A senior Moldovan official said Russia had been illegally printing ballots in the breakaway region of Transnistria ahead of Russia’s presidential election between March 15 and 17, Reuters reported.

Oleg Serebrian, Moldova’s Deputy Prime Minister for Integration, said the ballots were likely printed in Transnistria to “avoid taking them through a border crossing.”

“It is hard to say how they would have been brought over a border. Moldova’s borders are controlled and there is no way of legally bringing them in or taking them out,” said Serebrian before a government meeting.

Chișinău also summoned the Russian ambassador two days ago regarding Russia’s opening of six polling stations in Transnistria, which went against the agreement of only allowing Russian nationals to vote at a polling station at the Russian embassy in Chișinău.

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However, Russian ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov called Chișinău’s complaint “unfounded” and said the move was merely enabling some 250,000 Russian nationals to vote in the breakaway region.

Most of Transnistria’s estimated 465,000 residents have dual or triple Moldovan, Russian or Ukrainian nationality.

Transnistria, also known as Pridnestrovie, is a Moscow-aligned separatist region in Moldova lying on a thin strip of land bordering Ukraine.

Founded with Moscow’s assistance, the predominantly Russian-speaking region declared independence from Moldova in 1990 following the collapse of the USSR, citing the lack of protection for Russian speakers as Moldova sought closer integration with Romania in the 1990s due to close cultural and historical ties between the two.

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Patriarch Kirill, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, signed a decree banning priest Dmitry Safronov from giving blessings, carrying a cross or wearing the frock for three years.

However, Moscow never recognized the region’s independence, nor acknowledged the results of its 2006 referendum that called for its integration into Russia.

On Feb. 28, the breakaway region appealed to Moscow for “Russian protection” following months of trade dispute with Chișinău, but Moscow has not officially acknowledged the appeal.

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