The Republic of Moldova remains one of the European countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The distrust in the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has been fuelled not only by disinformation campaigns originating in Russia, but also by the fact that politicians, among whom President Igor Dodon and members of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, endorsed these messages, as did representatives of the Moldovan Orthodox Church, pro-Russian mainstream media or numerous other obscure religious or nationalist sites.
Together, these actors disseminated not only anti-European and pro-Russian narratives, but also conspiracy theories. Chisinau remains a testing ground for Russian influence in Eastern Europe, with local politicians and local media promoting Russian and anti-European narratives. Moldova has little resilience to Russian propaganda, being one of the countries most exposed and most vulnerable to Kremlin’s information war.
Moldova scores highest among all Eastern Partnership countries in terms of vulnerability of its population to pro-Russian propaganda. Although its population has been relatively equally split in recent years between pro-European and pro-Eastern, Russian language broadcasts predominate, which is also a result of the lack of alternatives.
Most TV stations are dominated by Russian language content, all major Russian channels are rebroadcast, Romanian channels are almost absent, and 25 out of 45 programmes are broadcast in Russian3 . Even so, according to latest EU Neighbours East annual report (2020), 63% of Moldovans have the greatest trust in the European Union. In Chisinau, however, political leadership and pro-Russian media are working to fabricate a different reality and to undermine trust in the EU. The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for intense dissemination of anti-European and pro-Russian narratives.
For a full report on the impact of COVID-19 disinformation campaigns in Chisinau please read “Disinformation and propaganda in the management of the COVID-19 crisis in the Republic of Moldova“, published by the Romanian Center for European Policies.
Igor Dodon is the current President of the Republic of Moldova. He has been in office since 2016. He is also the informal leader of the pro-Russian Socialist Party, although during the November 2020 elections, he ran as an independent candidate. The prime-minister of the country is Ion Chicu, a former adviser to the President, who took on the role in November 2019 after a vote of no confidence against the pro-European government led by Maia Sandu. Even though the government was promoted as technocratic, it repeatedly compromised its image with a set of unpopular decisions and statements that worsened the internal and external situation of the country during the state of emergency. The current pro-Russian leadership sought to undermine the importance of foreign aid provided by the European Union and, particularly, by Romania.
Media & Legislation
Moldova ranks 91 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. As of 2019, Reporters Without Borders assessed the media in the Republic of Moldova as polarized:
The editorial line of the leading media outlets correlates closely with the political and business interests of their owners, a problem that is particularly striking during election campaigns – a phenomenon which Moldovans have been noticing lately, as 2020 is an election year in the Republic of Moldova.
According to the Disinformation Resilience Index developed throughout 2017 – 2018, Moldova scored 3.2 on a scale from 0 to 4 for exposure and susceptibility of its population to Kremlin-led media – ranking as one of the most exposed countries to pro-Kremlin propaganda.
According to a survey conducted by WatchDog.md, the top 3 most important sources of information for Moldovans are:
Television – 77.2%
Websites – 42.2%
Social media – 35.7%
Most television channels are dominated by Russian-language broadcasts. Data from 2017, for example, shows that 25 out of 45 high-rated programmes are broadcast in Russian. These are usually rebroadcast from Russian channels or Soviet-produced feature films and series produced in the Russian Federation.
Russian media is present in the Republic of Moldova through TV stations with similar names and with broadcasting licenses in Moldova. The most popular include: Pervyi Canal / Prime, NTV, Ren TV, RTR, STS, TNT.
Social networks: Facebook, Odnoklassniki, Instagram, Telegram, Twitter.
Top 3 ranking:
Facebook – 29,7%
Odnoklassniki – 18,7%
Instagram – 15,8%
NTV and Accent TV, through their editorial content, indicate a strong preference for the Party of Socialists, with much coverage of events and politics in the Russian Federation.
The Security and Intelligence Service of the Republic of Moldova blocked over 50 sites that published or shared fake news during the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the end of the state of emergency, the normative acts banning the websites lost enforceability.