11th Dec 2023


EU draws up Moldova anti-coup sanctions

  • EU ambassadors in Brussels held first talks on the law on Tuesday (Photo: The European Union)
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EU countries have drawn up sanctions targeting Moldovan oligarchs trying to overturn the pro-Western government in Chișinău.

The new 14-page legal "framework for targeted restrictive measures" was circulated by the EU Commission to capitals on Monday (17 April).

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The document, seen by EUobserver, envisages travel-bans and asset-freezes for "entities or bodies" which "threaten democracy, the rule of law, stability, or security in the Republic of Moldova".

Romania first proposed the move in February amid intelligence alerts Moscow was shadow-funding violent protests and training saboteurs.

The EU's list of offences includes "undermining the holding of elections" and "supporting violent demonstrations or other acts of violence".

It also covers "serious financial misconduct concerning public funds ... and the unauthorised export of capital".

The draft EU law, marked "sensitive", came with a — still empty — "Annex II" on the names of individuals to face the ban.

Diplomats expect the framework law to be adopted shortly after EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg next week, with the names to be slotted in down the line.

But the wording of the draft law clearly targets two fugitive oligarchs — Ilhan Shor and Vladimir Plahotniuc — called out by Moldovan authorities for helping Russia's operation.

Shor, who lives in Israel, funds a pro-Russian populist party in Moldova called ȘOR, which has been organising increasingly aggressive rallies for months.

Plahotniuc reportedly lives in Turkey and both he and Shor are wanted men in Moldova after being accused of embezzling $1bn (€0.9bn) from its banks in a sting dubbed "theft of the century".

The rest of the EU legal document is a normal sanctions template, detailing niceties, such as obligations for European capitals to declare which funds they froze and to impose criminal penalties for sanctions-busting banks.

Blacklists aside, the EU is also sending security experts to advise the Moldovan government and investing €87m in modernising Moldova's military.

The two-year long EU advisory mission is to contain 25-40 people and hit the ground in May, according to an internal EU "concept note", also seen by this website.

Their primary job will be to "strengthen the resilience of Moldova's ministry of interior and institutions affiliated, with the aim of increasing their capacity to manage security crises", the memo said.

They will also help with "protection of classified information" and carry out "targeted operational measures", such as working alongside Moldovan analysts on open-source Russia intelligence to spot upcoming threats.

The memo spoke of Moldova's vulnerability to Russia's "high-intensity disinformation campaign," including via Shor's five TV channels.

Russia also has 1,600 soldiers in Moldova's breakaway Transniestria region, the EU estimated, while Moldova's annual military budget is tiny (€36.5m), it noted.

Part of the EU military assistance will be spent on a radar, after Russian missiles crossed Moldovan airspace to hit targets n Ukraine.

In the latest scare, Moldovan police also got wind that some 80 low-income young men were flown to Belek in Turkey in March for three days of training on how to break police lines in a riot.

"They were recruited by Shor and probably trained by Russians," said Andrian Cheptonar, a Moldovan MP and former intelligence officer, speaking to The Times of London.

But if Shor and Plahotniuc are the big fish the EU aims to catch, its legal phrasing appears tight enough to net shoals of minnows also in the months to come.

Sanctionable offences include "planning, directing, engaging in, directly or indirectly, or supporting" anti-constitutional activities, the draft EU regulation said.

"The commission shall be empowered to ... amend Annex II [names] on the basis of information supplied by member states" in future, the draft EU law adds.


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