Moldova names new pro-EU prime minister after government collapse in Russia

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Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Friday named a new prime minister to put her country on a pro-EU course after months of mounting Russian pressure amid the war in Ukraine toppled his government the previous day.

He named Doreen Racen, a prominent pro-EU figure and current national security adviser, to replace Natalia Gavrilia as the new head of government. The Moldovan parliament, where Sandu’s party has a comfortable majority with 63 of the 101 seats, will vote to confirm the nomination next week.

In a surprise press briefing on Friday, now-former Prime Minister Gabriela announced that she was resigning along with her pro-Western government. Moldova was granted EU candidate status along with Ukraine last June, but the government has faced intense pressure from Moscow, which has sought to undermine its authority.

“If we had the same support from our European partners at home in government, we could move further and faster,” Gavrilita said. “Moldova is entering a new phase, where security is our priority,” he added.

President Maia Sandu said she will begin negotiations with political parties in parliament to appoint a new prime minister.

The Moldovan government has long accused Russia, which bases troops in the former breakaway region of Transnistria, of fomenting unrest in the country, including protests in the capital Chisinau. In an interview with POLITICO last month, Sandu accused Russia of using the energy crisis to “destabilize Moldova” and cited Russia’s misguided efforts to stoke anti-government sentiment.

Moscow has a long history of turning the economic screws on Moldova to undermine its pro-EU administration over the past two decades, most notoriously by banning imports of all important Moldovan wines into Russia.

Friday’s government collapse comes days after he met with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels to take stock of Moldova’s EU membership prospects.

Bordering Ukraine, Moldova finds itself precariously close to war and is keen to strike a balancing act to defend itself militarily without provoking Moscow.

The country of 2.5 million people, which was 100 percent dependent on Russian gas before the invasion of Ukraine, was grappling with public unrest over soaring inflation and rising energy costs.

Sandu, a Harvard-educated former anti-corruption campaigner, told Politico last month that there was now a “serious discussion” in the country, including the possibility of joining a defense alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Moldova was granted candidate status to the European Union last June Dumitru Doru/EPA-EFE

“Now, there is a serious discussion about our self-defense capabilities, whether we can do it on our own, or whether we should be part of a larger coalition,” he said. “And if we come to the conclusion at some point, as a nation, that we need to change neutrality, it should be through a democratic process.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told EU leaders during a European summit in Brussels on Thursday that Ukraine had blocked Russia’s plans to “destroy” Moldova.

Moldovan intelligence services later confirmed that they had identified “subversive activities” aimed at “undermining the state of the Republic of Moldova, destabilizing and violating public order”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Moldova announced this Friday It will also summon the Russian ambassador over “unacceptable violations”. [Moldova’s] airspace” by a Russian missile that flew over the country as part of a wider Russian attack on Ukraine.

Anna Fota contributed reporting.

This article has been updated.