In an effort to destabilize Western unity, the Kremlin continues its covert disinformation campaigns, relying heavily on local supporters to push its narrative.
Putin launched his war of aggression with great ambition. It used to be clear that the invasion of Ukraine could be followed by an invasion of Moldova, which already has a Russian contingent in its separatist Transnistria.
While it is now clear that the Russian military cannot pass by Ukraine, the Kremlin continues its hybrid warfare to destabilize neighboring countries through disinformation and political subversion rather than direct military confrontation. Southeastern Europe has proved to be a favorable target, especially countries such as Bulgaria and Moldova, which are in a state of political instability.
Bulgaria has been in a state of constant political crisis since 2020 and has long been a major target of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns. Moldova finds itself in an even more dangerous situation, as it is close to the front line.
Vesela Cherneva, a foreign policy adviser to former Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov, tells Emerging Europe that: “Countries that are geographically close to the theater of war, such as Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova, are probably still seen by Moscow as a disputed area of influence. And while for Bulgaria, a NATO member, interference in internal affairs fuels anti-Western parties but cannot change the overall direction of the country, it is much more difficult for Moldova.”
While the pro-Russian demonstrations in Bulgaria by Vuzrazhdane and its allies were mostly small and ineffective, Moldova is in a much more vulnerable position outside of NATO.
“Therefore, an attempt to change the regime in Chisinau is attractive in Russia’s view of hybrid warfare,” Cherneva adds.
At a press conference in early February, President Maia Sandu told reporters that Russia’s plans for the country “included sabotage and military-trained people disguised as civilians to carry out violent acts,” a description very similar to that given by Bulgarian journalist Kristo Grozev. Bulgarian National Assembly in January on Russia’s operations in Sofia.
Russia’s ambitions in the region are nothing new, nor is its use of propaganda to destabilize it. While military escalation beyond Ukraine remains unlikely, aggressive rhetoric from the Kremlin is likely to continue as the Putin regime seeks both domestic and international support.