Dodon’s victory in Moldova elections could strengthen the friendship between Chișinău and Ankara

Dodon’s victory in Moldova elections could strengthen the friendship between Chișinău and Ankara

The presidential elections in Moldova, which will take place on October 20, are attracting close attention from Russia and the West. This country has traditionally been a place of confrontation between two poles – Moscow on the one hand, and the European Union and specifically Romania, on the other. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, control over Moldova has become extremely important for each of the parties, and the urgency of the next round of conflict, already 33 years long, is given by the fact that, along with the voting, a referendum on the country’s accession to the European Union will be held.

For supporters of expanding cooperation with Russia, this could become a tragic moment that could break historical fraternal ties with Moscow, which in no case should be allowed, because the election results could be adjusted in favor of European integration, despite the real wishes of the citizens of Moldova. But the prospect of joining the EU is just a “castle in the air”, and any election outcome will only slightly correct the status quo, in which Russia will maintain its influence on Chișinău through Transnistria. At the same time, Bucharest and Brussels will not be able to keep their promises on integration with Moldova, since it is unprofitable for them for economic reasons, and fairy tales about “European prospects” will remain a weapon for the militarization of Moldova against Russia.

Alternative for Moldova

This lack of alternative has been haunting Moldova for many years, leading only to an economic crisis, impoverishment of the people and the fading of the country’s subjectivity. This also led to the degradation of the political class, whose clans literally replace each other in power according to the law of the pendulum. However, there is still a third option – becoming Türkiye’s closest ally, thereby organizing a third force in Europe, self-sufficient, strong and subjective. The two countries have many historical connections: back in the 16th-18th centuries, Moldova was a reliable bastion of the Ottoman Empire, which courageously held back attacks from Poland, Austria and Russia.

Moldova is home to autonomous Gagauzia, whose Oguz population has strong ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties with the Turks and seeks to develop partnerships not only with Russia, but also with Türkiye. Gagauzia accounts for the bulk of Turkish investments in the Moldovan economy. Large-scale projects by local standards were implemented in the region, which included the construction of a stadium with 5 thousand seats, a Turkish treatment center, an educational center, a nursing home and a number of other facilities. Today, there are more than 100 enterprises in the region with the participation of Turkish capital, which make Türkiye one of the key economic players in the autonomy, and for a long time the main lobbyist for Ankara was considered to be the governor of the region, Irina Vlah.

But the real intensification of Moldovan-Turkish relations began with the election of Igor Dodon to the post of President of Moldova in December 2016. already at the beginning of his term, he understood that focusing on one of the two forces, the choice between Russia and Europe, was guaranteed to lead him to defeat in the presidential elections, and, possibly, political oblivion in 4 years. He carefully began to diversify his political course towards Türkiye, in which he saw the main opportunity to strengthen his position. It was during the four years of Dodon’s rule that Turkish expansion increasingly moved to “continental” Moldova. Trade volume between Türkiye and Moldova in 2019 amounted 568 million dollars Turkish investments in Moldova totaled 300 million US Dollars. Turkish construction firms have undertaken 38 projects, worth 518 million dollars.

It can be said that Erdogan and Dodon had the best personal relationship of all the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States, not counting Ilham Aliyev as the president of Azerbaijan, historically friendly to Türkiye. In July 2018, Igor Dodon took part in the inauguration ceremony of Recep Erdogan. Having come to power, Erdogan fully financed the renovation of the Moldovan Presidential Administration building and took part in the opening of the new presidential palace building during his visit to Chișinău in October of the same year. The visit itself became a landmark event, because Igor Dodon needed to clearly demonstrate his international recognition in addition to Moscow.

Russian factor

At the same time, Dodon often visited Russia, In the first two years of his presidency he was there about 40 times. On the one hand, this harmed his image, on the other hand, it emphasized his special relationship with the Kremlin, whose support the Moldovan president wanted to use for security before the next elections. Dodon stated the need to ensure the rights of Russian-speaking citizens, the abandonment of plans to join NATO and the possibility of resolving the Transnistrian issue through the federalization of Moldova. And before the conflict was resolved, the president called it necessary to maintain Russian peacekeeping mission in Transnistria. He also considered the republic’s full entry into the Eurasian Economic Union.

