The Moldovan government is seriously considering a coup. According to pro-Western president Sandu, there is a Russian plan to storm government buildings, take administrators hostage and install a pro-Russian administration. Experts warn that the country is vulnerable and unable to adequately defend itself against a possible orchestrated coup.
Documents allegedly intercepted by Ukraine describe how foreign ‘saboteurs’ are supposed to lead the violence. It would concern citizens of Russia, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro. They would be accompanied by Moldovan veterans, former police officers and figures from the criminal world. It is not a direct invasion of Russia, Sandu stressed last night, but an indirect attack on Moldovan democracy.
In response to the intercepted plan, Sandu has stepped up security at state institutions. Some Serbs have been denied entry to Moldova in recent days because they could not clarify their travel plans. A group of Montenegrin boxers was also stopped at Chisinau airport.
On Tuesday it became clear how tense the situation is when the entire airspace was closed due to an unknown flying object. Moldovan media reported one or more drones, the Moldovan parliament speaker speaks in a veiled way of a ‘Russian flying object’.
Moldova has hardly any means to protect itself. The poorest country in Europe has only an army of about 6500 soldiers. An EU diplomat told news site EUObserver that Moldova is virtually defenseless. The country depends on Ukraine’s air defense system for anti-aircraft defenses, but the country has its hands full defending itself against Russian aggression.
A small Russian military force is also already present in the country: they ‘guard’ the peace in the breakaway Transnistria. Foreign Minister Popescu this week announced another attempt to get Russian troops out of the country “by peaceful means”. Russia is not expected to be open to this.
The consequences of the war in neighboring Ukraine are major. Due to the Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian crucial infrastructure, Moldova is also regularly without electricity and internet. Inflation is sky-high, partly because the gas supply from Russia has been sharply reduced. Missile remnants have also landed in Moldova and last week a Russian missile flew through Moldovan airspace.
The Kremlin calls the reports of the destabilization plan “baseless”. However, it is no secret that the pro-European course of the former Soviet state, which became a candidate for EU membership last year, is a thorn in Moscow’s side.
Russia says it is concerned about the position of ethnic Russians in Transnistria and the possibility that Romania will annex Moldova. There is no indication for the latter. What is striking is that the Kremlin speaks of Sandu’s government as “politicians who have seized power”. This is very similar to the terms used for the Ukrainian government (“coup perpetrators”).
According to Moldovan political analyst Cristian Vlas, plans to destabilize Moldova are well prepared. “We’ve been working on this for months, even years. The Kremlin has an extensive network of pro-Russian figures in Moldova, from oligarchs and politicians to criminal groups.”
The key figure in that network is the extremely wealthy politician Ilan Shor. His Shor party is a marginal player in Moldovan politics with only six seats, but the oligarch manages to organize weekly protests against the pro-European government. These are widely reported in Russian media, and described as “mass protests”.
“Journalists have established that Shor’s supporters are paid to take to the streets. As a result, it is difficult to say how large his supporters are,” says Vlas. “There is certainly a lot of anti-government sentiment, but I would estimate that only a portion of it is Shor’s supporter.”
Resources to deal with Shor are limited. Last year, the licenses of affiliated TV channels were withdrawn. A ban on the party is legally complicated, explains Vlas. “That is a far-reaching decision. I suspect that the evidence is too thin for that.”
Help from the West
The European Union could help Moldova by increasing financial support, supplemented by military support from individual member states, says Vlas. “In return, the state must make progress with the reforms necessary for European integration.” Germany, among others, recently switched to the delivery of armored vehicles.
Meanwhile, a new Prime Minister, Dorin Recean, is being installed in Chisinau today. He has experience as minister and security adviser of Sandu. He is expected to increase defense spending and take further security measures. The question is whether that is in time to block the feared coup plans.
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