Moldovan police Sunday arrested 54 people during an anti-government protest in the capital city of Chișinău hours after police announced the arrests of seven people linked to a Russian-backed plot to destabilize the country. According to Viorel Cernăuțeanu, the head of Moldova’s General Police Inspectorate (IGP), the plot included incidents of “destabilization and mass disorder” set to take place during the demonstration.
Those arrested during the protests, which included 24 minors, were brought in for offenses including the possession of weapons and incendiary materials. Authorities posted a picture of a knife, a bottle of lighter fluid and a set of brass knuckles seized from protesters. The IGP also said that it received four bomb threats during the protest, which it attributed to destabilization efforts.
During a press conference, Cernăuțeanu said that an undercover agent was able to infiltrate the network behind the destabilization plot. Cernăuțeanu released a montage of photographic and video evidence detailing conversations with those allegedly involved in the plot, some of which provides evidence of a coordinated effort to bring in protesters from other parts of Moldova to Chișinău.
The pro-Russia political party ȘOR, which helped organize the protests, claimed that the protests were peaceful and that police were actively infringing upon their right to freedom of expression. ȘOR stated:
Since the morning, dozens of modes of transport, filled with people from several corners of the country, were stopped by the police and prevented from heading towards Chișinău. Other people were unable to reach the capital because transporters were threatened with losing their jobs if they did not comply with the bans.
One ȘOR MP alleged that Cernăuțeanu physically assaulted her during the demonstration.
Sunday’s protests come during a time of particularly high tensions in the country. On March 10 the US accused Russia of embarking on a “destabilization campaign” against Moldova. The accusations came one day after the breakaway state Transnistria, which exists on internationally-recognized Moldovan territory, accused Ukraine of trying to assassinate its president, a claim Ukraine denies.
In February, Moldova confirmed the existence of a plot to destabilize and undermine order in the country following a tip from Ukranian security services.