“Russia’s basic strategy in Transnistria is the control of the part over the whole”

Paul Ciocoiu | BALKAN DEFENSE | 08.06.2015

In the second part of the interview, Dan Dungaciu, director of the Romanian Academy’s Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, touches upon the Russian propaganda apparatus and potential means to counter it in the West and former Soviet countries, and the recent turmoil in Transnistria, the message it sends and why Moldovan pro-European politicians have failed to gain people’s trust.

There’s a real mobilization against Russia’s hybrid war, with enormous funds and strategies being put in place to counter Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe.

We should not exaggerate as concerns this hybrid war, but look at it realistically. Theoretically, if we look at the Ukrainian scenario, it could be carried out in the Baltic Countries where the Russian community can be penetrated by such techniques. But this in the end up to that respective country. Because hybrid wars are like sum fungi which set upon sick bodies, hybrid war is the maximum fructification of a deep weakness. Ukraine was a corruption-torn state because otherwise we cannot explain why a Ukrainian navy officer didn’t scupper his ship rather than turn it in to the Russians. Moreover, Poroshenko himself said it – 80 per cent of the secret services were loyal to Russia. This is not a hybrid war anymore, Russia just waited for the apple to rot and fall into its hands, as Lenin used to put it. So this obsession about Russia coming and doing whatever should first of all be an obsession concerning ourselves, our own body which is the Euro-Atlantic community, Europe as a whole in terms of values. It’s not Russia that breaks up the Euro-Atlantic community, it is already working on an already existent rupture. It is not Russia breaking up the European Union….the French electorate doesn’t vote Madame La Pen because she is paid by Putin, but Putin is paying her because she is voted for. The same with Podemos, Jobbik. It’s not because of Putin that Hungarians are voting this little Putin which Orban is seeking to become. But not because Putin paid him to do so, but because the malfunction was already there. Because it serves his interests to have a Schweitzer-like Europe. But that doesn’t mean the problem lies with Putin. He is only stressing some flaws, deficiencies, he is digging into an already existent wound. Russia Today, Sputnik penetrate some already existent cavities, let’s fool ourselves Russia has so much power so to have created these by herself. Let’s be realistic! They are merely inducing the alternative into a Euro-Atlantic space which is already critical to the weakened Euro-Atlantic values.

“The Russian society now resembles its leaders”

So how do we respond to this? Running a counter-propaganda program, what EU is now trying to do, is in my opinion a waste of money and is a complete wrong evaluation of the reality. Because it starts from the premise we were good, but Putin spoiled us so we will use a counter-Russia Today to balance things which is wrong. You don’t answer Russia Today with another Russia Today. The second false premise the West is acting on is treating Russia as if it were one of the regimes before ’89 when you had a dictator controlling anything and you tried to inject an alternative media to create fissures into his system. And people were desperate to get their dose of Voice of America and Free Europe. But this is not the case with the Russian society nowadays. The idea is that it awaits the American/Western message to rise and topple Putin is such a crass naivety. The Russian society now resembles its leaders. The hypothesis the society is one thing and the leaders are another thing is another sociological naivety which spark such strategic errors. This what the Russian society wants to hear, Putin’s messages, it is not decoupled from the Western space, let’s be serious.

Ok, but what about countries like Moldova, Georgia…

And the third observation: the message has credibility when the source is credible. In the media it works the same way as in politics: it doesn’t matter what is said, but who says it! Or at this point neither EU nor America is credible in Russia. So you lack the source credibility to render the message credible. This is why I am saying it is a waste of money even though they are right. So all these three reasons make this strategy to be total nonoperational. When you hear Sarkozy say Crimea belongs to Russia, what sort of counter-propaganda could be done under these circumstances? Because people will believe it when they hear it.

What’s to be done then?

