...“We go to a place for an hour or so, and then we leave and they all go back to watching Russian television,” Ms. Morari said.
Russian propaganda aside, however, Moldovans say they have more than enough reasons — not least widespread corruption here, the shadowy power of business moguls, and the war next door in Ukraine — to look askance at the European Union, which Ms. Morari fears is losing out to Russia in the struggle for hearts and minds in this former Soviet land.
Instead of enjoying a new European dawn, the prospective partners are deeply mired in their own troubles. Or they are veering closer toward Moscow, swayed by a contrasting combination of a Brussels bureaucracy focused on technical minutiae and President Vladimir V. Putin’s far more clear and assertive effort to return former Soviet satraps to Moscow’s fold.
It is the kind of waffling that has left many former Soviet subjects less than enchanted by European entreaties. “Russia doesn’t have to do anything,” said Yan Feldman, a member of a Moldovan government council set up to combat discrimination. “It just has to wait. The idea of Europe has discredited itself.”
Indeed, there is little to show from the six years of courtship of the former Soviet republics. Ukraine aside, Georgia is stuck in limbo amid fierce political infighting, and three other partnership countries — Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus — have rebuffed Brussels’s inducements and moved closer to Moscow.
But nowhere is the gap between expectation and reality bigger than in Moldova, which last year secured visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens after being trumpeted by Brussels as the Eastern Partnership’s “top reformer.”
Today, Moldova’s feuding pro-European politicians, like their counterparts in Ukraine, are so tainted by their failure to combat corruption and create a functioning state that, to many here, Russia looks appealing.
A recent opinion poll carried out by the Institute for Public Policy, a Moldova research group, found that only 32 percent of those surveyed would support joining the European Union — an option that Brussels has no intention of offering — while 50 percent said they would prefer to join a customs union promoted by Mr. Putin. Over all, support for the European Union in Moldova has plummeted to 40 percent this year from 78 percent in 2007, according to the group’s figures, which were based on what it called a representative sample of Moldovans.
“We cannot live without the Russian market,” said Igor Dodon, the Socialist Party leader, as he sat in an office bedecked with photographs of himself meeting Mr. Putin in Moscow. Mr. Putin, he said, told him that Russia wants to revive trade and political ties with Moldova, but only if the country avoids moving toward NATO.
The European Union, Mr. Dodon said, “needed a success story and chose us. But now everyone sees this was all an illusion.”