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ISW: Kremlin uses Gagauzia, Transnistria to derail Moldova’s EU bid

ISW says the Kremlin’s increased focus on Moldova’s Gagauzia and Transnistria pro-Russian regions aims to use them in information and hybrid operations to disrupt Moldova’s EU accession process.
Gagauzia entrance sign. Photo via tvn.md
Gagauzia entrance sign. Photo via tvn.md
ISW: Kremlin uses Gagauzia, Transnistria to derail Moldova’s EU bid

Actors in the Russian information space are increasingly concentrating on covering recent events involving Yevgenia Gutsul, the governor of Moldova’s pro-Russian autonomous region Gagauzia, and are amplifying Kremlin narratives aimed at destabilizing Moldova to a broader audience, according to the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The regions of Gagauzia and Transnistria are often perceived as potential Russian “Trojan horses” within Moldova, due to their pro-Russian sentiments and Moscow’s influence in these regions. These areas could be used by Russia to exert political and military pressure on Moldova. Gagauzia is an autonomous republic, while Transnistria is an internationally unrecognized self-proclaimed state, considered to be a part of Moldova, having Russian troops deployed on its territory.

Gutsul returned from Russia to Chisinau on 8 March without any issues, greeted by hundreds of supporters at the airport. Pro-Kremlin Moldovan politician Ilan Shor, sanctioned by the US, claimed on 7 March that Moldovan authorities intended to arrest Gutsul upon her arrival, following the Prosecutor General’s Office’s announcement of sufficient evidence linking Gutsul to unspecified criminal acts.

Map of Moldova showing the zones of a frozen military conflict with Russia in Transnistria/Transdniestria and a resolved conflict in Gagauzia.
Map of Moldova showing the zones of the frozen military conflict with Russia in Transnistria/Transdniestria and a resolved conflict in Gagauzia.

The Kremlin-affiliated news agency TASS closely monitored Gutsul’s return to Moldova on 8 March, reporting that upon her arrival at the Chisinau airport, Gutsul claimed the need for Moldova to maintain friendly relations with Russia and criticized Moldovan President Maia Sandu.

An unusually large number of Russian military bloggers reported on Gutsul’s return to Moldova, promoting typical Kremlin narratives that criticize the Moldovan government.

Such a pattern of activity could indicate a centrally directed Kremlin information operation,” ISW concludes.

ISW continues to assess that the Kremlin’s increased emphasis on spreading destabilizing narratives about Gagauzia, following a recent focus on Moldova’s other pro-Russian region, Transnistria, “indicates that the Kremlin seeks to use both these regions in information operations to support hybrid operations aimed at sabotaging Moldova‘s EU accession process.

On 7 March, Moldova’s President Maia Sandu signed a key defense agreement with France, marking a significant step in bolstering the country’s security amid growing concerns over Russian aggression. The deal, inked in Paris with her French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, aims to enhance bilateral defense cooperation and collaboration between the two nations.

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