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Moldova smolders on border of Russia's war

STORY: The war in Ukraine is reverberating through its neighbor – Moldova.

From a coup attempt to bomb hoaxes, internet hacks, fake conscription call-ups and mass protests...

a host of crises has beset the small European country since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

"We had an explosion of security threats starting February 24th last year."

Let's take a look at why tensions are mounting in Moldova.

Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, the former Soviet Republic with a population of 2.5 million has often been caught in a limbo between Russia and the West.

Moldova hosts the breakaway statelet of Transnistria that's controlled by pro-Russian separatists and garrisoned by Russian troops.

The country is also home to the semi-autonomous region of Gagauzia, which is overwhelmingly pro-Russian too.

The current government of President Maia Sandu was elected in 2020 on a promise to seek membership of the European Union.

Moscow has bristled at the possibility.

Moldovan officials paint a picture of a nation under constant duress from a misinformation and propaganda campaign orchestrated by Moscow.

The idea, they say, is to destabilize and undermine the pro-Western government of President Sandu.

Reuters spoke to Interior Minister Ana Revenco.

“And this black propaganda, actually, is getting to many people in the form of manipulation and news such as: that Moscow has the only solution, that the Western and European integration path will only lead the country to war, that soon there will be a mobilization, that people will have to go to war, that those who oppose will get arrested ... So, all in all, the security situation remains quite volatile, which makes our command centre stay operational 24/7."

The Moldovan government did not provide evidence to support allegations of a Russian-led campaign.

And Reuters could not independently verify its accounts.

The Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed the Moldovan accusations of fomenting unrest.

But political analyst Pasa Valeriu says it wouldn't be difficult for Moscow to sow discord.

"People in Moldova know Russian, so, almost 99% of people understand Russian if not speaking it. Which makes it much easier for Russian disinformation to penetrate in our informational sphere."

Meanwhile, bomb hoaxes have become part of everyday life.

The interior ministry says authorities have received more than 400 fake threats since summer 2022.

In February, Moldovan authorities publicized an alleged coup plot.

They say the plan was for agitators to enter Moldova from Russia and other countries in the region and attempt to provoke violent clashes.

Defense ministry official Valeriu Mija says a series of cyberattacks over the past year had seen some government websites temporarily crash and the phones of several officials hacked.

"All these types of threats increased after the war in Ukraine started last year. And what we realize is that we need to boost the cyber-defense and security sector, because we realize that commercial structures became more affected (by) for these (threats)."

Mounting tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine have raised the temperature in Moldova.

The main opposition Sor party denounces Sandu for taking the side of Ukraine, saying this increases the chance that Moldova could become embroiled in the conflict.

"We are a neutral country, and we want peace."

Officials in Sandu's government say they want to avoid being sucked into the conflict at all costs.

But as the war continues across its border, the Moldovan government faces a delicate balancing act.

In Gagauzia, where most people speak Russian, there appears to be legitimate support for Moscow.

A statue of Vladimir Lenin still stands guard.

Valentina Koroleak, a television editor, points to strong historic bonds.

“You are aware of our shared ancestry. Many families emigrated to Russia, where they now reside. Parents stayed here while the young ones went there. Do you get how our roots are interwoven? And we speak Russian. This bond is still present. We were born in the Soviet Union, we grew up on those classics, those songs, the music."