Igor Dodon: It is only Russia that can help resolve Moldova’s problems

Pravda.Ru special correspondent Daria Aslamova interviewed Igor Dodon, ex-president of Moldova. During the interview, Mr. Dodon spoke about the former Soviet republic living under the pressure of European integration, whether Ukraine may unleash a conflict in Transnistria, and why it is only Russia that can help Moldova resolve internal problems.

During the short history of Moldova's independence, the relations that Moldova and the Russian Federation have today are probably the worst. How do you explain this?

The people that came to power in Moldova promised that they would be friends with everyone. In reality, however, they chose very harsh anti-Russian rhetoric and started working to break all relations in both diplomatic and economic spheres. The Intergovernmental Commission on Economic and Social Cooperation that our countries have has not had one single meeting since 2020, even though a platform like this is necessary for solving economic and social problems. For example, Moldova can not export its wines, fruits and vegetable to Russia.

Hundreds of thousands of our migrants in the Russian Federation suffer from problems. The anti-Russian course of Maia Sandu and her Anglo-Saxon supervisors affects the lives of our citizens. Our economy is collapsing. Farmers started staging riots this weekend and blocked customs with Romania for an hour. The inflation rate in Moldova exceeded the level of 50 percent in two years. Gas prices in Moldova are the highest in Eastern Europe. A cubic meter of gas for the population costs 18 lei, that is, about 100 Russian rubles (for comparison, the price for a cubic meter of natural gas for household needs in Russia is 6 rubles 58 kopecks — ed).

Governments of some other countries are smart. For example, Georgia had a break in relations with Russia after 2008. However, Georgia did not join the anti-Russian sanctions, and its economy is growing. Today, many Russian businesses operate through Georgia. Moldova could also become such a country. Regrettably, our government has chosen a different policy. Moldova is having the presidential election this year and hen parliamentary elections next year. I hope that the situation will change afterwards."

Your Constitution defines your country as a neutral state, but you are having war games with NATO now. Maia Sandu said that the country may revise its status. Is Moldova moving towards NATO?

They haven't succeeded yet. Unlike Ukraine and Georgia, where there is a national consensus about NATO, Moldova shares a national consensus about its neutral status. Yet, the authorities do not maintain neutrality.

Even in the situation with Ukraine, a neutral country should not take sides, because it both Russians (our brothers) and Ukrainians that are important to us. The largest ethnic group in Moldova is Moldovans with Ukrainians and Russians following. However, Moldova joined anti-Russian sanctions, and its territory is used for the transit of assistance to the Ukrainian army. Military aircraft landed in Chisinau and Marculesti.

A neutral country should not participate in NATO exercises, much less invite NATO soldiers.

Last year, American soldiers were conducted training exercises near a village when one brave fellow came out and said, "Yankees, go home."

The budget lacks funds for pensions or social payments, and the budget of the Ministry of Defense has increased significantly this year compared to the year before. A new military base is being built near Chisinau. People say that they do no want that base. The Moldovans do not want to be involved in the war. This is their biggest concern."

Is it true that you one said, quote: "Sandu's Western masters need a war and Transnistria may become a new hot spot”?

Many people in Moldova, officials in Ukraine and experts have been talking about it indeed. If Ukraine loses, then they can create a problem in Transnistria. They are not doing it yet, because Ukraine officially considers Transnistria part of Moldova. If they attack Transnistria, they will become aggressors in relation to us. An attack on Transnistria without Maia Sandu's consent means aggression against an independent country. The Ukrainians wanted Sandu to sign such a secret letter of agreement last year. For the time being, Maia Sandu has not given official consent to such actions.

I publicly said that if Ukrainians or Western partners put pressure on Sandu, she should better step down than become a president who starts a war in Moldova.

Is the current regime ready to support the conflict in Transnistria? I think not, especially since we have presidential and parliamentary campaigns ahead of us. By the way, Maia Sandu, who won the presidential election 3.5 years ago, promised that she would not infringe on anyone's rights. She would speak Russian very often. Three years into her presidency, she has banned all Russian channels, she has banned the Russian language too.

