Russia bans entry to Moldovan officials after diplomatic expulsions

(Reuters) -Russia has banned entry to several Moldovan officials following Moldova’s “unfriendly” decision to expel 22 Russian diplomats, the Russian foreign ministry said on Friday, marking a further worsening of already strained relations.

Moldova, a former Soviet republic, has been buffeted by Russia’s war in neighbouring Ukraine. Moldova’s pro-European president, Maia Sandu, has denounced Russia’s invasion and accused Moscow of trying to destabilise her own country.

Twenty-two Russian diplomats flew out of the Moldovan capital Chisinau on Aug. 14, leaving behind a skeleton staff.

“… this unfriendly step leads to the further destruction of Russian-Moldovan relations, which are already in a deep crisis due to the actions of the Moldovan side,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement after summoning Chisinau’s ambassador to Moscow to express its disapproval.

The envoy was informed that “as an asymmetric response, entry into the Russian Federation was closed to a number of officials of the Republic of Moldova”, the ministry said.

It did not identify the Moldovan officials affected by the ban or say how many there were, but Moldovan media, citing unnamed sources, said the ban applied to 20 officials, including lawmakers from Sandu’s ruling party.

A senior Moldovan official said Russia’s move was regrettable.

“This is not the first time the Russian authorities have resorted to such measures,” said Igor Zakharov, a communications adviser to Moldova’s foreign minister.

“The Republic of Moldova is determined to resist destabilising actions,” he added.

Moldova shares a border with both Ukraine and NATO member Romania.

(Reporting by Felix LightAdditional reporting by Alexander Tanas in ChisinauWriting by Gareth JonesEditing by Nick Macfie)