Prague, 8 February 2005 -- In a wide-ranging interview, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin talked to RFE/RL today about the current status of the Transdniester dispute; the influence of Ukraine's Orange Revolution on Moldova's foreign policy; relations with Russia; and the upcoming Moldovan general election.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, the past several months have brought about important political changes in Ukraine, where after a long dispute, the election was won by the reformist, pro-Western opposition. What influence has the change of power in Kyiv had on relations with Moldova, and do you intend to meet with President Viktor Yushchenko?
VORONIN: For the time being, the leadership change in Ukraine does not have any concrete impact on relations with Moldova. But I hope that in a short time I will have a meeting with Mr. Yushchenko. During his inauguration in Kyiv, we agreed on such a meeting. It is clear that now the president and the other authorities are preoccupied with more urgent issues, but we hope that we are going to meet in the near future and discuss bilateral problems and, especially, the important issue of Transdniester.
RFE/RL: The dispute with Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester seems to have escalated lately. The two sides are accusing each other of massing troops along the demarcation line, while Moscow -- one of the five-party mediators, along with Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- has accused Moldova of deliberately blocking the negotiations. Is Moldova indeed refusing to negotiate under the current five-party framework?
VORONIN: I believe the five-party negotiations framework ran out of steam a long time ago, because it has allowed no progress on issues which have been outstanding for more than 10 years now. That is why we are looking for a new solution together with international and European bodies, including the guarantor countries -- Ukraine and Russia -- to resolve this problem.
The renewed tension is not Moldova's fault. It is the fault of Transdniester, which is resorting to intimidation, as always when there is some important event in Moldova -- parliamentary elections or other political events. They declared a general mobilization and are doing training exercises. They are issuing alarms all the time, and this is also affecting those who are transiting Transdniester toward Moldova or Ukraine by rail or on the highways.
Something is indeed going on in Transdniester. They are mainly trying to intimidate, not us, but their own citizens, to prevent them from taking part in the election campaign in Moldova or other issues regarding our relations with Transdniester's normal citizens.
RFE/RL: But has Moldova itself massed any troops in the region?
VORONIN: God forbid! Not even one soldier or one policeman! All of our forces are exactly where they were last year. They are all following the orders of the Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry. There is not even one additional policeman, and there can't be.
RFE/RL: Mr. President, the new Romanian president, Traian Basescu, last month visited Moldova at your invitation. He was the first Romanian leader to visit Moldova in the past six years. Can we speak of a new beginning in Romanian-Moldovan relations?
VORONIN: I do hope so. With the election of Mr. Basescu, I already am convinced that our relations will change for the better, because Mr. Basescu showed during his very first visit to Moldova that he is a very pragmatic person who takes into account the existing realities between our two independent and sovereign countries -- not just historical or linguistic aspects, which were the basis of our relations previously.
RFE/RL: Can Romania effectively help Moldova in your attempt to have closer relations with the European Union (EU) and the West in general?
VORONIN: Relations between two neighboring countries can always be useful if they are well developed. We need a common position in Europe, and since Romania is more advanced than us on its road toward EU membership, it is obvious that Romania's experience will be very useful to us.
RFE/RL: How would you regard possible Romanian participation in the negotiations to resolve the Transdniester dispute, alongside Ukraine, the OSCE, Russia and maybe the Western institutions you mentioned, such as the EU or even the United States?
VORONIN: I talked to the media several days ago about the lack of perspectives in the five-party framework, and I said that it should be categorically changed to include the EU, the United States and, I wonder, why not our neighbor, Romania, which is already close to EU membership? We will be neighbors with an EU member. Why not include this country in the negotiations party?
RFE/RL: Since last summer, it has become noticeable that once-cordial relations between Moldova, on the one hand, and Russia and the CIS, on the other, have grown colder. At the same time, it has become clear that you were moving closer to the West. What determined this change of heart in a government which, at some point, was contemplating joining the Russia-Belarus Union?
VORONIN: We have never directly considered becoming a member of the Russia-Belarus Union. We simply studied this issue four or five years ago, when there was a period of great love, I should say, in this direction, when the Russia-Belarus Union was just about to happen. We wanted to study the issue -- what advantages we would have, and what priorities.
About cold relations: We cannot speak about colder relations per se, in the sense which you, the media, reflect. In all the fields of our bilateral relations with the Russian Federation, we have had very important successes. For example, trade between us grew 29 percent last year. We have good relations with the Russian regions, cultural relations...
RFE/RL: How about the most important relations, Mr. President -- the political relations?
VORONIN: Yes, I understand your question. We have only one disagreement -- the attitude toward resolving the Transdniester dispute. That is our only difference with the Russian Federation. There are no other differences or problems. But the way in which some officials and some structures in the Russian Federation are involved in resolving the Transdniester issue, that is worrying for us.
