Monday, November 2, 2020

Moldova Presidential elections 1st round

Moldovan elections - a background, the conspiracies behind the split between the former partners on the center-right, results and expectations


By Vlad Lupan, November 1, 2020


This is an overview of the Moldovan elections, “built” from my live thread on twitter on the election night and will be presented here in a modified form and in bullet points.


·         After Belarus a number of other important elections are held in Eastern Europe and Caucasus. Ukraine had its local elections, Georgia parliamentary ones and Moldova had a Presidential election on Sunday. ECFR's Andrew Wilson linked them, with suggestions for the European Union. [i]


·         In 2019 the Russian, EU and US envoys supported an impossible coalition between the pro-Kremlin President Dodon and his pro-Western critics, Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase (the ACUM block = Block NOW), to oust a corrupt oligarch, allegedly (with a very highly probability) involved in the Russian laundromat scheme. [ii]


·         Six months before that corrupt oligarch in Moldova was ousted, I argued that a coalition with pro-Kremlin's Dodon will be akin to a "kompromat" (compromising material against them). I also wrote a backgrounder about each of them in one of my blog posts. [iii]


·         Later in 2019 the impossible coalition between pro-Kremlin & Pro-West/Democracy parties in Moldova did happen & while it ousted a corrupt oligarch, it predictably failed, as pro-Russian Dodon & Socialists could not support an actual anti-corruption agenda. [iv]


·         The predilection of Moldova's President Dodon for a coalition with the Democratic Party, till June 2019 led by a corrupt oligarch, was predicted by a group of 12 experts from Ukraine Moldova & Romania yet in the fall of 2018. [v]


·         After President Dodon reignited a coalition with the Democrats, the ACUM block practically fell off. The reasons ranged from internal = rumors of Sandu negotiating with Dodon, or Năstase with the fugitive oligarch to oust Dodon, which I strongly argued against in an interview for the local branch of the Radio Free Europe. [vi]


·         The "external" reasons for ACUM block dissolution were not from abroad, but from voters' perceptions - both political parties were new & before crystalizing voters' preferences targeted an overlapping pro-democracy/pro-West electorate. Hence a joint block. [vii]


·         Take into account that in 2016 Maia Sandu already ran, against odds, for President. Her anti-corruption program targeted Democrats corrupt leader Plahotniuc & she nearly caught up with Igor Dodon, while Democrat's helped Dodon spread fake news against her. [viii]


·         While Maia Sandu's popularity was already high in 2016 (for other previous reasons too), Andrei Năstase's PPDA popularity grew in protests, but culminated later. [ix]


·         Năstase ran in June 2018 for Moldova's capital Mayor, against Pro-Putin's socialist Ion Ceban, with help from Russia. [x] The justice, perceived to be under the corrupt Democrats control, cancelled the results, generating heavy US & EU criticism. So, Năstase was popular enough. [xi]


·         While Sandu & Năstase allied with Dodon in 2019, Sandu's popularity still grew, as a new hopeful Prime-Minister, who enjoyed more public attention. Năstase became the Interior Minister, a 'lesser' posting. That an overlapping voters’ “crystallization” (whom to vote for Sandu or Năstase) led to a PPDA decline. [xii]


·         As pointed above, no pro-Russian candidate, especially if previously accused of dubious financial/economic dealings would be interested in an actual anti-corruption effort run by pro-Western/pro-democracy parties. [xiii]


·         Consequently, President Dodon prepared a scenario in 2019 to disembark the popular PM Sandu & her ACUM partner Andrei Năstase from the government - if Dodon's objection against anti-corruption wouldn't work he'd have a reserve option, Dodon admitted. [xiv]


·         With Năstase's popularity dwindling as he did not enjoy Govt visibility & fell into opposition, he was also facing his competitor for the same voters, Maia Sandu. Năstase apparently saw little choice, but maneuver to gain initiative & disadvantage Sandu. [xv]


·         Năstase's attempt to disadvantage Sandu in 2020 may seem to some almost "pro-Moscow", but political experts know that's a typical behavior of 2 political parties with overlapping electorate + 'survival' logic. Same happened in 2009-2017 with PLDM & PL in MLD. [xvi]


·         Above explanations of Năstase's behavior cover some of today's unsupported assumptions that he might be related to Moscow, just as Dodon. We covered it from the PoliSci angle + looking at Năstase's previous anti-Dodon campaigns - we can conclude he had another idea. Năstase's diminishing popularity motivated him to run as the last resort. Cornered & understanding that Sandu will pass into the 2nd tour of 2020 Moldovan presidentials & he probably thought he'll support her in the 2nd round, in exchange 4something. No such exchange will happen.


