23rd Sep 2023


EU buying radar for Moldova, as Russian missiles fly overhead

  • Portable radar system produced by US defence firm Lockheed Martin (Photo:
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The EU is to spend another €40m on Moldova's army, amid fresh revelations on Russian efforts to topple its pro-Western government.

The bulk of the money will be spent on a "ground-based mobile long range surveillance radar" to help Moldova control its airspace, according to an internal EU memo dated 13 March and seen by EUobserver.

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The rest will be spent on "high-mobility light tactical and pick-up vehicles", "forklifts, buses, and trucks", "communication equipment", and anti-hacking hardware and software.

The money is to come from the European Peace Facility (EPF), a joint €8bn fund created by EU countries, most of which is being spent on Ukraine.

And the Moldovan purchases will be handled by Estonia's military-procurement branch, the Estonian Centre for Defence Investments.

Germany, Romania, the UK, and US are also helping Moldova to build up its armed forces on a bilateral basis, the EU memo noted.

The US "will likely increase its engagement substantially in 2023 to a level close to but below" the EU's new €40m grant, the memo said.

Moldova itself is also planning to buy "an air surveillance radar system in complement to the radar proposed under this AM [assistance measure]," it added.

The radar purchases come after Russia repeatedly fired missiles through Moldovan airspace to hit targets in Ukraine in recent months.

The new EU money will likely be agreed this month or next month and disbursed "quite quickly", EU sources said.

But military threats aside, the EU and US have also redoubled warnings that Russia is planning a coup in Moldova to remove its pro-Western leaders, who applied for EU membership last year.

"Over the past few months we've seen Moldova has increasingly become a target for Russia's malign actions — foreign interference, disinformation, hybrid attacks," an EU foreign service spokesman said on Monday (13 March).

"The aim of this is to undermine and destabilise the country, to undermine the pro-reform, anti-corruption, pro-EU government and administration in Moldova," he added.

He spoke after Moldovan police arrested seven people on Sunday on suspicion of being Russian-trained "diversionists" promised $10,000 (€9,380) each to cause "mass disorder", Moldovan police chief Viorel Cernauteanu said.

Police arrested 54 other people on public-order grounds at an anti-government protest the same day by Movement for the People and received four bomb threats.

They seized €220,000 in raids on the Russia-friendly Shor Party in recent days, which backs the protest "movement".

They also stopped 182 people from entering Moldova last week after earlier US and Ukrainian alerts.

"There isn't an imminent military danger against Moldova at present but there are other types of dangers that affect the country's security — hybrid warfare," Moldovan defence minister Anatolie Nosatii told the AFP news agency on Monday.

"Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence, are seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment a manufactured insurrection against the Moldovan government," White House security advisor John Kirby said last Friday.

Saboteurs with "military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes" from Russia, Belarus, Serbia, and Montenegro were planning "violent action" in Moldova, including "attacks on buildings of state institutions [and] ... hostages", Moldovan president Maria Sandu said in February, citing Ukrainian intelligence.

The rolling coup threat comes amid genuine public discontent, in what was Europe's poorest society anyway, over an economic crisis caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Russian gas blackmail.

Russia's playbook involves pulling levers with exiled Moldovan criminal overlords in Israel.

And it includes propaganda, such as claims, last Thursday, that Ukraine tried to assassinate the president of Transniestria — a Russian-controlled self-proclaimed republic that broke away from Chișinău at the end of the Cold War.

Russia has some 1,500 soldiers in Transniestria, but "the situation there is stable and under control", Nosatii, the Moldovan defence chief, also said on Monday.

Moldova has some 6,500 troops, but with dilapidated equipment, he added. "Moldova's land forces have all types of weapons, including air defence, but it's old equipment that hasn't been modernised," he said.

The EU already invested €47m in modernising Moldova's army in 2021 and 2022, effectively doubling its defence budget.

It has assigned over €1.09bn in loans and grants since October 2021 in total "to strengthen Moldova's resilience" more broadly speaking, including budgetary assistance and humanitarian aid to help cope with Ukrainian refugees.

EU experts on cyber-defence and counter-propaganda measures have been working with Chișinău authorities to counter Russia, the EU spokesman noted on Monday.

The EU foreign service is also drafting a "concept" for a new civilian mission to advise Moldovan authorities how to handle the situation, but this is still at an "early stage", the spokesman said.

"The latest statements from the European Union and our strategic partners show yet again that Moldova will not be alone, now or in future, in the face of danger and threats, including military ones," Moldova's Nosatii said.

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