WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence officials have determined that people with ties to Russian intelligence are planning to stage protests in hopes of overthrowing the Moldovan government, according to the White House..
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said intelligence shows actors, including some linked to Russian intelligence, are seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a base to foment an insurrection against the new pro-Western government of Moldova.
Kirby said intelligence shows another group of Russian actors would provide training and help fabricate protests in Moldova, which gained EU candidate status in June, the same day as Ukraine. , its war-torn neighbour.
The publication of Moscow’s alleged malign operation in Moldova is just the latest example of the Biden administration relaxing restrictions and public intelligence findings during the bitter war in Ukraine. The administration said it wanted to highlight Russian disinformation plans and other activities so that allies remain clear-headed about Moscow’s intent and Russia thinks twice before carrying out an operation.
“As Moldova continues to integrate into Europe, we believe Russia is pursuing options to weaken the Moldovan government, likely with the eventual aim of seeing a more Russia-friendly administration in the capital,” he said. Kirby.
Kirby also pointed to recent efforts by Russia which he says are aimed at sowing misinformation about Moldova’s overall stability. He specifically pointed to the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim last month that Ukraine was planning to invade Transnistria, the Moscow-backed separatist region of Moldova. He called the action “unsubstantiated, false” and said such claims “created baseless alarm”.
The White House released the information shortly before Biden met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
In recent weeks, several anti-government demonstrations took place in the capital, Chisinau, organized by a group calling itself the People’s Movement and backed by members of the pro-Russia Shor Party of Moldova, which holds six of the country’s 101-seat legislature . A demonstration is also planned by the group on Sunday.
Shor Party leader Ilan Shor is a Moldovan oligarch currently in exile in Israel. Shor is named on a US State Department sanctions list as working for Russian interests. Britain also added Shor to a sanctions list in December.
On Thursday, Moldova’s national anti-corruption agency said officers searched the cars of ‘couriers’ for the Shor party and seized more than 150,000 euros ($160,000) in a case of alleged illegal financing of a party by an organized criminal group.
The money, which was locked in envelopes and bags in at least two different currencies, was intended to “pay transportation and pay people who come to events organized by the party”, the agency said. Three people were arrested.
The Shor party also staged a series of anti-government protests last fall that rocked Moldova as it struggled to manage a severe energy crisis after Moscow cut natural gas supplies. Around the same time, the Moldovan government asked the country’s Constitutional Court to declare the Shor party illegal, while anti-corruption prosecutors alleged the protests were partly funded by Russian money.
Meanwhile, Transnistria, which has close ties with Moscow and hosts Russian troops, said Thursday it foiled an assassination attempt on its president. allegedly organized by the National Security Service of Ukraine. Officials alleged that Ukraine’s SBU security service ordered the assassination attempt, but offered no evidence. The SBU dismissed the allegation, saying it “should be viewed exclusively as a Kremlin-orchestrated provocation.”
Sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova has often been at the center of a struggle between Moscow and the West. Formerly a member of the Soviet Union, Moldova declared its independence in 1991. One of the poorest countries in Europe with a population of around 2.6 million, it has historical ties with Russia but wants to join the EU of 27.
The push-and-pull has only intensified since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
Sandu met President Joe Biden last month when the US president was visiting Poland for the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The United States has provided $265 million in emergency assistance to Moldova since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began to help it deal with the economic, energy and humanitarian crises caused by the war. The administration has asked Congress to approve an additional $300 million for Moldova.
US intelligence officials see no immediate military threat to Moldova, but the White House is making the discovery public in hopes of deterring Russia before it goes ahead with its plans, Kirby said.
McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.