The good news just keeps going Putin's way. Just days after Trump defeated the Kremlin's nemesis Hillary Clinton, and at the same time as NATO is panicking over a potential shift in strategy and funding by the Trump administration and as Russian forces prepare for another blitz assault on Syria to cement their hold over Syria, on Sunday pro-Russian candidates won presidential elections in Moldova and Bulgaria on Sunday, giving Moscow new allies in its efforts to regain influence in parts of Eastern Europe it regards as its backyard. And while Russia is the clear winner, one loser to emerge bruised from the two votes is the European Union.
In the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Socialist party candidate Igor Dodon won 55.5% of the vote, according to preliminary results from Moldova’s electoral commission, beating his pro-European Union rival, Maia Sandu, in a second-round runoff.
In Bulgaria, Socialist-backed Rumen Radev secured 58.1% of the vote, according to an exit poll by Alpha Research released on national television, seeing off the center-right government’s favored candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said he would resign, possibly opening the way for a snap election in the European Union’s poorest member state.
According to the WSJ, the results are a shot in the arm for those in Moldova and Bulgaria who want to see their states warm up relations with their large Eastern neighbor, reversing years of westward drift they say has yielded too few rewards.
“I will dramatically improve the relations between Moldova and Russia,” Mr. Dodon said in an email to The Wall Street Journal ahead of the vote. “These relations are very important for the citizens of the country.”
The two elections confirm the growing cracks in the European Union cement that helped reshape Central and Eastern Europe after the downfall of Soviet Union; to some they are a harbinger of more prominent elections coming in the coming months, most notably in Italy where PM Renzi's day may be numbered should a constitutional referendum not go his way as polls indicate.
As the WSJ adds, since the U.K. voted to leave the EU in June, government leaders in Poland and Hungary have been calling more loudly for refashioning the bloc into a much looser union. In Moldova and Bulgaria, the tone of the two new presidents’ campaigns has been warmer toward Russia and more critical of the EU, which they blamed for slow economic progress.
Moldova and Bulgaria, which was a member of the Warsaw Pact, had decisively shifted toward the EU in recent years. Moldovan lawmakers signed an agreement with the European Union in 2014 which deepened economic and political ties. Bulgaria joined the West’s military alliance, NATO, in 2004, and the EU in 2007.
In Bulgaria, however, Mr. Radev has talked of a need to lift EU sanctions on Russia in place since Moscow annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea. In Moldova, Mr. Dodon wants to revoke the 2014 EU pact and rebuild trade links with Moscow as part of a loose trading union which links Russia and a handful of other former Soviet republics.
Bulgaria's recent anti-Russia hard line stance cost the country millions in revenues associated with the South Stream gas pipepline which was supposed to take Russian natgas from across the black sea and into Europe. However, in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict, the EU pressured Bulgaria to halt discussions, terminating the project and forcing Russia to seek a different passage, which has now been formalized in the form of the Turkish Stream pipeline which crosses Turkey and Greece.
Meanwhile in Moldova, Dodon’s campaign material ahead of the vote mourned the loss of access to Russian markets for important exports like fruit. Because it backed European sanctions on Russia, Moldova has seen some food exports banned from Russia, and that has damaged the economy of some regions.
“The current government has destroyed our friendly relations with Russia,” one of his promotional videos said. “Igor Dodon is the only politician who can rebuild them.”
The votes in Bulgaria and Moldova were held in an atmosphere of widespread voter skepticism of the countries’ political classes. Lawmakers in both countries have been accused of moving too slowly on public sector reform and allegations of corruption are common.
Moldova is still reeling from a bank fraud in 2014 which saw $1 billion disappear from three lenders in an elaborate misappropriation. The authorities have been seen as slow to bring the culprits to justice, leading to large street protests. Dodon pushed an anticorruption message during his campaign.
“As president, I will do everything possible to restore confidence in the Moldovan state,” Mr. Dodon said.
We expect more of the poorer European states, disenchanted with the chaos that has emerged in Europe in recent months and certainly since the Trump victory, to favor a return to their old, familiar, friendly relations with the Kremlin in coming years as the Warsaw Pact is gradually rebuilt, much to the humiliation of Brussels.