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#OperationMorkovka: Moscow finances pro-Russian parties in Moldova

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In Russian mafia slang, "Morkovka" means "to fraud" or "to bribe relevant actors in order to determine a favorable decision or actions in one’s behalf`. Recent opinion polls show grim predictions for the Communist Socialist Electoral Block (BECS) and for the Shor Party in the upcoming early parliamentary elections due to take place on July 11. Regardless of the various realistic scenarios, the fact of the matter is that it will be extremely difficult for the two parties to gain a parliamentary majority, writes Henry St George.

Nevertheless, there are certain actions that might shift the results of the elections in the offing or, worst case scenario for the Socialists, they might at least sweeten their failure.

In the attempt to secure a better result for the upcoming elections, on the 24th of June 2021, Igor Dodon, current president of the Moldovan Socialist Party and former president of the Republic of Moldova, travelled to Moscow to strategize with the Russian FSB (internal security agency) the upcoming campaign activities for his Socialist Party (PSRM) and to negotiate the new funding for the last leg of the campaign.

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The #Morkovka investigation is based on a set of evidence extracted from within the PSRM.

Igor Chaika is the son of Yuri Chaika, former General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation. Igor Chaika is a close business associate of Alexander Dodon, the brother of former Moldavian president Igor Dodon.
Chaika is quite active in the mass-media landscape of the Republic of Moldova, as he is co-owner of TV stations "Accent TV” and "Primul în Moldova” (translated "First in Moldova”). Our sources say that Chaika and the FSB are coordinating their political and business moves in the Republic of Moldova.

A series of online conversations between Igor Dodon and user "Igor Yurievich Ch", who turned out to be none other than Igor Chaika, contain several documents that concern the 11th of July elections. The documents were sent by Igor Dodon to Chaika. We checked the data, and what we are about to unveil is the results of our efforts to corroborate information from various sources. We will reveal the mechanisms concocted by the Moldovan Socialist Party and its Communist ally for the last leg of the electoral campaign, with Moscow’s direct involvement and approval.

Some events that will take place prior to the 11th of July as well as after the elections might be explained by evidence our investigation has unearthed.

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THE ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN (21st of June -11th of July)
According to the documents, the expenses planned by BECS for the electoral campaign, in the time frame between June 21st and July 11th, were estimated to be of 91 927 575 MDL, which is approximately 4 275 701 EUR. At the time that the documents came into our possession, BECS did not have the entire sum for the campaign (it only had 39 345 000 MDL, approximately 1 830 000 EUR). To cover all its necessary costs, BECS needed an additional sum of 65 482 575 MDL (3 045 701 EUR).

The Communist Socialist Electoral Bloc is a Soviet-style political vehicle, with grassroots organizations, territorial branches and a strict set of electoral activities. Their action plan divides the Republic of Moldova in five geographical areas (North, South, Gagauz and Kishinev). In each region, mobile squads are active and campaign tents are installed. The incurred expenses are: canvassing (billboards, banners, flyers, posters, and newspapers), "classic” media (radio and TV electoral spots) and social media. We have noticed that amongst the planned activities was the 4th of July Kishinev march and several music concerts, to be held in 25 municipalities. The concerts take up most of the allotted budget, reaching a cost of 300 000 EUR. On a well-deserved second place is the cost for printing the 3 million flyers that BECS intends to distribute on the day of the elections. The total for the Communist-Socialist electoral campaign amounts to 4 875 701 EUR. At the time when the leaked documents came into our possession, BECS was 3 045 701 EUR short. Not only that, but Dodon reported to Chaika the electoral activities conducted during 1st May until 21st of June.


Link to translations of above photos available here
„New” Media (aka social media) is an important part of the BECS’s electoral campaign, with an allotment of  100 000 EUR. This amount was put to use in full, with a prolific production of dozens of clips, posted both on YouTube and on Odnoklassniki (ok.ru). The clips enjoyed a heavy promotion, most likely by trolls, gathering several thousands of views and likes.

Link to translations of above photos available here

The online campaign is adapted to the "vehicles" used for conveying the electoral messaging (Facebook, mail.ru, VK.ru, Google Adwords, Youtube, Viber, Admixer, other sites that host publicity banners etc.). Moreover, it is also tailored to several clearly defined types of audiences, according to age, geographical area, social and educational background etc.  For this segment, BECS has allotted 100 000 EUR.

The video production for the BECS campaign was prolific, as dozens of high-quality clips were produced and distributed on social networks. The clips, many of which benefited from high-end graphics, gathered hundreds of thousands of views.

While skimming through the campaign plan we noticed the extensive amount of resources involved for mobilising the electorate in the North and South regions. To achieve its objectives in the two regions, BECS estimated that they would need 2 067 agitators in the North of the Republic of Moldova and 2 932 agitators in the South. Of course, the agitators would have to be paid for their efforts. The total costs for ensuring the success of this campaign activity amounts to 513 686 EUR.

