Supporters of the Shor political party protest near the Government building in Chisinau, Moldova, 09 November 2022.
© EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU   |   Supporters of the Shor political party protest near the Government building in Chisinau, Moldova, 09 November 2022.

Russia has launched a hybrid war against the Republic of Moldova

Holzstock Festival

The latest developments in Chisinau suggest that the Republic of Moldova seems to have become the target of a hybrid war launched by the Russian Federation to topple the current pro-European power and bring that state back into Moscow's sphere of influence. The authorities in Chisinau are forced to face an unprecedented energy crisis, successive increases in the prices of the most important products and services, but also protests organized by parties believed to be backed by the secret services in Moscow. Adding to these challenges is the deepening security crisis as a result of the war in Ukraine, particularly the missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in recent weeks.

Russian bombing that seems to have targeted Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova simultaneously

On October 31, fragments of a Russian Kalibr missile fell near the town of Naslavcea in the north of the Republic of Moldova, at the border with Ukraine. The missile, which was apparently targeting the Novodnestrovsk electro-energy complex on the Dniester, was either shot down by Ukrainian anti-aircraft or crashed due to a technical malfunction, according to Chisinau authorities. The blast damaged several houses in Naslavcea. A few hours after this incident, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration in Chisinau, invoking the Vienna Convention of 1961, announced that one of the diplomats from the Russian Embassy was declared persona non grata and forced to leave the territory of the Republic of Moldova. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not make public the name of the diplomat, but stressed that the missile attacks on Ukraine “continue to escalate the security risks”, and the Moldovan citizens “are increasingly feeling the disastrous effects of the war”. Moscow, in turn, also expelled a diplomat from the Embassy of the Republic of Moldova in Moscow.

The Naslavcea incident is not the first of its kind. On October 10, three Russian missiles flew over the territory of the Republic of Moldova, targeting sites on the territory of Ukraine. The Chisinau authorities requested explanations from the Russian Federation regarding the violation of the Moldovan airspace, but they have not received any to this day.

The only high-voltage line that directly connects the Republic of Moldova to Ukraine passes though the Novodnestrovsk power station, which seems to have been the target of the missile destroyed near Naslavcea. The others cross the separatist territory of Transnistria. The line from Novodnestrovsk can ensure the transport of up to 70% of the electricity needs of the Republic of Moldova. At Novodnestrovsk, Chisinau can also buy electricity from the EU. The destruction of this line would have made Chisinau almost entirely dependent on the secessionist administration in Tiraspol for electricity supply.

All in all, on October 31, i.e. the exact day when the Russian missile was shot down near Naslavcea, the Cuciurgan thermal power plant, located in the territory controlled by the Tiraspol separatist administration, announced that Chisinau would stop supplying electricity to the right bank of the Dniester. Until that date, this plant, controlled by the Russian company RAO EES, covered at least 70% of the electricity consumption in the Republic of Moldova. Another 30% was bought from Ukraine, but after Russia began, at the end of September, to massively bombard this country's electrical infrastructure, Kiev stopped all electricity exports.

Currently, the Republic of Moldova buys almost 90% of the electricity it needs from Romania, the rest being its own production.

The electricity requirement is ensured under the commercial contracts concluded with two companies from Romania, through purchases on the OPCOM market, but also under the emergency contract which currently covers a deficit of approximately 8%, according to the Chisinau authorities. Under these conditions, in which a relatively small deficit is registered, the risks of massive disconnections are decreasing, the Chisinau authorities say.

The coming to power of pro-Russian parties in Chisinau could further deepen the energy crisis

The Russian company Gazprom, which, a year ago, signed with the Republic of Moldova a gas delivery contract valid until 2026, reduced gas deliveries by a third starting October 1, claiming it cannot ensure the entire volume due to the war in Ukraine. It should be noted that of the total gas supplied by the Russian company to the Republic of Moldova, two thirds were consumed by Transnistria, and one third by the territory controlled by the constitutional authorities in Chisinau. One of the biggest gas consumers in Transnistria is the Cuciurgan power plant which, until recently, received the amount of gas needed for the production of electricity from the Russian Federation for free, to then sell it to Chisinau. A form of subsidizing the secessionist regime in Tiraspol by the Kremlin administration and a tool for putting pressure on the authorities of the Republic of Moldova, which in 31 years of independence have not managed to diversify their sources of energy resources, remaining tied to those delivered from Russia or Transnistria.

