Post-release #11, August 1, 2022
Elena Koneva, Alexander Chilingaryan, Inna Volosevich
A reference to ExtremeScan is obligatory when using the data.
The study has been commissioned by ExtremeScan and conducted by the Ukrainian research agency Info Sapience.
August 1, 2022, was the 30th anniversary of the end of hostilities between Moldova and Transnistria.
Moldova's policy toward Transnistria has been quite unique during these 30 years. After the conflict ended, Chisinau went into direct negotiations with Tiraspol, making Russia a mediator rather than an enemy in this conflict. Many Moldovans do not perceive Russia as the aggressor and the direct perpetrator of the conflict in Transnistria. We saw this in the results of the study.
Moldova has not severed economic relations with Transnistria, mainly because of its industrial capacity. Sports clubs from Transnistria have no problem competing in championships and international competitions in Moldova, and Moldovan-Ukrainian checkpoints operate on the border between Ukraine and Transnistria. Moldova recognizes Transnistrian diplomas and driving licences. Before the war, there was free transport communication and active business relations between the two republics.
After President Maia Sandu came to power in 2020, the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict could move from the dead point. In one of her first speeches she called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Transnistria and replace them with OSCE representatives. The war in Ukraine has made such a plan much more difficult to implement.
Moldova today finds itself very close to a zone of military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Context and methodology of the study
Since late April 2022, the self-proclaimed Transnistrian Moldovan Republic has had the highest ("red") level of terrorist danger due to a series of terrorist acts without victims, in which either Ukraine or Moldova was blamed in the region; at the end of May, the level was changed to elevated ("yellow"), which is still in effect as of today.
In the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the risk of military aggression against Ukraine or Moldova from Transnistria or through Transnistria, the ExtremeScan company has conducted public opinion polls in Moldova and Transnistria on the attitude toward the war in Ukraine and military threats.
As part of the survey, a booster sample was used in Gagauzia, since this autonomous region of Moldova is distinguished by strong ties with Transnistria and pro-Russian sentiments (for example, members of the Gagauz People's Assembly have issued a resolution permitting the use of St. George ribbons on May 9, despite the ban imposed by the Moldovan Parliament).
The survey was conducted from May 16th to June 5th by Info Sapiens. A total of 2,077 interviews were conducted based on a random sample of phone numbers.
The survey was conducted in Russian and Romanian language by choice of respondents.
Conducting polls on Transnistrian territory has more limitations in comparison with the polls conducted on the territories controlled by the Moldovan government.
Some respondents are afraid to answer sensitive questions openly, presumably because of the risk of political repression or suspicion that the operators are provocateurs/spies. For instance, 80% of refusals in Transnistria were due to reluctance to answer political questions or questions about the war, while in Moldova, including, in particular, Gagauzia, this reason was mentioned in isolated cases (no more than 3% of all refusals). According to the interviewers, the respondents who answered that they were on Ukraine's side requested confidentiality of their answer more often. The lack of Moldovans among the respondents (the unweighted data shows 28% of them, while the weighted data, according to the census, shows 33%) may also indicate the ‘political’ fear of participating in polls: according to the survey data, Moldovans have anti-Russian views more often than Russians and Ukrainians in Transnistria
Most of the limitations we have encountered are related to Transnistria.
As was admitted earlier, there are the difficulties caused by the lack of reliable demographic data on the localities' size, gender, and age categories in Transnistria.
Among the residents of territories controlled by the Moldovan government, a certain degree of fear of speaking out about the war was also observed - for example, about 40% of respondents in all target audiences refused to answer which side they were on in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, or chose the option 'neither side'. The authors of the study believe that it is highly likely that a significant number of those who chose the 'neither side' option were unwilling to disclose their views.
Assessing the probability of military action in Moldova and Transnistria
Only 23% of Moldovan residents and even fewer - 13% - Transnistrian residents consider military actions on Moldovan territory possible, although the poll was conducted after numerous explosions and provocations on the territory of the region.
