Moldovan President’s visit to Russia hints at new relationship

Newly-elected President of Moldova, Igor Dodon, made his first state visit to Russia on January 16 and advocated for closer ties with Moscow at the expense of his nation’s Association Agreement with the European Union. The 2014 EU deal is designed to promote political and economic harmonization. The document prescribes structural, judicial, and financial reforms to align the Eastern European nation with the 28-member bloc.

However, Dodon, who ran on a promise to reset relations with Russia, has not supported the deal. “We gained nothing from this agreement,” he said during a press conference with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, adding, “we lost the Russian market while our exports to the EU also fell.”

The European Commission claims that Moldovan exports to the EU grew by 21 percent between 2013 and 2015. Still, Dodon argues that Moldova has not benefited “in the slightest” from increased integration with the EU. In fact, he has discussed the possibility of his country joining the Kremlin-led rival Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in the past. During his campaign, he even promised a referendum on the matter. Since his election, he has not yet confirmed whether he will follow through with this policy.

Dodon mentioned his desire for increased cooperation with the EAEU to President Putin, and the two leaders agreed to hold talks on the potential signing of a “framework memorandum.” Such a move would be a complete overhaul of Moldova’s foreign policy for the past decade.

Nevertheless, Dodon was not entirely hostile to his EU partners. He cautiously added, “We are not against the EU…but you cannot build a relationship on anti-Russia rhetoric.” Dodon plans to meet with EU leaders in Brussels this month—his second foreign visit. While Dodon has not yet acted on his pro-Russian rhetoric, the order of the visits indicates Moldova’s new priorities going forward.

The landlocked Eastern European state, located between Ukraine and Romania and with only 3.5 million people, is one of Europe’s poorest. It is riddled with corruption and relies heavily on agriculture. The country’s economy has suffered greatly from Russian import restrictions that followed the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU in 2014.

Dodon’s promise to end Moldova’s flirtation with the EU and strengthen relations with Russia resonated with the country’s struggling lower and middle classes. The Moldovan Party of Socialists won the election with 52.11 percent of the vote in November 2016.

Following his meeting with Putin, Dodon proudly declared, “Our relations have entered a new era.” He emphasized the significance of his visit, labeling it a “historic day for Moldova-Russia relations.” Dodon is the first Moldovan President to visit Russia for nearly a decade.