Moldova may be a fragile state today, but it has made a political breakthrough due to the snap elections in 2021 that brought pro-reform political forces to power. This unique breakthrough should be regarded as the largest “window of opportunity” ever available to work on (re-)building a country’s much-needed resilience.
There is a conventional assumption that Moldova is a “failed state”, which does not at all fit the situation on the ground, where the country shows a surprising degree of resilience. It is worth distinguishing between one’s ability to survive and the ability to “bounce back” or “forward”, which is common to the standard, rather academic, definition of resilience. A more practical approach to resilience comes from international development organisations, which view resilience as “the ability to absorb and recover from shocks”, “while transforming” taking into account “long-term stress, change and uncertainty”. Therefore, to understand where Moldova stands, the following analysis looks at the shortcomings that restrict its capacity for resilience, on the one hand, and the factors that have helped it stay afloat and withstand internal shocks, on the other.
Four aspects are the most important to assess the constraints under which a state operates and from which the degree of resistance can be deduced: (1) state authority; (2) enforcement of the rules; (3) control of violence; and (4) the provision of public services. In as far as Moldova is concerned, primo, despite the reliability and predictability deficit, the country still has sufficient internal and external authority to be part of and comply with international agreements. Segundo, the authorities can still set rules, respecting and importing the legislation of the global standard-setter, the EU, although they face challenges in ensuring proper enforcement. Tertio, it is true that Moldova does not represent a battlefield for military confrontations. However, there is a prolonged unresolved post-Soviet territorial conflict, which holds the country back and perpetuates uncertainty for national and regional stability and security. Cuarto, unlike a “failed state”, Moldova has public authorities that do provide services. Obviously, they may not always be of adequate quality, but the population has access to them, accepting their widespread imperfections and likely shortages, largely due to a lack of alternatives.
The Fragile States Index paints an accurate picture of the year-on-year decline in Moldova’s state performance, from the 57th place in 2006, to the 103rd in 2021 (out of 179 countries). Such decline is consequential for the state’s potential to generate and display resilience.
This mixed picture described above does not intend to underestimate the actual steadfast decline that Moldova has experienced throughout its 30 years of existence as an independent state. On the contrary, the nuances that describe the state at different levels of state affairs are indicative of the unevenness of existing resources and capacities. In addition, these have eroded over the last decade and even reached a dangerous point when the governing system fell into “state capture” mode in the period 2015-2019. The Fragile States Index paints an accurate picture of the year-on-year decline in state performance, from the 57th place in 2006, to the 103rd in 2021 (out of 179 countries). Such decline is consequential for the state’s potential to generate and display resilience. There are many problematic areas. The economic stagnation is acute, more recently due to the inefficient tools applied to mitigate the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The growing public distrust of state institutions, except the church and the military, has put the state in trouble. Amid multiplying adversities, such as droughts, torrential rains, floods, all accelerated by climate change, state institutions do not benefit from the close understanding and cooperation of a skeptical society. As a common characteristic, citizens find themselves in distress at home due to economic hardships or frequent political crises and uncertainty. Alternatively, they plan to emigrate as one of the most common survival strategies among Moldovans of all age categories. The country’s fragile budget balance finds itself under severe strain due to declining demographics, which creates cascading effects that far outweigh the country’s long-term financial stability. In short, without solid human capital, which becomes scarce or underdeveloped due to the lack of financial resources from the state, the capacity to generate resilience, from the national to the individual level, is limited.
Vulnerability everywhere, but some areas need immediate attention
Based on the OECD’s Resilience System Analysis (RSA), which operates with six dimensions of resilience – financial, human, natural, physical, political and social – this analysis aims to emphasise only those that are considered to have the highest destabilising potential in the face of an eventual local or external shock.
To begin with, the endemic corruption constitutes the greatest vulnerability in the political realm, undermining democratic practices, primarily good governance, and affecting the preparedness of state institutions. Therefore, instead of catering exclusively to the public interest, institutions begin to serve private objectives that are often mixed with political loyalty in the distribution of public finances. This problem is widespread among the heads of the local public administration, state agencies and the courts. The Corruption Perception Index has always identified high levels of corruption in Moldova, with the worst ranking in 2016, when it came in at the 123rd place out of 176 countries. Public polls also attest that corruption has been leading the list of the population’s main worries: concern with the extent of corruption has grown from 5-7% in 2010-2012 to 20-25% in 2020-2021, to the point where it is perceived as being as important as economic development and the improvement of living conditions.
The endemic corruption constitutes the greatest vulnerability in the political realm, undermining democratic practices, primarily good governance, and affecting the preparedness of state institutions.
Another problematic aspect is the great distrust of the judiciary in Moldova, which may have social implications. More precisely, the inability to enforce the rule of law leads to the loss of strategic state assets and other types of office abuse. This affects citizens’ trust in public authorities and their willingness to be cooperative, as clearly shown by the slow vaccination process during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the state’s responsiveness to a crisis can become fragmented, slow and ineffective. The monumental combination of corruption and lack of professionalism in the judicial system revolves primarily around a few specific themes. The many lost cases in the European Court of Human Rights, due to questionable decisions issued by local judges, have costed the public budget large sums (about 19 million euro in 1998-2020). It is worth remembering here the facilitation of the “Russian laundromat” by a group of at least 13 Moldovan judges, who helped divert about $ 18-20 billion from Russia by legalising fictitious debts that enabled transfers from Russian enterprises and banks through Moldovan banks further to offshore companies. Finally, another severe episode of political favouritism and lack of professionalism was represented by the annulment of local elections in the capital city of Chisinau in 2018.
