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Moldova Slashes Russian Diplomatic Staff, Citing Moscow’s ‘Hostile Actions’

Moldova’s government has ordered a massive reduction in the number of Russian embassy staff in Chisinau, amid concerns about the number of antennas on the building – which some suspect are being used for espionage.

Moldova on Wednesday massively reduced the number of Russian embassy staff in Chisinau, citing hostile actions against Moldova by Russia.

The decision significantly reduced the number of Russian diplomats in Chisinau. It has sent home 18 Russian diplomats and 27 technical embassy staff. They have until August 15 to leave Moldova. Previously, Russia had 87 staff in Chisinau, 52 of them accredited diplomats and 35 technical staff.

Only ten diplomats and 15 technical personnel will remain in Moldova, which means more than a threefold reduction of the Russian diplomatic staff in the country.

“The number of diplomatic posts of Russia in Chisinau has been reduced to 10. Also, the number of auxiliary posts has been reduced to 15, so the entire diplomatic apparatus of Russia in Chisinau will operate with 25 people,” the government spokesperson, Daniel Voda, told BIRN.

Moldova has only six diplomats left in Moscow. Before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Chisinau had 15 diplomats in Moscow.

Moldova’s expulsion follows a European trend of reducing the number of Russian diplomats in their countries. The expulsions also come after a journalistic investigation reported an excessive number of antennas on Russian diplomatic buildings, likely used for espionage and phone-tapping actions.

Twenty-eight antennas are located on its diplomatic buildings in Chisinau, almost twice as many as those on Russian diplomatic facilities in Brussels. The embassy in Chisinau is only a few hundred metres from the Moldovan Presidency, parliament and government, on the main boulevard.

Moldovan media outlet Jurnal TV counted 28 antennas from which it said a series of high, very high or ultra high-frequency equipment are potentially able to intercept mobile phone conversations, wi-fi data and communications long distance.

Radio engineer Iurii Sainsus told Jurnal TV that they could be used for military purposes. “This can only be determined by a specialist who knows what technology it is connected to. Only then could we establish that these antennae are not used for civilian purposes. The antenna is just a tool. The information is translated, i.e. emitted and received by other equipment inside the building,” he said.

“For many years, even decades, we have witnessed and been the target of quite hostile Russian activities and policies. A number of them were carried out through the Russian embassy in Chisinau,” Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said.

“We have also recently seen information about an excessive number of antennae. In our opinion, diplomatic services of our country and other countries must focus on developing good relations,” added Popescu.

Several members of the government and parliamentarians have been discussing cutting the number of Russian diplomatic staff, suspecting them of espionage activities against Moldova. They have demanded parity between the Russian diplomatic staff accredited in Chisinau with that of Moldova in Russia.

Moldova is one of the favourite targets of Russian cyber attacks. Before the summit of the European Political Community, EPC, on June 1, many documents were stolen from the Moldovan Foreign Ministry, likely due to informational attacks.

“This decision comes as a result of numerous unfriendly actions towards Moldova, which are not related to the diplomatic mandate, as well as attempts to destabilize the internal situation in our country,” said the Moldovan authorities.

But the Russian ambassador in Chisinau, Oleg Vasnetsov, said the antennas were not used for espionage and their large number was due to Moldova’s “poor telecommunications and Internet infrastructure”.

However, according to a March 2023 study by the web portal cable.co.uk., Moldova has the cheapest broadband internet in Europe.

Moldova ranks 37th in a world internet speed ranking and is second in Eastern Europe, after Romania, ahead of Poland, according to a September 2022 study by the same portal.

Moscow has threatened retaliation after Chisinau reduced the number of Russian diplomats, and has resumed a narrative of Chisinau’s alleged Russophobia.

“It is a new step towards destroying bilateral relations by the Chisinau regime, in its desire to stand out in front of its Western sponsors on the side of Russophobia,” said Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, Maria Zakharova.

“Chisinau sinks to greater and greater depths, actively borrowing the Ukrainian and Baltic experience as well as standard measures, including making public insults about our country, banning Russian-language media and attacking the Russian language,” Zakharova said.

Source : BalkanInsight