CHISINAU, Moldova -- Moldova's new government led by pro-Western economist Dorin Recean was sworn in Thursday after winning Parliament's approval, as the small former Soviet republic signaled a shift to security concerns amid Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine.
Recean, a 48-year-old economist who served for a year as President Maia Sandu’s defense and security adviser, was tapped by her last week as prime minister-designate after Natalia Gavrilita suddenly quit the position.
All lawmakers present from Moldova’s ruling Party of Action and Solidarity, which holds 63 seats in the country’s 101-seat legislature, voted in favor of Recean’s government. One was absent. The Moscow-friendly parties, the Communists and Socialists, which hold 31 seats, abstained from voting, and the 6 Shor Party lawmakers boycotted the vote.
Sandu told the new government as she swore it in later Thursday that it has to lead Moldova through “a very difficult period, marked by multiple crises,” and highlighted European Union membership as the only way the country can “preserve and strengthen” its democracy.
“The task of the new government is to provide security to the citizens and put the Republic of Moldova on a path of reconstruction and development, despite the crises,” she said. “We need decisive steps to strengthen the security of the country. The war in Ukraine continues, and this war carries risks for us.”
Moldova’s cabinet will remain largely unchanged under Recean, with the foreign affairs, interior, and defense ministers retaining their posts. He told lawmakers Thursday that his main focus will be to introduce “discipline and order” in Moldova’s institutions, breathe new life into the struggling economy and ensure peace and stability.
As well as focusing on European integration, Recean said, Moldova’s security sector “must be strengthened, and the activity of those who want to bring war here must be drastically countered.”
“Moldova has vulnerabilities in the context of the war in Ukraine,” said Recean, who also served as interior minister between 2012 and 2015, “and these vulnerabilities must be treated with the utmost care.”
On Monday, Sandu held a news briefing in which she outlined an alleged plot by Moscow to overthrow her country’s government using what she described as external saboteurs, to put the nation “at the disposal of Russia,” and to derail its aspirations to one day join the EU.
Sandu said that the purported Russian plot envisioned attacks on government buildings, hostage-takings and other violent actions by groups of saboteurs. Russia strongly denied those claims a day later as “absolutely unfounded and unsubstantiated."
“Threats to our country remain high. Destabilization attempts are a reality and for our institutions, they represent a real challenge," Sandu said Thursday.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, non-NATO member Moldova has faced a string of problems. These include a severe energy crisis after Moscow dramatically reduced gas supplies; skyrocketing inflation; several missiles that have traversed its skies from Russia’s war next door, and a huge inflow of refugees fleeing the war.
On Thursday, Moldovan authorities said that missile debris “from Russia’s air strikes against Ukraine” has been found by border officials in a rural area near the northern border with Ukraine, but did not say when the missile was fired. It is the fourth such incident recorded in Moldova in recent months.
Tensions also soared in Moldova, a former Soviet republic of about 2.6 million people, after a series of explosions occurred last April in Transnistria — a Russia-backed separatist region of Moldova where Russia bases about 1,500 troops.
Costin Ciobanu, a political scientist at the Royal Holloway University of London, said that Moldova's change of government shows “security concerns are high on the list” of the authorities and that Sandu going public with her Russian plot claims lends “credence to the idea that Moldova has to focus on its security.”
“The main narrative behind the change of government was that the state has to focus more on the security dimension than on economic development and a cost-of-living crisis,” he told The Associated Press. “Because many people were doubtful about the rationale behind the change.”
In the wake of the war, Moldova has looked to foster closer ties with its Western partners. Last June, it was granted EU candidate status, the same day as Ukraine. But full membership will be contingent on a series of reforms such as tackling corruption and strengthening the rule of law.
McGrath reported from Sighisoara, Romania.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine