The deceased leader of the Wagner Group, Evgeny Prigozhin, attempted to foment a coup in Moldova with the aim of overthrowing the country’s pro-Western government, President Maia Sandu has claimed.
Sandu has long accused Russia of trying to remove her from office, all while leading a crackdown on her pro-Moscow opposition.
- “The information that we have is that it was a plan prepared by [Prigozhin’s] team,” Sandu said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Friday. According to Sandu, the late Wagner chief planned on encouraging anti-government protests to turn “violent,” without providing any further details.
Earlier this year, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky claimed that his intelligence agents had uncovered a Wagner-led plot to topple Sandu and replace her with a leader loyal to Russia. Sandu then came out and said that Moldovan authorities had expelled nearly 200 foreign nationals, including one member of the Wagner group.
Beyond Sandu and Zelensky’s claims, no evidence of a coup plot was ever made public.
In her interview with the Financial Times, Sandu also alleged that Russia was involved in a scheme to bribe members of the Moldovan opposition with bank cards issued in Dubai. “They tried to overthrow the government and they failed. And now they are trying massive interference in our elections, using a lot of money,” she said.
The opposition politician she was referring to is the pro-Russian Ilan Shor, whose party won a regional gubernatorial election in May. The election of a pro-Moscow governor was immediately deemed fraudulent by Sandu’s government, and Shor’s party was banned the following month.
Moldova is a former Soviet republic whose population is split between those who favor integration with the Western order, and those who favor closer ties with Moscow.
Shor’s party was the second most popular in Moldova at the time it was banned, and Sandu’s government was previously accused of fabricating corruption and treason charges against another pro-Russian opponent, Igor Dodon.
- “Sandu has one task from those who control her from abroad, to make Moldova a part of NATO,” Dodon declared last month.
Prigozhin’s role in the alleged plot will likely never be confirmed. The private military boss and several other high-ranking Wagner figures were killed in a plane crash in Russia’s Tver Region on August 23. The cause of the incident is being investigated, and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in August that a “deliberate atrocity” could not be ruled out.
Prigozhin’s Wagner Group fighters were instrumental in the capture of the strategic city of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut) from Ukrainian forces in May, although he fell out of favor with the Kremlin after leading a short-lived mutiny against the Russian Defense Ministry in June. Following the aborted rebellion, Prigozhin took a deal that saw him exiled to Belarus with some of his troops, while the rest were brought under the command of the Russian military.