Erdogan's 'global purge' extends to Moldova

The latest developments in Turkey’s “global purge” – the arrest of seven Turkish nationals in Moldova, including the director of the Horizon schools network – underscored yet again the impact of Turkey’s authoritarian turn on nearby regions.

In countries where the EU and the United States are prioritising rule of law and democratic transformation, the use of corruption to suborn local officials and institutions puts Turkey at loggerheads with EU and U.S. foreign policies.

Even though Moldova does not have an EU accession “perspective,” its democratic transformation is a goal of EU and U.S. foreign policy.

The EU provides assistance to Moldova through the Eastern Partnership framework in a range of development areas; within the EU’s Single Support Framework, it will provide 284-348 million euros for the period 2017-2020. Of that, 42.6-52.2 million euros are provided for “strengthening institutions and good governance.”

Additionally, in September 2017 the EU agreed on a macro-financial assistance package of 100 million euros, but emphasised that “respecting effective democratic mechanisms” is a precondition for the disbursement of the aid.

The reason for this conditionality approach is a long-term attempt to reform state institutions, in particular in order to fight corruption.

A 2014 banking scandal, in which $1 billion (12 percent of Moldova’s GDP) was funneled out of Moldovan banks and into offshore accounts, drove home to international stakeholders the extraordinary depth of the corruption crisis in Moldova, and the risks it presents for efforts to combat money laundering and organized crime.

The United States has also invested heavily in Moldova’s transformation, considering the small size of the country. For fiscal year 2016, USAID has provided more than $17 million in development assistance, the bulk of which goes to “governance”: support to Moldovan civil society, media, judicial reform, political processes, and the rule of law (full disclosure: the writer's employer Freedom House is a partner under one USAID project in Moldova, with the media NGO Internews).

Numbers for fiscal year 2017 are not yet fully reported, but USAID’s public data indicate that its total assistance to Moldova will rise to $30 million for the year.

In other words, both the EU and the United States emphasise the rule of law and strengthening of democratic institutions in their relations with Moldova. As in Kosovo and other parts of southeastern Europe, however, Turkey’s global purge directly undermines those goals.

While it is remains unclear exactly how Turkey gains cooperation from the security services in various countries where it conducts renditions, discussions in Moldova and elsewhere have centred on financial incentives and threats to political elites and security services.

In countries with weak rule of law, widespread corruption, and major Turkish investments, simply buying off officials  is likely the shortest route to cooperation.

The violations of domestic and international law that the global purge generates also undermine efforts to strengthen rule of law. Extraditing people who are in the midst of applying for asylum, canceling residence permits and then summarily deporting people to a country where they will face persecution, or simply snatching people off the streets, all contribute to a culture of impunity and disregard for rights and procedures.

While there is much professional and academic discussion of “authoritarian learning,” the global purge is a clear case where an authoritarian country’s foreign policy is directly producing human rights violations abroad, and undermining international efforts to strengthen rule of law.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.