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Sandu Says Russia Wants To Destabilize Moldova, Derail Its EU Integration

Moldovan President Maia Sandu, who is due to sign a key defense pact with France on March 7, says Moscow plans to undermine Moldova’s stability and throw the southeastern European nation off its path toward European integration ahead of a presidential election and a referendum on membership in the European Union.

Sandu’s statement came on the heels of a report by Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service (SIS) that issued a stark warning about Russia’s plans to derail Moldova’s efforts to shake off Moscow’s decades-long influence and move closer to the West.

“What Moscow wants, we all understand. Moscow wants to destabilize the situation in Moldova, Moscow want to intimidate Moldova’s citizens, especially since this year we may have a referendum on Moldova joining the EU — at least that is my proposal and I hope Moldova’s parliament will back it,” Sandu told the Digi24 TV station on March 6, shortly before leaving for Paris.

The pro-Western Sandu, under whom Moldova made an abrupt U-turn from Russia to Europe, is up for reelection later this year after handing an upset defeat to Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon in 2020.

Sandu has previously indicated that she would prefer that the presidential election and the EU membership referendum be held together. Moldova received an invitation to open accession negotiations with the 27-member bloc in 2022.

She said that militarily, Moldova is being shielded from a potential Russian attack by its eastern neighbor, Ukraine, which has been fighting Russia’s aggression for the past two years.

“Moscow has no way of reaching Moldova, first of all because Ukraine is our shield, and Ukraine is resisting [Russia’s aggression] and will keep resisting. And secondly because Moldova has powerful friends and has chosen to be on the side of the free world,” Sandu said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Sandu are due to sign a bilateral agreement on defense and economic cooperation in Paris, the Elysee Palace said on March 6 in a statement.

“A defense cooperation agreement and a road map for economic cooperation will be signed during the visit,” the statement said, without providing further details.

“The president…will reiterate France’s support for the independence, sovereignty, and security of the Republic of Moldova, in the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” it added.

Presenting his report on March 5, SIS chief Alexandru Musteata said his agency has come into possession of “certain data” about actions planned for this year and the next one that would compromise Moldova’s accession to the EU and bring it back under Russia’s sphere of influence.

“The details point to strategies for 2024 and 2025 that involve supporting pro-Russian political actors with ties to the intelligence services, organized crime groups, and the Kremlin leadership,” Musteata said.

France and Moldova reached a first agreement in September on training of military personnel, regular consultations on defense, and intelligence sharing.

Details of the French-Moldovan agreement have not been made public, but Macron on March 5 reiterated during a visit to Prague that Ukraine’s Western European allies must also focus on strengthening security assistance for Moldova.

France on March 7 is also hosting an online meeting of EU defense and foreign ministers to discuss increasing support for Ukraine, but also for Moldova, which France said is facing “increasing destabilization moves” by Russia.

With Sandu at the helm, neutral Moldova also strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, firmly aligning itself with Kyiv while tightening its ties with its other neighbor, EU and NATO member Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.

SIS chief Musteata said that his agency’s intelligence suggests Moscow would use tools from its old playbook to sow instability in Moldova.

“We predict that attempts would be made to trigger several social and political crises, to spark clashes, and to incite interethnic hatred that would lead to security crises in the Gagauz autonomy or the Transdniester region,” Musteata said.

Semiautonomous Gagauzia is populated mainly by ethnic Turkish Gagauz who speak Russian and have adopted Russian Orthodox Christianity.

Moscow-backed Transdniester declared independence from Moldova in 1990 and fought a war with Chisinau that was tilted in the separatists’ favor by Russian troops who continue to be stationed in the region. It has recently “appealed” to Moscow for support to offset what it said was pro-Western Moldova’s “unbearable pressure.”

The appeal, which largely seemed orchestrated by the Kremlin itself, rang alarm bells in Western capitals as a prelude to a possible “unification” of the separatist region with Moscow.

“Moldova is facing increasingly aggressive attempts at destabilization,” French Foreign Ministry spokesman Christophe Lemoine said on February 29.

Source: RFE/RL