A pro-Russian former president of Moldova has been detained as part of an investigation into treason and corruption amid worries about threats to the country from the war in neighbouring Ukraine.
Igor Dodon, who governed the country from 2016 to 2020, is being investigated over allegations he accepted illicit funding, Moldova’s acting anti-corruption prosecutor Elena Cazacov told reporters.
Dodon and one other accomplice were detained for 72 hours to prevent them from destroying evidence, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors carried out searches at Dodon’s house, office and other premises connected to him on Tuesday.
Dodon’s detention comes amid fears in Europe that Russia could be seeking to topple Moldova’s pro-EU government, led by president Maia Sandu, or even declare a war of conquest on the country.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, told reporters that the Kremlin was “concerned” by reports of Dodon’s detention, which he said was “the practice of persecuting supporters of friendly, mutually advantageous relations with Russia”.
Vlad Batrîncea, a senior member of Dodon’s Socialist party, on Tuesday said the investigation against the former president was “ridiculous”.
Dodon said last week when prosecutors first announced their investigation that Sandu’s government wanted to “distract the population from the real problems in the country” and vowed he would stay in Moldova.
Fears over Moldova’s vulnerability to the war have grown since late April, when a senior Russian commander said Moscow’s aims included capturing all of southern Ukraine to create “another way to Transnistria” — a Moscow-controlled separatist enclave bordering Ukraine which hosts a small contingent of Russian troops.
The same Russian commander ominously warned “there are also instances of oppressing the Russian-speaking population”, in an echo of Putin’s justification for the invasion of Ukraine.
Sandu then blamed “pro-war forces” for a series of explosions in Transnistria.
Moldova fears Russia’s FSB security agency has plans to disrupt Moldova further by sparking unrest among its Russian-speaking population, creating political instability, or even using Transnistria as a base from which to attack Ukraine.
UK foreign secretary Liz Truss last week said she wanted to upgrade Moldova’s defences to “Nato standard” in the face of what she described as Putin’s expansionist aims to create a “greater Russia”.
Dodon said in response that “Moldova needs peace, not Nato’s plans for war”, claiming that support from the transatlantic military alliance would “bring woe to our country and turn our soldiers and our people into cannon fodder for the cynical scenarios of big global powers”.
Though Moldova is politically neutral and has no plans to join Nato, Sandu’s government applied to join the EU after Putin invaded Ukraine in February.
Moldova’s government also sought to damp pro-Russian sentiment in the country by banning wearing the orange-and-black ribbon of St George, a symbol celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in second world war, as well as the “Z” and “V” symbols that Russian forces have used to mark their vehicles during combat operations in Ukraine.
Dodon was fined $470 last week for defying the ban during celebrations to mark Victory Day on May 9.