Just a few days before Russia began the massive bombing of Ukraine's energy infrastructure, protests against the current pro-European power, organized by the Shor Party, were starting in Chisinau. The party is led by the fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor, wanted internationally by the Chisinau authorities for involvement in the theft of over one billion dollars from the Moldovan banking system. Ilan Shor, who has been living in Israel for several years now and leads his party from afar, was recently sanctioned by the United States under the Magnitsky Act, along with other individuals and entities from the Republic of Moldova, including the other great fugitive oligarch, Vladimir Plahotniuc. The Shor Party holds six seats out of a total of 101 in the Chisinau Parliament.

In September, the representatives of this party had announced their intention to organize non-stop protests that would lead to the ousting of the current power, which they accused of the price increases of late, in particular of foodstuffs, medicines, utilities and fuels. Another accusation leveled at the ruling party, and President Maia Sandu in particular, was that they had intentionally damaged the relationship with Russia and, because of this, the price of gas rocketed. The protests organized by the Shor Party, however, did not manage to take the turn desired by the organizers and turned into a kind of Sunday afternoon demonstrations.

However, the Shor Party, together with the Communists who joined them, but also the Socialists who protested separately, tried to convey the idea that, if the pro-Russian parties came to power, Russia would agree to sell cheap gas to the Republic Moldova, which would put an end to the rising in prices.

But the claim is not supported by arguments, according to experts. The representatives of these opposition parties, all three of them pro-Russian, seem not to take into account the fact that their potential (re)coming to power will not be left without reaction in Kyiv. We could assume that Ukraine would block the pipelines through which Russian gas reaches the Republic of Moldova, lest Chisinau allow the Russians to open, from its territory, a new front. It can also be assumed that Romania would not be so open to supplying electricity to the Republic of Moldova, if a regime favorable to Russia and hostile to the European Union and NATO were in power. Therefore, an alleged accession to power of some pro-Russian parties could mean for the Republic of Moldova an energy collapse, the deterioration of relations with Brussels and Washington, and, consequently, the dramatic decrease of exports and the deepening of the economic crisis. The Republic of Moldova shares borders only with Romania and Ukraine, and any change in the European course in Chisinau would inevitably lead to the country's economic and political blockade.

However, it seems that this is exactly what the Russian Federation wants – to prevent any European prospects for Chisinau from turning into reality. And this has been proven by the investigations that have recently appeared in the international press, and in the Chisinau media.

Ilan Shor and the Russian FSB, from the one-million-dollar theft to the 2022 protests

The American newspaper Washington Post published, in late October, an article stating that Moscow is trying to destabilize the situation in the Republic of Moldova , while its situation in Ukraine is increasingly shaky. Secret documents cited by the American publication - provided by the Ukrainian secret services - show that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) used various means to send tens of millions of dollars to create a network of politicians in the Republic of Moldova with the mission of reorienting this country towards Moscow.

The FSB allegedly delegated a team of political technology experts to advise the Shor Party. After the Socialist leader Igor Dodon lost the presidential elections in 2020, Moscow seems to have looked for a replacement in the person of Ilan Shor. According to documents cited by the Washington Post, experts hired by the Kremlin first arrived in Chisinau in March 2021 to secretly advise the Shor Party. Among the measures recommended by them would have been the fact that the Shor Party should erase as much as possible from its “negative background”, a possible reference to the conviction of Ilan Shor, in the first instance, to 7 years and six months in prison for involvement in the theft of the billion. A sentence which, in fact, has not yet been executed.

Against this background, the Chisinau government called on the Constitutional Court to outlaw the Shor Party as a political party that is financed from outside, contrary to the national legislation, and that endangers the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova.

Russia seems to deploy again the same mechanisms it used in the region in 2014, by militarily aggressing Ukraine and creating crises that would ultimately lead to a change in power and foreign policy in the Republic of Moldova. For more clarity, it must be said that the theft, in 2014, of at least one billion dollars from the Moldovan banking system, was, according to several experts, an operation set up by the special services of the Russian Federation.

The former deputy head of the Office for Prevention and Control of Money within the National Anticorruption Center in Chisinau, Mihail Gofman, who was forced to emigrate to the USA, stated in 2016  “it is clear now that it was a diversion against the state, set up by the services of other states, using the synergy of people from national authorities, through corruption and blackmail. At that time [in 2014], the Republic of Moldova was in a good situation. There were Western investments, representatives of the European chancelleries were coming and everyone was talking about a success story that one day just vanished”.

And the main suspect in the file regarding the theft of the billion is none other than Ilan Shor, whom Moscow, it seems, wants to bring to power in Chisinau, together, perhaps, with other pro-Russian forces. A change of power to use not only against the West, but first of all against Ukraine.

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