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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Underscores Failed Russian Policy

APA Moldovan guard sitting in the ransacked office of the speaker of the parliament in Chisinau on Wednesday. Authorities restored control over the building.��
Anti-government protests in Moldova this week unfolded in a similar manner to Western-backed uprisings that toppled governments in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Serbia in recent years.

But what should worry the Kremlin is not the threat of a similar uprising at home but the fact that both Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and the opposition groups turned to the West instead of Russia to mediate the conflict, analysts said Wednesday.

Because of the shortsightedness of Russian diplomacy and its failure to project its own "soft" power, the Kremlin faces the possibility of being sidelined once again in a former Soviet state that it considers to be within its realm of influence.

"The policy mistakes are clear and were much discussed after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine," said Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, referring to the weeks of street protests in what was once Russia's strongest post-Soviet ally. The 2004 protests resulted in pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko winning the presidency over the Moscow-backed candidate.

Despite the Kremlin's awareness of its mistakes, it has failed to become a big, benevolent partner to West-leaning former Soviet states since then, resorting instead to energy blackmail and military threats, like with Georgia, Petrov said. This has fueled anti-Russian sentiment among the opposition in those countries, he said.

Moldovan opposition groups took to the streets to demand a vote recount after the Voronin-led Communist Party swept weekend parliamentary elections. The protests turned violent Tuesday, with young people ransacking and looting the president's office and parliament. The authorities regained control of the situation Wednesday.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry portrayed the protests as a foreign-sponsored plot to overthrow Voronin, who like other long-serving post-Soviet leaders has enjoyed strong support from the Kremlin.

"Judging by the slogans shouted in the squares and the many Romanian flags in the hands of the organizers of this outrage, their aim is to discredit the achievements made toward strengthening Moldova's sovereignty," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

The statement was apparently referring to the Romanian flags waved by some protesters and scattered calls for Moldova to be united with neighboring Romania.

Voronin himself denounced the protests as a Romanian-backed coup attempt, announcing that Moldova would introduce a visa regime with Romania and declaring Romania's ambassador to Moldova persona non grata.

Gleb Garanich / Reuters
Police guarding the president's office in Chisinau on Wednesday afternoon.
He and the opposition asked European governments to intervene.

The EU has agreed to send a special envoy to Chisinau to monitor events, but there has been no talk of any direct role, a diplomat close to talks told Reuters.

Youth-backed color revolutions that ousted deeply entrenched leaders in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 have ignited fears in the Kremlin, prompting a clampdown on the opposition and nongovernmental organizations and the creation of pro-Kremlin youth groups, including Nashi, to absorb youth political activism.

"The street tactics used in Moldova were that of a color revolution, but these developments are of no threat for us," Nashi leader Nikita Borovikov told The Moscow Times on Wednesday. "Regime change in our country is impossible because Russia's leadership is not passive and cowardly."

Nashi, which once brought tens of thousands of young people onto the streets, and other pro-Kremlin youth groups have kept a low profile after the ruling United Russia party cemented its grip on power in parliamentary elections in 2007.

While the current economic crisis has sparked some anti-government protests, none has come close to posing a challenge to the status quo.

So instead of worrying about whether Russians might catch the anti-government fervor from Moldova, the Kremlin needs to ponder why Voronin and the opposition have turned to the West to resolve their differences, analysts said.

Moldova's decision to shun Russia reveals a longtime fallacy of Russian diplomacy, where the Kremlin unequivocally stands by incumbent leaders in post-Soviet states and largely dismisses contacts with other political forces there, said Yulia Belikova, an analyst with the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, a think tank that consults the Russian government on policy issues.

She said Russian officials needed to start working with opposition groups in other former Soviet republics, especially in Moldova. Moldova was separated from Romania by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1940, and the country has drifted back toward Romania after the Soviet collapse.

"If we're going to speak in terms of a color revolution, the West doesn't need to export it to Moldova. It is already there in the form of Romanian cultural and political influence," Belikova said.

This week's protests might also make it harder for Russia to mediate in Moldova's dispute with its Russian-leaning breakaway republic of Transdnestr, analysts said. It is one of the only post-Soviet conflicts where Moscow has portrayed itself as playing the "good cop" in seeking a resolution -- a role it has taken pains to highlight after its brief war with Georgia last August over Tbilisi's attempt to regain control of its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

President Dmitry Medvedev invited Voronin and the Transdnestr leader Igor Smirnov to Moscow earlier this year for negotiations.

The events in Moldova might give more power to the Transdnestr separatists, who could accuse Voronin of political weakness and an inability to curb Romanian nationalism.

The developments in Moldova also differ from a color revolution because the West is not openly supporting the opposition. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights body, reiterated on Wednesday elections observers' findings that the elections were fair.

The Kremlin will further shape its response to the protests after information surfaces about whether they were instigated solely by the Moldovan opposition or whether they were supported by Romania and other Western players, said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

At the moment, it seems unlikely that European powers or the United States would want to push for regime change in Moldova, Europe's poorest country located off major trade and energy routes, and risk spoiling their improving ties with Moscow, Mikheyev said.

"But we all have seen in the past how the West has assured Russia of its best intentions but at the same time acted to upset Russia's interests," he added.