Meet Vladimir Putin’s Moldovan fans who would welcome a Russian invasion

KOMRAT, Moldova—Russian pop music was playing at Café Augusto in the Gagauzia region of Moldova, where four local teachers gathered for coffee. They discussed the latest headlines gripping the country: soaring inflation; the recent bomb threats against public buildings and the Russian attacks on the Ukrainian city of Odessa, located just over three hours drive from the cafe.

But when they got to the biggest news to come out of Moldova in recent weeks – that the country could be Russia’s next target after Ukraine – teachers seemed more excited than terrified by the prospect.

“That would be great,” one of the teachers, Anzhela, 36, told The Daily Beast. “Maybe Russian gas will be cheaper for us.”

The European Union granted Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people, candidate status in June. But the more Moldova aligns itself with the West, the more pro-Russian regions like Gagauzia are seething with separatist ideas. This comes at a time when the main Kremlin propagandist, Vladimir Soloviev, announced live on television that Russia’s plan in southern Ukraine was to “reach Transnistria”, the breakaway territory of Moldova.

“If Russia attacks us, what will we do? Will we send the army to defend us with a hoe? Moldovan President Mayu Sandu warned last week. “We don’t want to get involved in war, but it’s a reality we have to be prepared for.”

Maia Sandu and Volodymyr Zelensky.

Hennadii Minchenko/Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty

The most influential leader of the country’s pro-Russian movement is former president and opposition leader Igor Dodon, a man so loyal to Vladimir Putin that he has earned nicknames like “Putin’s mini-me” and “the tsar’s doormat”. As president, he went so far as to say that Moldova needed a “patriot” like Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader, on the other hand, seems acutely aware of Dodon’s affinity for him: he once publicly suggested that the Moldovan politician was his personal jester.

Dodon, who lost to Sandu in Moldova’s 2020 elections, has been a vocal advocate of the Kremlin’s agenda since the early days of the war in Ukraine. During Victory Day celebrations in Russia on May 9, he organized protests against the outright banning of the St. George ribbon, a black and orange symbol of the Russian military, as well as the letters Z and V, which President Sandu described them as “symbols”. of war and aggression” in Ukraine.

That day, Dodon and at least a few hundred other politicians, including a dozen MPs, decorated themselves with the forbidden ribbons and marched to Victory Memorial Park and Eternal Flame in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau along with thousands of other protesters. .

Putin and Igor Dodon in 2017.

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

Several weeks later, a Moldovan court arrested Dodon for high treason and corruption. But even now, under house arrest, Dodon continues to post pro-Russian and anti-Sandu statements to his many Telegram followers. “The ruling party does not deserve its mandate and must be overthrown, in order to hold early elections and restore normal life and stable economic development in Moldova,” he wrote earlier this month. His posts prompted Dodon supporters to demonstrate in the town’s central square, where hundreds continued to gather to demand change with chants like “Sandu out!” Moldova wants a new life!

In Gagauzia, local authorities are now threatening President Sandu with an ultimatum. “We were against integration into the European Union, so we sent a very clear reminder to our authorities the other day that if they allow Moldova to integrate into the EU and lose its independence, we reach out to friendly countries for justice, including Turkey and Russia,” Moldovan MP Georgy Leichu told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “Of course we sympathize with Russia, we see Putin as a strong leader and Transnistria sympathizes with him. It wouldn’t take long to start a protest movement and overthrow Sandu. Our people want to join Russia, but under the same conditions as in the Soviet Union, as equal members.

Leichu is a Putin fan despite the nearly five-month vicious war that has destroyed dozens of Ukrainian cities and killed thousands of civilians. “A majority of Moldovans love Putin more than any other post-Soviet leader because he’s strong, he wins, it’s easier for people to understand what he wants,” Leichu said. “Our recent problems with Russia started after President Sandu decided not to go to Moscow and meet Putin. Inflation is already at 32% and Sandu fails to explain to our audience why life without Russia and as an ally of the European Union would be better.

“If Putin takes power, we will have a decent life.”

If the approval ratings are any indication, the threat to Sandhu’s authority is growing day by day. According to IData, Sandu’s ruling Action and Solidarity Party has 22.6% of public support, while Dodon’s pro-Russian Socialist Party and Communist Party bloc is at 26.3% .

Another passionate Dodon ally who spoke to The Daily Beast, MP Bogdan Tsyrdea, warned that “social unrest and explosive street protests” were coming to Moldova. “Police arrested Dodon on Sandu’s birthday, May 24,” Tsyrdea fumed, smoking a cigarette. “It doesn’t make sense. Sandu has turned Moldova into a colony of Britain and America.

Vladislav Culiomza/Reuters

Back at Agusto Café, the teachers at the school had a much simpler rationale for their allegiance to Russia and Vladimir Putin. They complained of low incomes and the fact that they could not understand how they personally benefited from pro-Western politics.

“We speak Russian, we teach at school in Russian, we all have relatives in Russia, while under this government we already have 30% inflation, more than in war-torn Ukraine. Our salaries are crazy! the oldest teacher in the group, Tatiana, 62, told The Daily Beast. “If Putin takes power, we will have a decent life.”

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