The authors of the study consider this to be a positive sign of the public opinion in Transnistria not having been prepared for war. This assumption is also confirmed by the fact that only 12% of Transnistrian residents would support the authorities' decision to start military actions against Moldova and 13% would support the decision to start military actions against Ukraine.
Low willingness to participate in military actions
Among Transnistrian residents, the readiness to participate in military actions is extremely low - 10% are ready to fight against Ukraine, and 3% - against Moldova.
The relations between Moldova and Transnistria are relatively friendly - only every fourth respondent in Moldova sees a threat from Transnistria, same as every fourth respondent in Transnistria sees a threat from Moldova
In case of an aggression on the part of the Russian Federation or Transnistria against Moldova, the resistance will be minimal: only 8% of Moldovans are ready to provide armed resistance to the troops of the Russian Federation or Transnistria. For comparison, there are 70% of Ukrainians ready to do so in 2022, and there were 46% in 2013 - however, the Ukrainian army is not commensurable with the Moldovan army in terms of manpower and equipment, and it can be assumed that most respondents consider such attempts doomed to fail. The difference in national mentalities also plays a role.
Empathy for Ukrainian refugees
77% of Moldovan residents and 56% of Transnistrian residents mentioned the appearance of refugees from Ukraine in their areas. Up to 3% pointed out that they also saw refugees from Russia and Transnistria.
Half of the Moldovan residents have helped Ukrainian refugees, 24% have helped Ukraine with money or volunteering. In Transnistria, 23% have helped Ukrainian refugees and 5% have helped Ukraine with money or volunteering.
Both in Moldova and in Transnistria over 80% of respondents believe that humanitarian assistance should be provided to Ukraine, and refugees should be helped
Moldova’s attitude towards Russia and Ukraine
44% of Moldovan residents take the side of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, 48% consider actions of the Russian Federation a threat to Moldova, and 49% believe that the Russian Federation is waging a war with Ukraine (and not a "special operation for liberation" or a "war with NATO").
No more than 20% of the population take the pro-Russian position: 15% take the side of the Russian Federation in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and 19% support V. Putin's actions in the conflict. About one third of the population prefers to take a neutral position, and it seems that the fear of expressing opinions on this topic is growing in the society: from March to June the share of 'neither side' answers has increased from 21% to 34%.
But despite the growing wariness in expressing opinions, there is also a growing trend of anti-Russian sentiment in Moldova: compared with March, support for V. Putin's actions decreased from 25% to 19%, and disapproval increased from 61% to 68%. The share of supporters of Russia decreased more than the share of supporters of Ukraine, which indicates the strengthening of pro-Ukrainian sentiment.
At the same time, not supporting Putin does not mean supporting Zelenskyy - 49% of Moldovan residents support the Ukrainian president's actions in the conflict, while 40% do not support them.
Moldova’s EU integration. The special situation of Gagauzia. Balance with Transnistria.
63% of Moldova residents support integration into the EU, and 32% are against it - that is approximately the same sentiment as was in Ukraine before the full-scale war in 2022, after the beginning of which the support for EU integration reached 91%. Our survey was conducted before the EU summit, in which Ukraine and Moldova were granted candidate status, so it can be assumed that the support for European integration will be increasing even more.
It is noteworthy that most residents of Gagauzia and Transnistria are against European integration, with a higher share of its opponents in Gagauzia (80% vs. 63%), apparently because this process affects them directly.
The candidate status for accession to the EU and the ban on Russian TV channels may activate the separatist sentiments in the region; for now, the majority, 55% of the population of the region, believe that Gagauz Yeri (the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia) should stay within Moldova, 39% want independence and 6% want to join the Russian Federation.
