UK Sounds Alarm on Russian ‘Hybrid’ Attacks Before Moldova Votes

(Bloomberg) -- Russia is planning to target Moldova with a wave of so-called “hybrid” attacks in the run-up to its presidential election and referendum on joining the European Union later this year, according to people familiar with UK intelligence assessments.

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Britain will share intelligence with Moldovan authorities to help them counter the perceived threat from Russian operatives in the coming months, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing sensitive information. On Tuesday, Moldova’s foreign minister, Mihai Popșoi, will meet UK Europe Minister Nusrat Ghani in London on Tuesday to discuss “subversive Russian meddling,” while defense ministers of the two countries will also meet, the British Foreign Office said in a statement.

Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the elections of other countries, including Moldova’s — and earlier this month, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that public attacks against Russia by Moldovan officials “have become a daily routine.”

The Kremlin is using a variety of measures — from AI-generated deep fakes to bags of cash — to undermine democracy in Moldova, Popșoi said in an interview last week.

“Moldova is sort of a petri dish of Russian hybrid warfare and election meddling,” he warned, adding: “What we see in Moldova now will most likely be deployed in upcoming elections in our partner countries in the West.”

Russia already has a foothold in Moldova — in the form of Russian troops stationed in the breakaway region of Transnistria since the early 1990s.

The UK efforts are the latest example of a drive to expand intelligence-sharing on electoral interference beyond its Group of Seven allies. Moldova has come under intense pressure since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine more than two years ago, with a series of cyber-attacks targeting the communications of its ministers.

Last month, Moldova’s intelligence chief, Alexandru Musteata, warned Moscow was planning a campaign involving “an unprecedented level of intensity.” He said his nation had uncovered information showing Russia aimed to disrupt the presidential election and EU referendum this year.

Moldova’s pro-European president, Maia Sandu, will seek a second term in an election scheduled for October. A referendum on joining the EU is due to take place at the same time.

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