The Republic of Moldova has always been one of the easiest targets for the Russian propangada, which keeps working even if, against the background of the war in Ukraine, the Chisinau government has taken measures to contain and combat it. The narratives promoted in Moldova by Russia or pro-Russia entities and politicians are mainly about the war and seek to either present the Russian version of the war, or to discredit Ukraine and its citizens.
The refugees – the main targets for Russian disinformation in Moldova
The most common themes of Russian disinformation are about Ukrainian refugees who, they say, come driving luxury cars and take advantage of the state’s good will, while the Moldovan citizens’ problems are being left aside.
Another theme is about how the Republic of Moldova is being impoverished by the refugees, who are consuming the already scarce resources the Republic has. The latest gimmick last week was about the lack of salt in shops in Chisinau and also the lack of fuels, caused by the massive presence of Ukrainian refugees.
Generally speaking, all the negative aspects and shortages facing society are blamed on the Ukrainians who are fleeing the bombs launched by Russians as part of their invasion of Ukraine. However, the Republic of Moldova has started to put in place a more effective strategic communication system in order to combat such disinformation.
“There is a video circulating on social media in which the author says that each refugee will get an allowance of 15 thousand lei. This is a fake! Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita has not said anything like that”, the spokesperson for the Moldovan Foreign Affairs Ministry, Daniel Voda, wrote on his Facebook page.
He explained that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has announced that every refugee in Ukraine will receive a sum of money by bank card, this money will be provided entirely by international partners and not from the state budget of the Republic of Moldova, and this will be communicated transparently by the Moldovan authorities.
In fact, the EU has announced a financial support worth 20 million euros for the Republic of Moldova, while the UN will provide 120 million dollars. This is in addition to the humanitarian aid provided individually by most European countries for the Republic of Moldova.
Propaganda, fake news and disinformation about war in the Moldovan media
But the media bombardment carried out by the Russian propaganda in the Republic of Moldova consumes time and energy, both of which could be channeled for better purposes these days. The debunking of such false news is also a form of information war that Russia is waging these days against the Republic of Moldova, in a much more intensified form compared to the situation before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Moreover, the government has communicated a list of fake news that is circulating these days. Some of the most inflammatory pieces of disinformation are that Moldova would start enlisting men in the army and would be involved in the war in Ukraine; the Transnistrian region could attack Ukraine; diplomatic missions would be evacuated from the Republic of Moldova; the radiation level is alarming; there is not enough currency in the country; there are no reserves of medicines; there is a shortage of fuel on the market.
All these pieces of disinformation were launched mainly on social media, especially on the Russian platform Telegram, and taken over by the pro-Russia web portals and TV stations.
Showbiz to distract attention from the war
While social networks, especially Telegram and Tik Tok, abound in fakes and videos about Ukrainian refugees in the Republic of Moldova, televisions mainly resort to “disinformation by omission”. More precisely, the Russian programs taken over in Moldova do not really include reports on the invasion of Ukraine. Such news hardly appear, and when it does it is exclusively in the light of the Kremlin's messages, which speak of the so called “special operation” of “denazification” of a Western-backed Ukraine.
Viewers of programs that broadcast Russian programs, owned either directly by the Russians or by the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), including Accent TV, NTV, First in Moldova, are virtually mesmerized by entertainment programs and ignore the consequences of the Russian war , which has already claimed thousands of lives and displaced more than two million war refugees in the first two weeks of the conflict alone.
It seeks to divert attention from the atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine and to present a parallel reality, in line with what the Kremlin wants to show in the information bubble it wants to control, including in the Republic of Moldova.
An information space dominated by Russia and pro-Russians
Russian programs are very important in the Republic of Moldova, given their market share. According to a study published in December 2021 by the Center for Independent Journalism (CJI), Moldovan citizens get the most information from television and the Internet. Pro-Russian propaganda stations NTV Moldova and First in Moldova have a 32% market share. That said, one in three Moldovans get their information from these posts, whose role is to back the Kremlin’s disinformation.
On the other hand, 54% of the Moldovans read the news on Facebook, and 21% on Tik Tok, a Chinese network that abounds these days in pro-Kremlin propaganda.
So far, the authorities in Chisinau, the special services of the Republic of Moldova respectively, have limited themselves to closing the sites of Sputnik Moldova and those of Iurie Rosca, one of the main promoters of the Russian Federation's messages in Chisinau. Also, the Audiovisual Council has symbolically fined the pro-Russia televisions in Chisinau with 100 to 500 Euro fines.
In the context of the war Ukraine and the state of emergency in the Republic of Moldova, such propaganda is a direct attack on the correct information of the population and a major risk to state security. It can even lead to its destabilization.
The crises affecting Moldova and how pro-Russians are trying to use them
Fighting Russian propaganda is just one of the problems facing the government in Chisinau, which is being forced to deal with multiple crises at the moment: an energy crisis caused by high gas prices imposed by Russia, an inflation of over 16% which is triggering social pressure, the Ukrainian refugee crisis and the war near its borders.
Against this background, the pro-Russian political forces in Chisinau are trying to seize the moment to provoke a revolt among the citizens over various social grievances. The tone was set by the Socialist Party, which is still de facto led by former pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, who criticized the signing on March 3 of Moldova's application for EU membership.
The Socialists claim that a referendum should have been held before the petition was signed, although the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) won the parliamentary elections of July 11, 2021 with an electoral program focused on the accession of the Republic of Moldova to the EU and, moreover, pro-European parties have dominated the political scene in Chisinau for more than a decade.
However, European integration is not to the liking of Moscow, which invaded Ukraine in 2014 because pro-European forces had come to power. It is suggestive that while the Socialists challenged Maya Sandu's decision, the pro-Russian separatist regime in Tiraspol announced that it was breaking off talks with Chisinau on the Transnistrian issue, being outraged that it had not been consulted on the issue, and called on the international community to recognize the independence of the separatist republic on the left bank of the Dniester.
All this shows that, even if it is busy with Ukraine, Moscow still keeps an eye on the Republic of Moldova and still has enough leverage through which, if it wishes, it can destabilize it at an extremely vulnerable time.