US voices ‘deep concern’ that Russia is plotting to destabilise Moldova

Washington harbours “deep concern” that Russia is working to destabilise Moldova, the US’s top diplomat has said, adding his voice to warnings that Moscow is seeking to overthrow the government of the eastern European nation.

Speaking after a meeting with Moldovan president Maia Sandu on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Washington was alarmed by “some of the plotting that we’ve seen coming from Russia to try to destabilise the government”.

Blinken added that the US would continue to “stand strongly with Moldova in support of its security, its independence, its territorial integrity”.

Moldovan and Ukrainian officials have claimed in recent weeks that the eastern European nation, which borders Ukraine, was being targeted by a Russia plot. Blinken’s comments make him the most prominent western official to publicly make the same accusation.

Speaking at the same event, Sandu said Russia was waging “hybrid warfare” against her country using factors such as economic pressure and propaganda.

The aim was to “destabilise society” and “bring people into the streets to change the government and create a pro-Russian government”, she said.

Sandu acknowledged there was no social consensus in Moldova on whether to apply for Nato membership, which she blamed on Russian propaganda. She asked for help on air surveillance and defence, but said she saw no imminent threat of invasion.

Last week Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told EU leaders in Brussels that his country has intercepted plans by Russian intelligence to “break the democracy of Moldova and establish control over Moldova”.

Moldova’s intelligence service subsequently said that it had identified “subversive activities, aimed to undermine the Republic of Moldova, destabilise and violate public order”.

Russia has denied those claims. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said last week that the allegations were “absolutely unfounded and unsubstantiated”.

The threat posed to European security by Russian aggression has dominated the Munich Security Conference, where senior foreign policy, defence and intelligence officials from across the west have gathered for three days of meetings on the eve of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy, who opened the gathering, used a speech by video link to urge the west to pick up the pace of its support for Ukraine, saying: “Delayed decisions are a resource that Putin’s dictatorship lives on.”

Moldova, a nation of less than 3mn people, has been reeling from the effects of the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine with an influx of refugees, the severing of gas and electricity supplies and a collapse in foreign trade.

Moldova’s pro-EU prime minister Natalia Gavrilita resigned last week, citing a lack of support for her government as it struggles with the fallout from the Russian invasion as well as efforts by Moscow to destabilise the post-Soviet nation where pro-Russian sentiment has deep historical roots.

On Friday the country’s parliament approved a new pro-western government headed by Dorin Recean, the new prime minister.

Speaking after a meeting with US president Joe Biden, president Sandu said that 2022 had been an “incredibly difficult year for Moldova” but thanked the US for its “comprehensive assistance” in bolstering her country’s economy and strengthening its security.

French president Emmanuel Macron threw his weight behind the country when he spoke in Munich on Friday, saying: “I would like to reassure the president of Moldova of our support once again.”

Blinken also discussed the situation in the country with German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock on the sidelines of the summit. A person familiar with the discussion said that the two officials agreed that Russia was seeking to destabilise the eastern European nation.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, told the conference that Putin “is planning for more war, new offensives”, citing Russia “mobilising hundreds of thousands of troops, increasingly putting the Russian economy on a war footing, and reaching out to other authoritarian regimes, such as Iran and North Korea, to get more weapons”.

Stoltenberg also warned that “Beijing is watching closely to see the price Russia pays or the reward it receives for its aggression”.

“What is happening in Europe today could happen in east Asia tomorrow. The war in Ukraine demonstrates that security is not regional, it is global,” Stoltenberg added.

Additional reporting by Henry Foy and Gideon Rachman

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