Moldovan President H. E. Maia Sandu says Russia is meddling in her country’s democratic processes in an attempt to scuttle Moldova’s plans to join the European Union (EU.) Addressing the CEPA Forum on September 26, Sandu urged the international community to support Moldova’s EU integration effort, its ongoing reforms, and its attempts to counter hybrid attacks coming from Russia.
“EU integration is not just a nice dream for Moldova, it’s the only way to keep our democracy safe,” Sandu said.
While the tiny ex-Soviet republic, which is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine, remains committed to democracy and its plans to join the EU, Russia has been trying to undermine that goal. Earlier this year, Sandu accused Russia of planning a coup in Moldova using foreign saboteurs and hybrid warfare. In July, Moldova expelled Russian diplomats citing years of “hostile actions.” Russia, meanwhile, continues to support the now-banned Șor Party in Moldova and continues to station 1,500 troops in the Transnistria region.
“Russia is making all the attempts to undermine our efforts,” said Sandu. “Russia wants to keep us in the grey area. Russia wants to be able to use Moldova against the West and against Ukraine.”
Sandu accused Russia of interfering in elections in Moldova. “[W]e could see how with dirty money and using the criminal groups, the corrupt groups in Moldova, Russia managed to interfere with the elections,” she said, adding: “And this is of course, a concern for Moldova, with the elections coming in November, the local elections, and then presidential elections next year.”
Russia’s ambitions in the region are openly stated. It has attacked Moldova’s bid for EU membership, saying that the attempt will “have consequences.” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said: “We would really not want this to happen.” Hybrid CoE, an international analysis center on hybrid warfare, in a March study of Russian activities in Moldova, reported: “There is no doubt that in the long run, Moscow is counting on pro-Russian forces to seize power in Moldova.”
Moldova’s pro-European government has turned its attention to fighting propaganda and disinformation. Sandu said a special team has been created “not to allow the propaganda to damage significantly our election process and the democratic processes in general.”
While Russia had initially hoped to derail Moldova’s EU integration efforts through “energy blackmail,” she said that effort has been foiled by Moldova’s shift away from 100% Russian gas supplies to a much lower level of reliance.
“It was not easy, of course. The cost of the transition is high, but we cannot be blackmailed anymore by Russia on the energy issue,” the Moldovan leader said.
Sandu sought support for Moldova in its fight against corruption. In June, the US Department of the Treasury sanctioned seven members of a Russian intelligence-linked malign influence group for their role in Russia’s efforts to destabilize Moldova.
It is important for Moldova’s development partners to see that those who are part of such corrupt groups that are trying to undermine democracy are sanctioned, Sandu said.
The Moldovan leader also sought foreign investment in her country. Russia’s war in Ukraine has had significant implications for the economy. “[T]o be able to consolidate the support for democracy, you also need to deliver on economic opportunities, no matter how difficult the situation is,” Sandu said.
CEPA awarded Sandu its 2023 Freedom Fighter Award, which honors individuals who embody the spirit of democratic resilience in the face of authoritarianism. Sandu participated in a conversation moderated by CNN anchor and global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga. Sandu said the CEPA award was a “recognition of Moldovan people’s [dedication] to the democratic values, to stay part of the free world.” The award, she said, will energize pro-democracy Moldovans.
Sandu said the international community needs to help Ukraine win the war else Russia will continue to create problems in the region and beyond.
“Ukraine’s victory is going to keep us safe. And of course, Russia is not going to give up on its plans, even after Ukraine wins the war. But it’s going to be much more difficult for it,” she concluded.
By Ashish Kumar Sen
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.