As of the moment the survey was conducted, there was no public discussion about the secession of Gagauzia or a separatist movement - but therу were none in Donbass before 2014 either. In case the Russian Federation undertakes a certain initiative, the risk of separatism would be quite high due to the extensive influence of Russia.It is possible to reduce these risks through taking action in the socio-economic sphere: 66% of the residents of Gagauzia have a low income, 59% of them live in the countryside, 14% are unemployed, 17% are pensioners - these are the groups that tend to strongly support Russia.
58% of Moldovan residents would like to regain Transnistria, while 28% believe that the region should retain its current status, and 5% believe that it should join the Russian Federation.
In Transnistria itself only 6% want to join Moldova, 53% want to join the Russian Federation, and 32% want to maintain the status quo.
Attitudes towards the Moldovan government’s actions
An important element in the perception of the current events is the attitude towards the Moldovan government. The ratio of support by 32% and non-support by 55%, is unfortunately not yet in favor of the current government. A specific feature of the ‘party of power’ is a symptom-complex in favor of 'Ukraine in the conflict-Zelenskyy-Eurointegration-Transnistria joining Moldova’, and against 'Russia in the conflict-Putin-Transnistria's secession’.
In the political space, Moldova finds itself caught between the European Union/Ukraine on one side and Russia/Transnistria on the other.
Judging by the moods in Moldova, it may be politically successful to bet on the European choice ( a stable 63% of citizens' support) and on the promotion of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine (the topic of helping refugees not only evokes a response, but also encourages people's active participation). At the same time, it will be necessary to maintain the pacifist rhetoric and a fundamental distance from any military assistance.
People do not want to participate in a military conflict, no matter who they support. And sanctions, which Moldova should join as a matter of principle or at least symbolically due to its new status, will have to be carried out extremely carefully, because any deterioration in the quality of life may be interpreted by Russia and domestic political adversaries as an irresponsible sacrifice for the global partnership.
The citizens of Moldova need peace and economic stability in their country
As of early June, according to the survey, only 29% have felt no impact of the war. A new wave of unemployment (3%, or approximately 150,000 people), loss of income (5%, or 200,000 people) anxiety (19%, or 700,000 people), displaced families (5%, or 200,000 people), shortages of food and goods, higher fuel prices, the inevitable costs associated with refugees - all of which people have already begun to experience can be construed as the consequences of supporting Ukraine.
The impact of media and social ties
For residents of Moldova, the main sources of information about the Russian-Ukrainian war are international social networks (60%) and Moldovan TV channels (52%), which together cover 86% of the audience.
Residents of Gagauzia and Transnistria receive the information from international social networks and Russian TV channels.
Residents of Gagauzia use Moldovan channels and websites two times less frequently than Moldovan residents in general - possibly due to lack of knowledge of the language, which reduces their sources to Russian mass media.
The audience of pro-Russian platforms (Russian/Transnistrian TV channels, websites, and Russian social networks) is significantly more likely to take the side of the Russian Federation in the Russian-Ukrainian war than those who use other sources of information
Russian TV channels remain the most effective tool for broadcasting the Russian agenda. However, their share may decrease since on June 19 Maia Sandu signed a law banning Russian TV propaganda. As of the time of the survey, Russian TV channels are watched by 16% of Moldovan residents and 42% of Gagauzian residents.
The ‘melting pot' of pacifism
Moldova has every chance of being a much-needed buffer zone, and not a war expansion zone
The region as a whole - Greater Moldova* - seems to be a multi-ethnic community with multilateral ties. A large proportion of the population is made up of people of mixed ancestry and a multitude of diverse connections and ties.
* Greater Moldova is a term created by the authors to indicate Moldova and Transnistria jointly, introduced solely for the convenience of interpreting the results of the study and not reflecting the authors' positions on political / territorial / administrative issues.
51% of Moldovan residents have relatives or friends in the Russian Federation and 40% have friends in Ukraine. In Gagauzia, the ratio is 86% and 54%, in Transnistria - 77% and 59%. According to the study, almost none of the respondents have broken up with either Russians or Ukrainians because of the war.
