Analyses

The Republic of Moldova in 2023: Top FAKE NEWS & DISINFORMATION narratives debunked by Veridica

Pro-European citizens and veterans attend the 'European Moldova' National Assembly at the Great National Assembly Square in Chisinau, Moldova, 21 May 2023.
© EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU   |   Pro-European citizens and veterans attend the 'European Moldova' National Assembly at the Great National Assembly Square in Chisinau, Moldova, 21 May 2023.

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Russian propaganda did not disappoint in 2023 – the Kremlin, Russian institutions and officials, as well as mass-media under their control have continued over the year to roll out fake news and disinformation narratives into the public sphere, directly or indirectly referring to the Republic of Moldova. Some of these were also picked up in Chișinău, by either media outlets or politicians affiliated to Moscow. Just as in 2022,  the focus was on narratives related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such as the risk of Moldova getting involved in the war, a possible attack on Transnistria or the threat of the “annexation to Romania”.  Russian propaganda equally promoted false narratives about the European Union and the process of Moldova’s EU integration, as well as to the pro-European administration in Chișinău.

Top 5 narratives

Preparations, arming and/or the obligation of the Republic of Moldova to enter the war in Ukraine agaisnt Russia was teh main narrative used by Russian propaganda, in part to fuel fears at society level and undermine the pro-European government, while at the same time to depict Russia to the public at home as a victim of the West bent on destroying it. The West is forcing Moldova to follow the example of Ukraine, Moldova is becoming a bridgehead for military actions targeted against Russia are but some of the narratives debunked by Veridica, after the Russian propaganda went as far as describing the European Political Community Summit as an action against Moscow.

Another similar narrative, although with a separate impact, speaks of the intention of Chișinău / Bucharest / the West / NATO / Washington to attack Transistria, a breakway region in eastern Moldova. This is not a new narrative, having been used prior to the war in Ukraine. However, this has become a favorite narrative of Russian propaganda, particularly after Ukrainian officials expressed their readiness to settle the conflict in Transnistria. Kyiv and Chișinău have agreed to annihilate Transnistria, Moldova accepts an attack on Transnistria so that Ukraine should use the Russian ammunition stored in this region, were among the narratives disproved by Veridica, as they were based on false interpretations or misleading statements. In turn, Moldovan authorities repeated stated they are not considering any option for settling the dispute in Transnistria other than a peaceful resolution.

The Americans are preparing the occupation of Moldova by Romania is part of an older metanarrative that speaks about plans to “annex” the Republic of Moldova. This time around, Washington replaces the EU, although the purpose stays the same: to sow panic among national minorities, “Moldovenists” and population on the left-bank of the Dniester, to fuel anti-Western sentiment and endorse the idea of “class enemy”, deeply rooted from the Soviet period, and to prevent the Republic of Moldova’s rapprochement to the European community by keeping it within Moscow’s orbit.

A similar context favors the narrative about an alleged Russophobia promoted by authorities in Chișinău, through banning Russian media or even fining Russian speakers. And of course, Romania forced Kyiv and Chișinău to introduce a ban on the “Moldovan language” – a pseudo-scientific construct of the Soviet period, fostered by Kremlin ideology in the 21st century.

Another narrative that Kremlin-linked media in Russia as well as pro-Russian media in the Republic of Moldova touted and which was also fueled by politicians in Russia and the Republic of Moldova, one which will more likely continue to circulate in 2024 as well, speaks of a so-called dictatorship introduced by Maia Sandu and the PAS government. Moldova is fast turning into a dictatorship, all with the West’s blessing, is one of the fake news debunked by Veridica in 2023.

Top 5 FAKE NEWS

FAKE NEWS: NATO prepares the territory of the Republic of Moldova to become a future theater of war. The government in Chisinau is bringing the country closer to NATO, which supplies the Republic of Moldova with weapons in order to prepare it to become a future theater of war against Russia, writes the Russian press, citing as an argument the delivery of 3 (THREE) armored vehicles by Germany. This is yet another plea for neutrality that ignores the facts, which show that, in fact, to Russia neutrality means only the acceptance of its hegemony and that it is ready to attack neutral countries that do not want to be in its sphere of influence. One of the goals of this narrative is to induce fear about the danger of involving the Republic of Moldova in a large-scale military conflict (against Russia) if it continues to approach the West (NATO) and thus put pressure on the authorities.