·         I dedicated a good part of this overview to explain why Năstase played as he did, after some rather conspiracy-like driven ideas that his run damages the chances of Maia Sandu and therefore is driven by Moscow, especially because President Dodon expressed respect toward Năstase. If someone wants a wild conspiracy along "qui bono" (who benefits=guilty) idea, then Dodon's announcement of respect for Năstase was a "death sentence" for PPDA leader and... promoted Maia Sandu. So, I’d suggest to stick to political science and Moldovan factual realities.


·         Above points do not cover even remotely today's Moldovan elections background. We're only scratching the surface. There are previous factors & structural developments leading to today that cannot be properly covered in such a bullet point brief overview of the Moldovan elections. But we've opened the door, let's see the results as I posted them at 98.74% votes counted.


·         With 98.74% of Moldovan polling station reports processed the results are: 35.5% of voters support pro-democracy/anti-corruption Maia Sandu, while 33.50% support the so-called "multi-vector" Igor Dodon, who in reality is heavily supported by Russia (the link to another crushing investigation is in a bullet below). [xvii]


·         Of the 98.74% of all the Polling Station Reports already counted in Moldova's Presidential elections of November 1, 2020, the diaspora voted as follows - 68.54% for Maia Sandu, 18.04% for Renato Usatii, while Igor Dodon accrued only 4.29%, etc. [xviii]


·         The result in Moldovan elections mean that there will be a 2nd round with Maia Sandu and Igor Dodon contending. Sandu managed to overtake Dodon in the 1st round. As positive for a democratic Moldova as it may seem, that does not guarantee a win in the 2nd tour. For the 2nd tour of Presidential elections in Moldova:

1.       No one can predict how many voters will come to vote in the 2nd tour or their motivations.

2.       As usual, only a part of Năstase+Deliu+Țîcu+Chirtoacă voters will go to Sandu, same for Usatîi+Șor+Ivanov voters for Dodon (note the ethnic family names and potential voters’ distribution; there is more to it, as Usatîi weas critical to Dodon, as it often happens with Kremlin’s “reserves” in case their main protégé fails, such a criticism provides a certain amount of “credibility” to the replacement in the eyes of the public and even deniability).

Yet, a combination of a very approximate mathematical transfer of voters, minus usual dropouts [unknown number of voters in the 2nd round] would result in a very rough calculation that may be either true or wrong: ~43-45% would vote for Dodon, ~40-42% for Sandu, which would be unfortunate for a democratic Moldova. Of course, die-hard fans of either candidate would scream fault, but that’s how the previous redistributions worked. Still, this does not mean it will work in the exact same manner now, as there are qualitative factors at play.


The second round of the elections will take place in two weeks, on November 15, 2020.



* Note on Pandemics - To address pandemics vs low voter turnout. Low turnout is usual 4European countries in normal circumstances. Yet, over 50% Moldovans considered Covid exaggerated, don't wear masks & 61% believed in (Russia originated) conspiracy theories that this is a bio-weapon! (=>an electorate easy to manipulate) [xix]


* Note on “this is not a geopolitical vote” theory. The politicians, then their followers and even some experts propagated another theory - that the Moldovan vote is not “geopolitical” (wrong term, but you get the idea) - on geopolitics of vote one should understand that while people do vote for their welfare, in 2019, however, a special narrative was formulated to justify/excuse a joint Dodon-ACUM vote (an impossible coalition) to oust a corrupt Dems leader. The “geopolitics” were in Moldovan politics before that, but that one element of the elections had to be “removed” for a new goal. Respectively that narrative sounded as follows "their vote in Moldova is non-geopolitical, but pro-Moldova." Unsurprisingly, reports and investigations repeatedly showed Dodon working with Kremlin and more recently a very solid one showed he specifically worked with the Russian security services there. [xx]


* Note – my presentation covers only some of the political angles in Moldova. Additionally, for anyone who wants a neutral / factual backgrounder, different than what I wrote here, on Moldovan elections - read the linked paper by @DionisCenusa, I'd only change "Declared External Orientation" instead of just "external orientation" there for reasons I explained above. [xxi]


