Moldova increases security following map ‘mistake’
Moldova this weekend expressed concern after Russian soldiers stationed in the unrecognised breakaway region of Transnistria performed military operations without Chișinău’s, Moldova’s capital, approval. It is just one in a number of events that have worried authorities in Moldova as Russia looks to expand its influence inside the former Soviet state. Now, Express.co.uk has been told by a sitting MP from the country that spies and saboteurs backed by pro-Vladimir Putin forces are throwing everything they have at destabilising what has become a functioning, western-oriented democracy.
Moldova has grappled with Russian influence ever since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. At times, it hasn’t so much as shunned Moscow as welcomed it with open arms.
In 2021, things changed. The government, under Ion Chicu, had leaned on Russia and Putin for political support. But the victory of current President Maia Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity at that year’s snap election saw a pro-western party come to power.
Since then, a divide that already existed has only grown between those who want stronger ties with the Kremlin and those who want a better relationship with the West.
Andrian Cheptonar, an MP for the Party of Action and Solidarity, explained that after Russia invaded Ukraine, this division only became worse.
They won’t stop until every young man that has been trained to initiate violence is known by police.
Pro-Russian protests and Kremlin-backed demonstrations in Chișinău have revealed the extent of Ms Sandu’s Russian problem, and Mr Cheptonar said it is clear to him that these forces will not stop until they have achieved their goal of tearing the country apart.
He said: “We understand that the pro-Russian forces are behaving like they have nothing to lose. So, most probably, they won’t stop until they will be forced to.
“They won’t stop until every young man that has been trained to initiate violence, that accepts money to get involved in these kinds of activities, will be known by police. These sorts of people in Moldova will be advised by the police not to get involved and to understand the criminal risks of their behaviour.
“Until it reaches a point where there is no one left on the market to accept money for this behaviour, they [pro-Russian agitators] will be looking for this kind of person. They’ve tried also to bring some boxers and some football supporters from abroad. But again, on risk assessment, we forbid their entry into the country even if it does generate some nerves and our relationship with other countries. But it’s the security of the state that is on the table and we cannot take risks.”
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The Moldavian authorities are expecting mass pro-Russian demonstrations to take place in Chișinău next month, on May 7.
Last week, Express.co.uk revealed that pro-Kremlin forces had been buying up Google ads on Moldavian internet, inciting violence against the government in the upcoming protests. Google did not respond when approached for comment.
A translation of the advert read: “May 7, save our country. Come on Sunday May 7, at 1pm to the parliament, to overthrow the thieves in power.”
The advert, it is believed, was paid for by Ilan Shor, President of the pro-Russian Șor Party and a sitting MP. Mr Shor is currently living in self-imposed exile in Israel after he was accused and sentenced in absentia to 15 years for his role in stealing $1billion (£804,000) from Moldova’s banks 10 years ago.
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In March, police arrested a group of Russian-backed actors who were trained to cause widespread unrest during the upcoming protest.
Mr Cheptonar said these men were instructed in Transnistria and Turkey.
The country endured mass protests in February and March, largely in response to Moldova’s spiralling cost of living crisis. Energy bills in the country now consume more than 70 percent of income, according to Ms Sandu.
Those protests were organised by the Șor Party, and many protestors travelled into Chișinău from surrounding towns and cities, their costs reportedly covered by Șor.
Șor’s General Secretary, Marina Tauber, led the protests and said her party is not opposed to the EU and wants good relations with all sides.
However, there are members of the party that make no secret of their desire for Russian intervention in the country.
Party councillor Iurie Berenchi told the BBC’s Lucy Williamson: “We’re not afraid because if Russia wanted to take Moldova, they’d do it in half a day.”
When asked if he would welcome that, he replied: “In my personal opinion, yes. With Russia, we’d be much better off than we are now.”
Many in Moldova see stronger ties with the West as a way to protect their country’s national sovereignty and future.
Mr Cheptonar’s party has a solid majority in parliament, but there is no ignoring the fact that a chunk of the country is dissatisfied and up for political grabs.
Ms Williamson asked one of the protestors outside the Moldavian parliament in February whether they believe Russia wants to infiltrate Moldova, fears that Mr Cheptonar voiced.
“Yes, let them come!” they told her. “We want them to come here. We want to be part of Russia!”
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