On March 22, voters in Moldova’s autonomous region of Gagauzia went to the polls to select their next governor (also known as a bashkan). Pro-Russian (and self-avowedly independent) candidate Irina Vlakh captured 51 percent of the final tally, ensuring her victory without a runoff election. The campaign for governor was marked by rhetoric both engaging to Chisinau and simultaneously appealing to Moscow. In particular, Vlakh’s campaign was interpreted by many close observers of Moldovan and regional politics as a bellwether for the next likely point of contention between Russia and the West. Vlakh’s post-election statements were characterized by an effort to avoid conflict with the Moldovan central government in Chisinau:

On March 23, Vlah told reporters in the regional capital, Comrat, that her priorities will include “strengthening regional ties with [regions] of the Russian Federation, constructive work with Moldova’s central government, and the economic revival of Gagauzia.”—(RFE/RL, March 24)

The ties binding Gagauzia to Russia make the region an outsized influencer in the strategic landscape of Eastern Europe. The interests of Russia, the European Union (EU), and Turkey converge in Gaugazia, heightening its value in the context of the current geopolitical competition for the future of Eastern Europe:

During the election campaign she focused on plans to deepen co-operation with Russia and strengthen economic ties that could lead to an increase of Russian investment in Gagauzia, a decrease in unemployment, and the allowance of Gagauzian exports to the Russian market. (Igor Karpechenko, New Eastern Europe, March 23)