Fans banned from Sheriff-Partizan match in Chisinau over coup plot fears

Fans banned from Sheriff-Partizan match in Chisinau over coup plot fears
The match between Transnistria's FC Sheriff Tiraspol and Serbia's Partizan will take place behind closed doors. / FC Sheriff Tiraspol
By bne IntelliNews February 14, 2023

Fans have been banned from a UEFA Europa Conference League match due to take place in Chisinau between Serbia’s Partizan and Sheriff Tiraspol from the Moldovan separatist republic of Transnistria over fears of a Russia-backed attempt to destabilise Moldova. 

The match will take place on February 16, several days after Moldovan President Maia Sandu revealed plans to destabilise Moldova, set out in a Russian document received from Ukraine. 

“The plan for the next period involves actions with the involvement of diversionists with military training, camouflaged in civilian clothes, who will undertake violent actions, attacks on some state buildings and hostage taking. Through violent actions masked by opposition protests, the change of power in Chisinau would be pursued,” Sandu said.

The president added that the plan involves the use of people from outside the country for “violent actions”. The documents sent by the Ukrainian side contain instructions on entering Moldova for citizens of Russia, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro.

Moldova took the precautionary step of closing the country’s airspace on February 14. 

Fans banned from match 

On February 14, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) announced that no fans will be allowed to enter the stadium when Sheriff plays Partizan.

“The UEFA Europa Conference League match between FC Sheriff Tiraspol and FC Partizan scheduled for Thursday 16 February in Chisinau will be played behind closed doors following a decision of the national authorities,” a statement from UEFA said. 

The match is being held in Chisinau’s Zimbru stadium rather than Tiraspol, in the unrecognised Transnistria republic and less than 100km from the Ukrainian city of Odesa. 

“The Football Federation of Moldova informed FC Sheriff about the decision of the Moldovan authorities to hold the UEFA Conference League playoff round match between FC Sheriff and Partizan Belgrade without spectators,” said the FC Sheriff press service on February 14. 

“In this regard, FC Sheriff informs the spectators who have purchased tickets for the match that the club will return the money spent on tickets,” it added. 

Ahead of the match, a group of Serbian Partizan supporters who had traveled to Chisinau for the match were denied entry into Moldova. The group was deported late on February 13.

Serbia and Montenegro request clarification

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic denied Sandu's claims of potential Serbian involvement in a Russian coup plot and requested more information from Chisinau, a foreign ministry statement said. 

Dacic informed his Moldovan counterpart Nicu Popescu that Belgrade “resolutely rejects any insinuation about the potential involvement of our citizens in possible violent events in Moldova”. 

Popescu responded that the information was obtained from the Ukrainian intelligence service and that there is no evidence of Serbian citizens' involvement so far, according to the statement. 

“The two ministers agreed that maximum efforts should be made so as not to damage the good and friendly relations between Serbia and Moldova, and that all negative consequences of this disinformation should be prevented, including everything that is happening related to the football match between FC Sherif and FC Partizan,” said the Serbian ministry. 

There are concerns about Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group recruiting in Serbia, where a large share of the population is sympathetic towards Russia. 

Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic said as quoted by RFE that he has no information that individuals from Montenegro are planning to destabilise Moldova for Russia’s benefit. 

He added that Podgorica will try to get additional clarification from Moldova, and stressed that Montenegro is fully compliant with the EU’s sanctions policy towards Russia.  

Escalation feared

Moldova, a small country on Ukraine’s western border, is seen as vulnerable to a potential escalation of the war in Ukraine. Part of its territory, the Transnistria region, has been controlled for decades by Russia-backed separatists. 

Officials in Chisinau were already on high alert after Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier in February that the West “has got its sights” on Moldova as a country that might “follow Ukraine’s path” by turning into an “anti-Russia”. 

Officials in Moscow were angered by recent comments from Sandu hinting that the country might consider Nato membership. Two influential Russian lawmakers previously warned on January 24 that Moldova considering Nato membership “may lead to its destruction”. Moscow’s fierce opposition to Ukraine joining Nato was one of the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.