Moldovan police say they have detained 13 members of an armed group they suspect of planning to seize the country’s second city Balti as well as launch attacks on the capital Chisinau.
The group faces charges including plotting a coup and engaging in paramilitary activity. If the police’s suspicions are correct, this looks like an attempt to take control of an area of Moldovan territory - mirroring the rebel takeover of parts of neighbouring Ukraine. It comes several weeks after Moldova’s latest government collapse, when there is a political vacuum in the country for the third time this year.
A November 26 statement from the General Police Inspectorate says the group intended to recruit hundreds of people for launching an armed attack on Balti. They also planned to release 400 people from Balti prison to join the attack on local police forces.
Further actions were planned in both Chisinau and the semi-autonomous region of Gagauzia.
Police say the 13 were detained after raids on the homes of 25 suspects the previous day. Grenades, guns, combat knives, drugs, military uniforms and masks and maps of Chisinau and other areas of the country were discovered during the raids.
Those detained face a range of charges including organisation or participation in paramilitary activity, calls for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order, drug trafficking and possession of firearms. If found guilty, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Six members of the group already have criminal records for crimes including robbery and human trafficking.
Moldova’s latest government collapse came on October 29, when prime minister Valeriu Strelet lost a no-confidence vote after the Democratic Party (PD) deserted its pro-EU coalition partners to vote with the opposition.
The PD is now trying to form a new government, but so far has been unable to bring its former coalition partner, Strelet’s Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM), onside, and has therefore failed to form a majority. Parliamentary speaker and PD member Andrian Candu indicated on November 24 that the party may form a minority cabinet and there are plans to announce its nomination for prime minister very soon.
However, Moldova could be heading for another round of early elections. The constitutional court ruled on November 24 that parliament can be dissolved and early elections organised if lawmakers fail to appoint a new government within three months of Strelet’s dismissal.
The largest party in the current parliament, the pro-Russian Socialist Party (PSRM), is also pushing for early elections, as is another pro-Russian party, Partidul Nostru, headed by Balti mayor Renato Usatii.
A poll by the International Republican Institute published by ipn.md on November 10 indicates the PSRM and Partidul Nostru would take a combined total of 58% of parliament seats if elections were held now.
Adding to the tensions within Moldova, the breakaway republic of Transnistria, which is backed by Moscow, is due to hold parliamentary elections on November 29.
The tiny republic, between the Dniester river and Moldova’s eastern border with Ukraine, has been struggling financially after Russia’s domestic economic problems forced Moscow to scale back its support. This has already led to cuts in state pensions in wages, and even some calls for a re-orientation of the economy westwards. The elections are therefore seen as criticial to Transnistria’s future.