Russia stepped up its support Thursday for the government of Moldova in the wake of disputed elections, signaling it is determined to cement its growing influence in the former Soviet republic.
Moldova's ruling Communist Party has accused Romania, a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of helping plot a failed coup d'etat. Russia has backed calls for an investigation into those claims, saying that the elections are legitimate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov chided Western governments for not denouncing protesters who trashed and looted government buildings in Moldova earlier this week. "I don't know why European parliaments are not expressing their opinion at all about what happened," he said.
He denies Russia is trying to claw back its influence in the post-Soviet space.
Moscow has long sought to stop Moldova from pursuing a Euro-Atlantic agenda or getting closer to the EU or NATO. In return for its patronage, Moscow has offered its help in mediating the return of an industrially significant breakaway territory, Transdniestria.
"Moldova is caught between the unfinished expansion of the EU and Russia's ambitions," said Igor Munteanu, executive director of the Viitorul think tank in Moldova's capital, Chisinau.
Lately the Communist government has pursued closer ties to Moscow. On Tuesday Chisinau was rocked by riots after protests against an allegedly rigged parliamentary vote spun out of control.
The incumbent Communist Party won the vote. While international observers criticized the lopsided coverage in the state media before the vote, they deemed the actual balloting to be fair.
The government said on Thursday that police had rounded up around 200 people and that some could be charged with attempting to overthrow the government, a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 25 years.
The government has directly accused neighboring Romania of being behind the trouble, a charge Romania has denied.
As a wealthy Moldovan businessman was arrested in neighboring Ukraine and accused of helping finance the disturbances, Moldova's President Vladimir Voronin warned Moldovans not to take to the streets anymore.