March 4. 2024. 11:29

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Moldova’s pro-EU government falls amid economic turmoil, Russian pressure

Moldova’s pro-Western government resigned on Friday (10 February) after months marked by economic turmoil and the spillover effects of Russia’s war in neighbouring Ukraine.

In a surprise announcement, Moldova’s Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița announced she was resigning together with the rest of the government, which had been in power for less than 18 months.

“If our government had had the same support at home as we had from our European partners, we could have advanced further and faster,” Gavriliţa said.

“Moldova is entering a new phase, one in which security is our priority,” she added.

Chișinău has described recent protests against the administration’s pro-Western course as part of a Kremlin-sponsored campaign to destabilise the government.

The protests, organised by the party of exiled opposition politician Ilan Shor, marked the most serious political challenge to Sandu since her landslide election win in 2020 on a pro-European and anti-corruption platform.

“I believe in the Moldovan people. I believe in Moldova,” Gavrilița told reporters at which she announced her government was stepping aside.

“I believe that we will be able to make it through all the difficulties and challenges,” she added.

Later on Friday, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told reporters that after consultations with the political parties, she had nominated Dorin Recean, a former interior minister and her current presidential advisor, as a candidate to succeed Gavrilița.

Chișinău’s EU course

Gavrilița became prime minister in August 2021 after her pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity secured a majority in parliament with a mandate to clean up corruption.

Moldova was granted EU candidate status last June, together with Ukraine, but the government in Chișinău has faced intense pressure from Russia, which has sought to undermine its authority.

The government had been mapping out reforms to accelerate accession to the EU and working on diversifying its energy supply with European support.

The government collapse comes just days after Gavriliţa met with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels to take stock of Moldova’s EU membership prospects.

Speaking to EURACTIV ahead of those meetings, Gavrilița said she was worried about Russia’s efforts to destabilise her government.

“Moldova is a collateral victim of the war in Ukraine and has faced multiple crises, overlapping crises since the onset of the war,” Gavrilița said.

“We saw the anti-government protests, bomb threats, cybersecurity attacks and we think that this is part of a larger effort of various groups that want to prevent the European integration of Moldova and to thwart the government from this path,” she told EURACTIV in Brussels.

President Maia Sandu accepted Gavrilița’s decision and said she would consult with parliamentary groups on nominating a new prime minister.

Sandu gave no sign of abandoning her pro-Western policies that, include seeking EU accession, and is expected to seek a replacement that would do so as well.

“Thank you so much for your enormous sacrifice and efforts to lead the country in a time of so many crises,” Sandu wrote on Facebook.

“In spite of unprecedented challenges, the country was governed responsibly, with a lot of attention and dedicated work. We have stability, peace and development – where others wanted war and bankruptcy,” she added.

Russia factor

Bordering Ukraine, the country of 2.5 million has suffered from soaring inflation and was strained last year by an influx of Ukrainian refugees.

It has also suffered power cuts following Russian air attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure and has struggled to break its dependence on Russian gas.

The steep price increases, particularly for Russian gas, led to street protests last year in which demonstrators called for the government and Sandu to resign.

In the latest tensions with Moscow over the war, the government said shortly before Gavrilița’s resignation that a Russian missile had violated Moldovan airspace and summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest.

“We resolutely reject the latest unfriendly actions and statements against Moldova, which is absolutely unacceptable for our people,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We call on the Russian Federation to stop military aggression against a neighbouring country, leading to numerous human casualties and material damage,” it added.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told EU leaders during Thursday’s EU summit in Brussels that Kyiv had intercepted Russian plans to “destroy” Moldova.

Moldovan intelligence services later confirmed they had also identified “subversive activities” aimed at “undermining the state of the Republic of Moldova, destabilising and violating public order.”

Moscow, which has troops in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria, has bristled at the possibility of former Soviet republics joining the EU.