Moscow’s aggressive politicking
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The beauty of a democracy is the ability to vote for the candidate of your choice in an open, free, and fair election. One small country, rarely in international headlines or on the world stage, is ready to embrace democracy and all of its ideals. That country is Moldova, and its democracy is at stake—as is its low-key status—as Russia ramps up its aggressive, clandestine occupation of the country.

Currently, President Putin’s military occupies 12 percent of Moldova, a landlocked country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. The Kremlin’s occupation of the country and its criminal military action against the Ukraine Navy showcase the ways in which this escalation is similar to the build-up of past European conflicts. The major power treats its much smaller neighbors with disregard. With little option, the overtaken state pushes back militarily, expecting allies to help via diplomacy, sanctions, and finally, by force of arms if needed.

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In order for democracy to flourish in Moldova, surrounding nations must not only acknowledge, but also respect Moldova’s sovereignty and integrity. However, the Kremlin continues to use manipulation tactics, such as powerful military exercises in Moldova, in order to dissuade voters from further engaging with Western nations and their elected officials.

Moldova has already started embracing western ideals and governance.  Chișinău, Moldova’s capital city, is working to throw off Russian shackles and influence, but they need help. Regrettably, the Western World seems blissfully unaware that Russia is aggressively and actively tightening its stronghold on several Eastern European States. Besides Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are all in danger with Moscow’s presence in their country. The United States, EU, and their allies must actively engage and support these former Soviet states as they embrace democracy and combat the aggressive hostility of Moscow.

Russian troops are effectively an occupying force in Moldova, particularly in the Transnistria region.  The Kremlin is reportedly providing economic and military support to separatist groups in order to destabilize the region and keep Chișinău from embracing Western values. Russia’s most recent action to establish a diplomatic office in Moscow for Transnistria further shows Russia’s continued interference and disregard for Moldova’s territorial integrity. Alongside their presence, Moscow’s interference in Moldova’s democratic process has surged as the national elections, scheduled for Feb. 24, draw near.

Despite denials made on the international stage, Russian agents openly spread disinformation and propaganda via Moscow-funded, non-government organizations (NGOs). They control a majority of the media content, mercilessly manipulate social media, and support the so-called “pro-European opposition.”

Before Moldova’s current pro-American Parliament existed, the Russian mob essentially controlled the international finance channels running through Chișinău, effectively destroying Moldova’s banking infrastructure. Moldova’s coalition government has since introduced sweeping reforms to secure the banking sector, which is now aligned with EU directives.  The Moldovan same pro-democracy Parliament approved a law that provides additional supervision over banks, financial companies, insurance companies and investment firms. The body also continues to advocate for curbing corruption by introducing commercial regulations and countering flagrant Russian money laundering by steadying the banking system. 

However, the nation’s current president is impeding the modernization of Moldova. Igor Dodon, a member of the Socialist Party, is close to Vladimir Putin and has vowed to roll back any pro-West initiatives and laws introduced by the Moldovan representative government. Should President Dodon’s Socialist party win a majority of the legislature in February’s election, the U.S. and E.U. would have grave cause for concern.

The dominoes are lining up for Putin in his quest to build his very own “Romanov Empire.”  The Western powers are distracted. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is fighting for political survival, Chancellor Angela Merkel is leaving the world stage in Germany with no obvious successor, and the U.K is wrought by Brexit chaos. The question is, will Moldova or Ukraine be the first domino to fall?  Or will their allies stop it before it’s too late?

Markwayne Mullin represents Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district since 2013.