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U.S., Britain, Canada raise alarm over Russia meddling in Moldova's election

President of Moldova Maia Sandu is seeking re-election in October. On Thursday, the United States, Canada and Britain accused Russia of attempting to influence the outcome of the upcoming contest. File Photo by Dumitru Doru/EPA-EFE
President of Moldova Maia Sandu is seeking re-election in October. On Thursday, the United States, Canada and Britain accused Russia of attempting to influence the outcome of the upcoming contest. File Photo by Dumitru Doru/EPA-EFE

June 14 (UPI) -- The United States, Canada and Britain are raising the alarm over the Kremlin's ongoing campaign to influence Moldova's upcoming election in an effort to replace its pro-European Union government with one more friendly to Russia.

The coalition of democratic nations issued the warning in a statement Thursday on the first day of the Group of Seven summit in Italy where Russia and its war in Ukraine have taken center stage.

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The countries accused Russian actors of supporting presidential candidates and distributing disinformation and propaganda "online, on the air and on the streets" to further their objectives.

They said Russia is seeking to foment negative public perceptions of Western government and of Moldova's incumbent pro-EU president Maia Sandu, who is running for re-election in October

"Part of these operations would include spreading lies about the incumbent president's character and intentions and about supposed electoral irregularities," the three allies said.

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"If Russia's election meddling proves unsuccessful in Moldova, there is reason to believe Moscow will work to incite protests."

They continued that Russia has been meddling in Moldova's politics for years to influence October's election, stating employees of state-funded RT have been "providing direct support" to Ilan Shor, a pro-Russian politician who was convicted in a 2014 billion-dollar bank fraud scandal.

Shor, the leader of the Shor political party, has been sanctioned by all three of the governments, with the United States on Wednesday designating a member of his criminal network in an effort to counter Russia's malign influence in Moldova.

The trio of democratic nations also accused Russia of attempting to degrade public confidence in the nation's ability to secure itself and maintain rule of law while exacerbating societal tensions.

"By revealing the Kremlin's plot, we are making it clear to Moscow that we stand for free and fair elections and will not tolerate its attempts to meddle and undermine democratic processes," the nations said. "We urge the Kremlin to abandon these efforts to subvert Moldova's democracy and to respect its sovereignty and the outcomes of free, fair and independent elections."

Russia has been conducting the influence campaign for years, but has seemingly increased its efforts as Moldova is working toward becoming a member of the EU.

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Moldova applied for EU membership a week after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, which Chisinau has condemned.

The invasion raised concerns in Moldova that Russia may seek to retake the former Soviet nation, using its Kremlin-backed breakaway Transnistria region where it has a military presence to do so, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

Christina Harward, a Russia researcher at the Institute for the Study of War, said in April that they had recently seen several indicators suggesting the Kremlin was establishing conditions for "hybrid operations with the aim of destabilizing Moldova from within and preventing Moldova from joining the West."

She said Russia is seeking "long-term control" over the European nation.

The three democratic nations on Thursday said hat they have "full confidence" in Moldova's ability to manage Russia's threats and that they were taking measures to support it, including sharing information it has on the Kremlin's campaign.

Prime Minister Mihai Popsoi of Moldova thanked the three nations for the "show of solidarity."

"Russia's subversive activity & electoral interference in Moldova will not deter us from our path," he said in a statement.

The announcement comes after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Moldova late last month when he announced $50 million to aid Moldova's efforts in resisting Russian interference in its election.

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Last week, the European Commission said both Moldova and Ukraine have met conditions to start talks about joining the EU.

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