Government of Moldova collapses day after Zelensky tells EU Russia plans to seize it

Prime minister Natalia Gavrilita resigns.

The government of Moldova collapsed this morning, with the pro-western prime minister resigning a day after President Zelensky warned of President Putin’s plans to destroy democracy in the country that borders Ukraine.

It came after Russia’s latest attacks on Ukraine, launched from the Black Sea, sent two missiles through Moldovan airspace, officials said today.

Natalia Gavrilita, a staunch backer of Kyiv’s fight against Russia, said that a series of crises had gripped the small nation since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. She told reporters that the “time has come for me to announce my resignation” and said no one expected that her government, elected in the summer of 2021, “would have to manage so many crises caused by Russian aggression in Ukraine”.

Her premiership was marked by problems including an energy crisis, soaring inflation and missiles from the war in neighbouring Ukraine crossing its skies.

Maia Sandu, the Moldovan president, said she would hold consultations with parliamentary factions on nominating a new prime minister. “In spite of unprecedented challenges, the country was governed responsibly, with a lot of attention and dedicated work. We have stability, peace and development — where others wanted war and bankruptcy,” Sandu wrote on Facebook.

Zelensky had warned European leaders of the plot to “destroy” Moldova, citing intercepted Russian intelligence. In a speech to the European Council, the Ukrainian leader said it was further evidence of Russia’s threat to European security, with Ukraine standing between Russia and the rest of the continent.

The allegation came as Zelensky visited Brussels to press European leaders for faster delivery of tanks and missile systems already pledged to Kyiv, as well as new fighter jets.

“We have intercepted the plan for destruction of Moldova by Russian intelligence,” he told the EU summit, speaking through an interpreter. “These documents show who, when and how Russia is going to break democracy of Moldova and establish control. I immediately warned Moldova about these threats.”

The Republic of Moldova borders Ukraine and was part of the Soviet Union that broke away in 1991, leading to a conflict and the new separatist state of Transnistria, backed by Moscow, which hosts Russian military forces.

“Russia has got a significant toolbox, and this toolkit is not just against the Baltic countries, Poland, or Ukraine,” said Zelensky.

After the comments, Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service confirmed receipt of “information from our Ukrainian partners” and had identified “subversive activities, aimed to undermine the Republic of Moldova, destabilise and violate public order.”

“At the moment, we cannot provide more details as there is a risk of jeopardising various ongoing operational activities,” said a statement. “We are reassuring Moldova’s citizens that all the state’s institutions are working at full capacity and won’t allow this kind of provocation.”

The main purpose of Zelensky’s visit, through intense bilaterals with all 27 EU leaders, was to urge them to speed up the delivery of promised tanks, missiles and, most importantly “ammunition, ammunition and ammunition”.

Zelensky lifts the EU flag with Roberta Metsola, president of the European parliament

He warned them that his besieged country faced a new Russian onslaught in the coming weeks and would not survive unless pledged weapons are delivered.

“We need artillery guns, the munitions, the modern tanks, the long-range missiles and modern fighter jets. We need these weapons to survive,” he said. “We are very grateful to you for giving us military support, but we have to enhance the dynamics of our co-operation. We have to do it faster than the aggressor.”

Aides to Zelensky said he used private talks with European leaders to complain that “not a single tank has come yet”. Diplomats said that there was a growing sense of urgency in Europe’s capitals amid increasingly disturbing intelligence reports from the Ukrainian front including the surrounding of Bachmut, a town in the Donetsk province region.

“This and next month are crucial. We are lagging behind,” said the aide. “We need long-range weapons, any ammunition — ammunition, ammunition and ammunition.”

He began talks with the EU by asking for urgent deliveries of ammunition by the end of the month, especially artillery and mortar shells. Significantly, he asked Europeans to join the British” training programme for Ukrainian combat pilots, announced with Rishi Sunak in London on Wednesday.

Zelensky said that his surprise trip to London on Wednesday “achieved results”. “The training of our pilots. That is very important to get the fighter jets that we also need,” he said. “Agreements have also been made that are not public. I don’t want to prepare Russia.”

He was less ebullient about his talks in Brussels and in Paris on Wednesday night but stressed that his trip had been “a positive one”. “We have been talking about tanks and I received a positive impression,” he said. “I’ve heard it from a number of European leaders about the readiness to give us the necessary weapons and support, including aircraft. There are positive signals. We will continue to hammer on the fighter jets and continue to work on this in Brussels.”

Poland will support sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but said the decision must be taken by Nato at an arms-pledging meeting of defence ministers at the Ramstein air base in Germany next week. “Our position is clear, we can only act within the entire formation of Nato,” Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish prime minister, said. “We will not be the first ones to hand over fighter jets, but we will respond positively, provided that those who have the most of these jets will be able to give them to Ukraine.”

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, was more cautious about the prospect of Nato allies sending fighter jets. ”You have to make absolutely sure you are not getting into a direct confrontation between Nato and Russia,” he said.

Alexander De Croo, the Belgian leader, said his country’s air force could not spare aircraft that were on patrol of national airspace and on Nato operation in the Baltic Sea. “We really need our jets, and we can’t give them away,” he said.

The Russian embassy in London has warned that any provision of fighter jets could prompt military and political “consequences”.

‘We are going after them’

After dinner in Paris on Wednesday night, Ukraine’s president flew into Brussels with President Macron after talks with the French leader and Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor over dinner in Elysee. Before France, he visited London, his first foreign trip since visiting the United States and Poland in December.

Scholz has promised Zelensky that Germany will co-ordinate the speeding up of the delivery of dozens of Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, after foot-dragging in Berlin last month added to delays. He will use the summit to ask allies to come up with concrete commitments by the end of this week with the aim of putting together enough Leopard 2 battle tanks, up to 62, to create two promised battalions.

Ukraine’s wartime leader was received with applause by European leaders with one notable exception, Viktor Orban, the pro-Russian Hungarian prime minister, who conspicuously failed to clap. Other divisions were on display after Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, attacked Macron for undermining EU unity by inviting Zelensky to a Franco-German dinner.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president will this weekend circulate proposals for a new round of sanctions among national governments ahead of a decision next week.

Ukraine is pushing for sanctions against the Russian nuclear agency Rosatom and Von der Leyen had proposed adding the body’s director Alexey Likhachev to a blacklist.

The measure was dropped after opposition from Hungary, Finland, Bulgarian, the Czech Republic and Slovakia because of their dependency on Russian nuclear fuels for their atomic reactors, numbering 18 between them.

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