“Moldova has its own way of embracing multiculturalism and its particular features, it is an area at the junction of large cultural spaces. The Prut-Dniester interfluve is an infusion zone, and this has always been a polyethnic and multilingual environment. We have both geographical and linguistic diversity, and the ethnic self-identification is not necessarily connected with the linguistic one... In Moldova there are two autonomies regulated by the Moldovan laws: Gagauzia and the left bank of Dniester. There are districts where different ethnic groups live compactly, such as Taraclia. We have our own patchwork of peoples and language groups that have been living here together for centuries.” https://locals.md/2019/pyataya-grafa-etnicheskoe-mnogoobrazie-moldovy-v-liczah/
Attitude toward the military threat
32% of citizens in Transnistria have Russian passports. A small percentage of the residents do not hold any passports. The 5% who refused to answer the question about having passports can be seen as an estimation from above. These people cannot leave the Transnistrian territory.
Russia has been constantly developing a citizenship program in neighboring states in the region and simplifying the very procedure of issuing passports. It can be expected that the share of those to be formally considered citizens of the Russian Federation in the region will grow.
Despite the fact that separatist forces established control over Transnistria in 1992 and have held it for 30 years thanks to Russian involvement, only half of the Moldovan residents consider the actions of the Russian Federation a threat to themselves.
Every fourth resident of Moldova sees a threat in the actions of the USA and NATO; also every fourth sees a threat in the actions of Transnistria, i.e. Transnistria is perceived with considerably less tension than the Russian Federation.
Every fifth Moldovan resident sees Ukraine's actions as a threat, and Romania is considered the friendliest country, but every tenth sees its actions as a threat as well.
Only 13% of Transnistrian residents believe that military actions are likely to happen on the territory of the region. This is less than in Moldova and Gagauzia (23% and 27% respectively) even though the survey was conducted after numerous explosions and provocations on the territory of their region. Apparently, the population in Transnistria has not been prepared to participate in a war.
This opinion is also confirmed by the fact that only 12% of Transnistrian residents would support the authorities' decision to start hostilities against Moldova and 13% would support the same decision against Ukraine. This is despite the fact that the majority of residents of Transnistria have trust in their government: 59% against 23% of those who do not
23% of Moldovan residents consider military action on the territory of Moldova likely. This is quite a high percentage for a peaceful region. In comparison, a mere 32% of Ukrainians thought an invasion by Russia in February was likely, despite warnings from the U.S. and Great Britain (Info Sapiens press-release).
Residents of Gagauzia more often consider hostilities on the territory of Moldova likely (27% vs. 23% among all Moldovans) and less often - absolutely not likely (21% vs. 35%). Also, as we saw above, residents of Gagauzia see a threat in the actions of Western countries and organizations more often than other audiences - both are most likely the result of Russian propaganda influence and a potential basis for launching military rhetoric.
No one is ready to go to war
Perception of the war
49% of Moldovan residents believe that the Russian Federation is waging war with Ukraine, 13% believe that it is conducting a 'special military operation', and 12% believe that the Russian Federation is at war with the United States and NATO. About half of Transnistrian and Gagauzian residents believe in a 'special military operation' and less than 10% believe that the Russian Federation is waging war with Ukraine.
Every fourth resident of Moldova and Transnistria and every third resident of Gagauzia refused to answer this question.
The unusually high percentage of refusals may indicate a fear of expressing one's position, as well as difficulties in determining one's position in a situation of contradictory signals - from the Russian mass media and from reality.
44% of Moldovan residents are on Ukraine's side in the conflict, 15% are on Russia's side; in Gagauzia this proportion is 6% vs. 52%, in Transnistria - 4% vs. 58%. The rest of the respondents would not answer or say 'neither side'. The high percentage of undecideds and refusals is a natural consequence of self-censorship and information dissonance.
