The failure of pro-Russian Igor Dodon in the presidential elections in the Republic of Moldova does not seem to have upset the Kremlin much: instead of being reprimanded, the officer in charge of the Moldovan case (and assisting Dodon in the election campaign) was promoted in early March. At first glance, the promotion seems to be a job rotation decision, but in reality, it’s part of a broader reorganization of the departments dealing with the former Soviet space and the separatist regions supported by Moscow.

Igor Maslov, the SVR colonel in the shadow of Igor Dodon

The new head of the Presidential Directorate for Inter-Regional Relations and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries, which provides support for the activities of the Russian President, is SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) Colonel Igor Maslov. Aged 60, Maslov replaced SVR General Vladimir Chernov, who retired last month at the age of 70. Like Putin, Maslov is originally from St. Petersburg and, also like Putin and many of his close associates, was (still is?) a foreign intelligence officer.

Igor Maslov was promoted head of the Directorate after previously working for the Kremlin’s “Moldovan subdivision”. Ironically, the promotion took place on the very day, March 2nd, that marked the 29th anniversary of the outbreak of the Transnistria War. While still in office, Maslov would report to Dmitry Kozak, deputy to the head of the presidential administration, who was also responsible for the relations with the CIS and the Eurasian Economic Union.

As the documents of the #Kremlinovici investigation series carried out by the Dossier Center and RISE Moldova have shown, Maslov was very much involved in the political rise that the former president, Igor Dodon, has had in recent years with the help of the Kremlin.

Maslov worked on matters concerning the Republic of Moldova with at least four people identified in the documents obtained by Russian journalists and corroborated with information from Moldovan journalists. Vasily Kashirin, Alexei Negodov, Andrei Rusakov and Svetlana Voronina were all in charge of drawing up reports on politicians. Their main tasks included monitoring compromising information and writing speeches about the Republic of Moldova for Russian politicians. One such task was the writing of speeches for local politicians close to Moscow (for example, the leadership of ATU Gagauzia).

“Cultural” relations managed by intelligence officers

When normally looked at, the tasks of the Directorate now taken over by Maslov are diverse. Specifically, to develop and implement projects in the field of interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries, to provide assistance to the President in implementing foreign policy and to provide information and analytical assistance to the President of Russia and the Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office on interregional and cultural relations with foreign countries in its area of ​​competence.

The Directorate subordinated to the Kremlin was created by decree of the Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2005. Its first chief, Modest Kolarev, claimed that the directorate was established when Russia had no soft power institutions and in response to the “orange revolutions.”

A few other secondary tasks in the organization chart seem just as normal. In reality, the directorate nicknamed “Chernovsky”, led by General Chernov from 2012 to 2021, deals with some of the most sensitive issues, which are rather linked to the field of espionage than anything else, according to the Russian press. Its employees most often come from the ranks of SVR and FSB. Their task is to collect information and prepare analyzes of the situation in the former Soviet Union countries. They establish contacts and work directly with politicians, opinion leaders, representatives of non-governmental organizations and journalists from the countries where Russia invests and has various interests.

They usually count on contact people that have a positive attitude towards Russia, who openly support cooperation with Moscow. The sources used by “Chernovsky” benefit from political and informational support, and even stipends.

The former president Igor Dodon was in this situation himself, according to documents provided by Dossier and RISE.

The failure in Chisinau, regarded as a temporary setback

Moscow does not always succeed in making sure that politicians who are loyal to it come to power. This was the case last year, when Igor Dodon, Moscow’s assumed favorite, lost the presidential race to the pro-European candidate, Maia Sandu, whom he had previously defeated in the November 2016 presidential election. Besides the way in which he managed the pandemic, Dodon also made a series of major mistakes during the campaign, some even devised by the team of Russian consultants who had previously advised the current socialist mayor of Chisinau, Ion Ceban. One of them was the excessive demonization of the counter-candidate, which had the opposite effect of turning her into a victim and increasing sympathy for her among the population, including some of the traditional pro-Russia left voters. Everything went wrong in that campaign, from the team of advisers brought by plane from Moscow, to Igor Dodon’s visible despair between the rounds, already announcing his defeat. Today, more and more voices in the public space with connections to Moscow talk about the fact that Igor Dodon is no longer wanted by Moscow in pole position, either in PSRM or for another high-ranking post in the state, and that he is suggested to leave the stage.  For now, there is speculation that only Ion Ceban might have enough leverage to replace Dodon at the helm of the Socialists. In general, like his political model Vladimir Voronin, Igor Dodon made sure he kept his party colleagues close, leaving no room for competition. However, Russia could also rely on several rising political parties, such as Our Party led by Renato Usatii, or the Civic Congress of Mark Tcaciuk, the “gray cardinal” of the former Communist President Vladimir Voronin.

Setting up the chessboard for the next move

Regardless of whom Moscow chooses, it is clear that there is concern for the Republic of Moldova. Kommersant even writes that the subject is already being discussed in the Interdepartmental Commission for Assistance to International Development. It was created in November 2020 by presidential decree and, in theory, coordinates the various federal institutions and bodies that “promote international development.” The Commission’s responsibilities are somewhat similar to those of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The Russian version is rather a “low-cost” one, which is not supposed to consume the 27 billion dollars annually that the American institution does. The Kremlin would like a better promotion of Russian “soft power” in these countries, although it has never done great in this respect.  In December 2020, Vladimir Putin appointed Dmitry Kozak as chairman of the commission, who also kept the position of deputy head of the presidential administration. Within the Presidential Administration, Kozak is also responsible for the Directorate for Inter-Regional Relations and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries and for the Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation. It was created in 2018 on the skeleton of the Directorate for Social and Economic Cooperation with the CIS, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but was also tasked with the relations with Ukraine and, in particular, with the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Basically, the Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation deals with Moscow-supported entities in Georgia and Ukraine. Now, a reorganization is underway at the Presidential Administration, which involves the Directorate for Cultural Contacts coordinated by Maslov and the Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation – a redistribution of areas of responsibility. It remains to be seen, once all this relocation and redistribution of roles is completed, the next move of the “civilians” in charge of cultural relations and assistance to the former Soviet states, which Moscow wouldn’t lose from its sphere of influence, no matter the cost.