Putin Sparks Turmoil in Neighboring Nation

Controversial oligarch aligns with Kremlin to influence Moldova

by Zain ul Abedin
Putin Sparks Turmoil in Neighboring Nation
© Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

In a bold maneuver reflecting the Kremlin's intricate foreign policy strategies, a new Moscow-endorsed political faction in Moldova has emerged, actively seeking to disrupt the nation's progression toward European Union membership.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) suggests that this faction, orchestrated by Ilan Shor, a fugitive oligarch currently under U.S. sanctions, aims to solidify Russian influence in the politically volatile region. Ilan Shor has declared the formation of a pro-Russian electoral bloc, named "Victory," which includes his own Shor Party alongside several other minor political groups like the Revival Party, Chance Party, Alternative Forces of the Salvation of Moldova Party, and the Victoria Party.

This coalition plans to contest in the upcoming presidential elections on October 20. Yevgenia Gutsul, a prominent figure from the pro-Russian autonomous region of Gagauzia in Moldova, has been appointed as the bloc's executive secretary.

The Victory bloc ostensibly presents a united front for pro-Russian sentiments in Moldova, an image that Moscow might be keen to project. However, the coalition, particularly the Revival Party, holds minimal parliamentary influence, commanding only four seats out of 101.

Their February protests demanding President Maia Sandu's resignation did little to shake her administration's resolve. Despite the apparent solidarity among the pro-Russian factions, expert Dionis Cenusa from the Lithuania-based Eastern Europe Studies Center warns of potential backfire.

He told Newsweek that overt Kremlin operations could inadvertently bolster President Sandu's popularity, thereby securing her position in the forthcoming elections—a scenario Moscow would presumably wish to avoid.

Russia's Moldovan Intrigue

The background to these political maneuvers is laden with controversy.

Shor, born in Israel and now residing there, was convicted in absentia in 2017 for his role in a $1 billion embezzlement scheme involving Moldovan banks. Despite his exile, he frequents Moscow, demonstrating his ongoing ties with Russian political circles.

Russia's tactics in Moldova appear multifaceted. They aim to destabilize the current government while thwarting the country's EU ambitions. The ISW indicates that the Kremlin is engaged in hybrid operations, aiming to sow discord within Moldovan society and distract from other moderate forces that might align more closely with Russia’s interests.

As President Sandu steers Moldova closer to the West, having secured EU candidate status in June 2022, the geopolitical stakes are high. The situation in the pro-Moscow breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russian troops are stationed, continues to pose a significant security threat.

This tension is compounded by the ongoing conflict in neighboring Ukraine, underscoring the complex dynamics at play as Moldova navigates its path on the international stage. Officials from both the Russian and Moldovan foreign ministries have yet to respond to requests for comment on these developments, leaving the international community watching closely as Moldova's political landscape continues to evolve under the shadow of Russian influence.