However, the share of supporters of the Russian Federation decreased more than the share of supporters of Ukraine, which may indicate both a strengthening of pro-Ukrainian sentiment and concealment of pro-Russian views due to the Moldovan government taking a pro-Ukrainian stance. The decrease in support for V. Putin compared to March indicates the favor of the first hypothesis
Humanitarian assistance and hosting refugees from Ukraine
Moldova is on the sixth place in Europe in terms of absolute number of refugees: by 09.06.22, half a million Ukrainians have passed through Moldova.
The absolute majority of respondents in all three regions believe that their country should help refugees. Against this humanitarian movement are 14% residents of Moldova, 20% residents of Gagauzia and 9% residents of Transnistria.
Among the correlations in Gagauzia one can mark the income level: the lower it is, the lesser is the readiness to provide humanitarian assistance. A universal factor for all three regions is the attitude towards Putin and the side the residents of the region take in the conflict.
Obviously, those who support Putin and Russia are much less likely to support humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
The fact is that Ukrainian refugees evoke sympathy, regardless of the political preferences of the locals
Attitudes towards the warring neighbors' leaders
For some reason the question about V. Putin turned out to be less sensitive than the question about the support for the conflicting sides - every sixth person refused to answer it, while the question about the support for the warring sides had about 40% of refusals.
19% of Moldovan residents, 65% of Gagauzian residents and 70% of Transnistrian residents assess V. Putin's actions in the conflict with Ukraine positively. A negative assessment was given by 68%, 20% and 13% respectively.
Compared to March 2022, support for V. Putin among Moldovan residents has decreased from 25% to 19%.
At the same time, not supporting Putin does not mean supporting Zelenskyy - only 49% of Moldovans support the latter's actions in the conflict, while 40% do not. In Gagauzia only 9% support Zelenskyy, and in Transnistria the figure is 6%.
In Moldova, the factors influencing the positive/negative attitude towards the Ukrainian president are the level of education (the higher, the better the estimate), the financial situation (the better, the more positive) and, to a certain extent, the sources of information. However, the propaganda channels have a less radical impact than one might expect.
As for Transnistria and Gagauzia, the processes here depend on general loyalty to Russia, adherence to the Russian language, and therefore to Russian means of propaganda.
Compared to March, the support for Zelenskyy in Moldova has remained almost unchanged.
The assessment of the actions (approval, in other words) of the Ukrainian leader is influenced by national self-identification and preferred language. These parameters radically correlate with the assessment of Zelenskyy's actions. In the polls conducted in Romanian, 60% of the respondents evaluated him positively, as opposed to only 10% in Russian.
Language is not only a prerequisite for loyalty, but also a condition for the influences of various information/propaganda flows.
We can see the dependence of the attitude towards the actions of Zelenskyy and Putin on the financial situation, as well as sources of information. Zelenskyy's actions are endorsed mainly by middle- and high-income Moldovans with higher education, consumers of information from international social networks, and Moldovan sources. Accordingly, Putin's audience is comprised of low-income, middle-educated people and viewers of Russian TV channels. Survey data confirm this apparent correlation. ‘Social’ populism in its rhetoric works against ‘Western values’, European integration, which leads to ‘oligarchic capitalism’
63% of Moldovan residents support integration into the EU, 32% are against it; this is approximately the same sentiment as in Ukraine before the full-scale war, after the outbreak of which the support for integration into the EU has reached 91%. Most residents of Gagauzia and Transnistria are against European integration, with a higher percentage of its opponents in Gagauzia (80% vs. 63%), probably because it affects them directly.
Compared to March 2022, the share of integration supporters has not changed, but the share of those who 'fully support' it has increased from 40% to 50% - apparently, in anticipation of the EU summit, which was anticipated to grant Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidates for accession. Since these predictions have come true, one can assume that the share of integration supporters will increase after the summit.
Status of Transnistria
Only 58% of Moldovan residents would like to reclaim Transnistria, whereas a little more than half of Gagauzian residents believe that Transnistria should maintain its current status, and a little more than half of Transnistrian residents believe that Transnistria should join the Russian Federation.
