CHISINAU, Moldova — On Sunday, protesters in the capital of Moldova, CHISINAU, gathered to voice their displeasure with the country’s new pro-Western government. Police there say they thwarted a plot by groups of actors backed by Russia to cause widespread unrest.


At a news conference, Moldova’s police chief Viorel Cernauteanu claimed that an undercover agent had infiltrated groups of “diversionists,” including some Russian citizens, who had been promised $10,000 to organize “mass disorder” during the protest in the capital city of Chisinau. He said seven people had been taken into custody.

On the other hand, police reported that they had detained 54 protesters, including 21 minors, for “questionable behavior” or for having illegal items on them (including at least one knife).

Movement for the People, which is supported by Moldova’s Russia-friendly Shor Party (6 seats out of 101 in parliament), organized the protest on Sunday, one of several in recent weeks.

The protesters are asking the government to “not involve the country in war” and to fully cover the costs of winter energy bills. President Maia Sandu has been asked to resign on multiple occasions.

A total of four bomb threats, including one at the international airport in the capital, were reported to police on Sunday, which they described as “an ongoing part of the destabilization measures” against Moldova, a former Soviet republic with a population of around 2.6 million.

A “possible representative” of Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military company fighting in Ukraine, Moldova’s war-torn neighbor, was among the 182 foreign nationals whose entry to Moldova was denied in the past week, according to Moldova’s border police, who made the announcement on Sunday.

Moldova has been a candidate for membership in the European Union since last June, and the announcement by the police on Sunday comes just days after US intelligence officials claimed to have concluded that actors with ties to Russian intelligence planned to use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment an insurrection against the country’s government.

In a case of alleged illegal party financing of the Shor Party by an organized criminal group, the Moldovan national anti-corruption agency announced on Saturday that it had seized more than 220,000 euros ($234,000) during searches.

The agency claimed that the money was found during car searches of Shor Party “couriers,” and that it was intended to “pay for the transport and remunerate people who come to the protests organized by the party.”

Ilan Shor, the party’s head and a Moldovan oligarch in exile in Israel, leads the Shor Party. Shor, who is accused of serving Russian interests and is therefore on a US State Department sanctions list. Shor was included in a sanctions list by the United Kingdom in December.

“the voice of the people does not mean violence and betrayal of the country,” Ana Revenco, Moldova’s interior minister, said in response to claims that the protests were an attempt to “shake the democracy and stability” of the country.

“I warn the traitors of our country that they will soon be brought to justice, no matter how much money and assistance they receive to destroy our country,” Revenco said in a Facebook post.

Moldovan-born Oakland University associate professor of international relations Cristian Cantir says, “Russia has always sought to undermine pro-European governments,” so the exact nature of the plot to overthrow Moldova’s government is unclear.

He told the Associated Press, “I think the concerns are legitimate, it’s difficult to tell what the exact nature of the threat is and how dangerous some of these groups might be.”

When the government of Moldova petitioned the Constitutional Court to outlaw the Shor Party last fall, the party’s supporters took to the streets in a series of protests that continue to this day. At roughly the same time, anti-corruption prosecutors claimed that Russian money had been used to fund at least some of the demonstrations.
Transnistrian authorities, who have close ties to Moscow and host Russian troops, made unsubstantiated claims last week that they had prevented an assassination attempt on Moldova’s president that had been organized by Ukraine’s SBU.

According to the SBU, this claim “should be considered exclusively as a provocation orchestrated by the Kremlin.”