the opposition wants.
According to a recent survey, 38.5 percent of respondents were in favor of Moldova integrating with the European Union, while 41.1 percent supported joining the Eurasian Union. Given the circumstances, Igor Dodon’s political opponents will do their best to undermine the Socialist Party in the parliamentary elections in order to erode the president’s political support.
Notably, critical issues for Moldova like preserving its non-aligned status as a neutral state, continuing Russian oil and gas supplies to Moldova, and restoring Rossiya-24 TV channel broadcasts in Moldova, to name a few, were discussed during the talks. Without exaggeration, Igor Dodon's visit was an attempt to start a new chapter in Russia-Moldova relations.