Invited by Vladimir Putin to Sochi for the World Youth Festival, the governor of Gagauzia – an autonomous pro-Russian region in southern Moldova with 135,000 inhabitants -, Yevgenia Gutsul, spoke with the Russian president on March 6, according to the words of Dmitri Peskov collected by the Russian agency Tass. “There was a brief communication on the sidelines of the forum,” reported the Kremlin spokesperson.

For her part, Governor Gutsul said on Telegram that she discussed the Moldovan political situation with President Putin. Commenting on a photo she posted on Instagram on the day of the meeting, she said she discussed “complex regional and geopolitical issues, the epicenter of which is Gagauzia,” with him. The Russian president “promised to support Gagauzia and the Gagauz people in defending their rights (…) on the international stage,” she then indicated. And to complain: “Chisinau (the Moldovan capital, editor’s note) is gradually depriving us of our powers, limiting the budget, violating our legitimate rights, causing instability in Gagauzia and throughout the country.”

Yevgenia Gutsul won her gubernatorial seat last May with the support of Ilan Shor, a fugitive banker who entered politics, and his eponymous pro-Russian party, which was later deemed unconstitutional. Searches and criminal proceedings linked to suspicions of illegal financing and electoral fraud were part of the campaign, as the Moldovan news agency IPN recalls.

The autonomous regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia constitute pro-Russian strongholds in Moldovan territory and each of the two regions values ​​its status. More specifically, Gagauzia wishes to maintain its ties with Russia, because “the Gagauz are eternally grateful to the Russians,” according to Florent Parmentier, secretary general of the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po (CEVIPOF) and co-author of the book Moldavia at the crossroads of worlds. Indeed, the Gagauzes are a people originally from the Balkans, but who, in the face of persecution by the Ottomans, were granted arable land by Tsar Alexander I in Boudjak (southern coast of present-day Moldavia, then recently annexed by the Russian Empire) at the beginning of the 19th century.

Although Romanian is the official language of Moldova, “only 1% of Gagauz speak Romanian at home, and they do not wish to change” language, indicates the researcher and professor at Sciences Po, interviewed Thursday March 15 by Le Figaro . “So the vast majority speaks Russian, even Gagauz,” he explains, which makes it possible to gauge the loyalty of the Gagauz population to the motherland. This constitutes “fertile ground for Moscow,” according to Ryhor Nizhnikau, specialist in Russian-Moldovan relations at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, interviewed by France 24 at the beginning of March.

The region has benefited from a special status since the Moldovan government began negotiations which resulted in the 1994 agreements. The latter have “a preventive dimension” for the Moldovan state, which is banking on this compromise to avoid internal guerrillas. large-scale, “hoping (at the time) that Transnistria would follow the same logic as Gagauzia”, explains Florent Parmentier. The Moldovan objective was finally achieved with the Transnistria agreements of 2003 and 2008, which resulted in a compromise which had so far made it possible to avoid an armed conflict on Moldovan territory. But while the “protection” of Russia was requested on February 28 by the deputies of the separatist region of Transnistria meeting in Tiraspol, in reaction to economic retaliatory measures emanating from Chisinau, Vladimir Putin presented this outstretched hand to the governor of Gagauzia.

According to Moldovan law, Evghenia Gutsul, as governor of Gagauzia, must be part of the government. But in fact, Maia Sandu and the Moldovan government in no way invited the young governor to take part in state affairs, an act contrary to national law. Being part of the Moldovan government would be a “very interesting opportunity” for the governor of Gagauzia, since “it would allow her to obtain information necessary for the defense of her financier Ilan Shor,” underlines the secretary general of CEVIPOV.

For Florent Parmentier, “the meeting with Putin is part of the logic of a program on which Evghenia Gutsul was elected”. “The governor of Gagauzia would like, among other things, for the region to have its own airport, which is financially impossible, but which would allow her greater room for maneuver” to meet her Russian allies, continues the man whose thesis focuses on “a sociology history of the Ukrainian and Moldovan states.

The Kremlin leader is taking action ahead of a busy election year in Moldova. Indeed, the legislative elections will be held in a year. Above all, next November, Europhile Maia Sandu will try her luck for a second term at the head of the country, which would allow her to organize a referendum which is dear to her, relating to membership in the European Union. In the words of Florent Parmentier, this policy of “firm hand” in the face of Russian influence in Moldova will be evaluated during the upcoming presidential election. “This is probably what the Moldovans will want,” he says, even if “it will depend on the front in Ukraine,” specifies the researcher.

However, “the situation in Gagauzia is not likely to destabilize all of Moldova” points out Florent Parmentier, insisting on the fact that “the Gagauz population only represents 4% of the total population of Moldova”. At the same time, “the base of support for Sandu is very politically active,” he adds, “and the Moldovan diaspora is mobilizing massively in his favor.”

Since the summer of 2022, Moldova, like neighboring Ukraine, is officially a candidate for membership of the European Union. Let us also recall that a defense partnership was signed with France on March 7, during a visit by President Maia Sandu to the Elysée.