* Note on the Russian interference - in addition to the superb investigation carried out by traditionally good @RISE-Moldova (part of the @OCCRP), there is another good material on some aspects of the Russian interference, from an excellent political analyst originally from Moldova - @DumitruMinzarari, currently working for a think tank in Germany. [xxii]


EDIT: UPDATES up to November 6, 2020 (6.23pm EST, USA):

- OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' Limited Election Observation Mission statement on Moldova included the following: - elections organized professionally, but aspects of legislation contain gaps & ambiguities; lack of legal certainty; allegations of bussing of voters (VL: from Kremlin supported separatist area)

- EU issued a statement with direct references to the OSCE-ODIHR findings on Moldova, but added the following "The EU expects the authorities of the Republic of Moldova to continue to facilitate the unhindered work of international and domestic election observers."

- Compared to EU no statement was issued by US State Department after Moldova Presidential elections 1st round. However, US participated in the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission & might have considered OSCE's statement as sufficient. Not that US elections overwhelmed them...

- After preliminary statements on issues in Moldova elections were made by OSCE/ODIHR & EU, Rise-Moldova investigation reported 8 Russian consultants were sent to help the pro-Kremlin's incumbent, violating Moldovan law = example of Russian interference.




Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Grebla politica moldoveneasca - recoalizarea cu Dodon

Discutiile despre anticipate in Republica Moldova sunt o unealta politica, nu scop in sine

In urma discutiilor cu cei de la Chisinau (vedeti video de mai jos) as vrea sa mentionez ca, desigur, sunt de acord ca lui Plahotniuc pot sa nu-i fie convenabile alegerile anticipate din Republica Moldova. Oamenii lui ar putea pierde locuri in Parlament. Asta era si ramaine clar. Insa cel mai probabil, el va juca totusi pe acest subiect cu judecatorii din Curtea Constitutionale, deoarece nu sunt convins ca sunt chiar independenti de el - respectiv inca nu pot sa ma pronunt 100% pe decizia curtii privind alegerile anticipate. Ea poate crea o confuzia juridica, de contradictie (parlamentarele nu pot fi organizate 6 luni pana la alegerile prezidentiale) juridica, pentru a crea conditii necesare politice de critica si presiune asupra Governului copndus de Presedintele socialist, pro-Putin, Igor Dodon.

Totusi, nu va concentrati pe anticipate, ele nu sunt decat o unealta.

Multe depind de alti factori intr-o potentiala electorala. Deci decizia curtii nu cred ca va fi unicul factor in joc. Fara indoiala Plahtoniuc si Dodon doresc sa-si recupereze sau pastreze puterea, fiecare in felul sau si vor incerca sa manipuleze PAS/DA (ambele cu prestatie foarte slabuta, dar care sunt de moment in parlament si pot accede din nou). Respectiv Dodon s-ar putea bucura de anticipate acum - eu nu i-as da asa satisfactie.

Am fost sceptic privind logica crearii coalitiei din iunie 2019. Desigur, ea il elimina pe Plahotniuc - si unica cale legala(!) pentru o asemenea eliminare era intr-adevar crearea unui alt guvern. In acel moment, trebuiau pregatite anticipatele, nu impartite functiile. Era clar ca ziua. Desigur unii jucatori din start erau gata sa joace power sharing regardless. O astfel de formula a subminat credibilitatea si asa subreda a "ACUM", care initial promitea sa nu mearga cu Dodon, dar si-a schimbat opinia ca sa "salveze natiunea".

Si daca mergeau in opozitie si luptau din rasputeri, asa cum a luptat AIE in 2009 (cu tot cu amenintari si 7 aprilie etc atunci) in loc sa se complaca in coalitia cu Dodon?

Desigur toata lumea spunea ca Plahotniuc ii ameninta. Nu trebuie sa-mi spuuie mie asta... Cred ca opozitia dura era o optiune valabila pe care am exprimat-o. Pe timpul PCRM se intamplau luicruri similare. Cei tineri au uitat in doar 10 ani. Am numit inca in februarie 2019 coalitia cu Dodon un "kompromat politic" - si intr-adevar comportamentul ACUM a dus la o astfel de compromitere, chiar daca declarata a fi pentru idealul eliberarii R. Moldova. Si R. Moldova a foste leiberata, insa pentru Dodon.

Daca in genere exista dorinta de a mentine macar o aparenta modica a unui stat in care dreptul conteaza macar putin, sau cel putin se doreste sa conteze pe viitor (Criteriile de la Copenhaga ale Uniunii Europene), dar si pentru a evita precedente similare in viitor, as astepta ca alegerile prezidentiale sa nu fie organizate cu cele parlamentare. Sa nu fie facute modificari la codul electoral, cum le-a facut Plahotniuc, de dragul convenientei de moment. Va fi reversibil si revizuit. Garantat.

