For months, rising food and energy costs have brought protesters on to Moldova’s streets but while the cost-of-living crisis is biting, the government claims outside forces are fuelling the unrest.
The pro-Western leaders have accused Russia of deliberately stoking the anger by reducing gas supplies to push up prices, spreading propaganda and backing a plot to overthrow them.
Moscow and politicians from Moldova‘s pro-Russian ŞOR party dispute the claims.
“We are supporting the protest because life in our country became too difficult,” says Marina Tauber, ŞOR party’s vice president. “We as the parliamentary faction and the parliamentary party, we don’t feel this [Russian] interference.”
Moldova’s President Maia Sandu says they’re fighting a hybrid war and are under attack from Kremlin interference, which is aimed at destabilising Ukraine’s neighbours.
In the past year, they’ve experienced “an explosion in security threats”, according to the interior ministry – including hundreds of bomb hoaxes, a coup plot and an online disinformation campaign.
Monitoring group Watchdog MD says it has seen Russian disinformation rocket tenfold in Moldova since the war broke out in Ukraine.
The small team’s funding will run out next month.
Until then, they continue to compile lists of concerning content that have been shared thousands of times.
The posts range from fake polls comparing the president to Hitler to footage of an old military parade relabelled as Romanian troops moving towards the Moldovan border.
It says it’s all part of a propaganda war that Russia is driving to upset the peace.
“We are not under siege like the Ukrainians are, but we are feeling the pressure even from here, from Kyiv, you know. What I would say is the future of the country… lies at stake,” says Watchdog MD analyst, Andrei Curararu.
Russia is a ‘strong country’
But public opinion is divided.
In the pro-Russian autonomous region of Gagauzia, many feel closer to Moscow than the West.
A recent poll showed 93.8% of respondents have a “positive” or “very positive” attitude to the Russian Federation.
The majority trusted Russian mass media over Moldovan outlets.
At the market in the capital, Comrat, no one I speak to believes Russia is a threat.
Cheese seller Valentina fondly remembers their time in the Soviet Union.
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“Do you believe Russia is trying to cause trouble and hurt Moldova?” I ask.
“No… all our lives we lived in Soviet Union and our country didn’t do anything bad to us,” she replies.
“And you trust President Putin?” I ask.
“I believe in everyone… if a person is attacked, he has to defend his people,” she explains.
Shopper Leonid shares his views, saying: “I’m not happy with what is happening in Moldova.
“Why do we have to only look to the West? Why can’t we also look to Russia? It’s a strong country. You underestimate Russia. That’s why the West and Russia need to find a common language,” he says.
But Moldova’s leaders don’t share this trust as they continue to fight disinformation they say is aimed at spreading panic and unease.