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US pledges £106m in aid to Moldova to counter Russian influence

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moldova’s President Maia Sandu (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Pool)
United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Moldova’s President Maia Sandu (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Pool)

US secretary of state Antony Blinken pledged 135 million dollars (£106 million) in aid to Moldova for energy security and to counter Russian disinformation.

The announcement comes as the Western-leaning nation struggles to blunt Moscow’s push for influence that’s been buoyed by recent successes in its war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Mr Blinken opened a short visit to eastern Europe with a stop in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, where he announced the assistance at a news conference with President Maia Sandu.

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United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Moldovan officials, including the president, in Chisinau (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Pool)

America’s top diplomat said 85 million dollars (£66 million) would go to bolster energy infrastructure and 50 million dollars (£39 million) was aimed at overhauling the energy and farming industries and deterring disinformation.

“That in turn will bolster the ability of Moldovans to resist Russian interference, to hold free and fair elections, to continue down the path to the European Union and Western integration, to create more economic opportunity,” Mr Blinken said.

He planned to travel to the Czech Republic later.

Before Wednesday, the US had provided Moldova with 774 million dollars in financial aid since the Ukraine war began in February 2022.

Some 300 million dollars of that was earmarked for energy security.

Mr Blinken’s trip, organised around a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Prague, comes amid concerns that Moldova and Georgia, another former Soviet republic, are facing renewed threats from Russia.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently visited Ukraine to reassure the country of Washington’s continued support (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, Pool)

Mr Blinken visited Ukraine two weeks ago to reassure Kyiv of Washington’s support in the face of increased Russian attacks in its north.

There are also signs that Russia may be considering new actions in Moldova, where it has 1,500 troops stationed in the disputed territory of Transnistria, and is behind anti-Western moves in Georgia that the US believes run counter to Moldovan and Georgian aspirations to join the European Union.

Both countries have candidate status to eventually join the 27-nation EU bloc.

“There’s not a direct military threat that we see at this time, but there’s ongoing Russian influence operations, and that is of concern,” the top US diplomat for Europe, James O’Brien, said last week.

Moldova has repeatedly accused Russia of conducting a “hybrid war” against the country, meddling in local elections and running vast disinformation campaigns to try to topple the government and derail its path toward joining the EU.

Russia has denied the accusations, but the Moldovan government is wary of Moscow’s intentions, particularly after Transnistrian authorities appealed to Moscow in February for “protection” due to what they said was increased pressure from Chisinau.

In Georgia, those fears intensified on Tuesday when the country’s parliament overrode a presidential veto of a “foreign agents” bill that has prompted weeks of protests by critics who say it will restrict media freedom and obstruct Georgia’s chances of joining the European Union.

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United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week announced that the US would impose travel bans on Georgian officials ‘who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia’ (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The bill that was approved by the parliament earlier this month requires media, non-governmental organisations and other non-profit groups to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

The legislature, controlled by the ruling Georgian Dream party, dismissed the veto of President Salome Zourabichvili, an independent.

The president now has five days to endorse the bill. If she does not do so, the parliament speaker will sign it into law.

Ms Zourabichvili, who is increasingly at odds with the governing party, vetoed the bill on May 18.

She has accused the governing party of jeopardising the country’s future and “hindering the path toward becoming a full member of the free and democratic world”.

Mr Blinken last week announced that the US would impose travel bans on Georgian officials “who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members”.

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Moldova has accused Russia of conducting a hybrid war (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Mr Blinken’s announcement did not identify anyone who has already been targeted, but it said the US would also undertake a comprehensive review of US-Georgia co-operation.

“It remains our hope that Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” he said.

“As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia’s actions in deciding our own.”

The situations in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will all be on the agenda at the Nato ministerial meeting in Prague on Thursday and Friday, which will be the alliance’s last major diplomatic get-together before leaders meet at a summit to celebrate Nato’s 80th anniversary in Washington in July.