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A FOE TURNED FRIEND

On the face of it, he is a perfect opposition politician – all righteous anger and condemnation when you browse through his social networks or listen to him speaking in front of a rally with his supporters.

Igor Dodon, an ex-President of Moldova and one of the country’s most prominent politicians, does not mince words when it comes to bashing the incumbent Maia Sandu or her ruling PAS party whom he accuses of having turned Moldova into a dictatorship. Switching fluently between Russian and Romanian, he tours Moldova calling on his supporters to “send a clear message to the authorities that they are no longer legitimate.” His anti-Western stance has even earned him a reputation of the most pro-Russian politician in Moldova who once came to power by capitalizing on a photograph with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and was Putin’s only foreign guest of honor at a military parade in Moscow in 2017.

Mr. Dodon lost to Sandu in a 2020 run-off and has been at the helm of the largest opposition Socialist Party which has been extensively using its podium in national Parliament to criticize the ruling regime in Chisinau. The verbal attacks by Mr. Dodon are aimed, among everything else, against Sandu’s hobbies like European integration, fighting corruption or distancing from Russia. In a recent post on Telegram Mr. Dodon called Ms. Sandu “Moldova’s Gorbachev”, pointing to a similarity between the two politicians who were “disliked domestically… but applauded abroad.”

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The authorities retaliate by legal persecution – over the past year alone, courts in Moldova have received three criminal cases against Mr. Dodon in which he is accused of various crimes ranging from using fake documents, to corruption, to treason. Mr. Dodon responds by claiming political persecution and proudly wears the unofficial title of the “first ex-president in the dock.”

But beyond this classic political scuffle between arch-enemies in a former USSR republic, may lurk something that points to where Mr. Dodon’s real preferences are. Brush away his or his party’s fuming anti-Sandu rhetoric and to the core comes Mr. Dodon’s eyebrow-raising readiness to cooperate and play ball with a camp which, one would surmise, Mr. Dodon would take no prisoners.

Shortly after the November 2023 local elections where Ms. Sandu’s PAS party showed a disastrously poor result having lost to opposition forces in all the 11 largest cities in Moldova, critics started pointing out to a surprising phenomenon. Mr. Dodon’s Socialist party on the ground all of a sudden began voting in tandem with local PAS functionaries, thus enabling the latter to secure key positions in local administrations.

When asked about the unusual turnaround, Mr. Dodon refuted rumors of coalitions being forged with his political opponents whom he and his Socialist Parteigenossen like to accuse of plunging the nation into ruin and disrepair. “The Socialists have no intention to give up on our agenda. We continue to stand for the removal of Maia Sandu and PAS from power. The joint vote… at a local level on some of the issues does not mean that coalitions are being formed. We will analyze all these situations and will look into each particular case, and will pass appropriate decisions…. We have no intention to form any alliances with PAS,” Mr. Dodon said in one of his recent interviews.

But whatever reason Mr. Dodon may be ready to offer to his bemused supporters and his friends in Moscow, his party actions clearly speak louder that words. If there is one person Ms. Sandu could thank for doing a de-facto damage control on her party’s humiliating performance in the latest elections, it would be her sworn enemy Igor Dodon. And this peculiar twist is an important factor that European decision makers need to bear in mind when dealing with whomever sits in office in Chisinau – Moldova’s political landscape is fluid, unpredictable and does not lend itself to careful calculation.

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