Moldova’s turn

31 October, 15:48
Who in the FSB supervises Moldova, will there be a second front and what does Igor Chayka have to do with it

On October 26, 2022, the U. S. Treasury Department announced that the Kremlin was waging «persistent malign influence campaigns» in Moldova and was systematically corrupting local politicians. As a result, 12 companies and 9 individuals were sanctioned. In addition to the Moldovan figures, among them was the son of the former Prosecutor General of Russia, Igor Chayka (also known as IFYAU9). Three Russian spin doctors were also sanctioned.

The Dossier Center in cooperation with RISE Moldova found out how exactly Igor Chayka tried to influence Moldovan politics, who in the FSB supervised the sanctioned spin doctors and how the analysts close to the secret service prepared the scenarios of taking over the country.

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Why Moldova?

«The concern is that he [Vladimir Putin] is actually, as a legacy project, seeking to reconstitute the Soviet Union, and then would his appetite be fulfilled with that eating or would he seek to go further?», US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland asked in December 2021, two months before Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

Many experts consider Moldova a highly vulnerable target — the poorest country in Europe is not part of NATO, it borders the Odessa region of Ukraine, and most of the population speaks fluent Russian. Moldova has had an unrecognized Transnistrian republic on its territory since 1990, a pro-Kremlin separatist region. There is a Russian military base in Transnistria, the Russian flag is used as a second national flag, and PACE considers the region a «zone of Russian occupation.

«The main regional headquarters of the FSB is located in Transnistria, outside Moldovan-controlled territory. Here, they train and coordinate agents for illegal work in the region, especially in the south of Ukraine. Since this separatist region is off-limits for Moldovan and Ukrainian security services, it is possible to collect data about the region and prepare sabotage groups. And also mobilize people in case Putin’s troops succeed in the Mykolayiv and Odessa regions», a member of a Moldovan secret service told the RISE journalist.

Map of territories occupied by Russia as of October 7, 2022. Source: Deep State

The FSB handlers

On May 30, 2017, the banquet hall in the Moscow restaurant was decorated with golden balloons and the tables were full of red caviar, herring and other snacks — a standard setting for festivities of an older generation of Russians. But the founder of the feast was no ordinary person. He was FSB General Dmitry Milyutin, Deputy Head of the Department of Operational Information (DOI) of the Fifth Service of the FSB. His closest friends and colleagues had gathered to congratulate Milyutin on his 50th birthday. The Dossier Center was able to acquire the video recording of the banquet and its other attendees. Let’s allow them to speak for themselves.

Dmitry Milyutin’s birthday decor. Source: Dossier Center

Alexander Karachunsky, a children’s oncology professor in attendance, raised a toast to the birthday boy, saying: «I want to drink for Dima’s love for the Motherland. Moreover, by Motherland I understand the entire territory of the former Soviet Union. And when we watch with admiration the news from Syria, sometimes from Ukraine or Donbass, I personally believe that this is the firm hand of Dima.»

«I was amazed by these words ‘for the Motherland within the borders of the Soviet Union.' I probably won’t forget it. But I won’t just not forget! This is a motto and a guide for me in this life,» a highly inebriated Milyutin said.

Alexander Karachunsky (left). Source: Dossier Center

It is understandable why Milyutin was so touched by the sentiment. His area of responsibility in the Fifth Service is precisely the territory of the former Soviet Union. Milyutin was born in 1967 in Izhevsk, west of the Urals, where he began his service in the FSB’s regional administration for Udmurtia. The promising Chekist was sent to study at the FSB Academy and after graduation he remained in Udmurtia. Not long thereafter Milyutin was transferred to the Operational Information and International Relations Service (SOIMS) of the FSB, which was later renamed the Fifth Service.

