- As the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fast approaches, attention turns to Moldova, a small European nation on its western border.
- Moldova’s government collapsed days before the country’s president said intelligence reports had uncovered Russian coup plots.
- The landlocked country, one of the poorest in Europe, has endured months of political and economic upheaval amid the war, including in its separatist, pro-Russian breakaway state of Transnistria.
Moldova said a Russian missile violated its airspace in a renewed attack on Ukraine.
ug | Universal picture group | Getty Images
Moldova, a small European country on Ukraine’s western border, has increasingly found itself in the crosshairs of the Russian war after its government collapsed last week.
President Maia Sandu on Monday accused Russia of planning a coup to overthrow her pro-European government using “foreign saboteurs”.
Sandu said authorities have confirmed allegations first made by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week, who had warned his intelligence agencies that they had uncovered “a detailed Russian plan to undermine the political situation in Moldova.”
Analysts said it’s entirely possible Moscow is using Moldova — and separatist groups in its pro-Russian breakaway state of Transnistria — to sow discord and disarm Ukraine from a new front ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war.
“The Russians did the opposite of what they did in Belarus last year, bringing Moldova and Transnistria into the mix from the south,” Clinton Watts, a former fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC and referred to the accumulation of tanks along Ukraine’s northern border before their invasion.
So far, Ukraine’s defense forces and Western allies have assumed that Russia’s renewed offensive would focus on the east of the country.
“From the Kremlin’s point of view, this is a pretty clever strategy. Every time I start underestimating Russia’s ability to stir up trouble, you see things like this,” added Watts, who now heads Microsoft’s Digital Threat Analysis Center.
Sandu earlier this week claimed the Kremlin’s disruption tactics included citizens of Russia, Belarus, Montenegro and Serbia entering Moldova and attempting to ignite protests to “turn the legitimate government into an illegal government controlled by the Russian Federation.” “.
“The purpose of these actions is to overthrow the constitutional order, to turn the legitimate power of Chisinau into an illegitimate one, which our country would provide to Russia in order to stop the European integration process, but also so that Moldova could be used by Russia can start his war against Ukraine,” Sandu said.
Russia was quick to dismiss the claims, while Montenegro and Serbia urged Sandu’s government in Chisinau to provide more information. Belarus has not commented publicly on the allegations, nor has its foreign ministry responded to a CNBC request for comment.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu has accused Russia of plotting a coup to overthrow her pro-EU government.
Bogdan Tudor | AFP | Getty Images
The announcement comes just days after the country’s Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita resigned from her government on Friday, citing “many crises caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
Gavrilita did not say if the move was in direct response to the latest intelligence reports. However, analysts warned that the timing was no coincidence.
“We would always get something like this,” said Matthew Orr, senior Eurasia analyst at risk intelligence firm Rane, who described Moldova’s current pro-EU government – in power since 2021 – as unprecedented and a threat to the Russian regime.
Last year analysts warned that Moscow could move to recognizing Moldova’s pro-Russian separatist region of Transnistria as an independent state — as it did Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk — as a pretext for an invasion.
Moldova, a former Soviet state, has strengthened its ties with the West in recent years and was granted EU candidate status last June, on the same day as Ukraine.
This has frustrated Moscow, which “considers Moldova in its sphere of influence, as does Ukraine and all the other former Soviet states,” Orr said.
Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, was also hit hard by the aftermath of the war, making it “economically and politically vulnerable,” said Jason Bush, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group.
It can be a distraction for Ukraine’s military, which is already very thin
Head, Digital Threat Analysis Center, Microsoft
Moldova is facing a severe energy crisis as it has weaned itself from its 100 percent dependence on Russian gas supplies. Meanwhile, an influx of refugees arriving in Moldova via the shared 1,221km border with Ukraine has put pressure on the country’s 2.6 million residents, who are struggling with an inflation rate of over 30%.
Some analysts argue that the change in government could present an opportunity for Moldova to “reset” and reassert its authority after months of upheaval.
“President Sandu has been warning of these risks for months,” Orr said. “What’s different now is that it might feel like it’s in a better position to hold its own against Russia,” he added, noting the increasing EU support and passing a harsh winter.
Hours after Gavrilita’s resignation, Sandu nominated her fellow pro-EU defense adviser Dorin Recean as her new prime minister. The Moldovan parliament confirmed his nomination on Thursday.
It’s not yet clear how Recean will differ from its predecessor, but Orr said it’s likely he’ll aim to strengthen ties with Western allies and reduce the lingering influence of Russian money in Moldova.
Moldova, a landlocked European country on Ukraine’s western border, is struggling with political and economic instability following Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
Agf | Universal picture group | Getty Images
Moldova was proposed last month to receive 145 million euros ($155 million) in funding from Brussels to sustain its economy, although the sum has yet to be approved by EU member states and members of the European Parliament.
The new prime minister is also expected to deepen talks with NATO on how to respond to incoming Russian missiles that entered Moldovan airspace just last week, calling Zelenskyy a “challenge to NATO and collective security.” “ referred to.
The attack came days before Moldova temporarily closed its airspace on Tuesday over a suspected Russian drone.
A strengthening of Western ties with Moldova has the potential to provoke further Russian meddling, but analysts say concerns about a full-scale invasion of the country, like those first feared last year, are overdone.
Orr said he was skeptical that separatist groups in Transnistria, or the 1,500 Russian soldiers stationed there, would have the military power to destabilize Moldova or be used as leverage against Ukraine. It is also unlikely that Moscow will stop gas supplies to Moldova as a precautionary measure, so as not to jeopardize the support of its supporters in Transnistria.
However, he noted that Russian spies could use Transnistria as an outpost to gather intelligence on Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Watts said Russian meddling in Moldova was likely part of his ongoing “manoeuvres” to distract Ukrainian forces and “unbalance the West.”
“It can be a distraction for the Ukrainian military, which is already very thin,” Watts said.