Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube LinkedIn

Demagog - Chisinau Report (2021)

The Moldovan testing ground for Russian intelligence's propaganda

dodoncic
©EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU  |   Moldova's President Igor Dodon (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, 30 January 2019.

The Republic of Moldova has long been a favorite and usually easy target for the actions carried out by the Russian Federation with the aim of exerting its influence.  The Russian language, known by most citizens, the affinities with Moscow, direct or through relatives who went there to work, the media and television entertainment programs, and even the elderly’s nostalgia for the Soviet Union, are just a few ingredients in the recipe that mentally and physically connect a large part of Moldovan society to the Russian Federation. Russia has not invested any money in the Republic of Moldova for a long time now, but it still believes that the latter is a satellite that must be kept within its orbit of influence, and the Russian special services are working to this end, alongside political forces in Chisinau. The largest German daily, Bild, published last week a series of interesting documents showing that the Russian special services were preparing to implement or were about to carry out a series of manipulative actions targeting voters in the Republic of Moldova, in the context of presidential elections of November 2020. At that time, the leader of Our Party, Renato Usatii, spoke about some documents including figures and indications from Russia for the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, led by Igor Dodon, but the case did not receive much publicity, because the one who revealed it was himself lacking in credibility and known as having close ties with Russia. This time, the document containing Russia's plans came into the possession of the German Ministry of Interior, which then leaked it to the press, more precisely to the daily Bild. The amount mentioned in the document is 11.5 million euros. The money was distributed either directly to some political actors, to purchase political influence, or earmarked for several scenarios part of an operation aimed at manipulating public opinion. The document can be seen as an alarm signal regarding possible Kremlin operations in the context of Germany preparing for the September 26 parliamentary elections. Also, the document shows that, for the time being, Russia is not willing to give up certain actions, although Berlin seems to be taking an increasingly soft stance on Moscow - which is contrary to American interests.

Bus rides and the ‘coup threats’

The document published by Bild details 17 scenarios and projects that the beneficiaries of these funds, namely Igor Dodon's PSRM, were supposed to implement. While some of these operations were stopped by the Chisinau Intelligence and Security Service (SIS), others appear to be continuing in forms close to those originally envisioned by the Kremlin. Of all the list of projects designed by Moscow, one is particularly interesting, namely the one known as the “Maidan project”, which entailed recruiting and bringing to the Republic of Moldova some anti-Russian Ukrainian citizens from western Ukraine, under the pretext of free trips to the Republic of Moldova. Thus, after a bus drive throughout Moldova, they were to be detained and accused of having come up with the idea of ​​organizing a Euromaidan in Chisinau; more specifically, an “orange revolution” like the one staged in late 2013 in Kiev, Ukraine, and which ousted the pro-Russian regime led by Viktor Yanukovych, who later took refuge in Russia. The scarecrow of the “orange revolutions” staged by the West in the former Soviet space is one of the main narratives included in the Kremlin's propaganda arsenal. Even if this project failed in last year's presidential elections, there is a party in the Republic of Moldova that has chosen to promote itself also by means of provocative actions in potential conflict zones in the Republic of Moldova: the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR). In Romania, before the parliamentary elections of December 2020, the AUR bus traveled through many big cities in the country, and the leaders of the party posed as political victims and caused a scandal wherever they went, so AUR has now exported the method to the Republic of Moldova. The difference lies in the mobility of the action: AUR has decided not to travel the whole of the Republic of Moldova to promote its political and electoral agenda, but went directly to Comrat, the main city in Gagauzia, with a predominantly Russian-speaking population, where party activists chanted inflammatory messages such as: “Gagauzia, Romanian land!”. Quickly chased away from Comrat, the AUR bus continued its journey and then stopped at a crossing point between the constitutional territory of the Republic and the Transnistrian separatist region. More precisely in the locality of Varnița, just before Tighina, the town controlled by the separatists. For about a week, AUR has been camping its bus and tents in the “customs area”, creating tension with the border guards of the separatist regime in Tiraspol. In order for the action to generate even more tension at official level, AUR has also brought its Romanian parliamentarians to provoke the Transnistrian border guards. The AUR representatives could not rationally explain why they chose not to campaign in the traditional way, by touring the Republic of Moldova, and preferred to camp directly in the so-called customs area at the border with the Transnistrian separatist region. It is rather unlikely that the citizens living on the left bank of the Dniester, known as supporters of pro-Russian left-wing parties and more than 85% of whom voted for Igor Dodon, will be persuaded by AUR to change their political option 180 degrees.  Asked last Friday, during a debate on Pro TV Chisinau, if what AUR is doing now through the “bus action” does not resemble the “Maidan project” conceived by the Russian secret services for the November 2020 presidential elections, the president of AUR Moldova, Vlad Biletchi, a former union activist in Chisinau, avoided a straight answer. “I do not acknowledge this self-proclaimed and unrecognized region and I urge you to do the same, because no one in the world has recognized them. This is an inalienable and integral territory of the Republic of Moldova. We have over 300,000 Moldovans there who have the right to vote, who have the right to life and freedom of expression”, Bilețchi said. He added that all these rights are “violated every day by the Russian guards who invaded the Republic of Moldova in 1992”. “We signed the peace with the Russian Federation then, but they have been violating, every year and every day, the legislation of the Republic of Moldova and international treaties. We are the only party that has tried to get there, and we will get there to campaign because they are our Moldovans, and we will fight for their rights. Those who term us as provocateurs are playing into the hands of the Russian Federation. These statements about an alleged “provocation” are exactly what those separatists and guards say”, Bilețchi also stated.