Furthermore, I believe that this five-party format [on Transdniester] helped more to strengthen the separatist regime than to resolve the dispute and reunify Moldova. This is the main issue. We are forced -- because reintegration [with Transdniester] is the most important, the most pressing, strategic problem for Moldova -- we are simply forced to seek a solution with the assistance of the European Union and other European countries.
RFE/RL: Estonian President Arnold Ruutel said last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin told him he favors a possible renunciation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Subsequently, a Kremlin press secretary (Dmitri Peskov) said it could be only a historical re-evaluation, and not a legal one, taking into account the current realities. Like the Baltic countries, Moldova, which was largely a part of Romania in 1939, has directly been affected by the Pact. How would you regard an eventual rebuttal of the Pact by Russia?
VORONIN: Whether the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is going to be annulled or not, it will not affect Moldova, because for us it was not an Anschluss-type act between [the Romanian province formerly known as] Bessarabia and Russia, as was the case with the Baltic countries. Bessarabia had been occupied between 1918 and 1940. This [pact] was not a realignment of borders. Bessarabia was occupied in 1918, when she was a component of the young Soviet Union, and that's why we are not affected. In 1940, our territory was liberated, and not occupied, as was the case with the Baltic countries or some parts of Poland under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
RFE/RL: You said that in 1940, the territory of your country was "liberated." From under what kind of occupation?
VORONIN: It was liberated from under the occupation of Romania.
RFE/RL: Moldova is preparing for general elections in less than a month. Do the recent political changes around Moldova have any impact on possible political changes after the elections? As president of the ruling Communist Party, do you worry that a so-called "orange" scenario, similar to the one in Ukraine, could occur in Moldova?
VORONIN: Such things do not affect our party. But they do have an impact on society, and it encourages the opposition, which does not have a chance to win the election unless it is through abusive ways, through all sorts of Orange Revolutions, or Rose or Sunflower revolutions. It does encourage them, because this opens a new situation, very serious and very unpleasant if we talk about true democracy. If one can accede to power not through free and democratic elections -- where each citizen has the possibility to express his vote and his vote is counted -- but can win through other methods, then we have gone back to the 13th, 14th or the 15th centuries.
And this epidemic can spread further, not only in Moldova, but in other countries, as well. This is a very dangerous phenomenon. Not because we are afraid to lose power -- we did not come to power for the sake of power, and we are not simply interested in keeping our chairs without doing anything to solve the problems of Moldova. We have solved very many problems in four years, and we have figures and results, with which we are not ashamed to go before the voters.
But if somebody prepares actions that resemble a coup, and not democratic elections, and if such plans will be supported by so-called democratic institutions from Europe or from other places, then let me wonder what democracy means. If this would affect only Moldova's Communist Party, that would be one thing. But if this is a problem that affects all democratic institutions in general and the whole meaning of a long-established democracy, then let me ask why such plans are financed and supported.
These are very serious questions, to which not only Moldova must answer. Moldova is a small country, and our influence is limited, and we know that. But what will be the final result of this revolutions epidemic? That's where the very serious problem lies.
RFE/RL: Some analysts speak about a possible ideological reorientation of the Communist Party toward social democracy. Is such a reorientation possible?
VORONIN: It is possible, because we are pragmatic people. I cannot look out of the window now, where it is minus 17 degrees Celsius in Chisinau, and say that it is a sunny spring day outside and the trees are blooming.
What is happening in our society, what the evolution of life tells us, and what the perspectives of the social development in the 21st century look like must be analyzed and considered by a party which tends to be a party of the masses, a party which is supported by the people. That's why we go along with the changes in society, with the technological and informational evolutions. We cannot remain stuck with the trends and concepts of the late 19th century or early 20th century. We support many of the current positions and programs of the Socialist International movement, or of other European political institutions. Such things are important for us not only at the concept level, but also at the practical level. We have proved this over the past four years. [We accepted] n-o dogmas, no "isms" of the past. We are building a social state, based on democracy and law, and human rights and so on.
RFE/RL: Will you run for a second term if the Communists win the election? And, if you are not going to be president, either because of the election result or because you will choose not to run, what will you do?
VORONIN: There is still no answer to this question. This issue has two sides. Regardless of my personal opinion or position, our party is based on strong discipline and organization. I will make my decision based on the party's decision and on the voters' decision. The majority which we hope we will gain in the election is clearly going to be the main force which will make us continue what we began four years ago. Personally, I would prefer a much younger (laughs) -- well, not much younger, but younger -- president, who would be protected, supported and helped to become stronger over a period of two presidential mandates. But I am also running for parliament, and I could become a simple legislator, or a parliament leader. However, I haven't ruled out the option of a second presidential term. But it will depend on the election result.
RFE/RL: So the only certain thing is that you are going to stay in politics?
VORONIN: Yes, yes, absolutely. I have also been elected president of the Communist Party for the next four years. It is clear that I will stay in politics, but in what capacity, we will see after the 6 March election.