Sport, Integrity, Tajikistan and Belarus: Call off Bets on Dictatorships

I wrote this piece for BNE Intellinews along with a further analysis for Emerging Europe to reaffirm my belief that by allowing sports matches to continue in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko is responsible for a public health disaster. Covid-19 has provided the smokescreen for further human rights violations to take place, in states which are already isolated, venal and cruel.

Christina Petru Ph. D.

COVID-19 has rightly grounded almost all sports fixtures—with one big exception being football matches in Belarus’ Premier League. The usually minor matter, on the international scale, of a derby between FC Minsk and Dinamo Minsk on March 28 earned global attention, thanks to the desperation of gambling companies and their equally desperate customers. It’s time to desist—lest we kill enough people to make up an entire league of sportsmen and women—while stroking the ego of a moustachioed psychopath.

Bored Western Europeans Are Betting On Belarus’ Premier League. Could desperation wrought from endless lock-downs make soccer in the CIS Lukashenko’s proverbial “money shot”? Tajikistan’s President thought so. And Rahmon can’t be wrong…

Belarus’ President Alexander G. Lukashenko is often described by international media outlets as “Europe’s last dictator”. In power since the exact date of the presidency’s creation, July 20, 1994, Lukashenko has expressed his chagrin toward this label on a number of occasions, often causing bilateral controversy in the process.

Guido Westerwalle—Germany’s first gay foreign minister, who tragically passed away in 2016—took the full brunt of the strongman’s ire, when he called out Lukashenko’s dire human rights record in March 2012. “It is better to be a dictator than gay!” Lukashenko snapped. Besides being prurient and incredibly pathetic, Lukashenko’s remark was also very stupid—as Europe wanted to squash Lukashenko with sanctions at the time. The diplomatic incident which followed did not play well for Europe’s last dictator. Westerwalle quietly reaffirmed his “determination not to move one inch from my initial commitment to human and civil rights in Belarus”. Then, he served Lukashenko with one of the most punishing smack-downs I can recall. One off-colour homophobic remark ended up costing the government of Belarus billions of dollars—while the football team the world is currently betting on also found itself in sticky circumstances.

By July 2012, Westerwalle had helped crash brutal sanctions against Belarus, targeting more than 200 politically affiliated people for their roles in the country’s awful record on human rights under Lukashenko, and the president’s brutal crackdown on any form of political opposition.

Left without a bus

One of the individuals hit was Yury Chyzh—owner of Dinamo Minsk—who literally found himself unable to hire a bus to transport juniors to a soccer tournament. The coach hire company’s bank in Lithuania returned Chyzh’s payment, after the football team and 17 other entities owned by Chyzh were sanctioned.

Sanctions against Chyzh were ultimately lifted on July 13, 2015, as despite the ownership of a very large swathe of Belarus’ highly corrupt economy, it could not be proven that President Lukashenko actually benefited financially from Chyzh. I thus underscore my remarks—for the avoidance of all doubt—with the reminder that the European Union has exonerated Chyzh of financing a dictator, and that Chyzh is not guilty of any crime before law.

However, I’d posit that Chyzh, his football team, and Belarus’ football league, are now helping Lukashenko to polish his horrible image, in a very horrible way—even though his horrible image is well-earned. The coronavirus has put a freeze on just about all global sporting events, for very well-founded public health reasons. Thus the many remarks on how Belarus now has the only soccer league left to bet on. By betting on Belarus’ top league, you’re prettifying a president whose understanding of public health is killing people.

‘Best cured by drinking vodka’

I can find no better way to illustrate this point than to point at Lukashenko’s recent remarks to news outlet Belsat. He considers the virus to be silly Western hogwash—best cured by drinking vodka.

Here are Lukashenko’s remarks: “We have survived viruses before. There were more complicated viruses: swine flu, bird flu, and atypical pneumonia”. Lukashenko also mused, urging calm while advocating absolute insanity: “There should be no panic, all you need to do is to work. I am happy when I watch TV and see people labouring in the fields, driving tractors, and no one is talking about the virus. There the tractor will cure everyone. The field will heal us all”.

Pontificating further on the pandemic—with a monologue that deserves condemnation from the World Health Organisation (WHO)—Belarus’ only president since the collapse of the Soviet Union cracked a joke which will likely lead to the loss of human life.

“I am a non-drinker, but at this time I jokingly say that you should not just wash your hands with vodka, but probably also poison this virus with it [from within],” Lukashenko chuckled. “In terms of pure alcohol, 40-50 grams per day should be consumed. But not at work!”

