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Moldova: pro-Russian oppositionist detained trying to flee the country

Authorities in Moldova detained a leading figure in long-running opposition protests calling for the resignation of the pro-European government on Monday, as she attempted to leave the country, the Moldovan anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said. Meanwhile, the EU continues to back Moldova in its bid to join the union and its economic recovery.

Marina Tauber has spearheaded street protests denouncing President Maia Sandu, who has championed the rapid integration into the European Union of Moldova, an impoverished ex-Soviet state lying between Ukraine and EU member Romania.

In #Moldova, the vice-chairman of the pro-Russian Shor party, Marina Tauber, was detained.

— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) May 1, 2023

Tauber is a senior member of Moldova’s second largest opposition party led by Ilan Șor, who lives in exile in Israel and was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison in connection with a bank fraud.

Sandu and other officials say Tauber’s role in the often noisy protests is part of attempts to disrupt public affairs in Moldova and act in the interests of Russia.

“Every person is obliged to abide by the legal norms of the Republic of Moldova and any action in violation of these norms is subject to punishment … by law,” presidential press secretary Irina Gotisan said in a statement.

Tauber faces fraud charges over party financing and was arrested while attempting to leave the country for Israel in violation of court orders. She remained in custody on Monday evening, according to the prosecutor’s office.

EU continues to back Moldova

On Tuesday, the European Commission proposed renewing and extending the suspension of import duties and quotas on imports of goods from Moldova to the European Union – known as autonomous trade measures (ATMs) – for another year.

Unwavering EU support helps Moldova to maintain its trade position with the rest of the world, while further deepening its trade relations with the EU.

Today, we've proposed to renew and expand the suspension of import duties and quotas on Moldovan exports to the EU. ↓

— European Commission (@EU_Commission) May 2, 2023

The decision effectively means full liberalization of Moldova’s exports of seven agricultural products subject to tariff quotas: tomatoes, garlic, table grapes, apples, cherries, plums, and grape juice.

“This is a clear signal of EU’s full support for Moldova’s economy and helps further alleviate the difficult situation faced by Moldovan producers and exporters because of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine,” the EC wrote in a press release.

The proposal includes a safeguard mechanism to address possible concerns in the EU agricultural sector. It can be activated if necessary to protect the EU market.

The proposal will now be considered by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

Earlier on Friday, the European Council adopted a new framework, granting the EU the possibility of imposing sanctions against persons responsible for “supporting or implementing actions which undermine or threaten the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova.”

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Moldova’s exports to the rest of the world have suffered from Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, as they have often relied on transit through Ukrainian territory. Over the past year, a European Union decision has supported Moldova’s efforts to redirect exports through the EU. Overall, Moldovan exports to the EU increased from EUR 1.8 billion in 2021 to EUR 2.6 billion in 2022.

Most Moldovan exports already enjoy duty-free access to the EU market under the EU-Moldova Association Agreement.

The Russian context in Moldova

President Maia Sandu accused Russia on Thursday of meddling in Moldova’s internal affairs, pointing to an election this weekend in the region of Gagauzia where she said many of those running were Russian agents.

Moldova barred a Russian regional delegation this week from going to the semi-autonomous pro-Russian region of Gagauzia which will elect the head of its government on Sunday.

The delegation was led by Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of Russia’s Tatarstan region, who said it was regrettable he had been denied entry to Moldova’s capital Chisinau.

Unfortunately many of the candidates there are agents of Russia and not politicians who want to work for the good of the Gagauz people,” Sandu said commenting on the decision.

Moscow denies meddling in Moldova’s affairs. It did not immediately respond to Sandu’s accusation of candidates being agents.

Moldova has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accused the Kremlin of attempting to destabilize the country.

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