Moldova Briefly Closes Airspace After President Accuses Russia of Coup Plot

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Moldova briefly closed its air space after a presumed air balloon entered its territory on Tuesday, further rattling the former Soviet Republic after a Russian missile recently flew over the country on the way to Ukraine.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its economic fallout have reverberated in the Eastern European country, which sits between Romania and Ukraine and faces growing pressure on its Western-leaning leadership. In recent days, the country’s president has accused Russia of trying to topple her government through protests organized by pro-Russian forces.

The president, Maia Sandu, didn’t offer evidence, and Russia denied the accusations.

The country’s government said in a statement it closed the air space for more than three hours in the afternoon to ensure the security of passenger flights after an “object similar to a weather balloon” was detected near the Ukrainian border. . The government did not specify what happened to the balloon.

Moldova has been among the nations most affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian rockets aimed at Ukraine have unsettled the nation, with another missile fired from a Russian warship in the Black Sea flying over Moldova on Friday. Moldova’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to discuss the incident.

Moldova’s government has also struggled to mitigate the effects of Russia’s energy supply cuts to Europe, which have sent energy prices soaring in the region’s poorest nation. That has put growing pressure on Ms. Sandu, a former World Bank economist who has sought to integrate the country with the European Union after winning a four-year term in 2020.

Moldova’s pro-Russian opposition politicians and others have tried to capitalize on the economic discontent by stirring weekly protests. Prominent among them is Ilan M. Shor, a convicted fraudster who from his exile in Israel has advocated for closer ties to Moscow. His allies have for months turned out thousands of protesters to demand Ms. Sandu’s resignation. sometimes paying them to attend.

Mr. Shor’s party claims better ties with the Kremlin would increase the supply of cheap Russian natural gas. Russia’s natural gas exports to Moldova were cut in half last year, part of Moscow’s larger reduction of energy supplies to Europe to punish Ukraine’s regional allies.

As a result, residential gas prices in Moldova increased seven times and electricity prices four times last year, Ms. Sandu told CNN in December.

“The energy crisis has put huge pressure on Moldova and its people,” said Iulian Groza, the director of the Institute for European Policies and Reforms, a pro-E.U. research group in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau. Mr. Groza said Ms. Sandu’s government partly compensated for the loss of Russian gas by buying alternative supplies with European economic aid.

The growing economic hardships led to the resignation of the prime minister, Natalia Gavrilita, on Friday. Announcing her decision to step down, Ms. Gavrilita cited multiple “crises caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

Ms. Sandu’s allies played down the resignation as a regular government reshuffle, and the president quickly appointed another pro-Western politician, defense adviser Dorin Recean, to lead her administration.

On Monday, Ms. Sandu accused Russia of trying to topple her through orchestrated violent protests. Her claims were based on similar accusations made last week by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Ms. Sandu said her security officials verified the plot details provided by Ukrainian counterparts, but neither Ms. Sandu nor Mr. Zelensky have made any of the alleged evidence public.

According to Mr. Sandu, a coup plot involved bringing Russian, Montenegrin, Belarusian and Serbian citizens to Moldova to spark protests and install “an illegal government controlled by the Russian Federation.”

“The Kremlin’s attempts to bring violence to Moldova will not work,” Ms. Sandu told reporters in Chisinau.

The accusations of Russian meddling are particularly sensitive in Moldova because of the presence of Russian troops in the country’s breakaway region of Transnistria, which is run by Russian-speaking leaders allied with the Kremlin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called Ms. Sandu’s accusations “baseless,” and accused the Moldovan president of using perceived Russian threats to deflect public attention from her government’s internal problems.

Andrew Higginsand Oleg Matsnevcontributed reporting.


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