Link to translation of the above image here
Needless to say, a special attention is given to Election Day. The plan dedicates a separate chapter to the 11th of July. The description used by the Socialists for this stage is somewhat of a truism, as they state that Election Day “is the final stage of the electoral campaign and is of great significance, considering that it has the potential to considerably influence the outcome of the elections”.

Link to translations of above photos available here

A particular type of attention is given to the activities planned to take place on the 11th of July. By and large, they fall into two main categories:

  1. monitoring polling stations, to prevent any fraud attempts by political adversaries;
  2. mobilising measures, aimed at ensuring a high participation rate for BECS voters.

The budget for Election Day amounts to 2 730 558 EUR. The costs are divided into several subcategories. Part of the expenses are meant for the payment of BECS representatives in the electoral commissions, of favorable observers, as well as of other types of members of the electoral commissions from the polling stations in the Republic of the Moldova and in Western Europe that might act according to the Bloc’s interests and strategies.

When it comes to the second main category (measures for mobilization), the amounts budgeted are meant for paying off agitators, commissioning transportation for bringing voters to polling stations (bluntly put, for electoral "tourism") and other "current expenses".

There are, however, two special categories, that need further investigation:

  • Transdnistria – 30 000 votes (budget 1 050 000 EUR)
  • Morkovka (budget 1 500 000 EUR)

Alas, neither the document, nor Dodon’s conversation with Chaika could provide us with additional details of what the two categories entail exactly. Nonetheless, we can make an educated guess that the allotted budget for Transdnistria is planned for buying off 30.000 votes from this region, favorable to BECS.

We have already pointed out what "Morkovka" means. A staggering sum of 1 500 000 EUR was budgeted by BECS for electoral frauds.

Now let us move further into our investigative journey and compare the documents from Igor Dodon’s phone to the expenses officially declared by BECS during the ongoing electoral campaign. Right of the bat, one can easily notice significant discrepancies between the declared amounts and the budget sent to Chaika. This, by itself, is a clear evidence that BECS did not declare a significant portion of its electoral expenses.


UNDECLARED EXPENSES OF THE COMMUNIST SOCIALIST ELECTORAL BLOC
The difference between the amount BECS declared to the Central Electoral Commission and the amount shown in Dodon’s private documents is of 35 709 606.52 MDL, which is to say of approximately 1 million EUR. There is probable cause to suspect that, in reality, BECS is engaging in its electoral campaign financial resources that are far greater than those officially declared to the Moldovan authorities.
Link to translations of above photos available here

According to the Moldovan Law, it is compulsory for the electoral contestants to declare the sources used for financing their campaigns. According to a rule approved by the Republic of Moldova Central Electoral Commission’s decision no. 2704 from the 17th of September 2019, political parties must file regular reports and observe a certain standardised format concerning the amounts of money they employ in their electoral campaigns. As the Central Electoral Commission’s webpage demonstrates, the most recent such report from BECS was filed on the 2nd of July.

The document is signed by Ecaterina Iepure (the Bloc’s Treasurer) and was registered by the Central Electoral Commission during the same day (2nd of July). This particular report states that, up until the abovementioned date, BECS spent on its electoral campaign the total amount of 3 635 393.48 MDL (aproximately 169 232.11 EUR).

Link to translation here

When comparing the amounts declared to the Central Electoral Commission by BECS and the figures advanced in the Bloc’s leader "unofficial documents", one cannot help but notice several major discrepancies. For example, in the report available on the Central Electoral Commission’s site, BECS declared that the total value of its publicity expenses (television, radio, written press, banners, billboards, other electronic media) amounted to 1 996 261.45 MDL (approximately 92 928.47 EUR), whereas, in the documents extracted from Dodon’s phone, the costs of Internet advertising alone amount to 2 150 000 MDL (approximately 100 085.19 EUR).

Advertising costs (original + English translation)

Each and every piece of evidence presented in our investigation indicates an elaborate mechanism employed by the Russian Federation through FSB hands to pump funds into the pro-Russian political parties in Moldova, without any consideration or respect for the rule of law. The Russian Federation is using Igor Chaika’s companies as a front to funnel funds to the Socialist Party of the Republic Moldova. The stake at play is quite pragmatic, regardless of geopolitics, and boils down to protecting FSB backed Russian investments in Moldova. Hundreds of millions of Euros are laundered by Russian companies through the Republic of Moldova, with the aid of the FSB. The FSB Generals are well aware of this practice and turn "a blind eye" as long as they receive their cut. Beseda is one of them.  

When it comes to the small eastern-European Republic of Moldova, Russia if far more concerned to protect its illicit income sources than to maintain its geopolitical influence. For the Kremlin as well as for Lubianka, Moldova is either a money laundering safe heaven or a docile "milking cow". To protect their heinous schemes, the Russians will spare no effort and continue to allot generous budgets to corrupt politicians and government employees that will keep the country in a state of perpetual control and impoverishment.

