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EXCLUSIVE War in Ukraine Russia

Former Head of Moldovan Intel: Pro-Russia Politicians in Moldova are Traitors

How Russia corrupts politicians and builds a network of influence in Moldova and the EU

Russian influence in Moldova has weakened recently as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, a former chief of Moldovan military intelligence has said. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Kyiv Post, Iurii Briceag, also a former member of the Transnistrian conflict commission, noted that the problem of the unrecognized Russia-supported of Transnistria can be easily solved by peace means by opening 20-30 criminal cases against those usurped power. He also said that with the Russian threat not subsiding, Moldova intends to double spending on its military.

What is the reaction of ordinary Moldovans to Russia's war in Ukraine? As far as we know, many people there supported Russia.

I would like to say that the best attitude of the Moldovan people was expressed during the election of the president of the Republic, Maia Sandu (in 2020 and known for her pro-European policy), and the elections to the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova a few years ago.

Fortunately, the view that we should be part of a big European family prevails and is growing day by day.

We have more pro-European and pro-Western citizens than pro-Russian ones.

And how did this turnaround happen? What would have changed the attitudes of people if it was 50/50 a couple of years ago?

Since Feb. 24, 2022, after the war in Ukraine turned into a larger-scale operation and when a large number of Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Moldova.

Some refugees are still here, some are still in transit and going to Europe. We started to feel and see more as to what is actually happening. 

For example, my children were volunteers in a non-governmental organization, and they took in refugees from Ukraine, primarily children, who told us horrible things.

Children who were 14-15 years of age and couldn’t get through, after what they experienced, cried in their sleep - it is beyond words. We all felt the effects of war on ourselves, that the war began in our neighborhood and not somewhere else.

What is the political situation in Moldova? Are there any active pro-Russian politicians?

Before the election of President Maia Sandu, we had a pro-Russian leader by the name of Igor Dodon.

If we look at his international visits, he spent most of his time in Russia or, for a change, in Belarus.

Unfortunately, some still support this line and want to be with Russia. I don't see our future with Russia.

We don't even have borders with Russia, and I remember the 1940s well when my grandparents were deported and taken to Siberia - we don’t forget that about the Russians.

There are pro-Russian people, and we notice with the Armed Forces of Ukraine making progress on the battlefield the fifth column and pro-Russian politicians are becoming more active in Moldova. These two things are connected.

Do you believe that these pro-Russian politicians could be agents of Russian special services?

I am certain of this. There are officials who were members of the former president's government and before that, they were at the forefront of Russian policy and were agents of influence.

Unfortunately, we don't have sufficient political will to prosecute these people for state treason.

Instead of developing the economy and doing everything to make the lives of our people better they, on the contrary, have led people to a condition of zombification by Russian propaganda.

Some citizens of Moldova, who are still under influence of Russian propaganda, believe only what Russian television says.

Unfortunately, there are such people, but we are going to in this war for people’s minds.

Russia acts in precisely the same way in every country, Russian security services recruit and form a network of influence. How exactly does this happen?

First and foremost, propaganda and mass media outlets are the mechanisms primarily used by Russian intelligence services.

There are certain countries that are members of the European Union and at the same time, they lobby for certain Russian interests, particularly Serbia, Hungary, and partly Germany.

There was a similar situation in our country. There were businessmen and different communities which were pro-Russian [and members of the communist and socialist parties], through which money was pumped out and, as a result, corrupt schemes operated.

Corrupt officials headed these schemes, and everyone had an interest in them.

It's well-known that energy giant Gazprom pumps natural resources, and they use this money to fulfill Russia’s corrupted interests around the world, not only in Moldova.

How much does Moldova depend on Russian resources?

Unfortunately, we had other politicians, not only the communists and socialists, who turned out to be Russia’s agents of influence and who managed to sell state-owned property, which we had after the collapse of the Soviet Union to Russian companies. Today, the Moldovan state owns just 35 percent of the Moldovan gas company, with the rest belonging to Russia’s Gazprom.

Yes, we depend on the Russian Federation.

Talking of electricity – the Cuciurgan power station - which is located in the unrecognized Transnistria region and which is also controlled by Russian authorities and politicians.

It turns out that we pay for the electric energy generated in Transnistria for Moldova.

Still, this way, we continue to sponsor the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, and we have a vicious circle.

How is progress with Moldova’s European integration? What are the achievements and challenges?

Since Russia moved on to its large-scale war on Ukraine, there has been progress. A percentage of Moldovan exports to Russia have now been redirected to the EU.

Before 2014 a large number of Moldovan citizens worked in the Russian Federation, with the figure reaching half a million people.

