War against Ukraine: Why has Moldova expelled 45 Russian diplomats?
Moldova has expelled 45 Russian diplomats from its embassy in capital Chisinau in a row over surveillance equipment in the former Soviet nation.
The country, which borders Ukraine and also has a pro-Russian breakaway self-declared republic, Transnistria, within its territory, said its action had been triggered by "ongoing tensions and unfriendly actions". The decision comes following media reports of additional surveillance equipment being installed on the roof of the Russian Embassy.
The decision, which takes the number of Russian diplomats in Chișinău down to 25, comes weeks after Germany announced it would revoke the licenses of four of the five Russian consulates in a tit-or-tat diplomatic row with Moscow.
Moldova’s government aligns itself with Europe and neighbouring Romania, a member of the European Union, with which it shares a language. It became a candidate for European Union accession last year.
The Moldovan government warned earlier this year it believed Russia was planning to stage a coup. In March, the White House expressed concerns Russia was attempting to “destabilise” the country and “weaken” its government.
Moldova has been drawn into the invasion of Ukraine after stray missiles have landed within its borders a number of times during the conflict. It has been claimed the nation could be Moscow’s next target.
“For many years we have been the object of hostile Russian actions and policies, many of them were made through the embassy,” said Moldovan foreign minister Nicu Popescu, adding the step had been taken so there were “fewer individuals acting to destabilise the situation in our country”.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the decision to reduce the number of diplomats was a “step toward the destruction of bilateral relations,” that will “not go unanswered”.
Russia’s ambassador in Chișinău, Oleg Vasnetsov, said, after being summoned to the Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the decision was “predictable”.
"This decision, perhaps, was predictable, but we did not think that the Chisinau authorities would get involved in Russophobia competitions so quickly and such radical measures would be taken,” he said. “We hope that the officials who take such decisions understand what the consequences could be in the bilateral segment.”
The investigation by Moldovan television channel Jurnal TV earlier this week found the number of satellite dishes and communication devices on top of the Russian embassy in Chișinău has increased, with 28 satellite dishes, masts, and transmitting and receiving devices installed on the embassy and on an adjacent building also used by Russia.
Moldova’s foreign ministry said the number of diplomats and employees working at the Russian embassy in the country’s capital will be limited to ten diplomats and 15 administrative, technical and service positions.
In May, Berlin asked Moscow to “promptly arrange for the liquidation of the four consulates general in the Federal Republic of Germany”. It said it needed to complete the move by the end of this year “at the latest”. One consulate general and the Russian embassy will continue to operate.
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