Monday, July 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow behind New Gagauz Independence Drive, Chisinau Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti says a new effort by Gagauz activists to gain independence for their Turkic region via referendum is the work of those who oppose Chisinau’s “European course,” a diplomatic way of referring to Moscow which has long exploited Transdniestria for precisely that purpose.

            According to Timofti, the new Gagauz moves are “a link in a chain of measures to destabilize the situation in Moldova,” to embarrass it in the eyes of its European partners, and to force Chisinau to re-orient its foreign relations toward the Russian Federation, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reported on Friday (

            Such a conclusion seems all the more justified given Russia’s unhappiness with the Moldovan parliament’s ratification of a defense treaty with Romania on Thursday ( and Transdniestria’s decision last week to adopt even more Russian symbols (

            Dmitry Konstantinov, the head of the Gagauz autonomy in Moldova, told Svetlana Gamova of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” that a petition now circulating among that Turkic but Russian Orthodox people that calls for a referendum on Gagauz independence is likely to be confirmed by the local popular assembly and approved by the voters.

            If that happens, Konstantinov said, the 200,000 Gagauz “will return to the status of 1990 when the independent Gagauz Republic was proclaimed.” He said that was the case because the existing 1994 Moldovan law on the Gagauz is “being violated” and their views ignored by Chisinau. “We would like a constitutional law on autonomy, but it doesn’t exist.”

            The petition now circulating says that Komrat, Gagauzia’s capital, must issue an ultimatum to Chisinau: “‘if in the course of a year the laws of the Republic of Moldov are not brought into correspondence with the law on the special legal status of the autonomy … then a referendum on the withdrawal of the autonomy from Moldova must be held in Gagauzia before December 2015.”

In yet another indication that this move is designed to put pressure on Chisinau, the Gagauz parliament, Konstantinov told Gamova, may decide to hold such a referendum even before that date. Moreover, Gagauz activists point out that the 1994 law on autonomy gives them the right to secede if Moldova loses its independence and sovereignty.

            According to Gamova, the Gagauz petition effort came in response to another such drive in Moldova calling for the unification of Moldova and Romania, a drive led by the Actiunea 2012 organization and one that has already collected more than 70,000 signatures, only 30,000 fewer than its goal.

            That Gagauz petition has already gathered 5,000 signatures from the residents of more than 25 Gagauz villages, more than enough, activists there say, for the question to be discussed in the Popular Assembly. Ivan Burgudzhi, a longtime advocate of independence and a member of that body, says the Assembly will consider the issue this week.

            Moldovan officials are concerned that this effort will somehow compromise Chisinau’s plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union later this year. Adrean Candu, vice chairman of the Moldovan Assembly, suggested that the timing of the Gagauz effort was “not accidental” but rather something closely coordinated with Transdniestria.

            If that is the case – and the evidence supports such fears – then Gagauzia is on its way to becoming Moscow’s second pincer in Moldova, one that along with Transdniestria is intended to squeeze Moldova and force it to turn away from the EU and toward Moscow -- or at the very least to cause Brussels to reconsider its embrace of that country.

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