Now that the election campaign is starting over, Sandu can be heard speaking Russian again.

Will you be running for president this year?

Everyone asks me this question. I was the president. I think that the opposition needs to unite and nominate a single candidate to counter Maia Sandu. The fact that Maia Sandu has a very high anti-rating gives us real chances. We are now in the midst of discussions with other political parties what to do next — whether we are having a single candidate or a candidate of our own or we unite in the runoff election. If Dodon needs to take part, we will talk about it too.

If you are president again, what would be your first decisions?

We urgently need to revisit the strategic dialogue with Russia. This is the official position of the Socialist Party, which I lead. We are not a pro-Russian, not a pro-European party, we are pro-Moldovan.

I am very impressed by Orban's position. Hungary is a member of both NATO and the European Union, but look at how Viktor Orban defends national interests! We, as a small country, need a strategic partnership with Russia. It ended three years ago. Moldova does not participate in the CIS or the EAEU, although in 2018, as president, I ensured that we received observer status.

Dialogue with Russia will allow us to solve socio-economic problems in Moldova, as well as among our migrants who live in Russia. We could also be able to overcome the energy crisis and reduce prices on natural gas.

We have a plethora of domestic problems. With Sandu as President, the architecture of public administration was destroyed, the number of officials was increased by 40%, their salaries quadrupled, and payments to the population went into the red. Many positions are held by Romanian citizens. Maia Sandu, the prime minister, and the speaker hold not only Moldovan, but also Romanian citizenship. I'm talking about ethnic Romanians. The head of the National Bank is a former Romanian senator who obtained Moldovan citizenship and chaired the National Bank the following day. This is a pattern that many organisations have.

In addition to the presidential elections, there is a European integration referendum coming. What is your view on that?

The number of supporters of European integration in Moldova has decreased during Maia Sandu's presidency. At the same time, however, the authorities of the country are running pro-European policies. We have shut down 12 channels, introduced censorship on television, on Facebook*. The prosecutor was arrested to be replaced with a puppet. The social part of economy is falling apart. People wonder whether they need such Europe if what they have today in Moldova is similar to what people have in Europe. Confidence in this vector has fallen by 10-15 percent, but it is still above 50 percent.

Maia Sandu wants to win a second presidential mandate through the referendum. She hopes that those who come to vote for European integration will automatically vote for her the same day.

She wants the Constitution to say that Moldova will be part of the EU. This is not written even in the Constitutions of EU members. You cannot introduce ideology of any party into the Constitution. When you transfer part of your country's sovereignty to someone (certain powers are transferred to Brussels in the process of European integration), such decisions must be made in a referendum. Those decisions are supposed to receive the support of 51 percent of the population. What did Maia Sandu do? Realizing that people are not going to vote for this, she reduced turnout to 1/3 and wants to introduce these changes to the Constitution so that 1/3 would participate, of which a half should vote. In a nutshell, 17 percent of the population will be able to make geopolitical decisions. This cannot be allowed, and we and other parties (we have a common faction in parliament with former President Voronin) must explain all this to citizens."

You were under house arrest for six months, 18 months under travel restrictions, 13 criminal cases were filed against you. How are you going to fight politically with all this pressure?

This is very serious pressure indeed. Criminal cases ranging from corruption to betrayal were filed against me and all my relatives. My rivals wanted me to give up or flee the country. I said that I would be here fighting.

On one side we have Romania, a NATO member; on the other side we have Ukraine with its war. It's not easy here for us. I have not abandoned the strategic partnership with Russia. Many wonder whether I am afraid, but there is my family, my land, my father's grave here. Therefore we will fight. I don't see any other options.

*Product of Meta, recognised as extremist and banned in Russia.

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Author`s name Daria Aslamova
Editor Dmitry Sudakov