Belarus’ Ministry for Foreign Affairs, as is customary, declined all comment. Their website does, however, note a record attendance at the game. It’s a great shame for Lukashenko that Westerwalle is no longer with us—for if he were, he’d wryly point to Lukashenko’s own musings on disease, in March 2003, when the president fuelling Europe’s pandemic made the following observation.

“The ideology of the state is like an immune system for an organism. If the immune system weakens, then even the smallest infection becomes simply fatal.”

Lukashenko then reiterated that the “state” and introducing “a pro-state ideology into the minds of ordinary citizens” was a necessary step to protect the country “from any possible infection”.

This is sadly the Lukashenko doctrine—which endures, despite the easing of EU sanctions. Silencing dissent is so important to this autocrat that even a global pandemic can be used to consolidate the “state”. But we must find other ways besides sports betting to while away our time in isolation—for when laid bare, betting on football in Europe’s last dictatorship gives us little leverage in condemning this public health disgrace.

Christina Petru Ph.D (Кристина Петру), is an economist, academic and financial journalist. A contributor to Emerging Europe and U.S News & World, Dr. Petru has consulted for international lenders and third sector organisations such as the World Bank across the former Soviet Union since the early 1990s.

Lukashenko’s Death Match

Here is one of several pieces I published last week on Alexander Lukashenko’s disgraceful stance on COVID19 epidemic for Emerging Europe.

Recent news that Covid-19’s mass cancellation of sports fixtures has led gambling companies to offer bets on some of the only soccer matches still being played (in Belarus) is neither a wild-card punt for desperate gamblers, or a quirky fact. Betting on sport in “Europe’s last dictatorship” amounts to tacit support for one of modern Europe’s most repellent leaders – and negligence for the real human impact.

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko is often described by international media outlets as “Europe’s last dictator” – as he has held power in Minsk since the exact date of the presidency’s creation on July 20, 1994.

Lukashenko has expressed his chagrin for this label on a number of occasions – often causing bilateral controversy. When the late Guido Westerwalle – a true statesman, who was Germany’s first gay foreign minister – accused Lukashenko of being the bloc’s last dictator, the president of Belarus publically proclaimed [that] “it is better to be a dictator than gay”.

“The remarks speak for themselves” Westerwalle shrugged, with the malaise he often showed ex-Soviet dinosaurs. “I’m determined not to move one inch from my initial commitment to human and civil rights in Belarus”. Lukashenko grew an even bigger moustache in response and developed a bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin instead – who is indubitably the region’s manliest bad guy.

Lukashenko often chest-bumps Putin during televised competitions on the ice rink – in which state television has been known to doctor footage of the Russian president face-planting on the rink. These peculiar matches are almost all we hear of sport in Belarus, and make for depressing entertainment that I thought could not be topped.

Yet as the Covid-19 epidemic spreads – cancelling almost all global sporting events – almost all matches were off in other leagues, and all bets were too – except for bets on Belarussian soccer, which is still being played.

If you’re betting on Belarus’ soccer fixtures, you’re prettifying a president whose understanding of public health is killing people. Public sports fixtures are prohibited in almost every other country on earth, due to the risk of infection. Emerging Europe recently ran an editorial advocating better dialogue between Brussels and Minsk. I feel differently. Belarus is making a packet from sending sportsmen and women to play in highly risky conditions – on the mandate of a former agricultural collective manager, whose misunderstanding of public health is surpassed only by his knowledge of tractors.

As Lukashenko recently told Belsat, Covid-19 is essentially silly western hogwash – invented, I assume, by Euro-Atlanticist spy chiefs, CIA operatives, the LGBTQ community and Federica Mogherini – perhaps in cahoots with educated women, EU diplomats and migratory birds.

As Lukashenko told Belsat: “We have survived viruses before. There were more complicated viruses: swine flu, bird flu, and atypical pneumonia”.

Urging calm (while advocating insanity) Lukashenko added, “There should be no panic, all you need to do is to work. I am happy when I watch TV and see people labouring in the fields, driving tractors, and no one is talking about the virus. There the tractor will cure everyone. The field will heal us all”.

Pontificating further on disease – with a monologue that deserves condemnation from the World Health Organisation – Belarus’ only president since the collapse of the Soviet Union cracked a joke which will likely lead to loss of human life. “I am a non-drinker, but at this time I jokingly say that you should not just wash your hands with vodka, but probably also poison this virus with it [from within]” Lukashenko chuckled. “In terms of pure alcohol, 40-50 grams per day should be consumed. But not at work!”