Social media operations

Other examples from the document published by Bild highlight a series of operations designed in Moscow and meant to be applied in the Republic of Moldova, this time in the virtual environment. Another project from last year that seems to be implemented these days on social media is “Sparkling Moldova”. In its initial version, it was a Telegram channel that was supposed to produce 80% true news and 20% fake news. Its purpose was to induce among voters a total distrust in the political class and thus to demobilize them. In the growth phase of the project, adversity towards Igor Dodon's Socialists would have been mimicked; the second step would have been the new channel campaigning for a firm leader who would bring order to the country, which coincides with the image that Dodon seeks to have.

One such project is “Mercury Detox”, which started as a Facebook page, and has recently announced that it is moving to Telegram because of the censorship it’s been allegedly subjected to. Mercury Detox memes are directed against pro-European parties, have an anti-Western character and now and again convey racist and xenophobic messages, wrapped in a funny context. In fact, experts with Promo-LEX, a human-rights association, are monitoring the hate speech promoted by the channel.   Another project, according to Bild, was “Dependent Moldova”, meant to present pro-Western Telegram channels as politically dependent and to reveal the authors’ “real reasons”. For each Telegram channel, the Russian secret services had planned a director paid with 1,000 euros per month and two “journalists”, each of whom would have got 400 euros per month. Such popular Telegram channels with pro-Russian and anti-Western content can now be found among those used by Igor Dodon's closest allies, such as MP Bogdan Țârdea, the ideologue and main coordinator of PSRM's online campaigns, as well as Dodon’s former presidential adviser and spokesman, the journalist Ernest Vărdănean. Both are known as some of the main communicators of PSRM. Țârdea's Telegram Channel has 2,065 members and circulates own opinions and positive articles on the Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists (BeCS) from other channels. Țârdea's channel carries out a sustained activity of several dozen posts a day, mostly in Russian. On the other hand, there is Ernest Vărdănean's channel, with 7,450 members, which makes pro BeCS political propaganda and also covers various international issues, especially the Caucasian ones, Vărdănean being ethnically Armenian. The Telegram channels Moldova Elections (2,500), Moldavski Vagon (2,100), Sputnik Moldova (4,750), Igor Dodon (7,917) and Blocknot® (2,155) are also carrying out an anti-West and anti-European party kind of propaganda.Also, a series of characters close in the past to the fugitive oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, have now crossed into the pro-Russian camp, where the same actions of public manipulation and intoxication continue. The Telegram channel of the journalist Gabriel Călin, which has 800 readers, the Political Bazaar with 1,482 members and Telegraph.md with 333 are from the same area. All these social media channels are weapons of the propaganda army affiliated with the pro-Russian and anti-European political forces in Chisinau.The document published by Bild shows that this army might be coordinated and financed even by the Russian secret services, with the aim of denigrating everything that is pro-Western and strengthening the messages of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, led by Igor Dodon.The goal of this orchestrated campaign may go beyond just imposing pro-Russians at the helm of Moldova. Recent disclosures suggest that the Republic of Moldova remains a testing ground for Russian special services initiatives aimed at being implemented, on a larger scale, in countries where Moscow has major stakes. In this case, in Germany, where Russia wants a rapprochement with the future government in Berlin and also aims to block a political consensus and an improvement of the transatlantic relations between Germany and the new White House administration, headed by President Joe Biden.


Other articles
The election campaign in Chișinău, dominated by hate speech

The election campaign in Chișinău, dominated by hate speech

Pentru prima oară în istoria campaniilor electorale din Republica Moldova, un competitor politic major – blocul format de comuniști și socialiști – adoptă un mesaj central de campanie ferm xenofob, care se încadrează în definiția discursului de ură (hate speech). Cele două formațiuni nu sunt însă singurele care apelează la un astfel de discurs. Străinii, persoanele în etate, femeile, comunitatea LGBTQI etc. au fost vizate în actuala campanie de discursul de ură.

Outlooks on political cooperation with Moldova – the illusion that we could buy Moscow’s assets in Chişinău

Outlooks on political cooperation with Moldova – the illusion that we could buy Moscow’s assets in Chişinău

Politicians in Chisinau are trying to get some extra political capital at home by flaunting their connections to politicians in Romania. However, a few protocol statements and "family" photos do not guarantee Bucharest’s influence in Moldova.

