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Russia planned coup in pro-West Moldova, president says

President Maia Sandu, left, announces Dorin Recean has been appointed as prime minister in Chisinau, Moldova. (Aurel Obreja/AP)
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Russia planned to topple Moldova’s pro-West government by fomenting violence through foreign actors and internal criminal groups, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu said Monday. The attempted plot would have placed the Eastern European nation at the disposal of the Kremlin for use in its invasion of Ukraine, and prevented Moldova’s integration into the European Union, she said.

Sandu said that Moldovan authorities had confirmed the disclosure by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels last week that his intelligence forces had intercepted documents showing “who, when and through what actions” Russia would use to “break the democratic order” of Moldova.

“The purpose of these actions is to overthrow the constitutional order, to change the legitimate power from Chisinau with an illegitimate one,” Sandu said at the Monday briefing, referencing the Moldovan capital.

The former Soviet republic, which has a population of some 2.6 million, has long been subject to Russian pressure. That intensified sharply after the Kremlin’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, with which Moldova shares a border. Moldova’s pro-Western Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita unexpectedly resigned Friday, noting “so many crises caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine.” (Sandu has nominated another pro-Western official as her replacement.)

The Washington Post has documented how the Kremlin’s security forces have channeled advisers and tens of millions of dollars into Moldova to cultivate a group of pro-Russian political leaders, including some sanctioned by the U.S. government.

What is Transnistria, and will Russia advance toward Moldova?

Russian state media on Monday amplified criticism by Moldova’s political opposition that Kyiv was attempting to draw Chisinau into the war with Russia.

In a statement provided to The Washington Post, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the claims “baseless and unsubstantiated.”

“We strongly reject the insinuations about Russia’s alleged desire to destabilize the situation in Moldova,” Zakharova said. “Unlike Western countries and Ukraine, we do not interfere in the domestic affairs of Moldova or any other country.”

The invasion of Ukraine has caused soaring inflation in Moldova and further threatened the integrity of its borders. On Friday, a Russian missile aimed at Ukraine passed over Moldova. Last year, blasts in Transnistria, a Kremlin-aligned breakaway region in Moldova’s east, prompted international concern.

Russian aggression has also pushed Chisinau and the West closer, with the European Union granting Moldova candidate status in June.

Sandu said that Russia hoped to capitalize on public discontent resulting from the crises. Between October and December, police intervened in several instances of “organization of criminal elements and prevented attempts at violence,” she said.

In a later stage, the Kremlin planned to use “diversionists with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes, who would undertake violent action, carry out attacks on buildings of state institutions or even take hostages,” she said.

The president asked Moldovans to remain vigilant and said that Moscow’s attempts to import violence into the country would fail. She also urged lawmakers to pass new laws that would give security forces additional power to prevent foreign subversion.

Nick Parker contributed to this report.