Moldova in the Middle

People take part in a protest against the Moldovan government in Chisinau on February 19. (Photo by ELENA COVALENCO/AFP via Getty Images)

As Russia’s conventional military sputters in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is turning to a familiar tactic to cause trouble for its western neighbor: hybrid warfare.

Moldova, a country of 2.6 million people sandwiched between war-torn Ukraine and NATO member Romania, has been rocked by a series of anti-government protests in recent weeks. Foreign and local officials say they’re part of a broader Russian campaign to overthrow the government and plunge the country into chaos. 

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Moldova’s capital of Chisinau this week to call for the country’s Western-friendly government to resign. “Down with Maia Sandu!” they reportedly chanted of Moldova’s president. “Down with the dictatorship!” While many protesters voiced economic grievances—inflation, sky-high energy prices, and other concerns—others demanded that Moldova stay out of the war in Ukraine. 

But the former Soviet republic’s involvement in the conflict isn’t an open question. Moldova included permanent neutrality in its 1994 constitution after a war against Russian and local forces three decades ago—vowing not to allow the “dispersal of foreign military troops” on its territory in an apparent bid to dissuade further Russian aggression. The gamble doesn’t seem to be paying off: Without NATO protection or much of a military, Moldova is facing a ground war at its doorstep and destabilizing forces within. 

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