Ilan Shor: Putin’s ‘savvy’ ally who could sweep in and take control of Moldova

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Ilan Shor has managed to co-ordinate a successful election campaign in Comrat, the capital city of the autonomous republic of Gagauzia.

The republic, located within Moldova, rejects the country’s pro-EU, pro-Western stance, instead opting to look towards Russia.

While Shor — a known ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — has a firm grip on the region, as well as opposition politics in Moldova itself, he isn’t operating from the country.

He fled Moldova for Israel, his place of birth, in 2019 after proceedings were opened into his alleged role in siphoning $1billion (£800,000) from Moldovan banks in 2014. In April this year, he was sentenced to 15 years in absentia for his involvement, and immediately rejected the charges.

Despite this, many Moldovans and those in Gagauzia continue to back him and his party. It is perplexing: why would so many people support a man who has been accused of stealing from the country’s coffers?

Neil Harrington, an academic who has worked on Moldovan politics and travelled extensively throughout the country, suggested Shor is different to most oligarchs who make false promises and plunder countries for all their worth.

Shor, he said, has developed a strategy to please both the people and his own pockets, telling “When I was in Moldova the first time, one of my friends pointed out that he’s really intelligent. He doesn’t just use his money to build himself a big mansion or something.

“He has a big mansion, but he also invested the money into Moldova. My friend was saying when you go to Orhei [where Shor was mayor from 2015 to 2019] it looks better than Chișinău [Moldova’s capital].

“He’s essentially using these corruption schemes to actually fund these sorts of projects which is quite unique in Moldova, because these corrupt guys like Igor Dodon [Moldova’s former president], they just talk crap all the time, they made promises, they say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do anything’, or ‘We’re going to do this, this and this’, and then they do nothing. Ilan Shor was one of the first politicians in Moldova to really promise something and actually do it. Which is exactly why he’s so popular.”

In recent months, Moldova has been struck with a wave of protests in Chișinău from supporters of Shor’s namesake party.

Tens of thousands have turned out for some of the protests, but many of those present aren’t actually from the city.

The Shor Party has been known to pay Moldovans from outside Chișinău to turn up, providing them with free transport to and from their hometowns.

In the run-up to Gagauzia’s election, the Shor Party put on extravagant events and celebrations, with Shor himself appearing in a video message in Comrat on May 23, the day before his candidate, Evghenia Gutul, was picked as Gagauzia’s new governor with 52 percent of the vote.

Where the money is coming from is unclear. Shor is known to have money invested. But Mr Harrington hinted that at least some of the cash is coming from murkier places.

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“Some of this money that he’s paying protesters with is coming from Moscow, and we know he’s working with the FSB [Russia’s secret police],” he said. Other parts of it may well be coming from the money he is alleged to have stolen.

“He’s quite savvy with his money. He knows what he’s doing. He’s great at marketing himself,” he added.

This, he said, was a real threat to Moldova. Noting how only one of the country’s political parties is pro-EU, the rest sympathetic to Russia, Mr Harrington warned that Shor and his party could in the future secure power.

He continued: “I think he’s a threat because he has the support of Russia. I’m quite concerned in some respects about Moldova’s EU future. Shor is able to deliver on promises, like in Orhei. He knows where to put money to gain people’s trust, and I think that will happen in Gagauzia.

“So I’m worried that Ilan Shor, combined with the socialists, pose a trap to Moldova’s future — its EU aspirations but also its being an independent country.”

In April, was shown adverts posted to Google in Moldova calling on the public to overthrow the government.

Moldovan MP Andrian Cheptonar said the adverts, which also voice pro-Russian sentiment, were being bought up by Shor and his party.

He said: “Ilan Shor, who is organising the protest and is under American and British sanctions is using these ads, and Google is accepting an advert that is telling people to overthrow the government.”

Around the same time, police in Cheptonar caught a ring of Russian-backed actors who were training individuals to cause mass unrest during protests in the capital city.

Through police surveillance cameras in apartment buildings in Chișinău, authorities were able to identify a Moldovan national who had lived in Russia for an extended period of time training 10 separate groups of Moldavians who were not aware of each other.

Mr Cheptonar said: “This person was training them how to initiate the violations,.

“How to attack police, how to initiate riots practically. It helped for them to be 10 separate groups, not knowing about each other in case one was caught so they couldn’t tell anything about the other groups. It was their plan to help the country to start this protest.”

A separate group of 80 men were taken to Turkey to be trained by Russian-affiliated agitators, ones that Mr Cheptonar believes were funded by Shor and the Kremlin.

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