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Moldova's political drama: New government enters, ex-leader flees

Vladimir Plahotniuc in the capital, Chisinau, last week. Days later, he'd flee the country. Photo: Vadim Denisov\TASS via Getty Images

After refusing to cede power for nearly a week, Moldova’s Democratic party finally surrendered last Friday under international pressure.

How it happened: The party’s leader, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, fled the country. He’s been accused of presiding over corruption and democratic backsliding. The new government consists of pro-EU and pro-Russia parties and was formed expressly to expel Plahotniuc from power.

Nicu Popescu, an academic and the former Soviet republic’s new foreign minister, says the coalition’s foreign policy gap can be bridged because most Moldovans want good relations with both Russia and the West.

  • “Listen, Moldova is a small country and a lot of players have a lot of influence in Moldova. Romania has influence, Russia has influence, the EU has influence, the U.S. has influence," he told Axios during a visit to Washington.
  • "The main question for us is, how do we ensure better economic development while maintaining our desire to be an independent state?”
  • "No matter what political forces say about their geopolitical preferences, they are constrained by the fact that the Moldovan economy is completely dependent on access to the European Union," which accounts for 60% of trade, and assistance from institutions like the World Bank, he says.

Between the lines: The Democrats announced their exit shortly after the U.S. began to apply pressure. Popescu says Plahotniuc's decision to flee the country was unprecedented in Moldova's post-independence history, adding: "Now my question is, what did he do wrong?"

  • He says the new government’s top priorities are to clean up the judiciary and investigate the previous government.
  • “What would not work from a Moldovan standpoint is to discover that hundreds of millions of euros have been stolen," Popescu says.

What to watch: Popescu conceded that Moldovan governments don’t tend to last long, and this coalition is a bit of an experiment.

“What I'm gearing myself up for is to do the maximum possible in politically shaky conditions … and then, once we will no longer be supported by a parliamentary majority, to withdraw with honor and hand in, respectfully, my dossiers to my successor.”