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Moldova – Warns of hybrid offensive:

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Moldova – Warns of hybrid offensive:

That Moldova is the Kremlin’s next target after Ukraine has been claimed by NATO and EU leaders since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Since the full-scale invasion in February 2022, the warnings have come with increasing frequency, about Russian attempts to destabilize Moldova with hybrid attacks.

Thought smithy Institute for the Study of War now believes that the Kremlin’s information operations against Moldova are very similar to those carried out against Ukraine before the invasions in 2014 and 2022, that these will intensify and that the aim is to “justify” a future escalation against Moldova.

– The timing of a possible Russian hybrid operation is unclear, but the Kremlin is preparing the ground for it to happen soon, write the think tank’s analysts.

– Makes no sense without it

False accusations

The background for the analysis is statements from the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to the Russian National Assembly on Wednesday.

There he falsely claimed, among other things, that the EU controls the Moldovan government, and that it is the West that has ensured that the negotiations about the pro-Russian breakaway republic of Transnistria have been put on ice – negotiations that he will allegedly “do everything” to resume.

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It is the government of Moldova that has put the negotiations on hold, justified by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The Kremlin has previously accused Ukraine of violating the Minsk agreements, which were supposed to stop the violence in eastern Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

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Tom Røseth, associate professor and head of the Ukraine program at the Norwegian Defense Academy (FHS), also sees parallels in the Russians’ behaviour.

– This is part of Russia’s policy towards Moldova – not just politics, but full-spectrum threats, which we have seen over time, says Røseth.

RESEARCHER: Tom Røseth is principal lecturer in intelligence and leads the Ukraine program at the Norwegian Defense Academy. Photo: FHS Show more

As with Ukraine, the Kremlin is unhappy with Moldova’s quest towards the EU and NATO, and away from Russia’s sphere of influence.

– It creates resistance in Moscow, which sees this as with Ukraine – that it is the West that pulls the strings and decides, says Røseth.

The Kremlin also has several of the same tools at its disposal vis-à-vis Moldova as it does vis-à-vis Ukraine, including dependence on Russian energy and an ethnic Russian minority, which are used in an attempt to strangle the country’s incumbent government.

Expect attempts at destabilization

For now, the experts believe that there is no immediate danger of a Russian invasion of Moldova – that the Russian forces still have more than enough to hold their own on the battlefield in Ukraine.

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In addition to the forces tied up in Ukraine, Russia has a force of around 1,500 soldiers stationed in Transnistria.

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– They are not able to do very much, and it is difficult for Russia to support during a possible rebellion there, says NUPI researcher Jakub M. Godzimirski.

RESEARCHER: Jakub M. Godzimirski has worked with Russian foreign and security policy for more than 20 years. Photo: Nupi Show more

Rather, the researchers believe that we may see Russian cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and sabotage against Moldova in the future – similar to the operations the Russians have carried out against Eastern Ukraine since 2014.

– Then the media and social media become important tools for influencing and building up a Soviet identity, about which there is quite a bit of romance in the Moldovan population, says Røseth.

In April last year, the EU implemented a assignment to strengthen Moldova’s resilience against such hybrid warfare.

– Is this aid sufficient to lower the threat?

– It is always difficult to build up resilience. It will of course help, but not remove the threat. The Russians can do this, and no one can fully protect themselves against Russian information operations, says Røseth.

Russian coup plans: – Real threat

At the mercy of the war in Ukraine

Moldova is in many ways at the mercy of how the war in Ukraine ends.

Throughout last year, it was characterized by a lack of progress for both parties. The Ukrainian soldiers at the front are fighting a war of attrition against outnumbered Russians, supplied by a military industry that has replenished its weapons stockpiles faster than the West expected.

Even the Ukrainians lack soldiers, weapons and ammunition.

– Russian success would be very unfavorable for several countries, especially Moldova, because then Russian ambitions would increase, says Røseth.

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The researchers then believe that President Vladimir Putin’s eyes will be directed towards Transnistria, the “land that does not exist”, in eastern Moldova. The population there is composed, and is divided roughly equally between ethnic Russians, Moldovans and Ukrainians.

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– In part, powerful forces believe that the best thing for them is to become part of Russia, says Godzimirski.

But to get in there, the Russians must control southern Ukraine – all the way to the border with Moldova in the west. Today, that is far from the case.

– But if the Russians were to succeed against all odds, then the situation for Moldova could also change. They would certainly use the access to change the balance of power in Moldova, says Godzimirski.

Here he believes that the EU also plays a role – whether membership negotiations with Moldova go quickly or slowly.

– If it happens quickly, it will anchor Moldova more strongly in the EU framework, and make it more difficult for Russia to gain a foothold.

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