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Moldova says it foiled Russian-backed plot to stir unrest

March 12, 2023

Police in Moldova say they have arrested members of a Moscow-orchestrated network that was seeking to destabilize the former Soviet country.

Moldovan law enforcement officers stand guard outside the parliament building during an anti-government protes
Moldovan police standing guard outside the parliament building as anti-government protesters gatheredImage: VLADISLAV CULIOMZA/REUTERS

Moldova police say they foiled Russia-backed unrest plot

Moldovan police said on Sunday they had thwarted an effort by Russian-backed agents who were seeking to cause mass unrest at protests organized by the political opposition.

In recent weeks, the political party of fugitive pro-Russian oligarch Ilhan Shor has sought to mobilize followers against the former Soviet republic's pro-European government

What the police said

The Moldovan police said they had arrested members of a network "orchestrated by Moscow" to destabilize the country ahead of an anti-government protest on Sunday.

Police chief Viorel Cernauteanu told media that 25 men had been questioned and seven of them detained.

The group was led by a Moldovan-Russian, he said, adding that it had been infiltrated and the prosecution had recorded 10 hours of video and audio.

The group included "diversionists," some Russian citizens, who had been promised $10,000 (€9,380) to organize "mass disorder," according to the police.

"People came from Russia with a very specific training role," Cernauteanu said.

Moldovan authorities said they acted after "receiving information on the organization by Russian special services of destabilizing actions on our territory via demonstrations." 

Background of protest

Several protests have been held in recent weeks by the Movement for the People group, which is demanding that the government fully cover the costs of winter fuel bills and that it should "not involve the country in war."

The group — which is backed by the Russia-friendly Shor Party — has also repeatedly called for pro-European President Maia Sandu to step down.

The leader of the Shor Party, which holds six seats in Moldova's 101-seat legislature, is currently in exile in Israel. Shor, a Moldovan oligarch, is implicated in a $1 billion bank theft and was recently named as working for Russian interests on a US State Department sanctions list.

Border police in the country of some 2.6 million people on Sunday said that 182 foreign nationals had been denied entry into Moldova in the past week. They included a "possible representative" of Russia's private military Wagner Group, which is currently involved in much of the fighting in neighboring Ukraine.

Moldova's national anti-corruption agency said a day earlier that it had seized more than €220,000 euros in a case of alleged illegal financing of the Shor Party by an organized crime group.

Officials said car searches of party "couriers" had found cash in various currencies stuffed into envelopes and bags. The agency said the money was set aside to "pay for the transport and remunerate people who come to the protests organized by the party."

Separately, police on Sunday said they had detained 54 protesters who exhibited "questionable behavior" or were found to be carrying prohibited items, including a knife.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last month said Kyiv had intercepted intelligence indicating that Moscow plotted "to break the democracy of Moldova and establish control over Moldova."

Moldova: DW reports from pro-Russian protests in Chisinau

Moscow seeks to maintain influence

Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is militarily neutral but, since last year, has official candidate status to become a member of the European Union.

The Kremlin has sought to keep post-Soviet states such as Ukraine and Moldova within its sphere of influence, although both countries have pivoted toward the West.

Russia still has considerable influence in Moldova, particularly in the eastern breakaway region of Moldova, Trans-Dniester, where Moscow maintains a military presence. Although The Kremlin officially refers to its force of some  there as peacekeepers, they support Moscow-aligned separatists active there.

Trans-Dniester seceded from Moldova after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, with pro-Russian separatists fighting against Moldovan government forces.

Tensions mounting in Moldova amid war in Ukraine

rc/fb (AFP, AP)