CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, the country of Moldova has often been at the center of a struggle between Moscow and the West. It finds itself in that uncomfortable position again.
On Monday, its president alleged that Russia was plotting to overthrow her country’s government by force to derail its aspirations of joining the European Union — plans first disclosed last week by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, tensions in Moldova have risen periodically, especially because of a Kremlin-backed breakaway region on its eastern border where Russia has stationed about 1,500 troops.
A look at recent events in Moldova:
WHAT ARE ITS TIES TO MOSCOW AND THE EU?
Once part of the Soviet Union, Moldova declared its independence in 1991. One of Europe’s poorest countries with a population of about 2.6 million people, it has historic ties to Russia but wants to join the 27-nation EU.
The country has lurched from one political crisis to another, often caught in limbo between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. In recent years, Moldova has seen widespread disillusionment with post-Soviet politics, and an exodus of hundreds of thousands of its citizens seeking a better life abroad.
The situation is complicated following a separatist war that broke out in its eastern region of Transnistria in 1990 — a strip of land about 400 kilometers (249 miles) between the eastern bank of the Dniester River in Moldova and the border with Ukraine. As part of a cease-fire in 1992, a contingent of Russian troops remains there as nominal peacekeepers. Since then the region has insisted it is not part of Moldova, and most of its 470,000 people speak Russian, although residents identify themselves as ethnically Moldovan, Ukrainian or Russian.
In 2021, after decades of largely oligarchic power structures and various Russia-friendly leaders, Moldovans elected pro-Western, pro-European leaders to put it on a more distinctly Western path.
HOW HAS THE WAR IN UKRAINE AFFECTED MOLDOVA?
Since the invasion nearly a year ago, Moldova has sought to forge closer ties with the West. Last June, it was granted EU candidate status, the same day as Ukraine, but full membership will be a long road, contingent on tackling corruption and organized crime, and strengthening human rights and the rule of law.
Over the past year, tensions in Moldova have periodically risen as it faced a string of unsettling problems and incidents. These include a severe energy crisis after Moscow dramatically reduced gas supplies to the country. It also has seen skyrocketing inflation and a huge flow of refugees from the war next door.
In April, explosions were reported in Transnistria’s de facto capital, Tiraspol, amid fears the war in Ukraine could spill over. In recent months, several missiles have traversed Moldova’s skies, and rocket debris has also been found on its territory.
WHAT HAS MOLDOVA’S PRESIDENT ALLEGED?
On Monday, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu said in Moldova’s capital of Chisinau that Moscow was plotting to overthrow her government via outside saboteurs “with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes, who will undertake violent actions, attack some state buildings, and even take hostages.”
Its purpose, Sandu said, would be to install an illegitimate government “which would put our country at the disposal of Russia in order to stop the European integration process.”
She claimed Russia wants to use Moldova in the war against Ukraine, without elaborating, and added that Parliament must adopt laws to equip its Intelligence and Security Service and prosecutors with the tools “to combat more effectively the risks to the country’s security.”
Zelenskyy said last week his country had intercepted plans by Russian security services to destroy Moldova, claims that were later confirmed by Moldovan intelligence officials.
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this month that the West was considering turning Moldova into “another Ukraine.”
Costin Ciobanu of the Royal Holloway University of London said it’s likely there was pressure on Moldovan officials to follow up to the public on Zelenskyy’s statements last week. He said Sandu’s remarks could be a preemptive bid to thwart Russian attempts to destabilize Moldova in the same way Western officials called out Moscow’s war plans before it invaded Ukraine.