Moldova says Russia trying to destabilise government
Moldova has stopped a Russian delegation from visiting ahead of a regional election amid accusations of agents training rioters in the country.
The delegation led by Rustam Minnikhanov, the governor of Tatarstan region in Russia, had been due to attend a forum in semi-autonomous Gagauzia region which has a Turkic population that is pro-Russian and Orthodox Christian. It holds elections on April 30.
Moldova claims Russia is trying to destabilise the country, which the Kremlin denies.
Meanwhile, Andrian Cheptonar, a ruling pro-western PAS party parliamentarian and a former Moldovan intelligence officer, told The Times that Russian-backed saboteurs are being trained to spark violence at anti-government protests. The PAS administration has applied to join the European Union.
Cheptonar was quoted saying: “It’s absolutely clear Russia wants to overthrow the government and would like boots on the ground but cannot as long as Ukraine holds out. That means they turn to hybrid warfare.”
Demonstrations in the capital Chisinau have been organised regularly since late 2022 by Ilan Shor, a fugitive oligarch with ties to Russia, who has been sanctioned by the US and UK. Shor, 36, lives in Israel after fleeing fraud charges in 2019. He has been convicted for the 2014 theft of US$1 billion from banks in the country, handed a 15-year sentence and the authorities have seized assets worth $277 million.
Shor’s party, which has six MPs in Moldova’s parliament, has called for protests against rising fuel bills and inflation.
The EU in June last year approved funding of €40 million for Moldova’s armed forces.
Cheptonar says Shor, with Russian backing, is paying anti-government demonstrators. “Police have confiscated millions of Moldovan leus destined for protesters,” the MP said.
The authorities say a sting operation caught around 70 Moldovans split in different cells in Chisinau being trained by a single Russian citizen. “None of the cells knew about each other, but we had hidden cameras in the apartments they trained in and the Russian was arrested,” Cheptonar told The Times.
Around 80 impoverished young men, in Europe’s poorest country, were taken to Belek in Turkey last month for three days’ training on attacking riot police.
“They were recruited by Shor and probably trained by Russians but their return to Moldova was leaked to the press which met them at the airport,” Cheptonar claimed.
The authorities took their names when they arrived back in Chisinau.
A pro-Russian protest in Chisinau this year. Picture credit: YouTube