In an alarming turn of events, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has issued a direct threat to Moldova, labeling it the next victim in the West’s unleashed hybrid war against Russia, states a WSJ article. As Moldova increasingly aligns itself politically with the West, it becomes a prime target for Russia’s hybrid aggression.
Moldova, responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, has imposed restrictions on flights to Russia and sanctions on banks. Last month, Chisinau also implemented additional sanctions beyond those adopted by the EU, prompting a warning of a retaliatory response from the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, as reported by the Russian news agency Tass. The U.S. estimates that agriculture contributes over 12% to Moldova’s GDP, and Moscow has begun restricting the import of fruits and vegetables from Moldova.
Vladimir Putin hopes that exacerbating economic difficulties will incite political instability and turn public opinion against the pro-Western government. With Moldova’s per capita GDP less than $6,500, the Kremlin aims to exploit these challenges. However, the EU has provided some relief by protecting Moldova’s agriculture from Russia’s economic coercion, suspending tariffs and import quotas on seven product categories in July 2022. This alternative market has thrived, with Moldovan fruit exports seeing significant growth.
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Despite this, Russia continues to interfere in Moldova’s internal politics. Informal reports from Chisinau circulating within the EU claim that Russia has provided “illegal funding to its proxies” in Moldova to influence election campaigns, corrupt candidates, buy voters, and amplify disinformation campaigns during recent local elections.
Energy blackmail is another tactic employed by the Kremlin. Moldova has been working to reduce its dependence on Russian energy and seeks to limit reliance on electricity produced with Russian gas in Transnistria, a breakaway region supported by Russia since the early ’90s. The U.S. has granted Moldova $80 million as direct budget support to alleviate record-high electricity prices last winter, in addition to $220 million to enhance Moldova’s energy security.
As the Kremlin eyes potential success in Ukraine, there are concerns that it will seek to sow instability elsewhere in the former USSR. The preferable scenario is to support Ukrainians in preventing Putin’s encroachment within their country.