Ukraine neighbour Moldova prepared for 'full spectrum of threats' -minister

FILE PHOTO: EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels

By Dan Peleschuk

KYIV (Reuters) - Moldova is prepared for a "full spectrum of threats" foreign minister Nicu Popescu said on Wednesday amid fears Russia could intensify attempts to destabilise the small nation already reeling from the war in neighbouring Ukraine.

Tensions between Russia and Moldova have grown in recent months as Russian missiles aimed at Ukraine have entered Moldovan airspace and authorities have blamed the Kremlin for fuelling anti-government protests, something it denies.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu also accused Moscow last week of planning a coup to overthrow the government, while Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said on Monday relations between the two countries were "very tense".

In a telephone interview with Reuters Popescu, Moldova's minister of foreign affairs and European integration, said Chisinau was prepared, thanks partly to support from its international partners.

"Our institutions have planned for responses along the full spectrum of threats," he said. "Of course we have limited means, but at the same time we are not alone in this."

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday affirmed his support for Moldova's sovereignty in a meeting with Sandu in Warsaw.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 last year had caused fears early on that Moscow would attempt to seize Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region, where it maintains a small troop presence.

But Popescu said Ukraine's success in beating back Russian forces has diminished that possibility.

"We don't think Moldova is in a position to be militarily threatened as long as Ukraine resists and keeps the front line away from us," he said.

Russia denied last year wanting to intervene in Moldova after authorities in Transdniestria said they had been targeted by a series of attacks.

Popescu said his government has been "constantly alert" to threats since the invasion, which sent streams of Ukrainian refugees into Moldova.

Those included bomb scares and cyber attacks, he said, among other attempts to destabilise the former Soviet republic of around 2.5 million people that has angered Moscow with its bid to join the European Union.

"In the last year, the risks and the threats have been dramatically higher than before," Popescu said.

But he added that he had "full confidence" in the country's security forces and Chisinau's allies.

"No matter what, we are not alone in this dangerous region," he said.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; editing by Grant McCool)