We want Russia to come say Moldovan protesters BBC

We want Russia to come, say Moldovan protesters

  • By Lucy Williamson
  • BBC News, Chisinau

46 minutes ago

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Moldova is dependent on Russian energy – and last year the Kremlin halved its gas supplies to the country

Beneath Moldova’s towering parliament building, a parade of its most precarious acts trundles by — with buses in the thousands from across the country, each with their own story of poverty and frustration.

“We’re a laughing stock – the government mocks us,” some yell.

Wearing a blue wool cap, Ala nestles her broad, pale face close to mine and says, “There are people with four or five kids who have literally nothing to eat.”

According to the President of the Republic of Moldova, energy bills here now eat up more than 70% of household income.

Ala tells me they swallow half their pension.

“When we elected this government, they promised to increase salaries and pensions, but so far we haven’t seen a penny,” she says.

Sunday’s protests, organized by Moldova’s pro-Russian Sor party, are being closely watched by governments across Europe and beyond. Most of the protesters traveled to the capital Chisinau by bus, their expenses reportedly being borne by the Sor party.

Russia said the allegation was an attempt by the Moldovan authorities to divert attention from their own social and economic failings.

Moldova, strategically located on the border with Ukraine and home to its own pro-Russia breakaway region, is dependent on Russian gas.

Last year Moscow cut its supplies to Moldova in half and put pressure on the government in Chisinau, which is trying to keep its Romanian- and Russian-speaking population together.

Protests against rising gas and electricity prices began last fall.

At a public briefing last Monday, President Sandu said that Russia had already attempted to destabilize the situation in Moldova through the energy crisis, which she said “is expected to create widespread popular discontent and lead to violent protests becomes”.

The plan now, she said, involved “diversionary tactics with military training […] who would act violently, attack buildings of state institutions or even take hostages”.

57 people from pro-Russian nations – including a group of Serbian football fans and several boxers from Montenegro – have been denied entry to Moldova in recent days after checks by security services.

And Moldova’s airspace was unexpectedly closed for several hours this week.

“It is very clear that Russia is an aggressor state,” Rosian Vasiloi, chief of Moldova’s border police, told the BBC. He said the threat has existed since February 24, when the war in Ukraine began, but stressed that “it’s different now; it is a mixture of threats from inside and outside of Moldova”.

As long as Ukraine keeps fighting and wins the war, he thinks the risks for Moldova are lower.

“If Ukraine falls, Moldova is next,” he said. “But I’m not afraid.”

Since the beginning of the war, President Sandu’s government has sought to diversify the country’s energy sources and reduce dependence on Russian gas, but attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure and the cost of importing electricity from Romania have not made this easy.

She said the alleged Russian plot relied on “internal forces” such as the opposition Sor party and called on parliament to pass tougher security laws.

Marina Tauber, Secretary General of Sor, who led today’s protest in front of Parliament, says her party is not against the EU and wants good relations with all sides.

But some in her party admit they would welcome Russian intervention.

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Marina Tauber from the pro-Russian Sor party wants good relations with all sides

Orhei – an hour’s drive north of the capital Chisinau – is a Sor stronghold, where we meet party councilor Iurie Berenchi.

“We are not afraid,” he told me, “because if Russia wanted to take Moldova, they would do it in half a day.”

When asked if she would welcome that, Ms. Berenchi is unequivocal.

“In my personal opinion yes,” he said. “We would be much better off with Russia than we are now.”

Many people in Chisinau see closer ties with the West as a way to secure Moldova’s independence and democracy at a critical time. President Sandu’s party has a solid majority in parliament.

But the view from the crowd outside this parliament on Sunday was different, and there is a risk that the pressure could widen divisions in Moldova’s diverse society.

The risk becomes clear when Ala and her friends were asked if they think Russia wants to infiltrate Moldova, as their president fears.

“Yes, let her come!” They scream. “We want them to come here. We want to be part of Russia!”