Moldova’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared a Russian diplomat persona non grata over Moscow’s establishing six polling stations in the breakaway region of Transnistria during the Russian presidential election that ran between March 15 and 17.

Mihai Popșoi, Moldova’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, said the ministry had summoned Russian Ambassador Oleg Vasnețov in protest of the incident and informed him of Chișinău’s decision.

Moscow said it decided to open six polling stations in Transnistria to enable some 250,000 Russian nationals to vote in the region, which Moldovan said countered the agreement that one polling station would be allowed which should be sited within the Russian embassy in Chișinău.

This is the latest diplomatic escalation between the two countries, where Chișinău has been accusing Moscow of attempts to destabilize the country.

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The escalation also followed a recent alleged drone attack against a decommissioned Mi-8 military helicopter in Transnistria by unknown entities, an incident Moldova said had not taken place and was “an attempt to cause fear and panic in the region.”

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 because of close cultural and historical ties between the two.

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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 disputes with Chișinău, but Moscow has not officially acknowledged the appeal.

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