A Soviet reunion?

Moldova: After sweeping back to power, Communists may try to re-establish Moscow's hegemony.

March 01, 2001

IN THE ANCIENT land of Muscovy, two mileposts were recorded this week: former President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who presided over the Soviet Union's dissolution, celebrated his 70th birthday and the former Soviet republic of Moldova returned Communists to power.

Tiny Moldova exists today largely as a legacy of Hitler's and Stalin's World War II treachery. Much of its territory was snatched from adjoining Romania. In fact, more than 64 percent of Moldovans are ethnically and linguistically Romanian.

When Moldova became independent a decade ago, its official language became Romanian. Ethnic strife produced skirmishes. The Russian army maintains military bases inside Moldova to protect its Slavic minority, which has declared a renegade Trans-Dniester republic.

Ethnic polarization, combined with unhappiness over free-enterprise reforms, finally produced a backlash.

Communists were swept back to power in parliament elections last weekend. And since parliament also chooses the president, that office, too, will go to the Communists.

The Communist victory almost surely will produce jolting reverberations.

Russian will be re-established as an official language. Moldovan Communists also will endorse efforts to create a new confederation that might one day include much of the old Soviet Union.

This emerging union currently includes only Russia and Belarus. Moldova could be its third member-state.

The big prize in this reunification would be Ukraine, where the disenchanted population is divided and President Leonid Kuchma continues to fight for his political life.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has left no doubt of his desire to re-create Russia as the dominant Euro-Asian state.

Whether he sees eye to eye with Moldovan Communists on other issues does not matter: Moscow has now been given a vote of confidence by the new rulers of that distant republic.

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