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28th Mar 2023

'Defenceless' Moldova unveils Russian coup plot

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Moldova has revealed details of a planned Russian coup d'etat based on a similar model to a failed coup in Montenegro seven years ago.

"The purpose of these actions is to overthrow the constitutional order, to change the legitimate power from Chișinău with an illegitimate one, which would put our country at the disposal of Russia," Moldovan president Maria Sandu said on Monday (13 February).

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The plan involved using "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".

"Violent actions, masked as protests of the so-called opposition, would force a change of power in Chișinău," she added in a speech.

The violence was to be orchestrated by "foreign nationals" likely from Russia, Belarus, Serbia, and Montenegro, she said.

The plotters would also rely on "internal forces", including the so-called Şor organised crime group, Moldovan military veterans, former policemen, and "people known to have had connections with Plahotniuc", Sandu added.

Vladimir Plahotniuc is a Moldovan oligarch who fled the country to evade corruption charges four years ago and reportedly lives in Turkey.

Ukrainian intelligence services intercepted the Russian plan and gave Sandu "the locations and logistical aspects for the organisation of such subversive activities", she said.

Sandu spoke amid existing political uncertainty after the country's pro-EU government resigned last week over its handling of an economic crisis caused by Russia's war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Russia also fired a missile at Ukraine through Moldovan airspace last Friday, highlighting Chișinău's vulnerability.

And it has some 1,000 soldiers guarding a Cold War-era arms dump in Moldova's Transniestria region, which broke away from central authority in a civil war some 30 years ago.

"This [Sandu's] warning has to be taken seriously," an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

"The Russians are perfectly capable of this kind of thing — after all, they planned to murder the prime minister of Montenegro [in 2016] to stop the country from joining Nato," he said.

And Moldova is "almost defenceless", he added.

"It has weak security services, a weak military, and it's overrun with Russian operatives, so it wouldn't be that hard to stage violent protests there," he said.

"Instability in Moldova would give Russia a pretext to mobilise its Transniestria forces and help to launch an attack on Odessa [a strategic Ukrainian port] from two fronts," he added.

"It would also show the EU that Russia is capable of setting its whole eastern neighbourhood on fire if need be," the diplomat said.

"Russia also has the capability to stir violence in Bosnia, via Republika Srpska [the Serb entity in the Bosnian federation], and between Serbia and Kosovo," he said.

Moldova hit by spillover of Russia's war

Last week, the EU pledged €250m to help Moldova tackle the energy crisis consisting of €100m in loans, another €100m in grants, and €50m directed to help the most vulnerable citizens.

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