It is essential to note that one' s opinion about the status of Transnistria, as well as other political attitudes within Transnistria itself, is practically independent of national self-identification. We are observing a political diversification, but not a national one, which indicates that the territorial and political integrity of this region has been formed. The general orientation of the region's residents' attitudes toward the current events is based, among other factors, on a stable regional self-identification and corresponding interests.
For comparison, in Moldova we have found a significant correlation between political attitudes and nationality.
Status of Gagauzia
Gagauzia is often called a shard of the Russian world, but 55% of its residents prefer to remain part of Moldova, 39% want independence and only 6% want to join the Russian Federation. As of the moment the survey was conducted, there was no public discussion about the secession of Gagauzia or a separatist movement, but there was not one in 2013 in Donbas, either. Therefore, the authors of the survey believe that in case the Russian Federation undertakes a certain initiative, the risk of separatism would increase.
The issue of nationality and language
If Moldova and Gagauzia are rather monoethnic (75% of Moldovans and 84% of Gagauz, respectively), in Transnistria three nationalities - Moldovans, Ukrainians and Russians - are represented almost equally. It is noteworthy that Ukrainians and Russians in Transnistria support the Russian Federation in the conflict almost equally - 59% and 61% respectively, whereas Moldovans support the Russian Federation a little less often (55%).
An important factor of national self-identification is the command of languages: language is obviously a marker of national self-identification, and it also influences the preferred channels of receiving information.
The survey in Moldova recorded the preferred languages for the interview: Romanian (78%) or Russian (22%), though Russian is spoken by 96% of the population of Moldova. In Transnistria and Gagauzia the interviews were conducted in Russian at the choice of the respondents.
Over the 30 years of independent existence, a core trinational backbone has definitively formed in Transnistria, while there are about 80 large and small ethnic communities. This is demonstrated by the results of the 2015 population census. Transnistria's national structure is a good example of national self-determination not only as an ethnic identity, but also as a political, documentary choice. It is quite possible that the share of those who identify themselves as Russians may change depending on the number of Russian passports issued.
The region of Greater Moldova is a multinational melting pot. Proficiency in several languages and access to different passports, mixed marriages, and relatives in neighbouring states and Russia, as well as the geographic location at the crossroads of southern Europe, make self-identification quite a creative and politicised process.
Kinship and friendship ties in the region
51% of Moldovan residents have relatives or friends in Russia, and 40% - in Ukraine. In Gagauzia this ratio is 86% and 54%, in Transnistria - 77% and 59%, respectively.
Almost none of the respondents have broken up with either Russians or Ukrainians because of the war (1% of Moldovans have fallen out with Ukrainians, and another 1% with Russians. 4% of Transnistrian residents have fallen out with Ukrainians. For comparison: 38% of Ukrainians who used to have relatives or friends in Russia stopped considering them as such after the start of the war).
Residents of Gagauzia have relatives or friends in Transnistria much more often than residents of Moldova as a whole - 35% vs 54%. 68% of Transnistrian residents have relatives or friends in Moldova, which indicates strong ties.
Greater Moldova. Buffer anti-war zone
Despite the war zone's proximity, the entire Greater Moldova region does not look turbulent. Numerous family and business ties, a stable balance between Moldova and Transnistria, and cross-traffic flows lead to pacifist sentiments and reluctance to get involved in military actions.
Thus, after 30 years, Moldova and Transnistria have come a long way through a frozen conflict, and new generations who have not witnessed the short war have already come, but the older generation remembers destroyed houses, the killing of thousand military and civilians, 4,500 wounded and 100,000 refugees. This memory of the horrors of the war in Ukraine is enough for the people of Greater Moldova to be categorically against the war and any involvement in it.
One might call Greater Moldova a buffer anti-war zone. According to the study's results, we have not detected internal prerequisites for changing the status quo