In recent weeks, the government of Moldova, a small country in Eastern Europe that borders Romania and Ukraine, has publicly said it has discovered that Russia is trying to stage a coup to impose a more or less pro-Russian government. less as he tried to do with Ukraine a year ago, in the first days of the invasion.
A few years ago this threat would probably have been thought to be exaggerated. Today, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is taken very seriously: so much so that the president of the United States Joe Biden, who is in Europe these days, met with the Moldovan president Maia Sandu, pro-Western, and disseminated a very clear statement in defense of the democratically elected government in Moldova.
The Russian threat is also taken very seriously due to the condition in which Moldova finds itself, which is quite unique in Europe.
In the last two centuries, Moldova has almost always lived under Russian domination, first Tsarist and then Soviet. It was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, i.e. until its dissolution. Its capital, Chișinău, was almost entirely rebuilt after the Second World War according to the dictates of Soviet architecture, and in its wide boulevards surrounded by square high-rise buildings you can often hear Russian, the second most widespread language in the country after Romanian. About 150,000 Moldovans live in Russia: quite a lot, in relation to a country in which about two million people live.
Several analysts believe that the current Russian government considers Moldova as an integral part of its “historic” territories, a definition used by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his last speech to the country a few days ago.
In recent years, Putin’s Russia has cultivated strong ties with the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, which won two of the last three parliamentary elections and was elected president from 2016 to 2020. It is the same party which is currently organizing extensive protests against Sandu and the Moldovan government, in some cases by paying off the protesters.
Moldova is also the only European country, besides Ukraine, to have a territory that has proclaimed itself independent, and which is supported only by Russia. It is Transnistria, a thin strip of land about 400 kilometers long squeezed between the rest of Moldova and Ukraine.
It proclaimed itself independent in 1992 after a short war with pro-Moldovan forces, and has since hosted a contingent of several hundred Russian soldiers. Russia pays a supplementary pension to elderly Transnistrians, supplies them with gas at subsidized prices to heat their homes, and the regional capital, Tiraspol, is filled with statues dedicated to Soviet generals and Russian flags. Since the first months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moldovans have feared that a possible Russian invasion could start from Transnistria.
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Russia has also recently become annoyed that Moldova is rapidly catching up with the West and the European Union. The last presidential elections were won by Maia Sandu, a former World Bank executive with a Harvard degree, who had focused her campaign on the fight against corruption. His election marked a first move by Moldova towards the European area of influence, which has strengthened a lot in recent months: at the end of June the European Council, the body that brings together the heads of state and government of the European Union decided to give Moldova the official status of a candidate country to join the Union.
Russia has responded to this rapprochement by increasing anti-European and anti-Western propaganda on Moldovan TVs and social networks, over which it exercises great influence, using very threatening rhetoric – recently the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, defined the Moldova «the next Ukraine» speaking of its rapprochement with the West – and above all by cutting gas supplies.
Before the war in Ukraine, Moldova was already one of the poorest countries in Europe, and was 100 percent dependent on Russia for gas and electricity imports. Today it is going through a significant energy crisis: electricity, for example, is sold to it from Romania at a price below the market price, but still quite high. Inflation is very high and the local government has also had to manage the arrival of numerous Ukrainian refugees from the border areas. Furthermore, its airspace is periodically invaded by Russian missiles aimed at Ukraine.
Another element that feeds the fears of many Moldovans is that the country would not have the means to oppose a possible Russian invasion, even on a small scale: its army is made up of a few thousand soldiers and reservists, poorly equipped.