A secret plan drawn up by Russia’s security service, the FSB, lays out detailed options to destabilize Moldova – including supporting pro-Russian groups, utilizing the Orthodox Church and threatening to cut off supplies of natural gas.
The document appears to have been drawn up to thwart Moldova’s tilt to the West, which includes 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 disclosed by a consortium of media, including VSquare and Frontstory, RISE Moldova, Expressen in Sweden, the Dossier Centre for Investigative Journalism, Yahoo News and Delfi.
CNN has seen the full document, which appears to have been written in 2021 by the FSB’s Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation. Its title is “Strategic objectives of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Moldova.”
The document sets out a 10-year strategy for bringing Moldova, a former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, within Russia’s sphere of influence.
The plan includes making Moldova dependent on imports of Russian gas and stirring up social conflict, as well as trying to block Moldova’s efforts to gain influence in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria, where some 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed.
The five-page document is separated into multiple headings with short-, medium- and long-term aims. Among the immediate objectives are “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 the expansionist policy of Romania in the Republic of Moldova” and “opposition to cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and NATO.”
The FSB document lays out long term goals including the “creation of stable pro-Russian groups of influence in the Moldovan political and economic elites” and “the formation of a negative attitude towards NATO.”
Asked about the document Thursday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “We know nothing of the existence of such a plan. I do not rule out that this is another fake. Russia has always been and remains open to building good-neighborly, mutually beneficial relations, including with Moldova.”
Peskov added: “We are very sorry that the current leadership of Moldova is experiencing completely unjustified and unfounded prejudices against Moscow.”
Russia has accused Ukraine of planning to invade and take over Transnistria, which borders southwestern Ukraine. The Russian defense ministry said last month that the Ukrainians were gathering armor in several border villages. Moldova and Ukraine have both dismissed the claim.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin canceled a 2012 decree underpinning Moldova’s sovereignty, saying the move was to “ensure the national interests of Russia in connection with the profound changes taking place in international relations.”
In recent weeks, the Moldovan authorities have arrested several alleged pro-Russian activists as well as an alleged operative of the Wagner private military company who tried 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 efforts to destabilize the Moldovan government. Last Friday, the White House said that “Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence, are seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment a manufactured insurrection against the Moldovan Government.”
Western intelligence officials say the Russian strategy is in itself not surprising, but it may have been accelerated as the Moldovan government intensifies efforts to cooperate more closely with the US and European states.
The current Moldovan 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 this year in the capital Chisinau, drawing several thousand people to protests about high energy prices. The party has organized transport for attendees.
The party is led by Ilan Shor, a businessman with links to Russia who is accused of stealing billions of dollars from Moldovan banks in 2014. He was later convicted of fraud but has denied any wrongdoing.
The US Treasury Department sanctioned Shor, his wife and the party in October 2022, saying that, “Shor worked with Russian individuals to create a political alliance to control Moldova’s parliament, which would then support several pieces of legislation in the interests of the Russian Federation.”
Shor is currently thought to be in Israel.
The US has pledged budget support for the Moldovan government to help it cope with high energy prices. Gas tariffs have shot up over the past year as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.
The UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, was in Chisinau on Thursday. He said: “Few societies understand the underhand tactics of Russian malign activity more than Moldova and Georgia,” adding that “the UK will not stand idly by while Moscow blatantly undermines their democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Cleverly announced further financial support for Moldova to cope with high energy prices.
One of Shor’s leaders, Marina Tauber, told CNN’s Swedish affiliate Expressen that the party was demanding that the government covered people’s energy bills for the winter months. She denied that Russia was helping to organize or fund the protests.
Expressen reporter Mattias Carlsson, who is in Chisinau, told CNN that the latest protest organized by Shor on Friday last week had led to a few arrests. Among the media attending the event, he said, was a reporter with Russian state-run outlet Sputnik.
Russian officials have frequently stressed the importance of a Moscow-friendly Moldovan government as well as the significance of the Transnistria region.
Soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the then-commander of Russia’s Central Military Region, Maj. Gen. Rustam Minnekaev, said that one aim of the so-called “special military operation” was to establish a corridor through southern Ukraine to the Transnistria region.
The partnership that originally reported the document also includes Süddeutsche Zeitung, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR); Frontstory and the Kyiv Independent.