DEMAGOG. The Chisinau Report, No. 4: The disinformation testing ground

DEMAGOG. The Chisinau Report, No. 4: The disinformation testing ground

Veridica has debunked fake news about manipulating statistics in favor of Maia Sandu, her alleged links with fugitive oligarchs and her unrestricted use of the Intelligence and Security Service. All this while, we are told that non-governmental organizations (which Maia Sandu and PAS obviously work for) are on the brink of destroying the country, while the current “regime” – another reference to Maia Sandu, despite the fact that the president’s prerogatives are rather limited, and the country continues to be run by the Socialists and their allies – is ready to apply for NATO accession.

8 minutes read
  • Russia allegedly had a plan to influence the 2020 presidential elections in Moldova, but abandoned it when it came to light. An analysis of the current campaign suggests, though, that at least in part, ideas devised by the Russian secret services are still being put into practice.
  • Of all the list of projects designed by Moscow, one is particularly interesting, namely the one known as the “Maidan project”, which entailed recruiting and bringing to the Republic of Moldova some anti-Russian Ukrainian citizens from western Ukraine, under the pretext of free trips to the Republic of Moldova. Even if this project failed in last year's presidential elections, there is a party in the Republic of Moldova that has chosen to promote itself also by means of provocative actions in potential conflict zones in the Republic of Moldova: the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR).
  • Another project from last year that seems to be implemented these days on social media is “Sparkling Moldova”. In its initial version, it was a Telegram channel that was supposed to produce 80% true news and 20% fake news. Its purpose was to induce among voters a total distrust in the political class and thus to demobilize them.
  • The goal of this orchestrated campaign may go beyond just imposing pro-Russians at the helm of Moldova. Recent disclosures suggest that the Republic of Moldova remains a testing ground for Russian special services initiatives aimed at being implemented, on a larger scale, in countries where Moscow has major stakes.
How Russia lost the parliamentary election in the Republic of Moldova and the pro-Europeans’ tribulations of success
How Russia lost the parliamentary election in the Republic of Moldova and the pro-Europeans’ tribulations of success

Not even the most optimistic supporters of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) were expecting a landslide victory in the early parliamentary election. PAS didn’t just face left-wing parties, represented by the Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists, but Russia itself, which tried to lend the latter a helping hand. Yet its victory is only the beginning: the real challenge for PAS lies ahead.

Mădălin Necșuțu
Mădălin Necșuțu
13 Jul 2021
FAKE NEWS: The right-wing bought votes in the Diaspora
FAKE NEWS: The right-wing bought votes in the Diaspora

The alleged election fraud, including bribe-giving, was one of the hot topics in the Republic of Moldova on election day. While media outlets siding with pro-European parties revealed alleged cases of bribe reported on the left bank of the Dniester, the pro-Socialist press focused on offenses reported abroad. One the main “arguments” about influencing voters in the Diaspora was a short video filmed by a young girl queuing outside a polling station in Frankfurt, Germany. In the background one can hear a few people talking and laughing, mentioning 50 Euro. A large number of press institutions affiliated to the Socialists carried the piece of news, suggesting the video is evidence that voters got bribed. The person who shot the video subsequently said it was all a joke, and that the media made erroneous assumptions.

Cornel Ciobanu
Cornel Ciobanu
12 Jul 2021
DEMAGOG 2021. The Chisinau Report, No. 5: Radio Yerevan
DEMAGOG 2021. The Chisinau Report, No. 5: Radio Yerevan

disinformation, manipulative stories and fake news continued to flood the media as usual. Maia Sandu, PAS and the West were again the favorite targets of disinformation and fake narratives. Fake news authors were pretty much unimaginative, as they have been over the course of the entire campaign, resorting to narratives they used before, both in the current campaign, as well as in previous ones: a victory for the right-wing would spell disaster for the country

Cătălin Gomboș
Cătălin Gomboș
10 Jul 2021
Lenin wrapped in plastic, the girl in the coffin and brawling politicians – the highlights of the election campaign in the Republic of Moldova
Lenin wrapped in plastic, the girl in the coffin and brawling politicians – the highlights of the election campaign in the Republic of Moldova

Much like most other election campaigns in the Republic of Moldova, this summer’s campaign for the parliamentary election of July 11 was ridden with disputes which, at times, went way beyond the limits of common decency. We’ve seen controversial figures getting the spotlight, a great deal of disinformation, and we’ve had our fair share of extraordinary and laughable moments. Foreign policy was, once again, a major topic of debate. Less than 30 years since Moldova proclaimed its independence, it’s still unclear whether the country is headed West or East. Another recurring theme in this campaign was the fight against corruption, which has been discussed for years, without seemingly rooting out the weed of corruption that has spread to the point of nearly suffocating the whole country. Veridica has reviewed some of the topics, episodes and characters that grabbed the headlines during this election campaign.

Cornel Ciobanu
Cornel Ciobanu
09 Jul 2021