At that time, SOIMS was headed by Colonel-General Viktor Komogorov, a member of the inner circle of then-FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, now the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council and a right-hand man to Putin. SOIMS officers kept influential politicians in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) under control and were engaged in foreign intelligence. Komogorov was blamed for destabilizing the political situations in Georgia and Moldova. He directly supervised local elections in Abkhazia, Transnistria and South Ossetia and made sure the results were in line with the Kremlin’s demands.

In 2004, at the beginning of his second term, Vladimir Putin implemented a major reform of the FSB. Previously, the Lubyanka oversaw only the leadership of some territories of the former Soviet Union. But now the powers of the intelligence service expanded dramatically. The FSB began to work not only in these territories but almost all over the world. Among its main operational tasks was the extraction of intelligence “in the interests of ensuring the security of the Russian Federation and increasing its economic, scientific and technical and defense potential.” Some officers were sent to the SVR Academy to learn the basics of foreign intelligence.

After the appointment of Sergei Beseda, a native of the St. Petersburg clan of the security forces, as the head of the Fifth Service, the powers of this organization expanded dramatically. In addition to recruiting agents, officers of the “Five,” as the service was colloquially known, began obtaining “intelligence information in the interests of ensuring the security of the Russian Federation, increasing its economic, scientific, technical and defense potential,” as the FSB law stated.

In 2013, Putin further expanded the powers of the Fifth Service: now, in addition to official FSB representatives in Russian embassies, the staff included “advisers” and “specialists.” Today, official representatives of the 5th Service of the FSB spy under the covers of Russian embassies in 49 countries: they report directly to Moscow rather than to the heads of diplomatic missions. Other officers are implanted in various international organizations, business councils, foundations and joint ventures with foreigners. The main targets for recruitment are politicians, public figures, journalists, military personnel and engineers of defense enterprises. For some special operations abroad the Fifth Service acts together with the SVR and GRU.

As the deputy head of the DOI, Milyutin is today responsible for the development of operational plans and oversees the CIS countries. He supervises the Transnistria and Moldova sections of DOI. His opinion is highly regarded in the leadership of the FSB, Dossier sources say. According to RISE’s sources in both Moldovan and Ukrainian secret services, at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year, Milyutin was instructed to work out the idea of opening a “second front” from the occupied enclave together with two subordinates, Ivan Korol, the head of the Transnistria section, and Valeri Solokha, the head of the Moldova one.

The head of the DOI is Gen. Georgy Grishaev. Along with Milyutin, they form “a cohort of those FSB generals who dream of the revival of the USSR and are ready to serve this idea faithfully and truthfully,” according to an employee of Russia’s State Duma, who was privy to a closed hearing on Ukraine at which both Grishaev and Milyutin spoke.

“In fact, their activities strongly resemble the Bolshevik Comintern. It seems to them that it is enough to place the right people in the former Soviet republics and the process will go like clockwork. They refuse to understand that the train is long gone, other generations have already grown up and they don’t care about Lenin-Stalins, proletarians of all countries and red flags. But these Chekists will resist to the last and demand new budgets for their activities.”

Valeri Solokha (right) Source: Dossier Center

Ivan Korol (center) poses against the backdrop of the Bendery fortress with the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of State Security of Transnistria for operational work (left). Source: RISE Moldova

Solokha also spoke at his chief’s birthday banquet, declaring, “I am a supporter of tough measures… Dmitry Vitalyevich [has] a rebellious spirit, which many do not like. Perhaps someone does not understand your paradigm, but there are few of us who fit into this fairway. You value us, then stand with us please, and we will cover your back like… machine gunners. It’s possible with our support!”

What we do in Moldova

The operations conducted by the FSB in Moldova were indeed quite tough. According to Dodon’s personal phone bills uncovered by the Dossier Center and RISE Moldova in 2020, the then president had been in close contact with several intelligence officers in Russia. In addition, Dodon sent drafts of his speeches to other high-ranking Russian security officials — for example, his speech at the Munich security conference in 2019 was given to an SVR general through the Russian ambassador. In May 2022, Igor Dodon was placed under house arrest on suspicion of treason.