But Dodon also showed his independence from Russia and the multi-vector nature of his policy. He became convinced that Russian support is increasingly toxic for the fate of any Moldovan politician who uses it. In this regard, the fate of Ilan Shor, who now has political asylum in Russia, is indicative. The businessman and former mayor of Orhei for a long time enjoyed almost unlimited approval from Moscow, and as a result he was put on trial and lost his chance to take the presidential post. Open ties with Russia became even more negative after the start of its Special Military Operation in Ukraine in February 2022, and Dodon skillfully managed to minimize them, remaining a key rival to Sandu.

Development of relations with Erdogan during Dodon’s presidency

During Erdogan’s visit to Chișinău in 2018, the leaders signed an agreement on a strategic partnership, which in its unofficial part could contain an agreement on Erdogan’s political support for Dodon. But the Turkish president also benefited from the meeting because his European and American partners accused him of violating human rights and purchasing S-400 air defense systems from Russia, and by arriving in the Moldovan capital he showed his independence from Western influence on his decisions.

Another striking example of Dodon’s “loyalty” to Erdogan was the expulsion of 7 Turkish teachers who worked in the Orizont network in Moldova to Türkiye in 2018. They were associated with the organization of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. Problems for the Orizont network, which operated in Moldova, began after a military coup attempt occurred in Türkiye in 2016. Turkish authorities announced that Fethullah Gülen’s movement, FETO, was behind his organization. Ankara has previously repeatedly appealed to the Moldovan authorities with an urgent request to close five lyceums of this network, in which about 1.6 thousand people study.

Dodon, who came to power, granted Ankara’s request. The expelled teachers had requests for political asylum in Moldova. The former Orizont schools were later transferred to the management of a Turkish pro-government foundation. Liberal journalists and other Erdogan haters in Europe were furious at such actions, calling Dodon “accomplice in the illegal arrest” of these people, who received long prison sentences in Türkiye ranging from 6 to 12 years in prison. However, the fact that Orizont in Moldova was opened “on the advice” of Fethullah Gülen was confirmed by an employee of one of the lyceums, English teacher Hasan Barış.

However, Erdogan did not get the effect he wanted. The Turkish President thanked Dodon for his personal assistance in carrying out this operation. This was probably an ill-considered statement that revealed their particularly confidential relationship and even exposed Dodon to attack. Subsequently, the Moldovan leader even denied the fact of personal gratitude, but did not freeze relations with Erdogan, but only more often expressed his gratitude to him both in supporting Moldova during the COVID-19 epidemic and in assisting in the return of Moldovan citizens from Syria. And this meant that their political union was stronger than ever.

Türkiye’s bet on Dodon

In September 2019 Erdogan and Dodon met again in New York, and the Moldovan leader once again thanked the Turkish leadership for the assistance provided to his country in all areas. At the same time, their third meeting was planned for a long time, which was never organized due to the political crisis that Dodon suffered and his defeat in the presidential elections in 2020. By the way, Erdogan has not yet met with the current President of the country, Maya Sandu, despite a number of invitations, and in 2023, the President of Türkiye refused to participate in the summit of the European Political Community in Moldova and never invited Sandu to his inauguration, indicating a clear difference in his attitude towards her and Dodon.

Dodon’s failure in the elections only strengthened his strategic partnership with Erdogan. Due to Sandu’s openly pro-European and uncontested policy, Erdogan himself understands that it is still advisable for him to bet on Dodon in the autumn presidential elections. There is an even more faithful and reliable Gagauzian, Irina Vlah, but her chances of receiving large electoral support are very small. At the same time, the Turkish president’s contradictions with the United States and the EU are growing, and he is building a “cordon sanitaire” with the countries of Western Europe, eager for his overthrow. The leaders of Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia remain relatively loyal to Erdogan. Moldova, led by Dodon, could become another strong ally. Therefore, the upcoming elections in Moldova are presented as a “small link” in the mosaic of Erdogan’s struggle for Turkish influence.

United World International

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June 2024