Russia step up efforts to destabilise Moldova

Foreigners who planned to destabilize the situation in the country were detained in Moldova. Russian media spread fakes about the situation in the region, and Transnistria announced a military gathering.

Russian efforts to disrupt Moldova were stepped up on February 28 when members of the Russia-linked Shor Party marched in Chisinau, while Moscow resumed its media offensive connected to the separatist Transnistria area, saying an attack by Romania is coming.

Russian officials are beginning to see Moldova as the probable next challenge to be addressed after Ukraine. Russian plans to destabilize Moldova have lately been made known to Moldovan officials by Ukrainian intelligence. Yet, there isn’t currently a clear chain of circumstances that could cause the situation to rapidly deteriorate.

Moscow seems to prioritize social unrest in Moldova over a military scenario that, for technical reasons, cannot currently include Russian soldiers. Russian troops in Transnistria are few in number, and the breakaway republic is located distant from the regions of Ukraine that Russia currently controls.

Demonstrators obstruct traffic

On February 28, a group of several thousand individuals led by the Shor Party attempted and partially succeeded in sabotaging Chisinau’s public transit system.

The general populace did not participate in the protest, with Chisinau inhabitants more irritated with the disruption of public transportation than sympathetic to the protestors.

Ilan Shor, a politician and fugitive businessman, controls the Shor Party, which has been organizing anti-government demonstrations for months. It is now asking retirees and other low-income residents to request that the government pay their utility bills, citing the financial assistance that Moldova has received from its international development partners.

Announcing the expulsion and ten-year entry ban of two foreign nationals who “were captured carrying out espionage operations” the previous day, on February 27, the Moldovan intelligence services, SIS, made the announcement.

According to reports, the two were gathering information for an international “political technology and social engineering” group with the intention of planning operations to undermine Moldovan stability and overthrow the government.

On February 23, the SIS announced that it is looking into “a network of agents formed by people of the Republic of Moldova and of another state engaging in activities of treason and espionage” with the Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Organized Crime and Special Cases (PCCOCS).

Provocative propaganda

On February 28, social media platforms were inundated with images of Romanian military personnel purportedly traveling to the border with Moldova and Transnistria at the same time as the public protests in Chisinau.

Authorities in Romania issued a warning against the spread of false information based on images from a military parade that occurred on December 1st of last year, on Independence Day, in Alba Iulia, central Romania.

This is in response to Russian assertions made in the days before that Ukraine intended to attack Transnistria.

On February 24, a presidential adviser for Ukraine responded by stating that no action in Transnistria is planned.

Russian comments are actually a part of a hybrid war, according to Moldovan officials, who also said that they had not heard of any indications of a forthcoming Ukrainian attack.

While this was going on, the separatist government in Tiraspol exhorted people “not to yield to panic.” Vadim Krasnoselsy, the head of the self-declared republic, has always urged prudence and has worked to contain radical forces in order to discourage Transnistria from becoming involved in the crisis in neighboring Ukraine.

Military gathering in Transnistria

In the uncontrolled region of the Republic of Moldova, in the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, a military gathering has been announced.

This was reported by the self-declared republic’s ministry of defense’s press office.

The statement on the department’s website reads, “The peacekeeping contingent of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic continues to accept applications for participation in the regular three-month meetings starting March 1, [2023].”

A similar action by illegal paramilitary groups working with a group of Russian forces could be seen as a continuation of Russian provocation of the situation in the area.

Destabilisation plot 

The events of February 28 seem to be a part of a campaign to undermine Moldova’s government, which is now led by the pro-EU Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS).

Details of the alleged Russian attempt to destabilize the country were revealed by President Maia Sandu earlier in February.

“Actions involving divertionists with military training, dressed in civilian clothing, who will engage in violent acts, attacks on some state structures, and hostage taking are part of the plan for the upcoming period. The shift of power in Chisinau would be pursued through violent measures covered by opposition protests, said Sandu at a press conference on February 13.

In reply, she named Dorin Recean, a former national security adviser, as Moldova’s next prime minister.

The chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence department, Kirilo Budanov, told the Digi24 TV channel that Moscow’s destabilization efforts were blocked by Moldova’s new government.

Russian authorities have taken offense at Moldova’s westward trajectory; the country obtained EU candidate status in 2022, and Sandu recently warned it would lift its military neutrality and pursue membership in Nato.

The authorities in Moscow have made it clear that they support the activities occurring in Moldova. The language was used in the past by lower-ranking politicians, including State Duma members Leonid Kalashnikov and MPs, state secretaries, and chairs of several committees. He warned that joining Nato would risk Moldova’s “destruction”.

A “European catastrophe” may occur if the Russian forces in Transnistria are resisted, according to Dmitri Rogozin, the Russian presidency’s delegate for Transnistria.

Obviously, the troops in Transnistria don’t have the same weapons as Ukraine does right now, but they do have powerful weapons and ammo. They won’t be easy victims, therefore. If the Banderovites [Ukrainian nationalists] participate, there will be a carnage of epic proportions, Rogozin said.

According to media reports, Ukraine has acknowledged stationing troops near the Transnistrian border in response to regional threats.

The Russian troops in Transnistria are quite small; they are equivalent to Moldova’s army in size but not to Ukraine’s potential or to the military assistance that Moldova could receive from its allies abroad.

To increase their number, the so-called peacekeeping forces in Transnistria started a recruitment drive. The transport route via Ukraine was shut down after conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, and Russian troops were instead rotated between the peacekeeping force and the GOTR (the former Soviet 14th army).

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