After Russia began its war in 2014 [in Ukraine’s Donbas], those citizens who used to work in Russia have changed direction and moved to the EU. Today, only about 60,000 - 70,000 still live in the Russian Federation, the rest have left.

Another aspect that shows that European integration is taking place and that the future is in the European Union is those young people who choose to study in the European Union, the U.S. and Canada, but not Russia.

Since Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia’s full-scale invasion began, we have acquired the status of an EU candidate and this brings Moldova closer to EU integration.

Do problems that exist with the unrecognized republic of Transnistria affect the country’s accession to the EU?

There are examples of other states that experienced conflicts on their territory and joined the EU. There are always exceptions to the rules, and if there were political will, we could solve the Transnistrian issue with the support of the European Union and our partners and neighbors.

Moreover, people who live in Transnistria have relatives, work and earn money both in the Republic of Moldova and in EU territory.

The Transnistria problem can be solved in a peaceful way, and the main thing is to have the political will to do this.

Russian missiles fell on Moldovan territory recently. How do the authorities react? Is Moldova prepared for the risk of a Russian invasion?

The threat of invasion by Russian troops on the territory of Moldova exists. The maps drawn up by Russian commanders also include Moldova, but as Ukraine and its army have been having tremendous success on the front, Russia's plans are being postponed.

At the same time, this threat still exists.

There have already been three cases of Russian missiles falling on Moldovan territory.

In the first case, there was a delayed reaction, but as these cases began to recur, the Moldovan president reacted immediately, saying that this is inadmissible and an invasion of our military space.

I want to say that the fact that we are a neutral country will not protect us.

We must be honest with ourselves and realize the threat Russia that poses to Ukraine and the free democratic world.

Does Moldova intend to strengthen its army?

Yes, in 2022, the Parliament of the republic passed a bill that will double the budget of the country’s Ministry of Defense. This is a good sign. We must prepare for war even if we want peace.

Are any negotiations with NATO taking place?

Yes, we have commissions at the Ministry of Defense and Parliament levels. There are constant correspondence and joint military and non-military exercises involving Moldova’s Armed Forces with NATO.

The Moldovan army is also on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, with 40 of our soldiers serving there.

We are preparing ourselves to the fact that this is our future, and potential.

We must join the European family and NATO.

What is your personal opinion as to why Sandu won the election? What was the critical factor?

It is my opinion, which is shared by most citizens of the Republic of Moldova who voted for her - the main factor behind her victory is that this woman has never been involved in corruption scandals.

People are simply tired of thieves and corruption.

How do people live in Transnistria region? Do they support Russia?

The phenomenon of Transnistria can be described in books. There is very cheap gas there. Citizens of Moldova spend 20 times more on gas than people who live in Transnistria.

In Transnistria they don't pay for the gas received from Russia, and the debt owed to Gazprom is growing with every passing day. At the moment it comes to more than $ 8 billion. Russian gas is also used to run a power plant there.

Gas is free for Transnistria. I was there at a wedding, and they kept the gas burners on all the time so as to avoid wasting matches.

Electricity is also cheap. The paradox is that Transnistrian residents have passports from several countries. The Transnistrian passport is only valid in Transnistria.

They also have passports as Moldovan citizens and passports as citizens of the Russian Federation because Russia handed them out there.

People in Transnistria have Ukrainian and Romanian passports. They need a bag for all their passports to fit when they travel.

On the other hand, they are residents of the Republic of Moldova, and most of them work and live in the Republic of Moldova.

I was an expert of the joint commission to resolve Transnistrian conflict, and had the opportunity to talk with people there - they all work in their so-called state agencies.

There's also the pro-Russian businessman Viktor Gushan, who heads the Sheriff Company, and a few people from his circle operate there - that's only the business sector in Transnistria.

The rest of the people get paid by the Russian Federation.

If there were the political will to bring 20-30 criminal cases on usurpation of power, this "banana republic" would collapse like a house of cards. 

Are there any Russian troops stationed on the territory of Transnistria?

Yes, there is a limited military contingent from the Russian Federation there, which should have left a long time ago in accordance with the protocols and international promises that Russia made back in 1994.

There are so-called peacekeeping forces there, which are part of the Russian army.

However, things have changed since Russia began its war on Ukraine in 2014, and the authorities of the Republic of Moldova have ceased to permit the rotation of the Russian military.

Part of the Russian Federation's peacekeeping contingent, or so-called limited group of Russian troops in Transnistria, are there.

In the main these servicemen were all born and raised in Transnistria, have Russian citizenship, but with Moldovan roots.

They would likely take Moldova’s side and throw away their Russian passports. The same also applies to Moldovan politicians.

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