Moldovan president furious as government expels five Russian diplomats

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) talks to Moldovan President Igor Dodon (C) as they arrive at Red Square to watch a military parade in Moscow, Russia, 9 May 2017. [Yuri Kochetkov/EPA]

Moldova’s pro-European government expelled five Russian diplomats yesterday (29 May), an “outrageous” move the country’s Moscow-backed president, Igor Dodon, insisted was aimed at undermining Moldova-Russia relations.

Moldova has been ruled by a succession of pro-European Union administrations but Dodon’s election in late 2016 reflected a loss of trust in its leaders as well as Russia’s increasingly assertive influence over ex-Soviet states.

Moldovan PM and President clash over Eurasian Union rapprochement

The Prime Minister of Moldova Pavel Filip has sent an angry letter to the country’s pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, qualifying as “reckless” his request for observer status to the Moscow-led Eurasian Union and for the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding with this organisation.

Moldova’s government gave no reasons for the expulsions. Russia’s ambassador to Moldova, Farit Mukhametshin, confirmed the sanction but gave no further details.

“The government has taken an outrageous step regarding our strategic partner, Russia,” Dodon said in a Facebook post.

“This has most likely been done on orders from the West, maybe even from across the ocean, by those who are worried that a constructive and effective dialogue has finally been found between the presidency and the Kremlin,” he said.

As in Ukraine and Georgia, past moves by Chişinău to forge closer ties with the EU were met with strong resistance from Moscow. In 2014 when Moldova signed a political and trade pact with the EU, Russia imposed a retaliatory ban on Moldovan produce.

Russia imposes ‘temporary ban’ on Moldovan fruits

Russia imposed a temporary ban on Moldovan fruit imports on Friday (18 July), adding to an already existing ban on wine imports, the measures being seen as a punishment for Moldova’s signature and ratification of an Association Agreement with the EU.

Dodon won the presidential race after campaigning to put the brakes on seven years of closer relations with the EU, after a massive corruption scandal sapped the popularity of his pro-Brussels rivals.

Wiretaps incriminate Moldovan pro-EU leader

Phone conversations posted online on Tuesday (20 October) are said to show former Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat asking for bribes from a local businessman, who has been accused, along with Filat, of involvement in the theft of $1 billion from three banks.

Even so, Moldova’s parliamentary majority and government remain close allies of Europe.

Earlier this year, Moldovan officials accused Russia’s security apparatus of seeking to derail a Moldovan probe into a Russian-led money laundering operation by harassing Moldovan officials as they traveled to or through Russia.

Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, borders EU member Romania, with which it has close linguistic and cultural ties, but remains heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies.

Corruption arrests rock Moldova's pro-EU coalition

A minister in Moldova’s pro-European government and two of his deputies resigned today (29 May), after their party withdrew from the ruling coalition over the arrest of its deputy chairman on corruption charges.