Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday that the United States designated seven members of a Russian intelligence-linked group over alleged “destabilization operations” in Moldova.
“The Kremlin continues covert efforts to destabilize democratic countries via malign influence operations. Today, we are designating seven members of a Russian intelligence-linked group, and one entity, for their role in destabilization operations in Moldova,” Blinken tweeted Monday.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned Konstantin Prokopyevich Sapozhnikov, Yury Yuryevich Makolov, Gleb Maksimovich Khloponin, Svetlana Andreyevna Boyko, Aleksey Vyacheslavovich Losev, Vasily Viktorovich Gromovikov and Anna Travnikova – all members of a “Russia-connected malign influence group that is attempting to destabilize the government of Moldova.”
Throughout February and March, several thousand demonstrators participated in multiple anti-government protests in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, and other major cities in Moldova.
The protests were said to be organized by the fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor, whom OFAC previously designated in October 2022 for being responsible for or complicit in interference in a United States or other foreign government election for the benefit of, directly or indirectly, the government of the Russian Federation, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Shor, currently in exile in Israel, is the leader of Moldova’s pro-Russia Shor Party. The party supports a group calling itself Movement for the People, which organized the anti-government protest in Moldova’s capital. The protesters demanded that the country’s pro-Western government fully subsidize citizens’ winter energy bills and to “not involve the country in war.”
The protesters called for the current president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, to resign. “During the protests, Moldovan intelligence services and police forces maintained public order and conducted multiple raids, made arrests, and expelled foreign individuals carrying out subversive actions to destabilize the government of Moldova,” the Treasury says.
In February, Sandu had outlined what she described as a plot by Moscow to overthrow her country’s government using external saboteurs and put the nation “at the disposal of Russia.”
The White House issued a statement on March 10 regarding Russia’s destabilization campaign in Moldova, revealing then how U.S. intelligence suggested that Russian actors, some with current ties to Russian intelligence, were seeking to stage and use protests in Moldova as a basis to foment “a manufactured insurrection” against the Moldovan government.
“The sanctions imposed today shine a light on Russia’s ongoing covert efforts to destabilize democratic nations,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement Monday. “Russia’s attempted influence operations exploit the concerns of the citizens of these countries, to destabilize legitimately elected governments for Moscow’s own interests. The United States remains committed, along with the EU, to target individuals who engage in such activities against the government of Moldova.”
Training for the protests was directed by an instructor cadre with links to Mikhail Sergeyevich Potepkin, the Treasury says.
OFAC designated Potepkin on July 15, 2020, for his role as regional director for M Invest, a designated company that served as cover for Kremlin-backed PMC Wagner forces operating in Sudan, and was responsible for developing plans for former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to suppress protesters. OFAC sanctioned Potepkin’s former employer, the Internet Research Agency, on Sept. 30, 2019, for its alleged efforts to influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
Moldova, which is cradled by Ukraine on three sides, aspires to join the European Union by the end of the decade, and has consistently signaled its support for Ukraine and taken in refugees fleeing the war. The country hosted the European Political Community Summit at the Mimi Castle, just 12 miles from the Ukrainian border, Thursday, drawing attendance from nearly every European leader, who assembled to condemn non-invitees Russia and Belarus. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy paid a visit.
The U.S. has previously uncovered Russian attempts to subvert Moldova’s government.
In October, Treasury sanctioned Yuriy Igorevich Gudilin, Olga Yurievna Grak and Leonid Mikhailovich Gonin for allegedly attempting to influence the outcome of Moldova’s elections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.