Sa se mearga la Prezidentiale. Ele vor determina cine va castiga in alegerile parlamentare, care ar trebui si pot sa fie organizate dupa aceasta. Pentru organizarea lor nu e nevoide de o noua coalitie cu Dodon, ca doar e vorba de un vot in parlament... Pentru stabilirea actiunilor pentru alegeri si nemijlocit a alegerilor urmatoare poate intr-adevar sa fie nevoide de un vot comun cu Dodon, dar numai in parlament si sigur nu e nevoie de un guvern comun! Deci, recoalizarea cu Dodon e o greseala, acum mult mai mare decat prima data.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Another Eastern European Nation Gets Tangled in US Politics - Moldova

About the latest scandal related to Vladimir Palhotniuc, the Republic of Moldova and the USA - read the my linked editorial in English about this case, about the importance of appointing a non-professional in the position of US Director of national intelligence, taking into account upcoming elections in USA and from the perspective of anti-corruption and of the need to limit the role of kleptocratic oligarchs in shady lobbying practices in Washington DC.

This OpEd (editorial) was started last week for the US publication PassBlue, where I react to news about Mr. Grenell's nominations and then, later, when the situation evolved, to Congressman Ratcliffe for the role of director of intelligence services in an election year in the US and Moldova, including anti-corruption speech in both parts of the world. Most importantly I focus on the anti-corruption discourse in foreign policy and internal political affairs.

The case of Ukraine was an unfortunate example for the US in this respect - while the concerns about corruption in that country are real (as we know all too well), the Ukrainians, in fact, ousted a corrupt leader in 2014 and consequently were “punished” with a war for their efforts, which essentially started from a movement including an anti-corruption important element. This has been neglected in the US partisan political battles, as has the regional expertise, including on Moldova.

I once had, sometimes in 2009-2011, a private discussion in Moldova with one of the political analysts (CC), where I assumed that anti-corruption would be used as an excuse for internal political infighting, even if both entities involved are corrupt or compromised (see Plahotniuc-Filat or Plahotniuc-Dodon cases, with Dodon’s financing from abroad / Gazprom flight / video about Russian money and problematic loans from the Moldovan Savings Bank) - now this simulation of anti-corruption seems to have spilled over to the US, including with the help of oligarchs from the Republic of Moldova.

The fact that a Magnitsky Act (tougher anti-corruption legislation than before) is not adopted in Moldova also clarifies a lot...

P.S. for those who are not familiar with the format of Opinion Editorial - being published in the media, an OpEd is a limited essay, with a constraint on the total number of words. So, it cannot be too long and analytical. This article, hence, cannot claim to be a (full) research of the topics addressed, because of the very limited space for publication. Respectively, it cannot reflect in detail about the diverse role of lobbying firms, which not in all cases and not always, is harmful. This OpEd, therefore, reflected briefly on some concerns regarding US national security, which can have negative impacts in an election year on the situation both in the US and in the Republic of Moldova. During my diplomatic activity for over 24 years for the Republic of Moldova and IOs, I have officially collaborated with US Republican governments and I know how they worked and what they said (as my function required, I also collaborated with Democrats, quite fruitfully at the UN, see US’s statements on Ukraine and Moldova in 2014-2016 at the UN Security Council). This article therefore reflects real concerns without political affiliation.

Vlad Lupan, 
Independent Expert, 
Former Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the UN

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Butina’s release seen as US weakness

October 27, 2019

On October 26 media reported that Maria Butina, a Russian citizen convicted for working for the Russian government, was released from an US jail, deported and returned to Russia.[1] She walked out smiling, escorted by the Spokesperson of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was met with flowers from the interviewing Russian media. She came home as a martyr, hence, in Russian thinking, as a hero.

‘Innocent because of the term’
The presence of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson is logical in Russian perception, since they have been long advocating for Butina’s release, showing her as an unsuspecting young woman, who simply wanted to help her country.[2] Her photos with an AK[3], which would not be given to her, unless authorized by the State, as well as the clear contacts revealed in the investigation and her direct confession in a clandestine influence scheme working for the Russian Government[4], are disregarded as forced confessions.[5] Yet torture is understandable in Russia, where it is used in some cases that, however, involve important money, such as Magnitsky case[6].