A former collective farm manager – who is renowned for his moustache, and unbending authoritarianism – Lukashenko abhors all that is economically rational and democratically plural. While others in the EU’s near abroad have done their utmost to win plaudits with Brussels by shunning one-party rule and the blatant harassment of opposition politicians, in favour of democracy that meets the Commission’s very low bar, Lukashenko has remained firmly dictatorial.

Lukashenko once chaired a sort of “naughty club” for former communists, kleptocrats and war criminals, ideally situated in Europe’s near abroad. Belarus’ president welcomed anyone limited in their travel plans – by EU visa bans and international arrest warrants – showing a vile return to form in 2014 when he congratulated Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad on his electoral triumph.

In those days, Lukashenko was Euro-Atlanticism’s moustachioed menace – a leader whose second term as president in 1998 began with a European Union visa ban. He’d evicted international diplomats from their digs – as he saw little reason to fraternise with foreign imports (such as pluralist democracy, or Covid-19). The country does lack many of the facilities necessary to squander ill-gotten gains, and can’t compete with Cap Ferrat (or Cannes), but was still a safe-haven, in those days, for those determined to elude international justice.

Lukashenko voiced support for Serbian war-criminal Slobodan Milošević, frequently fraternised with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and reportedly procured passports for senior members of Saddam Hussein’s government.

Unfortunately (for Lukashenko) the world is changing. The dictator who likes to call himself “Batka” (an affectionate term for “father”) has only one confidante left – in Moldova’s president, Igor N. Dodon. Yet given Dodon’s difficulty sustaining elected office, and persistent political instability in Chișinau, it seems probable that Lukashenko may soon be truly alone. Following Moldova’s abysmal reaction to the Covid-19 epidemic, and increasingly precarious economy, it seems certain that Dodon – still unable to hang his presidency’s failure on oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc – may be accepting that it will soon be time to cede power to the tycoon.

While the United States Embassy in Chișinau has stated that it is in the process of attempting to extradite Mr Plahotniuc from the US, a source happy to be identified in this editorial as a senior diplomat to a European Union member state, told me, by telephone [that] “in light of President Dodon’s reticence to push this topic in public but refrain in private, it is beginning to look as though Dodon has accepted that he will lose face further if he attempts extradition proceedings. Regardless of the allegations Plahotniuc faces, [the businessman’s] rights are safeguarded by many treaties, including the ICCRP”.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights mandates that Moldova, the requesting state, must show that any trial will not prove “unjust” or “oppressive” for the extradited party. As the same diplomat explained, “The financial costs Moldova would incur would be huge, and the time needed to navigate exhaustive appeals channels would ultimately cause Dodon more damage than good”. Yet Dodon can’t accept that in trying to fell Plahotniuc, he will first destroy his own career, and intends to pursue this route. Lukashenko will soon be the last dictator on the bloc, though hopefully not for much longer

Ideally, Lukashenko will meet the same fate, in a bloodless revolution that sees him face international justice. Until this happens, please desist from betting on blood sport fixed for your viewing pleasure by a tubby sociopath. There’s nothing at all funny about football players losing their lives because western audiences can’t punt ten dollars on the Premier League.

Gambling companies – whom I will not name yet – should consider warning their customers likewise.

Moldova is being lost to Moscow: Analysis, U.S News and World Report

This is an excerpt of a lengthy analysis written with my colleague Olga Kousi for U.S News and World Report, about how a new regime in Moldova has seen the country turn away from Brussels and move instead towards Moscow.

Christina Petru Ph. D, Olga L. Kousi, MPhil

THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA was once the poster child for the European Union‘s Eastern Partnership program. Today – locked between the EU’s member states to its west, the separatist Soviet breakaway state of Transnistria to its east, and the restive, Russian-speaking region of Ukraine to its south – Moldova remains the continent’s poorest economy. The country is steadily moving further away from Euro-Atlanticism, American ideals and European integration in favor of ties to Moscow.

Moldova has been forgotten for many reasons — namely, internal disputes between the EU member states and impeachment proceedings in the United States. Unfortunately, we cannot defer action any longer in Moldova. A Moscow-backed dictatorship has emerged in the country, with a president whose family is doing business with Kremlin-backed oligarchs and who is persecuting its pro-Western opponents. A nation lost in transition now risks the same fate as Ukraine.

