A year after the brief war opposing Georgia and Russia, leading experts warned that EU leaders should be prepared to mediate in potential conflict zones ahead of general elections to be held in Moldova tomorrow (29 July).
Summer conflicts are not a regular “holiday thing” for Europe but there are several hot zones where a crisis could erupt this summer, a leading East European expert told EurActiv.
Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR), a London-based think-tank, said a replay of last year’s August war in Georgia should not be ruled out.
Tensions with Russia could also emerge in Ukraine, “where Kiev has locked itself strangely into this monthly system of gas payments without having the money,” he said.
But Wilson singled out Moldova, where elections are due tomorrow, as the biggest threat.
The ruling Communist party and their centre-right opposition rivals are running neck-and-neck in recent polls, raising the stakes in the former Soviet republic.
Marian Lupu, leader of the opposition Democratic Party (PDM), could obtain a high enough score to become “the kingmaker in Moldova or even the king,” meaning he could obtain the presidency, Wilson said.
“I wouldn’t expect immediate confrontation on the street, though you never know – as the authorities are better prepared, there have been a lot of arrests of activists – but the advice one can give to Brussels is: ‘stay away from the beaches’,” Wilson said.
Lupu was the parliament speaker in the last legislature, but has since left the communist party after a conflict with Voronin. According to analysts, Lupu could forge alliances with both camps, even with the communists if Voronin retires from political life.
Wilson pointed out that the EU would need to “move fast” in the event of a crisis or a constitutional deadlock, as Moscow has already shown its hand by promising to grant Moldova $500 million should the elections go its way.
“Nominally the money is for the country but in fact it is for the ruling elite,” Wilson said, adding that Brussels has its own cards to play, given that the country mostly trades with the EU and most of its migrants go to EU countries.
“Moldova’s future prosperity depends on the EU,” said Wilson, who said this was the most important card Brussels could play.
Wilson advised the Romanian authorities to show restraint and leave the EU to mediate.
“If they are too rash, as they were in April, it gives [the communists] the kind of narrative of foreign interference which they need, portraying Romania as the enemy figure,” he said.
Another ECFR analyst also highlighted the EU’s potential role should there be another disputed election.
Nicu Popescu, policy fellow at ECFR, said that he expects Moldova’s political crisis to continue as its economy nosedives, breeding more violence and instability on the EU’s eastern flank.
“The April crisis was not foreseen, but this time the EU can consider itself forewarned. In the event of another disputed election result, the EU must be ready to mediate between the government and opposition at the highest political levels,” said Popescu, who is a Moldovan national.