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A Divided Moldova, Where An Anti-EU Minority Clings To Russia

Welcome to Gagauzia!
Welcome to Gagauzia!
Mirel Bran

COMRAT — In Comrat, the capital of the autonomous Gagauzia region in southern Moldova, time has stopped. Mud houses and damaged roads, some of which have never been touched by asphalt, make this town of 26,000 residents feel like something from the 19th century. To get closer to what resembles an urban atmosphere, visitors must travel to Lenin Boulevard in the town center, where there are Russian billboards, an Orthodox church, a few shops, a junk store and a statue of Lenin that watches over this eerie place.

Ever since Moldova, a small country between Romania and Ukraine, signed a European Union Association Agreement on June 27, a wave of panic has swept over Gagauzia. This forgotten land, with a population of 160,000, has significant autonomy within Moldova and wants to stay faithful to Russia rather than create ties with the EU.

"No one asked us for our opinion concerning the Association Agreement with the EU," explains Deputy Governor Valeriy Janioglo, whose office is located just above the statue of Lenin. "The EU has very advanced technologies in farming, which allows it to sell its products for lower prices than we can. Our agriculture, which is our main source of wealth, is going to be annihilated, and the Gagauz people will lose their jobs. For us, rejecting the EU is a question of survival."

Lots of autonomy

Moldova became independent after the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse, but it remained in the Russian sphere of influence until 2009, when a pro-European coalition government took control of the country. Tensions between the Romanian-speaking population, who represent the majority, and the one-third of the country that is Russian-speaking intensified with the Ukrainian crisis. Russia has no intention of conceding its influence on this territory, where it has leverage to maintain its control: Transnistria and Gagauzia.

Transnistria, the eastern part of Moldova, seceded in 1992. Moscow has more than 1,000 soldiers there and refuses to withdraw them, based on the pretext of defending the Russian minority that represents a third of its 500,000 inhabitants. Gagauzia, which was granted a large amount of autonomy within Moldova in 1994, is the second pawn that allows Russia to fight Moldova's pro-European aspirations.

The Gagauz are originally Turks who refused Islam and converted to orthodoxy. They settled themselves in southern Moldova in the 18th century at a time when this Romanian-speaking territory had a certain amount of independence within the Ottoman Empire. In the Soviet era, Russian was established as a second language in this Turkish-speaking enclave, and attachment to Russia remains persistent, especially among older people.

"It used to be much better," says Elena Ceachir, a 73-year-old farmer living in Besalma, a small village near Comrat. "We're going to lose everything in the European Union. Russia is like our second home, and it is going to help us."

Moldovan wine embargo

Ceachir repeats what she hears every day on Russian television, which praises Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her three children have been working in Moscow for the past 12 years, and they send her money to supplement her monthly 70-euro pension.

The Gagauz people overwhelmingly approved a Feb. 2 referendum for entry into the Eurasian Union (Russia, Kazakhstan and Belorussia), which was offered by Moscow in case Moldova kept moving closer to the EU. Like 98% of her compatriots, Elena voted "yes."

As is the case in Transnistria, Russia presents itself as the savior of the population that has stayed faithful to Moscow. It intends to influence Moldova's November general elections. A potential collapse of the pro-European government and the return of Communist Moldovans to power should ensure better control of Moldova for Russia.

To punish the country, since September 2013 Moscow has imposed an embargo on Moldovan wine, with the exception of the Transnistrian and Gagauz wineries. On July 21, the ban on exports also hit Moldovan fruits and vegetables, except, again, for those from the two Russian-speaking enclaves.

"Russia buys our products, Russia provides us with gas, and we share the same religion," the Deputy Governor Valeriy Janioglo says angrily. "What does the EU give us, apart from lessons in democracy and sexual freedom? We don't want that here."

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

How Biden's Mideast Stance Weakens Israel And Emboldens Iran

The West's decision to pressure Israel over Gaza, and indulge Iran's violent and troublesome regime, follows the U.S. Democrats' line with the Middle East: just keep us out of your murderous affairs.

Photo of demonstration against U.S President Joe Biden in Iran

Demonstration against U.S President Joe Biden in Iran.

Bahram Farrokhi


The Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weak both structurally and for its dismal popularity level, which has made it take some contradictory, or erratic, decisions in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

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Other factors influencing its decisions include the pressures of the families of Hamas hostages, and the U.S. administration's lukewarm support for this government and entirely reactive response to the military provocations and "hit-and-run" incidents orchestrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, which include Hamas. Israel has also failed to mobilize international opinion behind its war on regional terrorism, in what might be termed a full-blown public relations disaster.

The administration led by President Joe Biden has, by repeating the Democrats' favored, and some might say feeble, policy of appeasing Iran's revolutionary regime, duly nullified the effects of Western sanctions imposed on that regime. By delisting its proxies, the Houthis of Yemen, as terrorists, the administration has allowed them to devote their energies to firing drones and missiles across the Red Sea and even indulging in piracy. The general picture is of a moment of pitiful weakness for the West, in which Iran and other members of the Axis - of Evil or Resistance, take your pick - are daily cocking a snook at the Western powers.

You wonder: how could the United States, given its military and technological resources, fail to spot tankers smuggling out banned Iranian oil through the Persian Gulf to finance the regime's foreign entanglements, while Iran is able to track Israeli-owned ships as far aways as the Indian Ocean? The answer, rather simply, lies in the Biden administration's decision to indulge the ayatollahs and hope for the best.

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