Moldovan police say they foiled Russian-backed riots
CHISINAU, Moldova — Police in Moldova said they foiled a plot by groups of Russian-backed actors trained to provoke mass riots during Sunday’s protests against the country’s new pro-Western government.
Moldovan police chief Viorel Cernauteanu told a news conference that an undercover agent had infiltrated groups of “diverts,” some Russian citizens who were allegedly promised $10,000 to organize “mass disorder” during a demonstration in the capital, Chisinau. Seven people were detained, he said.
Separately, police said they had arrested 54 protesters, including 21 minors, for “questionable behavior” or carrying prohibited items, including at least one knife.
Sunday’s demonstration is one of several organized in recent weeks by a group calling itself the People’s Movement, which is backed by Moldova’s pro-Russia Shor Party, which holds six seats in the country’s 101-member legislature.
Demonstrators are demanding that the government fully cover the cost of winter energy bills and “not drag the country into war”. There have been several calls for President Maia Sandu to step down.
Police said they registered four bomb threats on Sunday, including one at the capital’s international airport, which they described as “part of ongoing destabilization measures” against Moldova, a former Soviet republic of about 2.6 million people.
Moldova’s border police also said on Sunday that 182 foreign nationals had been refused entry to Moldova in the past week, including a “possible representative” of the Russian Wagner group fighting in Ukraine, Moldova’s war-torn neighbor.
The police announcement on Sunday came just days after US intelligence officials determined that actors linked to Russian intelligence were planning to use protests in EU candidate Moldova since last June to incite an uprising against the country’s government.
Moldova’s national anti-corruption agency said on Saturday it had seized more than 220,000 euros ($234,000) in connection with alleged illegal party financing of the Shor Party by an organized crime group.
According to the agency, during a search of the cars of Shor Party “couriers”, they discovered the money stuffed in envelopes and bags in various currencies, and it was “intended to pay for transportation costs and to reward those who came to demonstrations organized by the party.” “
The leader of the Shor Party, Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor, is currently in exile in Israel. Shor, who is on the US State Department’s sanctions list as serving Russian interests. The United Kingdom added Short to its sanctions list in December.
Ana Revenco, Moldova’s interior minister, said the protests “aim to shake the country’s democracy and stability” and that “the voice of the people does not mean violence and betrayal of the country”.
“I warn the traitors of our country that they will be brought to justice soon, no matter how much money and help they receive to destroy our country,” Revenco said in a Facebook post.
Cristian Cantir, an associate professor of international relations in Moldova at Oakland University, says that while it is difficult to determine how the alleged plans to overthrow the Moldovan government will play out, “Russia has always sought to undermine pro-European governments.”
“I think the concerns are valid, it’s hard to say what the exact nature of the threat is and how dangerous these groups can be,” he told The Associated Press, “but it’s a very real concern.”
The Shor Party also organized a series of anti-government protests last fall, when the Moldovan government asked the country’s constitutional court to declare the Shor party illegal in an ongoing case. At the same time, anti-corruption prosecutors also alleged that the protests were partly funded by Russian money.
Last week, authorities in Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region, which has close ties to Moscow and hosts Russian troops, claimed to have foiled an assassination attempt on the president, allegedly orchestrated by Ukraine’s national security service, the SBU, but provided no evidence.
The SBU rejected the allegation, saying it “should be considered solely a provocation organized by the Kremlin.”
Stephen McGrath reported from Warwick, England.