Last but not least, in terms of physical resilience, Moldova lacks a reliable power supply due to (in)direct dependence on electricity and gas supplies from the east. Russia’s unpredictability and its weaponisation of energy for political purposes has turned inherited connectivity from the Soviet era into a structural weakness today. The electricity sector depends on supplies from Ukraine, but even more from Moldova’s breakaway region (Transnistria), which being a de facto Russian exclave can turn into a geopolitical card at any time. Under pressure from the Energy Community and EU assistance, national electricity procurement has become more transparent in the last 5 years. However, there is little interest from Ukrainian suppliers, due to the Cuciurgan power station situated in the Transnistrian region, that produces electricity based on Russian gas for which it does not pay. As a result, the Moldovan gas operator “MoldovaGaz”, 50% of the shares of which are owned by Gazprom, continues to accumulate debts to Russia, now amounting to more than $ 7.4 billion. The unresolved gas debt problem debilitates the energy sector as a whole. A similarly complicated situation is observed in the gas sector that is undergoing tectonic changes through the implementation of the EU’s Third Energy Package (since 2009). However, the country is still in the process of separating the producer from the supplier, which may break the Russian monopoly. The gas pipeline connecting Moldova with Romania, expanded in 2014-2020, is a way out towards greater diversity and predictability in terms of geography of supply, especially in the cold season. Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Romania-Moldova gas pipeline is supposed to be operational in 2021, direct contracts with Russia still appear to be more attractive, due to direct price negotiations with Gazprom. Romania’s energy system could provide a valuable boost to energy resilience, after the high voltage line in southern Romania is connected to the centre of Moldova, which is forecasted to happen by 2024.
Russia’s unpredictability and its weaponisation of energy for political purposes has turned inherited connectivity from the Soviet era into a structural weakness today.
Options for increased resilience
Resolving or at least mitigating the aforementioned vulnerabilities that undermine Moldova’s resilience requires the proper functioning of state institutions, public trust in these institutions, and decision-makers driven by the public interest. One way to improve the preparedness of institutions in the face of a crisis, from the local authorities to the national law enforcement sector, is to counter corruption through zero tolerance policies, capacity-building and the empowerment of the integrity agency, to restore the trustworthiness of the public sector. A reliable general prosecutor and court system are also of the essence. The state’s response capacity requires a solid mechanism of early warning systems and crisis management in the field of hybrid or conventional threats. However, more than that, state authorities need the public to trust them so as to follow official instructions during critical situations, such as a pandemic. For this, the comprehensive cleansing of the judiciary is essential, as it can restore the credibility of protection against abuses committed by corrupt public servants. Furthermore, a reliable judicial system will strengthen state structures, making them more accountable and therefore resistant to all kinds of uncertainty. The physical infrastructure is also of the utmost importance. Therefore, the weaknesses of the energy sector should be resolved sooner rather than later, especially given the geopolitical characteristics of this problem that gives Russia important levers on Moldova’s energy sustainability. Functional interconnections with Romania, as well as Ukraine, may be the best solutions for investing in the country’s energy resilience.
Resolving or at least mitigating some of the core vulnerabilities that undermine Moldova’s resilience requires the proper functioning of state institutions, public trust in these institutions, and decision-makers driven by the public interest.
Moldova may be a fragile state today,
but it has made a political breakthrough due to the snap elections in 2021 that
brought pro-reform political forces to power. This unique breakthrough should be
regarded as the largest “window of opportunity” ever available to
work on (re-)building a country’s much-needed resilience. The pandemic and the
multiplication of natural disasters in neighbouring regions, caused by climate
change, together with new adversities such as cyberattacks, show that
resilience will become one of the most valuable assets that a country must have
in the coming years.
 OECD, Guidelines for Resilience Systems Analysis: How to analyze risk and build a roadmap to resilience, 2014, https://www.oecd.org/dac/conflict-fragility-resilience/Resilience%20Systems%20Analysis%20FINAL.pdf
 Denis Cenusa, The Downfall of a Captured State, New Eastern Europe, 2019, https://neweasterneurope.eu/2019/11/13/the-downfall-of-a-captured-state/
 OECD, Guidelines for Resilience Systems Analysis: How to analyse risk and build a roadmap to resilience, 2014, https://www.oecd.org/dac/conflict-fragility-resilience/Resilience%20Systems%20Analysis%20FINAL.pdf
 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2016/index/nzl
 CRJM, The Republic Moldova at the European Court of Human Rights in 2020, https://crjm.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Nota-analitica-CEDO-2021.pdf
 The Russian Laundromat, 2014, https://www.occrp.org/en/laundromat/russian-laundromat/
 Cotidianul.md, 2020, https://cotidianul.md/2020/10/21/ce-spune-fostul-sef-al-procuraturii-anticoruptie-despre-cei-13-judecatori-din-dosarul-laundromat-ce-scapa-de-invinuiri/
 Anticoruptie.md, 2015, https://anticoruptie.md/ro/investigatii/justitie/prin-intermediul-sistemului-judecatoresc-din-r-moldova-au-fost-spalate-18-miliarde-de-dolari-din-2010-incoace-ii
 Moldovans Protest Nullification of Chisinau’s Mayoral Election Results, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/moldovans-protest-nullification-chisinau-mayoral-election/29316498.html
 Intellinews, 2017, https://www.intellinews.com/moldova-resumes-electricity-imports-from-transnistria-123028/
 US International Trade Administration, https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/moldova-energy
 IPN, https://www.ipn.md/ro/presedintele-moldovagaz-datoria-fata-de-gazprom-este-una-comerciala-7965_1070511.html