FAKE NEWS: Ukraine is preparing to attack Transnistria, and an army of NATO tanks stationed on Romanian soil will head for Crimea. Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova are preparing for a military operation against Transnistria and an “armada” of tanks stationed in Romania will come to help, writes the Russian publication politnavigator, citing statements made by so-called Russian experts. Just three days after the false narrative was published in the press, it was officially resumed, in a slightly modified form, by the Russian Ministry of Defense. The goals of this fake narrative were to substantiate claims and accusations made by Kremlin leaders that Ukraine is run by a neo-Nazi regime that poses a danger to Russia and Russians, as well as to induce panic among the residents of Transnistria about a potential military attack on the region and present Russia as a “lifeline”. Admittedly, some Ukrainian officials have suggested on several occasions that Ukraine would be ready to liberate the Transnistrian region from the control of the pro-Russian regime and Russian military forces, but the authorities in Chișinău have ruled out this scenario each time and reiterated that they are only looking into peaceful resolutions to the conflict.

FAKE NEWS: Americans are preparing the occupation of Moldova by Romania. NATO and the Americans are preparing the occupation of Moldova, one possible scenario being the annexation by Romania, a deputy of the separatist Parliament in Tiraspol claims. This is a relatively new scenario, after the Kremlin previously promoted narratives about Moldova’s plans to join NATO or NATO pushing the Republic of Moldova into the war in Ukraine. The purpose is to fuel anti-NATO phobias dating back to the Soviet period and reinforced by Russian propaganda, amidst citizens on both banks of the Dniester.

FAKE NEWS: In the EU, Transnistria will be a place with harmful industries and migrants from the East If Moldova joins the EU, Transnistria will become a destination for migrants and polluting industries, according to a pro-Kremlin publication, which also reads that the promises of European integration for the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine were made only in order to distance the two countries from Russia and that none of them has, in fact, any chance of becoming a member of the EU. Associating the EU with poverty and migration supports the narratives launched by the Kremlin to feed the fears of part of the population in the region, but also to reduce the number of supporters of European integration. In fact, European integration implies trade liberalization and access to the richest common market in the world. All the new member states, most of them from the former socialist camp, have benefited from the European integration, their living standards and the incomes of the population have increased, and none of them have been invaded by migrants.

FAKE NEWS: Maia Sandu installed a dictatorial regime similar to Plahotniuc’s. An oligarchic and dictatorial regime, similar to the one implemented by Vlad Plahotniuc, has been created in Moldova, according to a publication that substantiates its claim using Russian propaganda narratives, which in turn claim the West is also involved. The purpose of this fake news was to describe pro-European governments in ex-Soviet space, in particular the Republic of Moldova, as autocracies that are ready to trade their national interests for the West’s. They are also meant to undermine societal confidence in Western institutions and democratic values, as well as to draw attention away from authoritarianism in Russia, a country where freedom of speech is virtually inexistent and civil society and the opposition have been annihilated.

Top 5 DISINFORMATION narratives

DISINFORMATION: Romania is massing troops at the border with Moldova and in also in Chisinau, even if it denies it. Russian propaganda media has reiterated the false narrative regarding the built-up of Romanian troops on the border with the Republic of Moldova, even if it had been debunked by the press and officially denied by Romania. In the new version, Sputnik, one of the most famous channels of Russian propaganda, quotes a deputy of the separatist Transnistrian region, who states that Romania is massing troops at the border with the Republic of Moldova and, although Bucharest denies it, Romanian special forces are already in Chisinau, and the security bodies of the Republic of Moldova are coordinated by Romanians. The false narrative regarding the massing of troops, which had been used before, was resumed shortly after Moscow officially assumed older disinformation regarding the imminence of a war in Transnistria, but also in the context in which Chisinau accused Russia of preparing a coup in the Republic of Moldova.

DISINFORMATION: Moldova is leaving the CIS at the behest of the West. Chișinău’s decision to denounce the agreement on the participation in the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly was imposed by the West. The purpose was to present the Chisinău Government as one subordinated to the West and its decisions as being made against the Russian Federation. Moldovan authorities did announce they plan to withdraw from CIS, an organization that brings no real benefits, although there is no evidence that the West told the Republic of Moldova to leave the CIS. The head of the EU Delegation has repeatedly stated that this situation is to be examined in the future, after the start of EU accession talks, so right now Moldova’s CIS membership is not being discussed.