The pro-Western revolution that took place in Moldova in 2009 came after decades of communist rule. The country witnessed tangible benefits in the form of visa liberalization for Moldovan nationals, the ratification of free trade agreements with the EU and the release of generous U.S. funding. Serious structural change was hindered by corruption and clientelism, but in powerful pro-Western businessmen such as Vladimir Plahotniuc and the Democratic Party’s coalition, Moldova’s pro-Russia Socialist Party was forced to steer clear of deep diplomatic ties to Russia and instead sign an association agreement with the EU. Plahotniuc was the only check on current President Igor N. Dodon. Since Plahotniuc’s decision to seek exile last June, Dodon has steered Moldova from the European path. Moldova is now deeply affiliated with Moscow. Read the full editorial here, with

Igor-nomics brings Moldova to the brink of disaster

This article was first published by BNE Intellinews on October 6th 2019. NR Investments Ltd, via Avia Invest, has since been forced to abandon its investments in the Republic of Moldova, following concerted pressure from President Igor N. Dodon.

Moldovan President Igor Dodon has sought to rebrand himself as neutral between east and west and an economic liberal, but his current actions — and past online musings — tell a different story. 

A couple of months after Dodon linked up with his new, young, pro-Western partners in government, the Moldovan president was playing to both sides in September. On September 26, Dodon addressed the 74th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in New York. Emphasising his desire for “the de-facto recognition and observance of Moldova’s neutrality,” Dodon told delegates that “the geopolitical preferences of Moldova’s population were divided almost equally between East and West”. Before flying to the US to address the UN, Dodon hosted Moldova’s Russian Economic Forum in Chisinau, with his brother’s business partner, Igor Chaika, the son of the Russian Federation’s prosecutor general, Yuriy Chaika. Meanwhile at home, a legal battle was brewing with a major new investor in Moldova. 

After Dodon went “cuddly” on prospects for neutrality in business and fraternity at the UN, he departed Chisinau on September 30 to attend the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council Summit in Yerevan, Armenia, with the formidably democratic leaders of Iran and Belarus. 

If he appeared befuddled in Brussels, where he also visited the Nato headquarters in September, and disingenuous at the UN, in Yerevan Dodon was at home. Other international despots took notice of his arrival, which is not something that Dodon has often known. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then the portrait of the European Economic Union (EEU) leaders posted at the end of the summit provides a faithful depiction of a president whose vision for Moldova is at best puzzling. At worst, it is egomaniacal, self-serving and absurd. Styled, sartorially, in navy blue lounge suits, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran fist-bumps Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, while Russian President Vladimir Putin stands in the foreground. Putin smiles bashfully at Dodon, who stands in the background, smirking like the trio’s plump uncle. Putin, and Dodon, seem to be the only two privy to the same joke. That joke, which the West steadfastly ignores, is Dodon’s real position on Europe, and specifically on governance and the rule of law — which he has steadfastly erased from his WordPress blog. 

Since approximately 2010, when Dodon lost his ministerial position, the now president has been blogging. While is now a thoroughly banal politician’s manifesto page, this has not always been so. From its first creation (by someone called “Oleg”) on February 5, 2010, Dodon used the blog to vent his anger at the EU, and over many other matters. Excerpts of Dodon’s blogs may be found at the following links, but to understand just what Moldova’s president believes, this blog has to be seen. Select excerpts include “My denunciation of the Association Agreement with the European Union” and “Aren’t Moldovans in Russia also human beings?”, and other strands that Dodon dropped in later blogs. One was “Igor goes offline with bloggers” where Dodon met citizen journalists and students. While he considered this useful, fellow bloggers felt differently (one noted that the president offered him an iPad to write favourably of their meeting but he never received it).

Igor’s secret diary

In order to understand Dodon the Europhile, economic liberal … and cheerleader for ousted Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych, I refer specifically to a post written by Dodon on February 19, 2014, outraged at the enormous crowds who descended on neighbouring Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, in protests that had been peaceful until students were attacked by riot police. Yanukovych — who now resides happily in Russia — had refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, choosing in the final hour to agree a deal with Putin instead. Dodon, who had served a term as minister of the economy and trade from 2006-2009, evidently had time on his hands, and was opposed to Association Agreements. In fact, his next blog post decried Moldova’s decision to sign one, and termed its then leaders “Euro-Bolsheviks” — a term which implies that he understands as little of democracy as he does of communism. Yet he had never forgotten, nor lost respect for, the centralised authoritarian politics of the Soviet Union, and, operating on the fringe of Moldovan politics as an independent parliamentarian after failing to win his run for mayor of the capital Chisinau in 2011, likely presumed that the observations which followed would be forgotten by Moldovans. Dodon’s words predict the president he would become:    

“The West is using all its propaganda resources to transform the Euromaidan’s senseless mob into revolutionary heroes. The West is doing its best to break Ukraine into pieces. If power [is used] to oppose the disintegration, it is declared undemocratic and criminal, [yet] the legitimate application of force to restore order is harshly criticised by Western propaganda.” 