Dmitry Milyutin himself flew to Moldova during Dodon’s inauguration in 2016, while his subordinate, Transnistrian curator Ivan Korol, has been visiting the country 2−3 times a year since 2014, using diplomatic passports. This follows from the Moldovan border database accessed by RISE journalists.

Moscow helped Dodon not only in theory, but also in practice. On the eve of the mayoral elections in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, in 2019, a landing force of Russian political strategists touched down. Two of them, now sanctioned Leonid Gonin and Vladimir Shirobokov, are Milyutin’s operatives.

Shirobokov subsequently compiled a project titled, “Assessment of the level of readiness of the headquarters of the PSRM for local elections,” referring to the acronym of the Socialists' Party of the Republic of Moldova, Dodon’s incumbent party. He outlined the need to conduct a thorough audit of socialists' campaign — to assess their finances, personnel, ideology and opportunities to appoint loyal election committee officials, among other things. According to the document, the ultimate goal was to prepare a “ base for the landing of an expanded group of campaign strategists” from Russia.

As party sources told RISE Moldova, Shirobokov has been advising the PSRM campaigns for four years in a row; first in the capitals’ mayor elections of 2019 (socialist candidate won with 52,39%), then in the presidential campaign of 2020 (which Dodon lost in the second tour), then in the parliamentary elections in 2021 (winning 27,17% of the vote), and finally in the early local elections of 2021 (socialist candidate got 14% in the first tour and withdrew in the second). The same sources say that Shirobokov worked on the last two campaigns from Russia.

Vladimir Shirobokov at the Socialists HQ with a carboard of their opponent. Source: RISE Moldova

Shirobokov’s team also included other sanctioned Russian spin doctors, Olga Grak and Yuri Gudilin. The Dossier and RISE also reported on them in 2020. Gudilin, a native of Lviv, was already identified by the Dossier’s sources as a member of the Fifth Service of the FSB. According to the U. S. Treasury Department, in 2020 Gudilin and Grack pressured high-ranking members of the Socialist Party to accept their help. In exchange, they promised to ensure cooperation with the Russian presidential administration.

Olga Grak and Yury Gudilin at PSRM campaign headquarters in Chisinau in 2020. Source: RISE

“In 2020, Gudilin also facilitated the setup of a payment channel using the Tether cryptocurrency, likely for funding election influence operations. In 2021, FSB-linked political advisors proposed using the Russian Ministry of the Interior to locate Moldovan citizens living in Russia and convince them to vote. In addition, Russian mass media would promote messages useful to Dodon’s campaign to Moldovan citizens living in Russia,” the U. S. Treasury Department claimed.

Another common acquaintance of Dmitry Milyutin and Igor Dodon was the deputy head of the Roscongress Foundation Grigory Velikikh, who also attended the Chekist’s anniversary party. Despite his seemingly civilian position, in his toast he referred to the FSB general as a “commander” and told how delighted he was to be working with him:

“Almost immediately he [Miliutin] told me that great achievements awaited us. And despite the fact that I don’t consider myself a gullible person, I believed him and was not generally mistaken. Indeed, in working with Dmitry Vitalievich’s team, I managed to achieve a lot. Therefore, and in the process of work he became for me a bright and important man, a mentor and commander with a capital letter”.

Grigory Velikikh at Milyutin’s party. Source: Dossier Center

What exactly Velikikh does under Miliutin’s command is unclear, but public record shows that their professional interests do overlap. For example, on the website of the Socialist Party of Moldova, one can find a report on Velikikh’s meeting with Moldovan President Igor Dodon. In addition, Milutin’s wife Natalia worked for Roscongress.

