Gagauzia votes for Russian-led Customs Union

Yesterday 4 January, former Georgian ambassador to the EU, Salome Samadashvili, urged the EU to keep a watchful eye on Moldova’s Gagauzia region and Russian interference there. In a referendum in Gagauzia on 2 February, a majority of 98.4 percent opted for integration with the Russian-led Customs Union. In a separate question, 97.2 percent of the voters were against closer EU integration. In addition, 98,9 percent supported Gagauzia’s right to declare independence, should Moldova lose ore surrender its own independence. Over 70 percent of the electorate came out to vote.

Gagauzia is a autonoms region with a population of about 155,000, most of them Russian speaking, Christian Orthodox ethnic Turks. The referendum followed the Moldavan government’s initiation of an Association Agreement with the European Union in November. However, not all Moldovians want closer European cooperation, but favor the Russian-led Customs Union instead. The Customs Union, believing that the latter can bring economic support and access to the Russian Labor market. Gagauzia governor Michail Formuzal said: "I think that for the next 10 years it is in our interest to be in the customs union. I think that would enable us to modernize our economy, secure reliable markets for our goods”. Many Gagauz also fear integration with the EU would threaten the region’s autonomy, believing that European integration in fact masks an intention of unification with Romania.

Moldovan response

Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said the referendum had no legal legitimacy: “What happened in the region of Gagauzia, unfortunately, represents a defiance of law’. Moldovan prosecutor-general said the vote had been rejected earlier by a court in Chisinau and a court in Gagauzia’s capital Comrat as unconstitutional. The court has ruled that the region has no right to hold referendums on national or international issues and can only look into local issues. The referendum thus has no legal consequences.
The current Pro-European rulling coalition, in power since may 2013, strongly supports European integration. Prime minister Leanca said: "Of course, the referendum that was held yesterday is more than regrettable. The Republic of Moldova will hold parliamentary elections at the end of this year - the most representative and relevant referendum on various issues, including the most important issue, which is the foreign policy of the country". Socialist and communist opposition was in favor of the referendum. Governor Formuzal told Radio Free Europe: “We, Gagauzians, a small minority, are telling the central government [of Moldova] -- stop all processes of political integration [with the EU]; take care about economic integration. Who can guarantee that we will manage to jump on the last cart of the train speeding towards Europe and the EU will not end up like the Soviet Union? Is there such a guarantee? No, there isn't."

Russian interference?

The Kremlin has been pushing former Soviet republics to join the Customs Union for some time. Former Ambassador Samadashvili said: “Russia, which knows the nooks and crannies of its former empire better than EU diplomats do, also knows how to make pro-EU reforms falter”. Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, hinted: "the train called Moldova that is chugging toward Europe might lose a couple of its cars". However, there is no hard evidence of a Russian destabilization campaign. Moscow has said the union will be widened into a Eurasian Economic Union, modeled after the European Union, by 2015.


Meanwhile, Moldovan authorities remain determent to follow the path to European Integration saying: “In several months, the visa regime with the European Union will be abolished. The process of integrating into the EU will bring benefits to all the country’s citizens, regardless of their geographical position or ethnicity”. The European Union's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, praised Moldovan reforms made so far only last month, but said further efforts are needed”.  

Bron: euobserver, Radio Free Euope/Radio Liberty, The guardian, allmoldova.


Author: Koen Migchelbrink

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