Moldova Gets New Pro-Western Premier Amid Growing Russian Pressure

One of Europe’s poorest countries is struggling with the fallout from Moscow’s war on its neighbor Ukraine

CHISINAU, Moldova—Moldova’s Parliament approved another pro-Western prime minister Thursday as the country grapples with the economic ruptures caused by Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine and growing concerns that Moscow was also aiming to overthrow the government here.

Dorin Recean takes over from Natalia Gavrilita, who resigned last week after months of growing discontent over inflation and high energy prices stemming from Russia’s decision to choke gas exports. The change in leadership is also an effort to address heightened security threats linked to the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Recean is a close ally of the head of state, President Maia Sandu, who this week accused the Kremlin of planning a coup to install a pro-Russian government in Moldova. Mr. Recean previously served as an interior minister and a presidential security adviser.

Russia has denied planning to unseat the government in Moldova, which like Ukraine is a former Soviet republic that has moved closer to Europe and the West in recent years. It cooperates closely with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and last year was granted candidate status to join the European Union.

A sizable number of Moldovans retain close connections to Russia, though. In addition, Russian troops have long been present in the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Transnistria, a thin strip of land along Moldova’s border with Ukraine. Russia’s foreign minister recently warned that Moldova was risking the same fate as Ukraine by allowing the West to draw it closer to Europe.

As prime minister, Mr. Recean, 48, faces the challenge of advancing Moldova’s path toward EU membership, a process that takes many years, while safeguarding it from potential Russian efforts to undermine his government.

On Thursday, Mr. Recean outlined his plans for Moldova before Parliament, vowing to press ahead with Moldova’s EU candidacy, before a clear majority of lawmakers voted to approve his appointment as premier.

“We are moving ahead with integration with the EU not just for show. We really believe this is in the best interest of our citizens,” said Mr. Recean, who is backed by President Sandu’s pro-EU Party of Action and Solidarity, which holds a strong parliamentary majority. “We want to build the EU here, at home in Moldova.”

Mr. Recean also said his government would work to solve the frozen conflict in Transnistria, where some 1,500 Russian troops are stationed. “Our goal is to peacefully solve the Transnistrian problem and to have Russian troops leave our territory forever,” he said.

The ripple effects of the Ukraine war have hit Moldova especially hard.

Russian missiles have flown over Moldova at least four times since the start of the war. Earlier this week, Moldova briefly closed its airspace after an object—likely a surveillance balloon—was spotted flying 30,000 feet above ground.

The country of some 2.5 million people has also struggled to absorb the influx of around 110,000 Ukrainian refugees.

Landlocked Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries. It depended heavily on Russian gas before the war and has struggled with inflation rates as high as 34% since Russia invaded Ukraine and throttled fuel supplies. Many Moldovans blame their government, not Russia, for the economic crisis.

Pro-Russian parties have sought to capitalize on the widespread economic distress, encouraging—and sometimes paying—Moldovans to take to the streets against the government. Protesters gathered again outside the Moldovan Parliament on Thursday, chanting against President Sandu and calling for snap parliamentary elections.

“We are not happy with them because since they came to power, prices of gas and electricity have gone up,” said Marin Butruc, a 30-year-old construction worker who came to Chisinau from a nearby village to attend the protest. He said his family no longer uses gas heating because of high prices and stopped eating as much meat as they used to. “We buy more potatoes,” said Mr. Butruc, who has three children.

He said changing prime ministers won’t assuage popular grievances with the country’s leadership: “As long as Maia Sandu is president, nothing will change.”

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