Monday

20th Nov 2017

Opinion

Gagauzia: A new attack on the Eastern Partnership?

  • People gather for mass at the Comrat cathedral in Gagauzia (Photo: Guttorm Flatabo)

With world attention fixed on Ukraine, the referendum on Sunday (2 February) in Gagauzia, a part of Moldova which few people have heard of, did not get much attention.

The Gagauz - some 150,000 people, who are Turkic-speaking Orthodox Christians - voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining Russia’s Customs Union instead of EU integration.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

EU neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele had recently visited the region.

He spoke of the potential benefits of closer EU-Moldova ties, highlighting prospects for EU visa-free travel.

His intervention did nothing to change the outcome, however. As Gagauz envoys explained on a visit to Brussels last week, they want easier access to the Russian labour market instead.

Sunday’s referendum also had a question about Gagauzia’s right to declare independence from Moldova. Again, an overwhleming majority wanted the right to secede.

The referendum has no legal consequences because Moldovan courts have ruled it illegal.

But it does have the potential to revive recent protests against Moldova’s plan to sign an EU association and free trade treaty.

More dangerously, it has the potential to enflame separatist tendencies.

Moldova already has one breakaway region, which has become a de facto state and a source of long-term instability: Transniestria.

The business interests of the Transniestrian elite are becoming increasingly tied to the EU, however.

The region has no border with Russia, and it is does not depend on Russian markets or subsidies to the same extent as other breakaway entities in the former Soviet territories.

If Moldova-Transniestria relations mend, the Gagauzia referendum is an alternative source of instability.

Some pro-Russian politicians in Chisianu are already calling for similar votes in other parts of Moldova.

As a former Georgian ambassador, I can tell you that these processes can, in the worst case scenario, spiral into armed confrontation.

This is what happened in Georgia in the 1990s. Our civil wars began with autonomous regions deciding, via referendums, to stay in the USSR.

The Gagauz development clearly serves Russian interests.

There are rumours the referendum was funded by Russian oligarchs of Gagauz origin. Some low-level Russian MPs frequented the region recently and Russian media have increased pro-Customs-Union content in Moldova.

But there is no hard evidence of a Russian destabilisation campaign.

Whether or not the Gagauz vote was a spontaneous event, the EU needs to maintain a watchful eye.

It should step up its public diplomacy in Moldova, with high-visibility economic projects that benefit local people, and more high-level visits, including to local municipalities.

It should speed up preparations to sign the association and free trade pact.

It should also start a dialogue with Russia to avert the kind of crisis which unfolded in Ukraine.

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.

It would be great if the Kremlin understood that the spread of stability, democracy, rule of law, and the prosperity they bring, are in Russia’s own interests.

But it seems we are still a long way from reaching this point.

The writer is Georgia's former ambassador to Brussels and a visiting fellow at the Centre for European Studies, a think tank

Mind the gap: inequality in our cities

Minimum wages, 'living' wages and a universal basic income are all part of the ongoing mix to find ways to reduce social inequality across the EU.

EU's eastern partnership needs revival

A week before a summit with EU eastern neighbours, Sweden and Poland's foreign ministers propose "a way ahead" for the relationship that is more focused on people's needs.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  2. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  3. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  5. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  6. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  7. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  9. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  10. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future
  12. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy

Latest News

  1. Tusk's 'Kremlin' tweet prompts Polish uproar
  2. German coalition talks collapse
  3. Decision day for EU agencies relocation race
  4. EU keeps former Soviet states at arm's length
  5. EU leaders make pledge on social issues after populist backlash
  6. EU agencies and eastern neighbours This WEEK
  7. Germany slams Dutch call for more ambitious EU climate goal
  8. Mind the gap: inequality in our cities