Igor Dodon (center) and Grigory Velikikh (right). Source: Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova

The Dodon-Chayka Alliance

Shortly after the U. S. introduced the Moldovan sanctions package, The Washington Post published an article about Russian interference in Moldovan politics. The newspaper revealed that the FSB is now betting on businessman and politician Ilon Shor. He is the head of the “Shor” party, a member of the Moldovan parliament, and a suspect in the case of laundering $1 billion from Moldovan banks. Shor denies the charges and calls his prosecution politically motivated; he fled the country before the verdict took effect and now lives in Israel.

The international wanted list does not prevent Shor from engaging in politics in Moldova: his supporters hold small protest rallies against Maia Sandu’s policies. FSB documents reviewed by The Washington Post describe Schor as a politician who is either hated to the point of having “allergic reactions” or idealized in the country. But Shor has not always been the main asset of the FSB in the Moldovan political system. Until recently, this role was played by the president of Moldova — now former — Igor Dodon. And his Russian “purse” was the son of the former Russian General Prosecutor Igor Chayka.

In 2020, Dodon was up for re-election. His main opponent was Maia Sandu, who chose a course towards integration with the European Union. In his campaign, the president constantly reminded Moldovans of the threat of external influence on the country through non-profit organizations.

“We will turn into a banana republic with a couple of tens of thousands of NGOs sitting around, running Moldova. Why would we need a parliament or a president then? There will be a few NGOs running the country with money coming in from abroad,” Dodon declared in May 2020, six months before the elections.

In November, he lost to Maia Sandu in the second round. And soon he did what he warned his compatriots against — set up a non-profit organization with foreign funding, Dossier and RISE found out.

On June 30, 2021 Dodon registered a new structure — “Moldovan-Russian Business Alliance”. The main “allies” were the «Business Russia» movement which “supports the interests of Russian non-extractive businesses,” and its official representative in Moldova — Igor Chayka.

A few days after the registration of the alliance, Dodon still denounced the “traitors who sold out to others” at an opposition rally in Chisinau. Soon, however, his organization began to receive regular funding from Russia. As Dodon’s business alliance received six payments totaling more than $320,000; three of them before the war in Ukraine and three after. The Washington Post writes that Dodon’s salary in the Alliance is $29,000 per month, but RISE’s sources in the entourage of the «Party of Socialists” say that it’s closer to 10,000 euros per month. 

The organization might have been a tool to influence the Moldovan parliament. According to the US Treasury Department, on the eve of the parliamentary elections in July 2021, Igor Chayka and the press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov conspired to weaken the Moldovan leader Maia Sandu and bring the country back under the influence of the Kremlin.

RISE draws attention to the fact that in the days of the donations, Dodon, who was elected to parliament, called for friendship with the Kremlin or scolded the Western influence on Moldova. The money first came from Igor Chayka to the accounts of Business Russia, and the next day the same sums went to the Moldovan-Russian Alliance.

Quotes and transfers — from the RISE investigation 

The FSB’s Diplomatic Mission

In addition to Russian political strategists, the FSB also sent its own employees under diplomatic cover to Moldova. RISE journalists gained access to the database of border crossings with Moldova. The data revealed a pattern: since around mid-2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russians with diplomatic passports entered Moldova every year — and each time in groups of three. Their documents, judging by the serial numbers, were often issued sequentially, as was the case with the GRU operatives found to have poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England in 2018. Most of the guests stayed in the country for a year, then left and never returned to Moldova again.

RISE’s source, who is close to the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, says the men did not work at the diplomatic office. Upon closer inspection, the Dossier Center discovered that many of these “diplomats” had connections with the FSB. Of 24 people, four were registered in military units or buildings of the Border Service of the FSB; two more were registered in the departmental houses of the special service; two others underwent military training. Finally, among the «diplomats» there was Ivan Korol, the head of the Transnistrian Department of the DOI of the Fifth Service and Milyutin’s subordinate.

Table of "diplomats" with dates of entry and notes

Some of the faux-diplomats routinely called Milyutin on his cell phone, based on billing data.

When the Russians rolled into Ukraine on Feb. 24, Milyutin was instructed to pay special attention to Transnistria, according to security officials in Moldova and Ukraine.

