Moldovan gov’t quits amid economic turmoil, tension with Russia

Moldova’s pro-Western government has resigned after a turbulent 18 months in power marked by economic turmoil and the spillover effects of Russia’s war in neighbouring Ukraine.

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

President Maia Sandu accepted Gavrilita’s decision on Friday and nominated her defence adviser Dorin Recean to be prime minister. She gave no sign of abandoning her pro-Western policies that include seeking European Union accession.

“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.”

Sandu said she wants to focus on revamping key areas such as Moldova’s economy and the justice sector.

“I know that we need unity and a lot of work to get through the difficult period we are facing,” she said. “The difficulties of 2022 postponed some of our plans, but they did not stop us.”

Recean, a 48-year-old economist who served as interior minister between 2012-2015, will have 15 days to form a new government to present to parliament for a vote.

He said he planned to continue to pursue membership in the EU and that his government’s priorities would be order and discipline, breathing new life into the economy, and peace and stability.

Energy blackmail, soaring inflation

Gavrilita’s reign as prime minister was marked by a long string of problems, many of which stem from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These include an acute energy crisis after Moscow dramatically reduced supplies to Moldova and skyrocketing inflation.

The former Soviet republic of 2.5 million also saw an influx of Ukrainian refugees last year. It has suffered power cuts following Russian air attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, has struggled to break its dependence on Russian gas, and has, most recently, seen a Russian missile from the war traversing its skies.

Gavrilita said that no one expected that her government “would have to manage so many crises caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine”.

“I took over the government with an anti-corruption, pro-development and pro-European mandate at a time when corruption schemes had captured all the institutions and the oligarchs felt untouchable,” Gavrilita said. “We were immediately faced with energy blackmail, and those who did this hoped that we would give in.”

“The bet of the enemies of our country was that we would act like previous governments, who gave up energy interests, who betrayed the national interest in exchange for short-term benefits,” she added.

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.

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.

Chisinau has described the protests as part of a Kremlin-sponsored campaign to destabilise the government.

“I believe in the Moldovan people. I believe in Moldova,” Gavrilita said. “I believe that we will be able to make it through all the difficulties and challenges.”

Join to drive the EU

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

EU leaders accepted Moldova as a membership candidate last year in a diplomatic triumph for Sandu. The government had been mapping out reforms to accelerate accession to the 27-nation bloc and working on diversifying its energy supply.

Russia, which has troops in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria, has bristled at the possibility of former Soviet republics joining the EU, and Moldova’s intelligence service confirmed allegations by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday that Russia has acted to destabilise Moldova.

The Moldovan foreign ministry criticised Moscow strongly after summoning its ambassador over the Russian missile, which it said had flown through Moldovan airspace before entering Ukrainian airspace on Friday.

“We resolutely reject the latest unfriendly actions and statements against Moldova, which is absolutely unacceptable for our people,” the 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.”

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