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FORMER UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER FOUND DEAD... Former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko was found dead at his dacha in Koncha-Zaspa outside Kyiv on 4 March, Ukrainian media reported. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Inna Kysil told journalists that Kravchenko's death appears to be suicide. Kravchenko was scheduled to appear on 4 March before the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning in connection with the abduction and killing of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. According to the Kyiv-based "Segodnya" newspaper, Kravchenko was put under official surveillance in December. The secret recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in former President Leonid Kuchma's office suggest that Kravchenko and Kuchma may have had a role in the death of Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 4 March 2005). President Viktor Yushchenko requested that Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun and Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko personally oversee a probe into Kravchenko's death. JM

...AS SOME HAD FEARED. Lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko on 3 March called on Prosecutor-General Piskun to immediately issue arrest warrants for former President Kuchma and former Interior Minister Kravchenko in connection with their alleged role in the abduction and killing of Gongadze, Interfax reported. Omelchenko said keeping Kravchenko in custody would be tantamount to "keeping Kravchenko alive." "[Kravchenko's] life is seriously threatened by the danger of a psychological, mental breakdown and suicide, or of physical liquidation, or they'll make it look as though he committed suicide, or he'll simply disappear without a trace," Omelchenko added. Lawmaker Andriy Shkil commented on 4 March that Kravchenko's death appears to be "very strange." "Naturally, his testimony could influence the lot of the former president [Kuchma]," Shkil said. "[Kravchenko] was the crown witness [in the Gongadze case], he should have been put under protection." JM

MELNYCHENKO WANTS SECURITY GUARANTEES BEFORE RETURNING TO UKRAINE. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told journalists on 3 March that he recently met in Vienna with former presidential bodyguard Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Moroz said Melnychenko, who was given refugee status in the United States, could return to Ukraine if he was given the status of a parliamentarian and enjoyed immunity from prosecution. Melnychenko was a candidate on the Socialist Party's list in the 2002 parliamentary elections. Since some Socialist Party lawmakers have recently moved to work in the government of President Yushchenko and renounced their parliamentary seats, Melnychenko apparently expects to obtain a parliamentary mandate under the procedure used for filling in vacant seats contested under the party-list system. Prosecutor-General Piskun said on 2 March he has closed a criminal case against Melnychenko for illegal eavesdropping on former President Kuchma and invited Melnychenko to come to Ukraine with his recordings for their examination and potential inclusion as evidence in the Gongadze case. JM

PRESIDENT WANTS TO STRENGTHEN ROMANIA'S POSITION IN BLACK SEA BASIN... Romanian President Traian Basescu said in an interview with "Le Monde" of 3 March that Romania intends to consolidate its relations with Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. "Good relations between these countries and a NATO and EU member state means a plus in security for the Euro-Atlantic system as a whole," Basescu said. He underscored that good relations with Russia, too, will also contribute to more stability not only for Romania, but also for the organizations Romania is a member of. Basescu said at present there are several frozen conflicts in the Black Sea region such as in Transdniester, South Ossetia, and Nagorno Karabakh. "Sooner or later, these conflicts must be resolved diplomatically, backed, if necessary by intervention," Basescu said. "We must not deceive ourselves and think that [those conflicts] remain frozen indefinitely, because they can break out at any moment. It would be better to prevent this process and avoid surprises." UB

MIXED REACTIONS IN MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION TO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT. Commenting on the visit of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to Moldova on 3 March, opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) Chairman and Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urecheanu criticized Saakashvili for not having the courtesy to meet with him, the BBC's Romanian Service reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005). "Whether he wanted to or not, Saakashvili was used by the Communists for their election propaganda," Urecheanu said. Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov said Saakashvili's visit was of much greater importance than Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's visit to Ukraine on 2 March. During his visit, Saakashvili met with PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca. Cubreacov added that Saakashvili's visit should not be seen in the context of the 6 March parliamentary elections. Instead, the visit was important in that it opened the extraordinary perspectives to resolve a broad range of problems confronting Moldova. Saakashvili and Voronin, among others, signed a joint declaration against separatism. UB

The removal from power of governing elites in Ukraine through peaceful, opposition-led mass protests represents a remarkable political change worthy of being labeled a revolution, and also serves to exemplify that the conditions that led to a successful Orange Revolution are lacking in Moldova on the eve of its 6 March parliamentary elections.

A key distinction of the Orange Revolution was popular dissatisfaction with the corrupt regime of President Leonid Kuchma, who lost control over the election process and, therefore, could remain in power only by rigging its results (as was the case with Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia). There was a united opposition with a strong leader, Viktor Yushchenko, capable of and willing to capitalize on popular discontent.

Also, outside involvement in Ukraine was significant, with the West firmly siding with the opposition, while Russia openly endorsed the regime's candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. Prior to the second round of elections, Ukraine had already met the Leninist criteria for a successful revolution; i.e., the inability of the country's rulers to govern and the unwillingness of the majority of the population to accept their rule.