The "Billion Theft" scandal that dragged Moldova to the murk and mud is a clear example of Russian malign influence in the region. "Morkovka" is not something of a singularity, but more of a norm. We believe our investigation unveiled only a small fragment of the depths of Russian involvement in Moldovan politics.

Moldova

Moldovans see Russia as its biggest threat and EU integration as a national objective

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A recent survey ordered by NATO Moldova Center for Information and Documentation showed that Russia represent the biggest security threat for the greatest number of Moldavians answering the survey, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

As the country is celebrating its 30 years of independence from the former USSR, present day Russia is regarded by 24.1% of respondents as the biggest source of danger for the security of the Republic of Moldova. Russia is followed in this ranking by terrorist groups with 20.5%, NATO with 10.5%, USA with 10.2% and neighboring Romania with 4.4%.

The results of the survey come on the backdrop of the Kiev Summit and the launch of "Crimea Platform" that took place in Kiev on August 23. The event was attended by representatives from 46 countries that supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including the Republic of Moldova with President Maia Sandu also being present. The Crimean platform adopted a final statement condemning the occupation and militarization of the Russian-annexed peninsula in 2014. Russia's foreign ministry responded saying that Russia will take note of the position of states participating in the Crimean Platform summit and draw "appropriate conclusions", seeing it as "an attack on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation."

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Viorel Cibotaru, director of the European Institute of Political Studies in Moldova, co-founder of CID NATO, says that interest in security is not limited to the survey that says which country Moldovans fear most, but would like to be a starting point for other topics of debate and action in the field of institution reform, and also the development of a better culture for reforming and debating about the country’s security infrastructure.

The survey also showed that 65% of Moldavians consider the country to be heading towards closer ties with the EU. Amongst the results, Russia was mentioned by 9% of respondents and Romania - almost 5% as countries towards which Moldova looks to aim for closer ties.

As for the direction respondents personally wished the country was heading towards, they would like to see Moldova moving towards the EU -about 50% of the respondents-, towards Russia - 21% and about 2% he would like Moldova to have closer ties with neighboring Romania.

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Moldova's recently elected pro-European president, as well the current parliamentary majority, want to take the country towards EU and the West, different from the previous Eastern looking and Russian orientated administration.

This summer, president Sandu’s pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity secured a majority of votes in the parliamentary elections. Sandu became Moldova’s president at the end of last year following also a large support from Moldova’s considerable diaspora. For example, during the parliamentary elections more than 86% of Moldovan citizens abroad backed President Maia Sandu's Action and Solidarity Party (PAS). The PAS victory offers Sandhu a friendly legislature to work with while trying to put the country on a path to European integration.

But in order for country to move towards EU integration, much needs to be done. Moldova needs an overhaul of its governance and a drastic break with past oligarch practices - which the current government has said it will undertake.

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Bulgaria

Election weekend in Eastern Europe brings unexpected change and hope for progress

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On Sunday (11 July), Bulgarians went to the polls for a second time in less than six months after former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov failed to form a governing coalition following April’s parliamentary election, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

With 95% of ballots tallied, former Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's GERB center-right party came out first winning 23.9% of the vote, according to data provided by the Central Election Commission.

Borisov's party is neck and neck with the newcomer anti-establishment party "There is such a people" (ITN), lead by singer and television presenter Slavi Trifonov.

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Borissov’s narrow lead might not be enough for him to retake control of government.

Anti-corruption parties "Democratic Bulgaria" and "Stand up! Mafia, out! ”, ITN's potential coalition partners received 12.6% and 5% of the vote, respectively. The Socialists obtained 13.6%, and the MRF party, representing ethnic Turks, 10.6%.

Some political pundits have speculated that ITN, Trifonov's party - which avoided forming a governing coalition in April - could now try to form a majority with the liberal alliance Democratic Bulgaria and Stand Up! Mafia out! parties. This would see a populist party with no clear political agenda taking power. However, the three parties may not get the majority needed to form a government and may be forced to seek support from members of the Socialist Party or the Movement for the Rights and Freedom of Ethnic Turks.

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Boiko Borisov's GERB center-right party which has been in power for almost the entire past decade has been tainted by graft scandals and the continuous nation-wide protests which only ended in April.

In Republic of Moldova, president Sandu’s pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity secured a majority of votes in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. As Moldova is trying to get out of Russia’s grip and head towards Europe, the election struggle again saw pro-Europeans and pro-Russians locking horns. The two directions are antagonistic and were an additional reason for the division of society, which fails to find its link to build together the future of the poorest state in Europe.

