U.S. sanctions target Russian influence campaign in Moldova

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States imposed sanctions on Monday on members of a Russian intelligence-linked group for their role in Moscow's efforts to destabilize democracy and influence elections in Moldova, the Treasury Department said.

The new sanctions target seven Russian individuals, some of whom maintain ties to Russian intelligence services, the department said in a statement. They include the group's leader, Konstantin Prokopyevich Sapozhnikov, who organized the plot to destabilize the government of Moldova in early 2023, it said.

The group is part of a large global information operation connected to Russia that targets Ukraine and bordering countries as well as the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Treasury Department said. The group's members provoke, train and oversee groups in democratic countries and conduct anti-government protests, rallies, marches and demonstrations, it added.

The individuals include: Yury Yuryevich Makolov, who the Treasury Department said was involved in logistical support for the plot; Gleb Maksimovich Khloponin, who gathered security details on various government buildings in Moldova; and Aleksey Vyacheslavovich Losev, who conducted reconnaissance in Moldova, according to the Treasury Department. Svetlana Andreyevna Boyko and Vasily Viktorovich Gromovikov handled budgeting and financing for the 2023 plot, it added.

"These malign influence operatives analyze countries vulnerable to exploitation and stoke fears that undermine faith in democratic principles in the targeted countries," the department said in the statement.

Moldova Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu welcomed the imposition of the sanctions, describing them on Facebook as "an important step in our joint efforts to uphold stability and maintenance of order in our country".

Russia's embassy in Washington called the sanctions a "spy hysteria" and an attempt meddle in relations between Russia and its neighbours.

"We see nothing but the manifestation of Washington’s openly destructive line of sowing discord into relations of sovereign states around the world," the embassy said in a statement on its Telegram channel.

Brian Nelson, the department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Monday's sanctions expose Russia's ongoing efforts to destabilize democratic nations.

The European Union and Canada last week also imposed sanctions on Moldovans, citing destabilizing actions.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Additonal reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Mark Porter and Stephen Coates)