At a government meeting on July 26, Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu announced that the number of diplomats at the Russian embassy in Chisinau will be reduced. This decision came after the publication of a joint investigation by The Insider and Jurnal TV, which exposed the presence of agents and listening devices on the premises of the Russian diplomatic office in Chisinau.
“For many years, we have been the object of hostile activities and policies from Russia. Most of these activities were directed through the [Russian] embassy. I saw the information about a large number of antennas [reference to The Insider and Jurnal TV's investigation ”Rooftop spooks: How GRU and SVR monitor Moldovan authorities using Russian embassy rooftop antennas”]. [...] We have come to a common agreement that it is necessary to limit the number of accredited diplomats from Russia in order to create a situation in which there will be fewer persons destabilizing the situation in Moldova. I am making this announcement now,” Nicu Popescu said.
Following the hearing, Russia’s ambassador to Moldova Oleg Vasnetsov claimed that the scandal was just an excuse for the long-standing decision to cut diplomatic staff:
“This whole so-called spy scandal is just an excuse for the decision — taken long ago — to reduce diplomatic staff. This was announced to us today. From our point of view, this seriously undermines the possibilities of dialog between the two countries. This decision is completely out of step with countries friendly [to Russia]. The decision may have been expected, but we did not think that official Chisinau would engage in a Russophobia contest so quickly, and take such radical measures. We hope that the people responsible for such decisions realize how all this may turn out in the future.”
Vasnetsov also noted that the antennas referred to in the investigation were installed during the construction of the embassy building in the late 1990s. “If you look closely, many of the antennas are rusty and so on. If there was very good telephony and internet, you probably wouldn't need to keep updating them. After all, these antennas are all bought on the local market, from local providers,” said the Russian ambassador.
As per Igor Zaharov, adviser to the Moldovan Foreign Minister for Communications, the authorities have decided to expel 18 diplomats and 27 representatives of the technical staff from the Russian embassy. This decision will leave the Russian Embassy with 10 diplomats and 15 members of the technical staff.
The Insider earlier reported that the number of dishes and transmitting devices on the roof of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau has been increasing annually. The investigation also revealed the presence of classified liaison officers from Russia's military intelligence directorate (GRU) and foreign intelligence service (SVR), who have close links to hacker groups responsible for hacking emails of prominent political leaders such as Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Hillary Clinton.
The movement of personnel on the rooftop is particularly common before Moldova's presidential or parliamentary elections and visits of foreign delegations. For instance, rooftop activities were observed before the Eurosummit on June 1 and in May after a hacker attack on government networks, which led to the exposure of thousands of secret documents.