Describing Western democracy as “hypocritical, totalitarian and fundamentalist” (which is peculiar, as Dodon recently decorated EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with the highest decoration from the Moldovan state to foreign diplomats), Dodon ended his rant with the following thought: “better a healthy autocracy, correct with the citizens and progressive [for] I prefer the autocracy in Minsk, which ensures order and prosperity”.

Dodon signed off by offering his words of advice to Ukraine’s embattled president. “Yanukovych must demonstrate strength, resist [and] show the wisdom of a statesman”. Yanukovych did just this. Riot police were sent to disperse the protesters, leaving thousands injured — before in his final moments of desperation, Yanukoyvch ordered snipers to open fire. In scenes which will never be forgotten, more than 60 people were shot dead.

From opponents to partners

Moldova’s new Prime Minister Maia Sandu has shown incredible humility — or naivety — in her coalition with Dodon. Independent observers state that had exiled media tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc not intervened in 2016 to help Dodon’s presidential campaign against Sandu, she would likely be president herself now. Plahotniuc intervened in the final hour to swing the result for Dodon. Fake news reports declared that Sandu had signed a secret deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to grant 30,000 Syrian migrants refuge in Moldova. Plahotniuc finished Sandu’s candidacy by declaring that Sandu identified as a member of Moldova’s persecuted LGBTQ community – among whose main persecutors is Dodon. With 47.89% of votes cast, to Dodon’s 52.11%, Sandu lost the presidency, but went on to negotiate in good faith to create a coalition this summer. Yet Plahotniuc’s involvement in Dodon’s win must now seem more prescient than ever to Sandu, as Dodon makes fewer attempts than ever before to hide his view of Moldova as a family business, where the office of president is tantamount to running a family office.

Dodon told Al Jazeera in March: “Vladimir Plahotniuc controls all the institutions of power in Moldova except for the institution of the president … since they can’t control it, they have limited the president’s authority as much as possible. They say openly that it’s necessary to eliminate the institution of the president as they can’t control it.” 

Dodon neglected to mention video footage in which he is seen discussing the cost of financing his party with Plahotniuc himself, accompanied by one of Russia’s most senior diplomats – a costly endeavour that Dodon estimates “to be $600,000 per month”. Dodon also neglected to mention his use of Plahotniuc’s service jet on oligarch financed diplomacy trips to Moscow (and the Cote d’Azur). 

Dodon made four flights aboard the oligarch’s Bombardier Learjet 60 (on routes from Odesa to Moscow, Odesa to Nice, and also to Geneva). The most controversial detail of Dodon’s travel by private jet has just emerged, a trip funded directly by a Russian airline. Dodon flew from Odesa to Moscow aboard a private plane owned by Russian airline Transaero, on October 28, 2014. The next day, Dodon held a meeting with Konstantin Romodanovski, head of Russia’s Federal Migration Service. As Rise Moldova reported, “Igor Dodon asked the Russian official to simplify the procedure for registration and obtaining documents that would allow Moldovans to enter the field of work on the territory of the Russian Federation”. This trip occurred one month before the 2014 parliamentary election, and one day after Dodon had called for Moldovan migrants to be allowed to vote at 70 polling stations operated in Russia. 

Investors undermined 

“Dodonisation” was a term initially coined to describe a fiscal policy that Dodon championed, where he played swing-ball against both the European Union and the Eurasian Customs Union — enticing each to up the other’s offer of budgetary support or lending, while benefitting from both. “Igor-nomics” (to this writer) is more similar to the centralised theft and organised kleptocracy we’ve seen across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and particularly in Putin’s Russia. 

While Dodon was meeting with international leaders last month, his use of coercive, aggressive and cynical tactics to bully foreign investors were leading up to a legal battle with one of the largest investors to enter the Moldovan market. On October 4 NR Investments threatened legal action against the Republic of Moldova to protect its legal ownership of Chisinau International Airport.

In the latter part of September raids on the offices of NR Investments intensified. The company, incorporated in Guernsey, acquired the concession to operate Chisinau International Airport on July 30. A foreign investor ready to commit more than €70mn in the fourth quarter of 2019 alone toward the development of the country’s infrastructure has now given Dodon’s government its final warning. 