DISINFORMATION: Moldovans have always opposed the Romanian Orthodox Church. The theses promoted by the Diocese of Bălți and Fălești stem from the debunked narrative claiming that only under the protection of the Russian Patriarchate can the Metropolitanate of Moldova “enjoy” certain autonomy. However, since talks with the Romanian Patriarchate have not yet started, we do not know what will be required of the Orthodox Church of Moldova to accomplish this move. Besides, the Church in Moldova was subordinated to Moscow under the occupation regime, and in the interwar period it decided to switch to the subordination of the Romanian Patriarchate.

DINSINFORMATION: The plan to federalize Moldova was largely supported in Chisinau. The Kozak plan for the federalization of the Republic of Moldova was the best solution for settling the Transnistrian conflict and was supported by Moldovans, according to a piece of disinformation by the Russian MFA. Promoted by Russian media and recirculated by media outlets in both Russia and Moldova, the narrative was launched at the end of November, which marked 20 years since Chișinău opposed this document that entails the federalization of the Republic of Moldova. The Kozak plan sparked heated debates and mass protests in society, out of worries that, in fact, its provisions would have led to the so-called "transnistrization" of the Republic of Moldova, that is, to keeping it within Russia's sphere of influence.

DISINFORMATION: EU leaders rule out a future enlargement of the community bloc. The EU is not ready for the next phase of enlargement, according to a piece of disinformation carried by the Russian media, which tries to prove the Republic of Moldova has no European prospects. Its purpose was to promote the idea that European Union accession is an unattainable goal, thus reducing popular support for this objective. Veridica has presented several counter-arguments refuting this claim, although the clearest evidence is the European Council decision of December 14 to start EU accession talks with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

Top 5 most outlandish narratives

FAKE NEWS: In order to join the EU, the Republic of Moldova must send soldiers to the war in Ukraine. The Republic of Moldova will have to send soldiers “to the war launched by NATO against Russia”, is a new variation of the Russian propaganda narratives about the involvement of the Republic of Moldova in the war that, in fact, Moscow started against Ukraine. The narrative was launched by Rubaltic.ru, and picked up by Chișinău media. In other words, the approximately 6,000 Moldovan servicemen, which are by and large equipped with Soviet-era weapons and munition, would have been capable to turning the tide of the war in Ukraine.

FAKE NEWS: Maia Sandu is closing schools because the West wants cheap labor. Maia Sandu and the PAS government are destroying the education system in Moldova at the behest of the West, which wants the country to be a source of cheap labor, according to a false narrative carried by the Russian media. The narrative about "hundreds of schools" that Maia Sandu allegedly closed when she held the position of Minister of Education (2012-2015) was one of the most circulated by her pro-Russian opponents at the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020, but also in other election campaigns. Veridica has previously debunked other false narratives and exaggerations about the number of schools that were shut down (optimized) during Maia Sandu’s term as president. If we probe the “logic” of Russian propaganda, we can infer the Republic of Moldova, a country with a population accounting for 0.5% of the EU’s total population, will solve the demographic and labor issues of the community bloc.

DISINFORMATION: Today's emigration from Moldova is similar to Stalinist deportationsThe deportation of Bessarabians in the USSR is similar to today's economic migration, according to a narrative that tries to trivialize one of the great Stalinist crimes. The purpose of this narrative was to relativize the abuses committed during the Soviet period and have the collective mind remember the successes, associated with today's Russia. Russian or pro-Russian propaganda denies or relativizes the effects of the abuses committed during the Soviet period or exaggerates the achievements and development of the former members of the USSR. Veridica has on several occasions debunked disinformation related to the denial of the organized famine of 1946-47.

BONUS: “Play dumb” disinformation narratives

DISINFORMATION: Russia does not get involved in Moldova’s internal affairs, said Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, trying to depict Russia as a fair international partner, unlike the West, which interferes in the internal affairs of sovereign states (Republic of Moldova). The acts of aggression in Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2014 – present day) represent indisputable evidence in this respect.

DISINFORMATION: There is no Russian propaganda in Moldova. Chisinău is setting up an anti-propaganda institution in order to disinform, says the former president Igor Dodon, according to whom Russia is not spreading any propaganda in Moldova. Igor Dodon is the politician linked with Russian secret services who benefited from Moscow’s financial and political backing, as confirmed by a number of journalist investigations. You can’t help but believe him.

EBOOK> Razboi si propaganda: O cronologie a conflictului ruso-ucrainean

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