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ISW: Kremlin conducts information operations in Moldova, echoing tactics preceding Ukrainian invasions

15 Feb, 2024
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ISW: Kremlin conducts information operations in Moldova, echoing tactics preceding Ukrainian invasions

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The Kremlin is conducting information operations against Moldova very similar to those that the Kremlin used before its invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022, likely to set conditions to justify possible future Russian escalation against Moldova. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov answered a question after his speech to the Russian State Duma on February 14 about the Transnistria conflict and falsely alleged that the United States and European Union control the Moldovan government.

Lavrov claimed that the West stopped the 5+2 negotiating process in the Transnistria conflict. The 5+2 process included Russia, Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as mediators and the EU and US as observers. Lavrov claimed that Russia will “do everything” to resume the 5+2 process. Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian stated on January 28 that Moldova would not return to the 5+2 process as long as Russian-Ukrainian relations did not improve and Russia’s war in Ukraine continues.

Lavrov claimed that there are about 200,000 Russian citizens in Transnistria and that Russia is “concerned about their fate” and “will not allow them to become victims of another Western adventure.”

Lavrov further alleged that Moldova decided not to give state budget subsidies to regions such as Gagauzia that oppose Moldovan integration with the EU. Lavrov compared Moldovan actions concerning Gagauzia to the way the West “refused” to give former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych time to review Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU in 2013. Lavrov claimed that the West is issuing similar “ultimatums” to Chisinau about EU integration.

The Kremlin previously accused Ukraine of abandoning and disregarding the Minsk Agreements, which established the post-2014 armistice following the first Russian invasion of Ukraine and involved Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE with France and Germany as mediators, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has regularly claimed that Ukraine’s alleged violations of the Minsk Agreements “forced” Russia to invade Ukraine in 2022.

The Kremlin has also used the idea of protecting its “compatriots abroad” to justify the fact that Russian troops have occupied Transnistria since 1992 as well as Russia's full-scale invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022.

The Kremlin has also accused the US of orchestrating the protests that erupted after Yanukovych’s withdrawal from the Association Agreement with the EU in 2013 and claimed that the alleged subsequent US-backed “coup” forced Russia to invade Crimea and begin military operations in Donbas in 2014 to protect those that “opposed the coup” and Russian “compatriots abroad.”

ISW continues to assess that Kremlin officials and mouthpieces have been attempting to set information conditions to justify possible Russian efforts to destabilize Moldova and prevent its integration into the West, and the fact that Lavrov furthered these narratives — and added additional allegations — suggests that the Kremlin is orchestrating these wider efforts in the information space.

Other officials from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including MFA Spokesperson Maria Zakharova, have previously claimed that Moldovan authorities are trying to economically “strangle” Transnistria, are preventing a diplomatic solution to the Transnistria conflict, and face widespread domestic discontent towards Moldovan government policies.

A Kremlin-affiliated milblogger has recently seized on the Transnistria issue to consistently promote similar Kremlin narratives as well as claims that Moldova is “militarizing” in order to “forcefully reintegrate” Transnistria into Moldova — an effort for which Russia, the milblogger claimed, must prepare.

Moldovan authorities recently accused Russian peacekeepers in Transnistria of conducting exercises and using weapons in the Moldovan security zone in violation of the OSCE Joint Control Commission (JCC) protocols.

The timing of a possible Russian hybrid operation in Moldova is unclear, but the Kremlin is setting informational conditions to make it possible soon.

The Odessa Journal

The Odessa Journal

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