Moldovan opposition parties denouncing pro-European President Maia Sandu’s drive to secure European Union membership said on Sunday, April 21, they were forming an electoral bloc in an announcement delivered in Moscow.

The groups dubbed their alliance Victorie (Victory), formed around fugitive pro-Russian business magnate Ilan Shor, sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for mass fraud in the country lying between Ukraine and Romania.

Also prominent in the group gearing up for a presidential election and a referendum on EU membership were leaders of the pro-Russian Gagauzia region, populated mainly by ethnic Turks.

“We are proposing a new path for Moldova. The idea of the EU is a mere phantom that is destructive for our citizens and for the country,” Shor told a gathering in a Moscow hotel in comments reported by the Moldovan news outlet newsmaker.md.

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“Our task is to show people alternatives that have worked over time.”

That, Shor said, meant renewing damaged links to Russia and to regional organizations led by Russia.

Yevgenia Gutul, the leader, or bashkan, of Gagauzia, said the group aimed to “defend Moldova’s independence, keep our country from being pulled into military operations…and restore friendly ties with Russia.”

Gutul has visited Russia twice in the past two months and sought help from Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin against Moldova’s central government.

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Moldova’s Infrastructure Minister Andrei Spinu said the group had consciously been formed “right next to the Kremlin.”

“The entire country has seen these traitors to the nation in Moscow,” Spinu wrote on Facebook.

Sandu has denounced Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as wayward drones or missiles land inside its territory.

She has singled out Russia and corruption as the biggest threats to her country and has called an October referendum on joining the EU to be held alongside a presidential election.

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Shor, who lives in Israel, was sentenced last year in connection with Moldova’s “theft of the century” in which $1 billion disappeared from the banking system in 2014. Moldovan authorities have long requested his extradition.

A political party bearing his name was banned, though a new party associated with him has enough support to enter parliament, according to opinion polls.

In the Oct. 20 election, Sandu will face former president and Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon, who urged voters last week to boycott the simultaneous EU referendum on grounds the president was using it to win re-election. Polls credit Sandu with 35.1% first-round support to 15.8% for Dodon.

Dodon and Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin, another ex-president, share common cause with Shor in opposing the referendum. But they have shown few signs of acting in concert.

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