In Moldova, members of the governing Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) headed by President Vladimir Voronin have worked hard to distinguish themselves from Kuchma-like regimes or previous Moldovan governments. The PCM has improved tax collection to allow higher spending on social programs, which made the party relatively popular. The party's practice of regularly hiking social payments contrasts sharply with Yanukovych's doubling of social benefits prior to the Ukrainian election in a desperate move to win over welfare recipients. Also, Voronin has begun implementing a program to compensate citizens for losses they incurred when their Soviet-era savings were devalued as a result of hyperinflation in 1992 -- a measure only recently heralded as a priority in Ukraine since Yushchenko became president.

The PCM's successful social policy boosts the Communists reelection chances as much as the presence of a fragmented and weak opposition. Defying common sense, Moldovan opposition parties failed to consolidate their ranks to mount a serious challenge to the Communists' grip on power. The opposition's biggest accomplishment, Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urecheanu's formation of the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), resulted in a fractious coalition that still lacks a political identity. The opposition did close ranks in November 2003 to prevent Voronin's endorsement of Russia's proposal for a resolution to the Transdniester conflict. Yet that solidarity soon dissipated when old animosities among party leaders resurfaced and debates on the principles of consolidation overshadowed the need for a single anti-Communist front. Besides, no opposition leader, be it BMD leader Urechean, Christian Democrat Iurie Rosca, or Social Democrat Ion Musuc, can match the authority and charisma of Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, or Yushchenko.

Moldova's 6 percent threshold for parliamentary representation (the second highest in Europe after Turkey's 10 percent hurdle) favors big parties and electoral alliances, for which the bar is just 9 percent for blocs comprising two parties and 12 percent for those numbering three or more parties. Out of 23 contestants, only four have realistic chances of clearing the hurdle: the PCM, the BMD, the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), and the Social Democratic Party (PSDM). The winners, as in the 2001 elections, will take all the votes of the losing parties. Small parties only enhance the Communists' electoral success.

Unlike Kuchma, Voronin surpassed the opposition in promoting Moldova's EU integration project. Moldova signed an Action Plan with Brussels in November 2004 and pressed for more active EU involvement in resolving the Transdniester conflict. In response, the EU decided to send a representative on the Transdniester issue to Chisinau, with a permanent mission to be opened later this year.

In fact, there is not much of a difference between the Communists' electoral message and that of their main rivals, the BMD, PPCD, and PSDM. They all stress social welfare, European integration, and uprooting corruption. But while the Communists top the preferences of the leftist electorate, they effectively challenge the center-right segment usually considered to be the territory of the opposition.

After the Kremlin's humiliating fiasco in Ukraine, any affiliation with Russia will likely be counterproductive for the favorites in the electoral race. All of them favor pragmatic bilateral relations with Russia and call for Moldova's retreat from CIS structures. The only contestants that enjoy Russia's backing, the Patria-Rodina bloc and the social movement Ravnopravie, are organizationally weak and have little chance of passing the 6 percent hurdle.

Voronin was unambiguously pro-Russia at the start of his mandate because he believed the Kremlin could help him restore Moldova's territorial integrity. Numerous concessions made to Russia (i.e. special status for the Russian language, preferential conditions for Russian investments, regular payments for Russian gas imports, etc.) were not sufficient for the Kremlin to withdraw its support for Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov. It was logical for Voronin to reject the Kozak memorandum, which granted the separatist region disproportionate powers relative to its size and provided for the continued deployment of Russian troops. Russia's inflexibility made the Communists' swing to the West unavoidable.

Also, there are no indications of the United States taking a strong stance on the side of the opposition, as it did in Ukraine. The United States appears to be content with the Communists' anti-Russia stance (as far as the Kremlin's Transdniester position is concerned) and the European aspirations of the Moldovan government.

Obviously, the Ukrainian events put enormous pressure on Moldova's communist elite to respect the rules of the democratic game. And again, they seized the initiative by inviting a number of high-ranking European and U.S. observers to ensure free and transparent elections. Extensive international monitoring will also be in place to help avert electoral fraud. There is a high chance that the results of the elections will be decided at the polling stations, and not in the streets of Chisinau.

Theoretically, however, one can leave open the possibility that an "orange" scenario will eventually develop, but with a specific Moldovan twist. If the Communists fail to muster the 61 seats needed to choose the president, the opposition could secure early parliamentary elections by blocking all three attempts to do so. It could then capitalize on the momentum and defeat the Communists at the ballot box. Yet this scenario is highly improbable, because it is contingent on the ability and willingness of the opposition to stand together, which is less likely under conditions of secret voting.

In summary, the PCM is the party that has best learned the values of personal campaigning, and benefits from the most extensive network of local party organizations to mobilize the electorate. It has succeeded in attracting young and highly educated technocrats, like Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, to coordinate Moldova's EU-integration project. Enjoying the twin advantages of strong popular support and a fragmented opposition, the incumbent party can with confidence renounce fraudulent intentions. Under these circumstances, a Moldovan revolution, if it materialized, would lack the legitimacy of the revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, or Serbia.

Ilian Cashu is a Ph.D. student in political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University specializing in postcommunist social policy.