NR Investments, incorporated in Guernsey, acquired the concession to operate Chisinau International Airport through the purchase of Komaksavia, which owns 95% of the equity in the concessionaire, Avia Invest S.R.I. Sandu endorsed the purchase, as did the economy minister, but her position has since changed for reasons unknown, and she has called for a review of the original concession agreement. 

The agreement drew President Dodon’s anger within seven days. Parliamentary groups were formed to review the concession, while the Supreme Court advised that there were no legal grounds to overturn the concession’s validity. The president pursued alternative methods to invalidate the deal, via allies in the legislature. Two committees are attempting to prove the concession’s illegality, while a third review group is seeking to ban ownership of concessions via offshore jurisdictions. 

Four lawmakers who corresponded with the writer for the benefit of this analysis on condition of anonymity described varying degrees of coercion upon them, and upon the judiciary. An MP who spoke under condition of anonymity stated that “as the Moldovan judiciary have been criticised for legitimate reasons by Venice Commission, the EU, others … it is easy to justify pressure [upon them] as reforming measures [however] the raids, attacks on their privacy, have the same purpose as [those methods] other [governments] used. I believe that a powerful individual was promised  ownership of that [airport] when [the former owners’ representative Ilan] Shor fled. Now the president does not only face pressure from that other buyer [said in paraphrase], but loses himself”. Another MP stated that “corruption is certainly a powerful force here. I do not believe [that the president] has understood, due to his long time in politics, that fighting corruption is no longer “a tactic” for the Europeans. If the president [is proved] involved in this matter, and he acted to advantage himself, he [will be] impeached. The number of votes necessary [about two-thirds on constitutional review] would be gathered by Sandu.”

NRI, which operates the concession via ownership of Avia Invest SRL, said in an emailed statement on October 4 that unless politically motivated attacks on the company cease it will enforce its treaty rights, as defined in the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) ratified between Cyprus (where Avia Invest is incorporated) and Moldova. This treaty agrees “reciprocal promotion and protection of investments by entities incorporated in either jurisdiction” by its signatories. Given the scope of so-called BITs it seem probable that Moldova’s people, and not its politicians, would pay substantial recompense. Similar arbitrage followed Dodon’s past wrangling with duty free concessionaire LeBridge — which cost the Moldovan tax-payer millions of dollars in legal fees and recompense. 

NRI is an investor with strong foreign management and success stories in other developing economies that expected to profit from the Chisinau airport concession — but also expected to commit more than a quarter of a billion dollars long term. While NRI attempted discussions, the government didn’t only resist but escalated their attempts to nationalise what NRI had legally acquired. As Dodon chaired a committee supporting Russian investment, at least four raids occurred against all members of the 2013 concession committee. Both NRI’s premises and their offices at the airport were raided, according to numerous accounts in national media. Further committees were created to determine legal infractions by the investor, with the predictable effect of finding these infractions true. 

In addition to this, a special commission was established to rule ownership of concessions via offshore companies illegal. This seemed remarkably hypocritical, as incorporating in Moldova under Dodon’s tenure is not safe, given the enormous number of non-performing loans reported by every institution, and the disappearance of $1bn from the financial system. Besides this, Dodon himself lost a court case proving his Socialist Party received millions of Moldovan leu via companies incorporated in the Bahamas, as is detailed forensically by the Organisation for Crime and Corruption Reporting in Europe

Dodon had previously posited that though the airport should be nationalised, it may one day also be privatised again — and, in comments to TASS, he said a Russian investor would be a very attractive candidate for that privatisation. Whether Dodon had discussed this with delegates of Moldova’s Russian Economic Forum the week prior is academic, but the fact that he chose to make the announcement as they departed by air felt like a teaser. Russian companies lucky enough to leave Moldova with sizeable infrastructure contracts were departing from an airport that they might one day wish to own. 

At the same time as the critical investment dispute with NR Investments  escalates, cracks are showing in the ruling coalition. If Sandu once felt Dodon might be reined in, the dispute, coupled with Dodon’s brazen pursuit of business as usual, had led her to make the most unsparing statement on Dodon to date — angled straight at Dodon’s aggressive masculinity. 

Less than one hour after the president’s musings on neutrality at the UN, Sandu summoned media to make a statement. Explaining that Dodon’s words were little more than a personal opinion, and said nothing of Moldova’s national position, she didn’t pull punches. 