After the outbreak of the war, he repeatedly called the special services from South Ossetia, another Russian-occupied territory, this one in Georgia. The general communicated with Viktor Shargaev, the former head of the KGB of South Ossetia, who now holds the post of deputy head of the presidential administration for cultural relations with foreign countries. He also liaised with Oleg Sherin, the current head of the South Ossetian KGB. Milyutin’s top 5 contacts (not counting his relatives) also included Vladimir Antyufeev, the former head of the KGB of Transnistria and the former Deputy Prime Minister of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, the Russian-occupied area of Ukraine’s Donbas.

Social contract from the KGB

Options for the seizure of Transnistria and, more broadly, the nation of Moldova were also worked out in the Alfa Group analytical center associated with the FSB. Mikhail Golovatov, the former commander of Alpha special forces of the KGB, was its head until recently. As the documents available to the Dossier show, Golovatov is no ordinary veteran. He was close to former FSB First Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov and his successor Sergei Korolev. In particular, both were invited to the birthday party of the “Alfa” man. 

Lithuanian authorities have accused Golovatov of war crimes for his role in the murders of participants in a rally for Lithuania’s secession from the USSR in 1991. He didn’t live long enough to stand trial; Golovatov died in August 2022.

Two months before his death, Alfa analysts prepared a detailed analysis of the internal political situation in Moldova. They came to the traditional conclusions for the Chekists: the republic was seized and controlled from the outside in the interests of the West, primarily Romania, and, as always, the U. S. State Department. Very soon, the analysts warned, the government of President Maia Sandu would usurp power and destroy the pro-Kremlin opposition, which would then allow it to arrange a blockade of Transnistria and begin a military blackmailing of Russia.

The Alfa members considered three options for attacking Moldova: the creation of a corridor running from Transnistria through southern Ukraine with the subsequent recognition of Transnistria as an independent state; the seizure of all of Moldova; or breakthrough from Ukraine to Transnistria while maintaining the territory’s current status. All three scenarios, according to the analysts, carried the risks of losing control over the rest of Moldova or, in the case of a complete occupation of Moldova, “Russophobic screaming” from the West along with subversive actions of the population.

Instead, analysts propose to play a long game: to develop a new social contract for the inhabitants of Moldova under the conditional name “Charter 22,” and then implement it on the basis of fraudulent referendums. Under this guise, the ex-Chekists proposed to create new political forces within the country that would lobby for accession of the republic into Russia, based on supposed popular opinion. The project also envisaged the possibility of creating a pro-Russian government-in-exile and Moldovan volunteer battalions for the war with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, in their public speeches, Russian strongmen have already hinted at the possibility of a violent scenario for Moldova. In April 2022, Major-General Rustam Minnekayev, the deputy commander of the troops of the Central Military District of Russia, declared: “Control over the south of Ukraine is another outlet to Transnistria, where facts of oppression of the Russian-speaking population are also noted.”

Within a couple days, unknown militants fired a grenade launcher at the building of the Ministry of State Security in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria, and blew up towers that retransmitted Russian radio. There were also explosions at military warehouses near the city. Russian state media blamed the terrorist attacks on Ukrainian special services.

According to phone billings, less than two hours before both incidents, the curator of Transnistria, Ivan Korol, called the head of the DOI of the 5th Service of the FSB, Georgiy Grishaev.

“Dmitry Vitalyevich is a professional revolutionary,” FSB Col. Alexander Kalinin congratulated the deputy head of the DOI at Milyutin’s 50 birthday bash. “He not only receives a salary for this, but also does it at the highest professional level. I would like to wish Dmitry Vitalyevich the implementation of all plans, intentions, ideas, competent and loyal co-workers: a combat-ready team.”

Whether the FSB’s plans and ideas on putsch in Moldova ever come to pass remains to be seen.

Alexander Kalinin, FSB employee. Source: Dossier Center