Moldova fights to free itself from Russia’s AI-powered disinformation machine


As Moldova prepares for an EU referendum and presidential election in October, it faces a relentless onslaught of disinformation, cyberattacks, and political corruption linked to the Kremlin.

In a bizarre incident at the end of 2023, President Maia Sandu, known for her pro-Western stance, was falsely depicted as banning a popular berry-infused tea in a video spread across social media platforms. The video, later revealed as a deepfake, falsely portrayed Sandu as mocking the country’s poor while purportedly banning the picking of rose hips to protect the environment.

The false narrative struck a chord in Moldova, where memories of Soviet-era hardships are still vivid. However, the video was a fabrication created by AI tools controlled by political adversaries with ties to Russia.

“This incident is part of Russia’s hybrid warfare against Moldova,” said Stanislav Secrieru, Sandu’s national security adviser.

Moldova, with its upcoming elections and strategic location bordering Ukraine, has become a battleground for disinformation campaigns, with concerns that ongoing interference from Moscow could escalate into a direct invasion.

The October elections, including a referendum on EU membership, are crucial for Moldova’s future alignment. Sandu, seeking reelection, advocates for closer ties with the EU, which already represents the country’s largest economic partner.

However, the Kremlin and its allies are actively opposing Moldova’s pro-Western agenda. Russian soldiers are present in Transnistria, while pro-Moscow politicians in Gagauzia seek Putin’s support.

Furthermore, pro-Kremlin parties, backed by figures like Ilan Shor, engage in election manipulation and cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure.

Efforts to combat disinformation are hindered by the emergence of AI-powered bots spreading false narratives on social media platforms like Facebook. These bots amplify pro-Russian messages, undermining Sandu’s government and promoting Kremlin-aligned candidates.

Despite these challenges, Moldova is determined to defend its democratic institutions. Ana Revenco, heading the newly-formed Center for Strategic Communication and Combating Disinformation, acknowledges the complexity of the task but emphasizes the importance of countering Kremlin’s aggression.

As Moldova braces for intensified interference in the upcoming elections, the battle against disinformation and cyber threats remains a top priority, with the hope of safeguarding the country’s democratic future.