You asked about Moldova. People tend to believe so, but it doesn’t all come down to the media space in Moldova, but to some sort of slyness of the local elite who thought they were intelligent just as those in Ukraine thought when seeking to make friends with both sides, but then the blocks crashed them. And these elite allowed TV stations to air in Moldova. Remember, the Romanian state television was taken off the grid by Voronin (Vladimir Voronin, former Moldovan President 2001-2009). Pro-Europeans who came to power in 2009 didn’t call off this decision, but decided to include it only in cable subscriptions. It is only now they are thinking about banning Russian TV stations. Which is obviously too late because effects will be seen in time. And secondly, people’s opinions have already been clearly made: pro-Europeans are not credible in Chisinau and this is not Putin’s fault. Because 7 April 2009 when the youth took to the streets and changed the regime, the Russian TV stations were out there. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the same, the Russian TV stations were banned after it. So how was it possible with all those Russian TV stations? The answer is simple: because the population believed in both the EU and the European leaders. But now, in Moldova, when the population doesn’t believe in the leaders and the European project anymore they decide to ban Russian TV stations. But nothing will happen! Of course I agree with this decision, but it is too late because they don’t have credible leaders to mobilize the population.

“Moldova’s pro-European leaders lack credibility because they are corrupt”

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The Moldovan leaders are so corrupt, they have stolen billions, they sold the airport to the Russians. The population sees that and this is why voters sanctioned them (pro-European leaders) at the polling stations. So people’s opinions are clearly shaped now, they don’t believe in the European project as being imminent, they don’t believe in their pro-European leaders because they see they are corrupted. So it’s not all about Russian TV stations. That would be simple: banning them and then people will have different views. No, these are long term solutions. And then you need credible people on the ground who are very few in Moldova. The same in Georgia, the same in Ukraine. This is actually what the big battle is about in this limes, border between East and West.

We have witnessed recent turmoil in Transnistria? What does that tell us?

That tells us the Russians’ front line is set along the Dniester. It is not Prut (the natural border between Romania and Moldova). The war that erupted in 1992 started to prevent a possible union with Romania with Transnistria as part of the Republic of Moldova. It was then clear for everyone the union will take place after the Moldovans voted the Romanian anthem, the Romanian currency, the Latin alphabet, passed Romanian laws. When the Soviets saw this they started the Transnistrian war to keep the breakaway territory from joining a possible union with Romania. Well, we are dealing with the same logic now. Dniester is a war line, no one can control Transnistria, not the EU, OSCE or the Americans and this is what the Russians are telling us now. Even the EU ambassador in Chisinau called the Russians to intervene if he had any problem concerning Transnistria. So where these recent tensions from? First of all, an economic crisis. Secondly, because statements like the one made by Poroshenko in the presence of the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, the head of an EU and NATO member state, and then they discussed about thawing the Transnistrian conflict. Thawing has different connotations in Kremlin which started wondering: what’s going on? Is the 5+2 format being shunned, moving Saakashvili to Odessa, the laws in Ukraine than ban transfer of Russian soldiers to Transnistria, all these things alerted the Russians. They started these military drills signaling we don’t know what you are up to but whatever that is it’s not going to be easy. These sow Russian are afraid because Transnistria is a far away territory, it is not Abkhazia, Ossetia. Russians know Poroshenko can be unpredictable. Ukrainians may say let’s do in Transnistria what the Russians did in Crimea. Of course, this is a phantasmagorical scenario. So the Russians launched these signals.

“If Moldova is federalized, we will have the Euro-Asian Union right on river Prut”

Russia’s basic strategy in Transnistria is the control of the part over the whole. The goal is to create a federation in the Republic of Moldova in which the part will have the right to vote on certain issues, such as foreign policy and security matters. You control that small part and you can kiss NATO and EU goodbye. This is why Poroshenko doesn’t accept the federalization solution for Donbas because he fears this scenario will help Russia legalize its military intervention in Ukraine. The problem is that the Republic of Moldova is not aware it will never get away with Transnistria because the two banks or river Dniester are like two magnets which broke and can never be joined again. The difference between the two banks is radical. Transnistrians live in a totally different environment, ideologically and economically and, should the two sides unite, that means the Republic of Moldova will assimilate about 10 per cent of pro-Russian votes. And then you will have a pro-Russian government who will the very next day vote in favor of joining the Customs Union and then Putin’s Euro-Asian Union. This is the main danger for Romania because we fear we will border on Russia through Ukraine, we fear Russia will reach Danube’s flowing mouth. But if the Republic of Moldova is federalized, we will have the Euro-Asian Union right on river Prut. This is why Romania should be concerned Russian presence in Moldova is not thus legalized to have it right next to our borders.