Ex­pelled Rus­sian diplo­mats ‘are spies’

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

CHISINAU: Moldovan in­tel­li­gence be­lieves five Rus­sian diplo­mats ex­pelled from Moldova last month were spies who were re­cruit­ing fight­ers for the Moscow-backed in­sur­gency in neigh­bour­ing Ukraine, a govern­ment source and two diplo­matic sources said.

Moldova ex­pelled the diplo­mats on May 29. It did not ex­plain the de­ci­sion, with Prime Min­is­ter Pavel Filip say­ing only that his govern­ment had “good rea­sons”.

Ac­cord­ing to the sources, who are fa­mil­iar with the case, the five were ejected be­cause of their al­leged ac­tiv­i­ties as un­der­cover of­fi­cers with the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agency, the GRU.

They said Moldovan of­fi­cials be­lieved the Rus­sians were re­cruit- ing fight­ers from Ga­gauzia, an au­ton­o­mous south­ern re­gion home to an eth­nic Turk­ish pop­u­la­tion that is pro-Rus­sian and op­poses closer in­te­gra­tion with the EU.

The Moldovan govern­ment source and Chisinau-based diplo­matic sources all spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter.

They did not say how the Rus­sians al­legedly re­cruited the fight­ers, how many were re­cruited or the rea­son for their re­cruit­ment.

The al­le­ga­tions about the ac­tiv­i­ties of the five Rus­sians could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied.

The Rus­sian for­eign min­istry de­clined to com­ment.

The Rus­sian de­fence min­istry did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Asked if the five Rus­sians were GRU of­fi­cers, a spokes­woman for the Moldovan for­eign min­istry said they were diplo­mats and de­clined to com­ment fur­ther.

More than 10 000 peo­ple have died in fight­ing in eastern Ukraine be­tween Ukrainian troops and pro-Rus­sian rebels since the con­flict be­gan in 2014 fol­low­ing Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of the Crimean penin­sula. While Moscow po­lit­i­cally backs the in­sur­gents, it has re­peat­edly de­nied West­ern ac­cu­sa­tions that it is arm­ing them and send­ing fight­ers.

Moldovan in­tel­li­gence be­lieves fight­ers re­cruited from Ga­gauzia were first sent to a para­mil­i­tary train­ing camp in the Ros­tov re­gion of south­ern Rus­sia, ac­cord­ing to the sources. – Reuters

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