Moldova: Secret document reveals Russia’s 10-year plan to destabilize Moldova

(CNN) A secret plan drawn up by Russia’s security agency, the FSB, detailed options to destabilize Moldova, including supporting pro-Russian groups, using the Orthodox Church and threatening to cut off natural gas supplies.

The document appears to have been drafted to thwart Moldova’s move westward, including closer relations with NATO and an application to join the European Union. It repeatedly refers to the importance of preventing Moldova from joining NATO.

It was obtained and first made public by a consortium of media outlets including VSquare and Frontstory, RISE Moldova, Expressen in Sweden, the Dossier Center for Investigative Journalism and other outlets.

CNN has seen the full document, which appears to have been written in 2021 by the FSB’s Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation. The title is “Strategic Objectives of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova.”

The document contains a ten-year strategy to bring Moldova, a former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, within Russia’s sphere of influence.

The plan includes making Moldova dependent on Russian gas imports and fueling social conflict, as well as trying to prevent Moldova from trying to gain influence in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, where some 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed .

The five-page document is divided into several sections with short, medium and long-term objectives. Immediate objectives include “support for Moldovan political forces advocating constructive relations with the Russian Federation” and “neutralization of the initiatives of the Republic of Moldova aimed at eliminating the Russian military presence in Transnistria”.

Medium-term goals include “opposition to Romania’s expansionist policies in the Republic of Moldova” and “opposition to cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and NATO”.

The FSB document lists long-term goals, including “creating stable pro-Russian influential groups in the Moldovan political and economic elites” and “forming a negative attitude towards NATO”.

Asked about the document Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We know nothing about the existence of such a plan. I do not rule out that this is another forgery. Russia has always been open and remains open for building good neighborly relations, for both sides, including with Moldova.”

Peskov added: “We are deeply sorry that the current leadership of Moldova is experiencing completely unjustified and unfounded prejudice against Moscow.”

Russia has accused Ukraine of plotting to invade and take over Transnistria, which borders southwestern Ukraine. The Russian Defense Ministry said last month that the Ukrainians were collecting weapons in several border villages. Moldova and Ukraine both rejected the claim.

Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a 2012 decree supporting Moldova’s sovereignty, saying the move was to “safeguard Russia’s national interests in the context of the sweeping changes taking place in international relations.”

In recent weeks, Moldovan authorities have arrested several alleged pro-Russian activists, as well as an alleged employee of the private military company Wagner who attempted to enter the country.

There have also been several protests organized by a pro-Russian party in the capital Chisinau.

Ukraine and the United States have both warned of Russian attempts to destabilize the Moldovan government. Last Friday, the White House said that “Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence, want to organize protests in Moldova and use them as a base to foment a fabricated uprising against the Moldovan government.”

Western intelligence officials say Russia’s strategy is not surprising in itself, but it may have accelerated as the Moldovan government ramps up efforts to work more closely with the US and European states.

Moldova’s current president, Maia Sandu, replaced Igor Dodon, who was close to the Kremlin, in late 2020. The pro-Western PAS party won parliamentary elections the following year.

The pro-Russian Shor Party has organized weekly demonstrations in the capital Chisinau this year, drawing several thousand people to protest against high energy prices. The party has arranged transportation for attendees.

The party is led by Ilan Shor, a businessman with ties to Russia accused of stealing billions of dollars from Moldovan banks in 2014. He was later convicted of fraud but denied any wrongdoing.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Shor, his wife and the party in October 2022, saying, “Shor worked with Russian individuals to create a political alliance to control the Moldovan parliament, which would then support several pieces of legislation in the interest of the Russian Federation.”

Shor is currently believed to be in Israel.

The US has pledged budget support to the Moldovan government to deal with high energy prices. Gas prices have skyrocketed over the past year due to the conflict in Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was in Chisinau on Thursday. He said: “Few societies understand the underhanded tactics of Russian malign activity better than Moldova and Georgia,” adding that “the UK is not standing idly by as Moscow blatantly undermines their democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Cleverly announced that Moldova will receive further financial support to cope with high energy prices.

One of Shor’s leaders, Marina Tauber, told CNN’s Swedish subsidiary Expressen that the party demanded the government cover people’s energy bills for the winter months. She denied that Russia helped organize or fund the protests.

Expressen reporter Mattias Carlsson, who is in Chisinau, told CNN that the latest protest organized by Shor last week had led to some arrests. Among the media attending the event, he said, was a reporter from Russia’s state-owned Sputnik.

Russian officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of a Moscow-friendly Moldovan government, as well as the importance of the Transnistrian region.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, then-commander of Russia’s Central Military Region, Major General Rustam Minnekaev, said one of the goals of the so-called “special military operation” was to build a corridor through the south Ukraine to the Transnistria region.

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