- Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Those who do not follow the events in this country but want to learn more the best option is to read the book by Aaron Miller “Moldova Under Vladimir Plahotniuc: Corruption & Oligarchy” published by Studio Igal Rozental, Ltd.

While Washington and Brussels policymakers view Ukraine as the main stage for the West’s ongoing proxy war with Russia, Ukraine’s smaller, poorer neighbor, Moldova, also remains in a geopolitical tug of war.  Unlike Ukraine, whose current president Petro Poroshenko has made clear his intentions to divorce Kiev from remaining political and economic ties to Moscow and move Ukraine forward on a westward path toward future NATO and EU membership, Moldova’s de-facto leader, Vladimir Plahotniuc, continues to play both sides of the fence, making overtures to both the West and Moscow.  Through manipulating both Russia and Washington/Brussels, Plahotniuc has enriched himself, consolidated his base of power through ruthless actions, and, as a result, kept Moldova impoverished in a geopolitical “gray zone.”

In Aaron Miller’s heavily sourced investigative book “Moldova Under Vladimir Plahotniuc: Corruption & Oligarchy,” the author pulls back the curtain of Moldova’s political machine to reveal details of one man’s quest to control all sectors of power in Europe’s poorest country.  While much of Miller’s reporting could fill the pages of a Hollywood script, especially details related to the suspicious deaths of individuals linked to cases involving Plahotniuc, the systematic silencing of Plahotniuc’s political and business rivals through Moldova’s corrupt judicial system, Plahotniuc’s use of “death squads” to intimidate witnesses, and his reputed rise from local pimp to billionaire racketeer, the reports of the shadowy oligarch’s alleged role in a $1 billion theft from four major Moldovan banks should have raised more red flags in Washington than it has. 

The heist, amounting to 40 percent of Moldova’s state budget and 12 percent of the country’s GDP, was the “theft of the century,” according to Miller.  In an interview published in the book with the former deputy head of the Moldovan National Anticorruption Center’s Division for Preventing and Combating Money Laundering, Mihail Gofman told the author “everybody in Moldova knows that Vladimir Plahotniuc is the man behind [the theft of $1 billion].”  However, through a carefully crafted image over the years, thanks to the services of the Podesta Group, the now defunct and disgraced Washington lobbying shop, Plahotniuc charmed Washington’s power brokers and the Obama Administration welcomed him with open arms.

Miller details not only Plahotniuc’s ruthless business behavior which resulted in his becoming Moldova’s richest man, but, through his wide-ranging interviews, leads the reader through Plahotniuc’s political ambitions as well.  With parliamentary elections set for February 24, political paralysis in Moldova is expected to continue, due in large part to politicians like Plahotniuc manipulating Moldovan voters with an ongoing “Russia vs. the West” narrative.  No party is expected to win the majority, which will result in a deadlock that benefits a power broker like Plahotniuc.  Readers of Miller’s exposé will walk away with a better understanding that the political impasse is largely smokescreen for hiding societal problems caused by rampant corruption, kleptocracy, and the “state-capture” by Plahotniuc.

Moldovan whistleblower Gofman, who fled to the U.S. in 2016 and is a key source for Miller’s reporting, claims that Plahotniuc, as chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM), received 70 percent of the $1 billion stolen funds, with the remaining 30 percent divvied up between DPM deputies and officials from Moldova’s Liberal Party.  Despite winning only 19 of 101 parliamentary seats in Moldova’s 2014 parliamentary election, Plahotniuc’s DPM party formed a coalition government with the pro-European Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM).  Following the banking scandal and political protests, a new coalition formed with Plahotniuc’s DPM, PLDM, and deputies from the Liberal Party, which, according to Miller’s reporting, also received a portion of the stolen bank funds.  A further splintering of Moldova’s pro-European party in 2017 raised doubts in Brussels whether the European Union could continue forging close trade and political ties with Moldova.  As Vladislav Kulminski, head of Moldova’s Institute for Strategic Initiatives told Reuters, the “gray zone between the East and the West” pleases Moldova’s elites, like Plahotniuc, “because [they] get to define the rules…write the rules and rewrite the rules, and [they] are not held accountable by either Brussels or Moscow.”

While the apparent actions of Plahotniuc, which have laid to ruin lives, reputations, and the Moldovan nation as a whole, cannot be reversed, Miller has credibly given voice to the previously voiceless.  Victims of the crimes alleged to have been masterminded by Plahotniuc deserve, at a minimum, to have their side of the sordid criminality memorialized in words.  Miller’s book should be a wakeup call to policymakers in Washington to question why support remains for “our man in Moldova.”  As a must-read for all at the Foggy Bottom’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Miller’s reporting can benefit U.S. officials in formulating policy for Moldova, which is in close proximity to Ukraine’s Odessa and the Crimean Peninsula.  The damage Plahotniuc has apparently done through his actions is best summed up by Miller at the conclusion of his chapter detailing the $1 billion plundering of Moldova’s banking system: “While perorating about Moldova moving towards Europe, [Plahotniuc] is sowing frustration and disappointment in Western values in the hearts and minds of the Moldovans, therefore reinforcing pro-Russian authority.”

Plahotniuc, who Miller confirmed Interpol monitored as far back as 2007, belongs in jail with former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, instead of appointing Moldova’s government stated Romania’s president from 2004-2014, Traian Băsescu.  This quote highlighted in Miller’s book from a former president of one of America’s NATO allies should resonate with Washington officials.  As a frontrunner for the vacant U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, current U.S. envoy to Germany Ric Grenell would do well to read the harrowing accounts in Miller’s book and declare a mea culpa during any future Senate confirmation hearing for his past defense of Plahotniuc’s seemingly reprehensible actions.  Continuing to turn a blind eye to Plahotniuc’s alleged misdeeds and allowing him to further a “Great Game” in southeastern Europe is a disservice to the Moldovan people and runs counter to Washington’s foreign policy interests in the region.

Darren Spinck is managing partner of Global Strategic Communications Group (GSCG).  He is a regular panelist at Krynica, Poland’s Economic Forum, speaking on issues related to Ukraine and Moldova.

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