“Dodon did not have the manhood to ask the UN what other leaders of the country demanded, namely the withdrawal of Russian troops [from the Moldovan separatist republic of Transnistria],” Sandu told reporters.

The joke I referred to above demonstrates Dodon’s belief that he can fraternise with dictators, woo European leaders, and attack foreign investors who give something to Moldova with impunity. At last count, ten separate directives or decisions steered by Dodon were used to attack the Guernsey company that owns Moldova’s only international airport. It is my belief that Dodon’s presidency will end in this scandal, should parliament vote to impeach the president — for so long as Dodon remains president of Moldova, this country may never become the country it aspires to become.


With Ceban’s election in Chișinău, is a ‘Dodonarchy’ nigh?

Christina Petru, Ph. D. Contributor, Emerging Europe.

The following analysis was published November 5th 2019 by Emerging Europe

On November 4 socialist Ion Ceban won the mayoral election for Moldova’s capital, Chișinău, with 52.39 per cent of votes cast – narrowly defeating his opponent Andrei Nastase, who stood for Prime Minister Maia Sandu’s ACUM bloc.

In a short, measured, and sombre address at the Socialist party’s headquarters, Mr Ceban reassured those who voted for Mr Nastase that he would serve as “the mayor of all the citizens” regardless. Nastase’s supporters will derive little comfort from Ceban’s reassurance. When the ACUM candidate beat Ceban last June, in exactly the same election, and won by almost exactly the same margin, his victory was annulled due to a surprise court decision (which was condemned strongly by both the U.S State Department and the European Union).

The president of Moldova, Igor Dodon (pictured above with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin), took to the podium to congratulate Ceban. In a tone reminiscent of late Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev during the latter days of “the great stagnation”, Mr Dodon reminded his protégé and former adviser, that – despite their shared travails as parliamentarians during years of corrupt and ineffectual government – swift results were necessary, as “being mayor was no cake walk”.

Mr Dodon reminded Mr Ceban that “people expect good things for Chișinău [notably] roads and water” before finishing with a huge faux-pas. He reminded Mr Ceban that “concrete results” were sought. It may sound an innocuous statement, of itself, but simply served to remind Moldovans of a string of corruption allegations in the construction sector. Mr Ceban, who had declared war on the city’s “illegal concrete” faced accusations that not all demolitions were strictly for the public good. In February 2018, audio and video recordings surfaced of the mayor elect’s associate expressing outrage at one local builders offer of just 20,000 euros to halt demolition of his development. Upon agreement that a payment of 50,000 euros be made, it was agreed that the builder meet Mr Ceban to have his buildings made legal. Given this story, concerns are high.

To foreign business, Mr Dodon’s words on “concrete” sounded like a Freudian slip. In just five months, Moldova has slipped from potential ally to the European project, with all the attendant advantages for business, in the promise of former education minister turned prime minister, Maia Sandu – into something that literally resembles a family business, whose principal beneficiary is the president and his family.

Mr Dodon’s brother, Alexandru, is the business partner of Igor Chaika, son of Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika – who several ranking members of the US House of Representatives, and Senate, are requesting be subject to US sanctions. It may seem improbable to readers in the European Union, but Mr Ceban’s election has buoyed the presidency of a man whose brother has multi-million dollars investments in Moscow real-estate. As Chaika junior’s brother is subject to sanctions imposed by the Global Magnitsky List, the legality of this arrangement must only be due to the protection of diplomatic immunity – as the president’s wife has also received charitable donations from the Chaika family, for her foundation. Mr Dodon, never a europhile, but generally forgettable, poses a threat the Moldovan electorate know well, but is usually viewed as a benign force by Western nations (if not Western lenders). An investigation published last year show shows that Ceban’s criticism of Brussels does not extend to benefitting financially from grants given to stimulate investment.

Today, it falls upon anyone of conscience to remind the European Union that Johannes Hahn oversaw the power-sharing pact which saw Mr Dodon remain president, while Ms Sandu assumed the role of prime minister, and the US State Department did similarly – in full knowledge that Dodon had presided over human-rights abuses, and subjected many minorities to persecution. The man who published these findings was none other than President Donald Trump’s new ambassador to the Russian Federation John J. Wilson. It is now the responsibility of the European Union to check the power of a president who has received approximately one billion euros as grants, budgetary support assistance, and subsidised lending without which Moldova may well have faced insolvency.

