Putin Brings His War Strategy to Moldova

  • Russia is accused of spreading propaganda and false information in Moldova in an effort to destabilize the country.
  • Examples include deepfake videos, forged documents about a Ukrainian invasion and false narratives spread on social media.
  • Moldovan President Maia Sandu has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of plotting to overthrow her country's government, which the Kremlin has denied.
  • Evidence suggests the Kremlin made similar propaganda efforts in Ukraine.

The spread of Russian propaganda has been rising throughout Moldova, according to a Thursday report.

"Civil society groups and social media researchers say Russia is ramping up its efforts to destabilize the former Soviet state, a candidate for European Union membership, through propaganda and false information," NPR reported.

The Kremlin has long been accused of spreading propaganda, including immediately before and during the early days of its invasion of Ukraine last year. This February, the Atlantic Council published two reports on how Russia used such means in Ukraine in an attempt to undermine resistance to Russian invaders.

One example the group cited was deepfake videos spread on social media that falsely showed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky telling his troops to surrender and for citizens to flee the country.

Vladimir Putin and laptop
A stock image shows a laptop, with the inset picturing Russian President Vladimir Putin during a ceremony in Moscow on Wednesday. A new report says Russia has been spreading propaganda in Moldova to destabilize the country, a move that Russia was also accused of attempting in Ukraine. Photos by ILYA PITALEV/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

Last month, Moldovan President Maia Sandu accused Putin of plotting to overthrow her country's government. A week before Sandu's coup accusations, Zelensky said during a meeting with European Union leaders that his country had intercepted information that showed the Kremlin planned to "destroy" Moldova.

The Kremlin has not addressed the allegations of spreading propaganda in Moldova, but it has denied Sandu's charge that Russia is trying to orchestrate a coup. Russia's Defense Ministry went further by saying Ukraine is planning to invade the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova.

"Once the Ukrainian government said that there was intelligence that suggested that a Moldova coup was going to happen, [we saw] Russian disinformation and propaganda efforts targeting Moldova but also targeting a potential alliance between Ukraine, Moldova and Romania," Kyle Walter, the head of research at tech company Logically, told NPR.

The public radio network reported that forged documents about a Ukrainian invasion of Transnistria have been spread on Telegram and Twitter by Russians. Another example cited was a video from a months-old military parade that has been falsely labeled as showing Romania placing military on the Moldovan border. That video has also been spread on Telegram.

False narratives have also been carried on TV talk shows and TikTok, according to Valeriu Paşa, chairman of the Moldovan think tank WatchDog.MD.

Paşa told NPR that the Kremlin's propaganda efforts in Moldova are "portraying the government of Moldova as kind of Western puppets" who are trying to destroy the country.

Meanwhile, Transnistria came back into the news on Thursday when the Kremlin's proxy officials in the region said that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) had allegedly tried to assassinate Transnistria leader Vadim Krasnoselsky.

The SBU denied any involvement in the alleged assassination attempt.

In a release, the agency said that statements made about SBU participation in terrorist attacks in Transnistria "should be considered exclusively as a provocation orchestrated by the Kremlin."

Newsweek reached out to the Kremlin and WatchDog.MD via email for comment.