Bomb threats put tiny Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbor, on edge

CHISINAU, Moldova — For tiny Moldova, an impoverished landlocked country bordering war-torn Ukraine but not in the European Union or NATO, it’s been a week since bomb threats.

On a cloudy day outside the international airport serving the Moldovan capital Chisinau, hundreds of people lined up this week as bomb-sniffing dogs surveyed the area. That’s now a common scene in Europe’s poorest nation, battling what observers believe are attempts to destabilize the former Soviet republic amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Since early July, Moldova has received nearly 60 bomb threats — more than 15 of which have been reported so far this week — in locations ranging from the capital’s city hall to the airport, the Supreme Court, shopping malls and hospitals.

While no one has yet been charged in the bomb threats, most of which came via email and all turned out to be false, officials say they traced computer addresses to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

“It’s part of the war of disinformation against Moldova that’s underway,” said Valeriu Pasa, an analyst at the Chisinau think tank “It could be part of the Russian effort to destabilize Moldova as they use many different methods to do so.”

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Moldova, with a population of 2.6 million people, has faced a myriad of crises. It has received more Ukrainian refugees per capita than any other country; tensions have risen in the country’s Russia-backed breakaway region; it has to do with an acute energy crisis; and like much of Europe, it is battling skyrocketing inflation.

The frequent bomb threats only add to the pressure on the country’s already overstretched authorities.

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“It blocks a lot of resources — police, detectives, technical services — it’s a form of bullying, or intimidation, from Moldovan state systems and public services,” Pasa said.

Maxim Motinga, a prosecutor at the Moldovan Bureau of Organized Crime, told The Associated Press that since the bomb threats, “we are opening criminal cases almost every day.”

“At the moment, all criminal investigations are ongoing,” he said, adding that requests have been made for official assistance from Russia and Ukraine if “certain traces leading to the respective countries” would be identified.

“I hope we get answers from those countries,” he said.

For Veaceslav Belbas, a 43-year-old Moldovan businessman who returned from Turkey to Chisinau on Monday, a bomb threat scared him as his plane circled the capital’s airport for 30 minutes. The aircraft then made a U-turn and returned to Turkey.

“We prayed a lot and finally landed,” he said. “For me it was such a big shock that I told my wife that this is my last flight.”

Tensions in Moldova ran high in April after a series of real explosions in the Russian-backed breakaway region of Transnistria, where Russia bases about 1,500 troops in a supposedly frozen conflict zone. It raised fears that non-NATO, militarily neutral Moldova could be dragged into Russia’s war lane. At least one Russian official has spoken openly about taking enough land in southern Ukraine to link the Russian-controlled areas of the mainland to Transnistria.

Observers pointed out that the explosions came as Moldova — which has historically close ties to Moscow — showed a growing Western orientation and after it applied to join the EU, which it did shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. It was granted EU candidate status at the end of June, shortly before the bomb threats started.

Since its independence in 1991, Moldova has been plagued by organized crime and official corruption. After a 2019 election, a local oligarch tried to seize power, sparking mass protests before fleeing the country. In 2014, several politicians and oligarchs were linked to a scam where $1 billion disappeared from local banks. No one has yet been convicted in that case.

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Galina Gheorghes returned to England from Moldova last month after attending a family gathering when a bomb threat canceled her flight. She says she is angry that no one has been caught yet.

“It’s very bad what’s happening… unfortunately ordinary people are suffering,” said Gheorghes, 35.

Amid a seemingly endless pattern of disruptive and costly threats, Moldova’s interior ministry said it wants to tighten penalties for anyone convicted of false bomb threats by raising fines and handing out longer prison terms.

Chisinau airport has been hit by dozens of bomb threats since July and has strengthened security in response. Radu Zanoaga, chief of border police at the airport, says a specialized unit has been set up to save security officials the hassle of traveling in from the city center every time a bomb threat is raised.

“We are currently addressing the situation in collaboration with other (government) agencies and institutions operating within the airport,” he said. “There have been bomb threats before — but not as many and not as frequent as now.”


Stephen McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.


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