Twenty-two Russian diplomats leave Moldova as relations slide

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CHISINAU, Aug 14 (Reuters) – Twenty-two Russian diplomats flew out of the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on Monday, leaving behind a skeleton staff as relations between the two countries deteriorated after Moldova last month ordered Moscow withdraw most of its delegation.

Moldovan officials have said the reduction of staff at the Russian embassy to 25 from 80 will establish parity with Moldova’s embassy in Moscow.

Ex-Soviet state Moldova has been buffeted by Russia’s war in neighbouring Ukraine and its pro-European President Maia Sandu has denounced the invasion and accused Moscow of trying to destabilise her country.

Moldovan media outlets published a video of two buses being escorted out of the Russian embassy by police and driving in the direction of the airport.

A source at Chisinau airport told Reuters that the plane carrying the embassy staff had left for the Russian city of Sochi, from where it would continue to Moscow.

Twenty-three technical support staff and their families were also asked to leave along with the diplomats.

According to Moldova’s foreign ministry, no more than 10 Russian diplomats and 15 support staff can remain in Chisinau from Tuesday.

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday evening that employees of Russian institutions – the embassy, trade mission and Russian centre for science and culture – and their family members who were forced to leave Moldova had already returned to Moscow.

“This unfriendly step of official Chisinau will undoubtedly have consequences for Russian-Moldovan relations,” the ministry said in a statement.

Moldova’s foreign ministry last month told Russia to reduce its embassy presence in Chisinau, citing concerns about alleged Russian attempts to destabilise the small state, which borders Romania and Ukraine.

Chisinau has distanced itself from Moscow since Sandu came to power in 2020. In February, Sandu accused Moscow of plotting a coup against her government.

Reporting by Alexander Tanas, additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov, writing by Max Hunder, editing by Nick Macfie and Cynthia Osterman

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