Moldova’s president has accused Russia of planning to use foreign agents to infiltrate her government, use the tiny nation in the war against Ukraine and stop it from joining the European Union.
Maia Sandu spoke on Monday after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that Kyiv had uncovered a Russian intelligence plot “for the destruction of Moldova”.
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Sandu, whose country borders Ukraine, has repeatedly expressed concern about Moscow’s intentions towards the former Soviet republic and about the presence of Russian troops in the breakaway Transnistria region.
Sandu alleged Moscow’s plan involves citizens of Russia, Montenegro, Belarus and Serbia entering the country to initiate protests to “change the legitimate government to an illegal government controlled by the Russian Federation”.
“The plan for the next period involves actions with the involvement of diversionists with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes, who will undertake violent actions, attack some state buildings and even take hostages,” Sandu told reporters at a briefing.
“The purpose of these actions is to overthrow the constitutional order, to change the legitimate power from Chisinau to an illegitimate one, which would put our country at the disposal of Russia in order to stop the European integration process,” Sandu said.
“The Kremlin’s attempts to bring violence to Moldova will not work,” she added. “Our main goal is the security of citizens and the state. Our goal is peace and public order in the country.”
Moscow angrily rejects accusations
Russia reacted angrily to Sandu’s remarks, with foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissing her allegations as “absolutely unfounded and unsubstantiated”.
“They are built in the spirit of classical techniques that are often used by the United States, other Western countries and Ukraine,” Zakharova said on Tuesday.
“First, accusations are made with reference to purportedly classified intelligence information that cannot be verified, and then they are used to justify their own illegal actions,” she added.
Zakharova also accused Ukrainian authorities of having invented the purported plan by Moscow to destabilise Moldova to draw it into a confrontation with Russia.
She argued Moldovan officials had meanwhile used “the myth about a Russian threat to distract Moldovan citizens’ attention from internal problems resulting from a disastrous social-economic course of the current administration and to step up the fight against dissent and political opponents”.
Russia denied last year wanting to intervene in Moldova after authorities in Transnistria said they had been targeted by a series of attacks.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago, Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people, has sought to forge closer ties with its Western partners. In June, it was granted EU candidate status, the same day as Ukraine.
Sandu said between October and December, Moldovan police and the Intelligence and Security Service intervened in “several cases of organised criminal elements and stopped attempts at violence”.
Over the past year, Moldova has faced a string of problems. These include a severe energy crisis after Moscow dramatically reduced its gas supplies, skyrocketing inflation, and several incidents in recent months involving missiles that crossed its skies and debris found on its territory.
Moldovan authorities confirmed another missile from the war in Ukraine entered its airspace on Friday.
‘Order and discipline’
Also last week, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita resigned following the economic turmoil and the spillover effects of the war in Ukraine.
Former Interior Minister Dorin Recean, a defence adviser to Sandu, will replace Gavrilita.
“The new government will have three priorities: order and discipline, a new life and economy, and peace and stability,” Recean said.
Tensions rose on Friday when Moldova said a Russian missile violated Moldovan airspace before hitting Ukraine. It summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest.
The foreign ministry condemned “the latest unfriendly actions and statements against Moldova” and said they were “absolutely unacceptable”.
Sandu said Moldova’s Parliament must adopt laws to equip its Intelligence and Security Service and the prosecutor’s office “with the necessary tools to combat more effectively the risks to the country’s security”.