The disbursement of funds allocated by the European taxpayer should be remitted on agreement that two basic deliverables be satisfied. The first is that all be allowed equitable treatment before law, including foreign investors who own assets legally in this jurisdiction. The second prerequisite is that Moldova use the reforms sought by the European Union, or budget assistance payments will be suspended – they were frozen until Sandu took office. Mr Ceban will soon be in charge of a significant part of Moldova’s economy, and should understand that if “reform” remains a vehicle for the persecution of political opponents, and the supra-judicial settling of personal vendettas with investors, neither the United States, nor Europe, will continue support. Reform means Moldova’s rebirth as an economically independent state, with an economy that is independent of state interference.

Chișinău is not only Moldova’s capital, but practically its sole commercial centre. The city exists on foreign gasoline, imported automobiles, cell phones and consumer goods. The vast majority of travellers arriving to do business in Moldova alight via Chișinău International Airport – the country’s sole international airport – an atrophied asset previously owned by a Russian aviation company. The company’s representative, and alleged owner, was Ilan Șor – an oligarch who fled Moldova following the regime change this June.

To the surprise of many analysts, NR Investments, a Jersey company, purchased the concession. As an economist, my position is determined by a company’s stability, liquidity, and professionalism – which NR Investments immediately presented to Prime Minister Sandu, and the Minister for the Economy and Infrastructure, Vadim Brînzan. The terms of the deal essentially guarantee investment in the creation of a second runway, and reconstruction of existing infrastructure, in disbursements guaranteed by NR to the sum of approximately 300 million euros. Additional inducements offered by NR include a stipend payable upon growth of passenger numbers, and immediate liquidity to invest approximately 80 million euros by the close of Q4.

The reaction which followed from the presidency was reminiscent of the raider attacks I witnessed under Boris N. Yeltsin’s presidency, whereby committees and sub-committees were formed swiftly to “evaluate” the concession’s legality. Then there were additional laws, clarifications of clauses within those laws, raids on NR’s offices, and searches for documents supposedly secreted within the airport itself. The committee responsible for the creation of the concession was also duly questioned. I find it remarkable that a country which has received such significant assistance from Europe, at a time of significant difficulty for Europe, would feel it permissible to halt a concession with brute force.

Meanwhile, Moldova’s only seaport, which is currently owned by Thomas Moser, faces similar coercion. The Giurgiulesti International Free Port which is owned by Danube Port Networks, and overseen by Mr Moser – a former senior official at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – is also being told that his assets may soon be “nationalised”. When I worked in Moscow in the mid 1990s, “privatisation” of a bicycle meant “stealing it”. This is what “nationalisation” now means in Moldova, because from a strictly legal perspective, it is perfectly permissible to return assets to the state in the event that process, and review, occur under applicable domestic and international law.

Yet this is not happening. While NR was raided, and while Mr Moser fights similarly coercive tactics, two of the only companies in Moldova who actually hand tax receipts to the state were absent from President Dodon’s investment summit. The Russian-Moldovan Business Forum in Chișinău is headed by Dodon’s brother’s business partner—so to embattled Prosecutor Chaika, whose brother is subject to U.S Sanctions. This surpasses the commercial definition of “conflict”.

Upon the forum’s conclusion, Chișinău (or Moscow) benefitted. It was reported that a Russian company had inked a deal to rebuild the capital’s road network. In the days that followed, Roman Trotsenko, who owns AEON, noted his interest in the acquisition of Chișinău International Airport, should it be purchasable (following its nationalisation). Dodon subsequently confirmed this a potential outcome. Trotsenko is on the US State Department’s “Oligarch list” and currently suing his former business partner in the US State of Florida, over a romantic dispute.

NRI are now threatening to litigate with the Republic of Moldova under the 2007 Bilateral Investment Treaty held between Moldova and the Republic of Cyprus, which guarantees not simple reciprocity but favourable terms for the owner. President Dodon’s solution has been to form a separate sub-committee (of a sub-committee) barring ownership of concessions by offshore entities. Sandu has not acted as Beria to Dodon’s Stalin, conceding that despite her opposition to the concession, Moldova would certainly lose millions in arbitration.

Mr Dodon has not extended the proposed ban on off-shores to political donations. An investigation led by RISE Moldova showed that the majority of his political party’s donations emanated from between 10-30 fraudulent loans funneled back in to Moldova from offshore jurisdictions. Given business deals which may break laws governing sanctions in several jurisdictions, the European Union must show that international law is enforceable, that visa bans apply, and that the Global Magnitsky Act and US CSA apply to all – even if this is not the received wisdom applied to rule of law in Chișinău.