Moldovans reveal their fears, hopes and feelings towards Russia

3 November 2022, 06:29 PM
According to the residents of Moldova, Russian propaganda is quite strong in their country, and the economy is strongly supported by the money of Moldovan

According to the residents of Moldova, Russian propaganda is quite strong in their country, and the economy is strongly supported by the money of Moldovan "workers" in the Russian Federation (Photo:Valeria Mongelli / Hans Lucas via Reuters)

October in Moldova, a country neighboring Ukraine, was turbulent in every sense: politically, militarily, and in everyday life. For a month now, anti-government rallies organized by Russianspecial services have been taking place in the capital Chisinau, demanding the resignation of pro-European leader Maia Sandu.

All this is happening against the backdrop of an escalated military threat from Russia due to the full-scale war in Ukraine: first, on Oct. 10, three enemy missiles crossed the airspace of Moldova, and on Oct. 31, the remains of one of them fell on residential buildings in the Moldovan village of Naslavcea.

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This has only exacerbated Moldova’s already strained relations with Moscow: in response to the "missile incident", Moldova expelled a Russian diplomat, for which it immediately received a reduction in gas supplies necessary for power generation. The victims of the increased energy blackmail are ordinary Moldovans, who are now forced to pay exorbitant utility bills and live by candlelight. Hungarian low-cost airline Wizz Air has also added fuel to the fire, closing its hub in Chisinau and revising its flight schedules for security reasons.

NV spoke to residents of the Moldovan capital about their fears, moods, and hopes.

Diana Popa

journalist at Jurnal TV from Chisinau

It should be understood that our society in Moldova is deeply divided — even before the full-scale war in Ukraine, at least 40% of Moldovans had different pro-Russian views. Therefore, now it is difficult for our politicians to unequivocally take one side or the other in this war, they are afraid to offend the population. Because of this, Moldova is officially a neutral country, and the president and prime minister are always very careful in their statements.

Meanwhile, people still have some worries and fears. Yes, the war in Ukraine has been going on for a long time, our people have already gotten used to it and think that it is somewhat distant, not in our country, or will not affect us. Yes, we have Transnistria, and when the war started, the idea that it would unfold there was often voiced.

Then people bought toilet paper, salt, buckwheat, but within a few months it calmed down.

I have friends who left Moldova because they were sure that the war would reach here. Now they have returned, because almost a year has passed, little has changed, and it is expensive to live abroad.

But only the other day fragments of a missile fell on the territory of Moldova, not even the missile itself. People's windows were smashed and roofs were damaged, and they have already realized a little bit that this war is in fact taking place several dozens of kilometers away from us. These worries are constantly growing.

Over the past two or three months, pro-Russian political forces have become very active and there are reports that the Russian special services are interested in destabilizing the situation in Moldova. Their so-called "moles" came to the country to conduct these processes. This in fact the case. This is evident from the rather massive protests in the center of Chisinau: they bring people from all over the country, give them some pennies to shout against the president for a day. Mostly they say that they are poor and want higher salaries. But people in our country have been living with these demands for the last 30 years.

In general, we have very active Russian propaganda: from the press to politicians. Fake news is a daily routine, and people, especially in the villages, take them at face value, because they are the ones who later come to the capital for rallies. If they are told that Maia Sandu wants to gift us to America, legalize same-sex marriages, and start a war with Transnistria — this will be enough.

A coup d'état is not a risk, it is really a plan. I do not know how much of it can be implemented, because there is active support from Europe. But the rallies still disturb us all: every week we have a blocked city, hundreds of police officers on the streets, constant detentions, and prominent fake news stories. This reduces the efforts made by the West to stabilize the situation to zero.

At the same time, power plants in Ukraine are being bombed, so it cannot supply us with the same amount of electricity. And due to limited gas supplies from Russia, power plants in Transnistria work less and supply us with less electricity. So now we are forced to buy it from Romania, because it is even more expensive than from (the rest of) Europe. This is a sort of energy blackmail from Russia. Therefore, our government asks people to save money, and in the evening during peak hours, the street lights are not on. For example, we now use candles at home, so as not to turn on unnecessary lights.

Pro-Russian people blame not only Ukraine and America, but also our government for this inconvenience — they claim that our president does not negotiate with Putin. They say it openly: "Why won't she go to Moscow? We are a neutral country. You go to Europe, right? Go to Moscow too!". That is, they interpret these events in a way convenient for them. But the authorities do not give in to blackmail.

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Denis Tanchuk

IT specialist from Chisinau

People in Moldova are now concerned about domestic issues rather than military ones. There are no fears that something involving arms will happen here, because everyone thinks that Moldova will be captured in three hours without a single shot. Our situation with military equipment is not even the same as in Ukraine before 2013. I'd be surprised if there are even a couple of APCs available. Therefore, a military solution to the issue has never occurred to anyone.

Moldovans in general are surprisingly patient and slightly alienated from politics. They fear only one thing: that the conflict will break out in Transnistria, and it will affect them. But Transnistrians are still staying below the radar and aren’t sticking their noses out at all.

We are rather afraid of pro-Russian social media groups going on about possible mobilization to resolve the Transnistrian issue. Russians are trying to find fault with any words spoken by the Moldovan Defense Minister. They want people to be angry with the authorities, they try to sow fear, destabilize the situation with possible movements in Transnistria.

As for the impact of the war in Ukraine, nothing has struck Moldova in eight months, and only the most recent case seems to have ended with a note of protest. Everyone objectively understands that we have no air defense, so if another missile lands on our territory, we can only wave a handkerchief after it. Therefore, falling debris is not enough reason for fear. Panic will begin if they take, say, Mykolaiv.

Nevertheless, against the background of all this news, the air carrier Wizz Air announced the closure its operations in Moldova "due to the unstable situation". It had already tried to leave when the full-scale war in Ukraine broke out and has been trying again since November. For example, I flew to Chisinau by direct flight back in September, but it has been impossible to buy tickets for two or three weeks now. People are worried about this: they say that Wizz Air knows something, because there are no obvious reasons for the withdrawal.

But the main tension in the country is due to expensive energy resources in winter. People are agitated because they are twice as expensive as even in Ukraine, where the war continues. Against this background, political games are taking place.

In addition, we had joint exercises of the Moldovan military with the Romanian and American ones. Then there was information that the U.S. government is ready to provide Moldova with weapons. Such moments in the information field also significantly aggravate the situation and can destabilize it.

In addition, we have had paid anti-government protests for the second month. However, it is quite far from a coup, because there are no obvious leaders yet. There is only Ilan Shor, a muddy man who is stirring things up and is rumored to be supported by Moscow. What can Moscow offer? Cheap gas. And what do the people need? That they do not pay conditional $109 for heating in winter. One can always play on this.

We should admit that Moldova is rather “vatnik”, unfortunately. People are mostly poorly educated, especially in politics. In this sense, the situation is not far from Russia: if you take random passers-by on the street, three will be completely deranged, three more will believe in propaganda, two will be against the war, and the other two will be "it’s-not-so-one-sided". This is understandable, because Russia's influence here is approximately the same as it was in Donbas: many people earn money in Russia, speak Russian, and watch Putin's speeches.

The current president, Maia Sandu, actually came on the back of a rare intelligentsia and diaspora that works mainly in Europe and lives well. And within the country, a large percentage of the population lives at the expense of "migrant workers" from Russia, so convincing them is a long, difficult and time-consuming process.

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