More than 3.2 million Moldovans were expected to get out and vote to nominate their representatives in the future parliament in Chisinau, but the real impact was done by Moldavians living abroad. Moldovian diaspora help Sandu’s pro-European party secure the win and thus possibly opening the way for Republic of Moldova future European integration.

More than 86% of Moldovan citizens abroad, who voted in Sunday's early parliamentary elections, backed President Maia Sandu's Action and Solidarity Party (PAS). A PAS victory offers Sandhu a friendly legislature to work with while trying to put the country on a path to European integration.

Maia Sandu promised before the Sunday vote that a win for her party would bring the country back into the European fold, focusing on better relations with both neighboring Romania and Brussels.

Much like it happened during November’s vote which saw Maia Sandu winning the presidency, Moldavians living aboard made all the difference as a good many voted for pro-European candidates.

Talking to EU Reporter, Armand Gosu, associate professor at Bucharest University and specialist in the ex-Soviet region said about the pro-European win that “this victory creates the preconditions for a new wave of reforms, especially in the judiciary and the fight against corruption, reforms aimed at creating a favorable internal framework for foreign investment that will ultimately lead to an increase in living standards, the rule of law and a high degree of resilience in the face of foreign interference. Sunday’s result is a start, there have been other such beginnings, but in order to lead somewhere, the EU must also change its approach and offer a concrete perspective.”

Armand Gosu told EU Reporter that “Republic of Moldova is invited to reform itself, to enter into various cooperation mechanisms with the EU, to open its market for European products and to become more and more compatible with EU standards“ but becoming a potential EU member country may take many decades to happen.

Mentioning the Russian influence in the Republic of Moldova, Gosu said that we will see a clear detachment from Russian sphere of influence after the final results are in and after we will have new parliamentary majorities.

“When speaking about Russian influence, things are more complicated. The false pro-European governments that held power in Chisinau -referring to the ones controlled by the fugitive oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc- abused the geo-political discourse, the anti-Russian rhetoric in order to legitimize themselves in front of the West. Maia Sandu's party is pro-European in another way. She talks about the values ​​of the free world and not about the Russian threat as a pretext to limit civil liberties, to arrest people and to outlaw associations or even parties. I believe that Maia Sandu has a correct approach, making profound reforms that will fundamentally transform Moldovan society. In fact, the premises for Moldova's exit from Russian sphere influence were created 7 years ago, after the outbreak of the war between Ukraine and Russia, in the spring of 2014. The result of the vote indicates a social demand from society to move towards West, to support radical change, 30 years after independence.”

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European elections

Pro-Western party wins Moldova election, preliminary data shows

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People queue to receive ballots during a vote at a snap parliamentary election, in Chisinau, Moldova July 11, 2021.  REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
Moldova's President Maia Sandu waits to receive her ballot during a snap parliamentary election, in Chisinau, Moldova July 11, 2021.  REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza

Pro-Western Moldovan President Maya Sandu's PAS party won the country's snap parliamentary elections, data from the central election commission showed on Monday, on a platform of fighting corruption and carrying out reforms, writes Alexander Tanas.

Sandu hopes to win a majority in the 101-seat chamber to implement reforms she says were blocked by allies of her pro-Russian predecessor, Igor Dodon.

After the counting of 99.63% of ballots, only three political forces will be represented in the new chamber, the data showed. PAS had 52.60% of the vote, while its main rival, Dodon's Socialists and Communists bloc, had 27.32%.

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The party of Ilan Shor, a businessman convicted of fraud and money-laundering in connection with a $1 billion bank scandal, received 5.77% of the vote. Shor denies wrongdoing.

The West and Russia vie for influence in the tiny ex-Soviet republic of 3.5 million people, which is one of Europe's poorest nations and has suffered a sharp economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favours closer ties with the European Union, defeated Dodon last year but was forced to share power with the parliament elected in 2019 and the government run by lawmakers aligned with Dodon.

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In April, Sandu dissolved parliament, in which PAS had 15 lawmakers while Dodon's Socialists had 37. Together with allies he controlled a majority of 54 deputies.

"I hope that Moldova will end today a difficult era, the era of the rule of thieves in Moldova. Our citizens must feel and experience the benefits of a clean parliament and government that cares about people's problems," Sandu said on Facebook.

She said that after the final count of votes she intended to form a new government as soon as possible.

The distribution of seats in parliament is not yet clear, as the votes cast for the parties that did not win enough votes to enter parliament will be distributed among the winners.

Moldova, sandwiched between Ukraine and EU member Romania, has been dogged by instability and corruption scandals in recent years, including the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system.

Dodon, a regular guest in Moscow, has formed an electoral bloc with the communists who have accused Sandu of pursuing a pro-Western policy that would lead to the collapse of the state.

"I appeal to the future deputies of the new parliament: we must not allow a new political crisis in Moldova. It would be nice to have a period of political stability," Dodon said after the election.

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