Hence, letting Butina go after what in Russia is considered, as a country where prison slang penetrates regular day to day language[7], a too short of a term for an actual spying activity. One of the shortest publicly known prison terms for spies was given to Sergei Skripal, due to him being exchanged for a Russian spy. Despite the exchange he was never forgiven and an assassination attempt was carried by the Russian Military Intelligence GRU in UK, where he lived in retirement.[8]

‘Foreign agent vs Foreign agent’
USA provisions on lobbying also assume that foreigners lobbying in US should register as foreign agents[9]. There is only one perception in the former USSR to the notions of “agent” and especially “foreign agent”. It will be inevitably perceived as a secret service operative, hence the idea to reciprocate in Russia had a different meaning.[10] So, from the Russian perspective Butina was not a foreign agent and her punishment was unjust to her and directed against Russia exclusively, regardless of the administration that runs the US Government.

‘Butina is no Chapman, she is to be depicted as a rightful example to follow and… recruit’
Another element is that Butina is most probably not going to be seen as a clone of Anna Chapman. Chapman was what would probably amount to a “sparrow” as depicted by in US spy movies.[11] Chapman would not necessarily strike Eastern Europeans as a particularly beautiful lady, yet she probably would be considered at least well appointed, and therefore indeed attractive, while Butina would not. Butina would probably be perceived as a young righteous geek, which is confirmed exactly by the remarks of the Russian MFA Spokesperson Zaharova “She really did no harm to anybody. She’s just a girl, she’s just a young woman. She tried to invest her youth, if you wish, her gift, her talent, into people-to-people contacts.”[12]

Releasing Butina after a very short term will result in the Russian public perception that she was not spying and she was punished “unjustly.” Butina, therefore, returns as a martyr and, in Russian perception, as a hero. The release of Butina under these circumstances created another almost spy personality in Russia, not quite Anna Chapman, to follow and be an example, just like communist children heroes[13] of old.[14] Butina has the potential to become the correct and righteous young martyr-hero for the Russian youth for further heroization and recruitment, adding to the internal narrative that the US is battling Russian in the world. This will continue to motivate Russians to believe that public US narratives are fake and they will continue to believe that they have to stave off USA, just like the Russian private military contractor commander of the infamous Vagner group that attacked US troops in Syria said.[15]

‘Russia thinks it won the info warfare’
The release will also add to the Russian reasoning that they should continue the “information warfare” against USA. EUvsDisinfo reported in 2018 that Margarita Simonyan, the Chief Editor of RT (formerly Russia Today), openly recognized that RT is needed “for about the same reason as why the country needs a Defense Ministry.” RT is capable of “conducting information war against the whole Western world,” using “the information weapon” Simonyan has explained.” [16]

Russians, including their leaders, would not care about President Trump that much, as Moscow’s media depicts him negatively as well, depending on circumstances, as one can gather from Julia Davis reports on Russian media on Twitter.[17] It does not mean that they lack interest. It means that in the long run, USA is an enemy for them, as they depict it in their media, dedicating to USA several negative or implicitly negative daily news, regardless of the President, as can be seen on their online pages.[18] They will therefore continue their war by other means.

Even with Kremlin public narrative advocating for Butina’s innocence, the public in Russia might very well choose the believe that even if Butina was an agent, which would not be disclosed in suh a case, she still managed to “fool the US” thus ensuring a victory for the US, for a small price, boosting the morale of the Russian structures and public, strengthening the confidence in their ‘master spy’, President Putin.

Such a negative trend is unfortunate and cannot inspire optimism for the future of Russia, US and particularly Europe. Butina’s case, and release without at least another round of questioning known to public, is an instance that supports the idea that Russian perceptions will continue to differ drastically from US ones, and that Russia will most probably see USA as a weak state that could not ‘properly’ punish a declared foreign agent, unlike they do via GRU poisonings, thus releasing Butina very soon, leaving Washington DC with an image of ‘US shame due to their actions’ and as a result of Kremlin’s pressure in her case and, most importantly, globally. This means that Moscow might have perceived that there still are no incentives to change, least stop, its belligerent approach towards the US and actually supplied ammunition for Kremlin’s information warfare and strengthened the internal coagulation around Putin as a current ‘right leader at the right moment’ for some time. This immediate  time span will cover the period when US will be practically disfunctional for the  next years, due to objective internal political developments, and present other international player more opportunities in the foreign policy.

V. Lupan
Independent expert