A Russia-backed plot to cause unrest in Moldova has been foiled, police in the country say.
Officers said an undercover agent had infiltrated groups of “diversionists” – some of them Russian citizens – who had been promised money to organise “mass disorder”.
Moscow has been accused of seeking to destabilise Moldova’s new pro-Western government in an effort to cause a distraction from its struggles in Ukraine.
Moldova is a former Soviet republic home to around 2.6 million people.
Fresh protests were held on Sunday, the latest in a series organised by a group calling itself Movement for the People, which is backed by Moldova’s Russia-friendly Shor Party.
The demonstrators are demanding the government fully cover the costs of winter energy bills and to “not involve the country in war”.
Police said they arrested 54 protesters on Sunday, including 21 minors, who exhibited “questionable behaviour”.
The US has accused Moscow of trying to destabilise Moldova and install a more pro-Russian government, but says it does not believe there is an imminent military threat.
John Kirby, the White House’s national security spokesperson, said: “As Moldova continues to integrate with Europe, we
believe Russia is pursuing options to weaken the Moldovan government probably with the eventual goal of seeing a more Russian friendly administration in the capital.
“More specifically, Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence, are seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment and manufacture insurrection against the Moldovan government.”
Russia has rejected the accusation that Moscow is plotting to destabilise Moldova.
“Such claims are completely unfounded and unsubstantiated,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement last month.
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Tensions between Moldova and Russia are not new but have been under a renewed spotlight since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria on Moldova’s border with Ukraine has been governed by pro-Russian separatists since 1992 and is home to a garrison of Russian troops.
The region’s independence is not recognised by the pro-Western government of Moldova or the international community.
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Cristian Cantir, a Moldovan associate professor of international relations at Oakland University, said that while it is difficult to determine how the alleged plans to topple Moldova’s government would play out, “Russia has always sought to undermine pro-European governments”.
“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, but it’s absolutely a realistic concern,” he said.