Russian journalist who headed news outlet in Moldova is declared a security threat and expelled

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — A Russian journalist was declared a national security threat and expelled from Moldova on Wednesday on charges of meddling in internal affairs by spreading disinformation, authorities said.

Vitaly Denisov, 56, was head of the news outlet Sputnik Moldova. He was removed from the country under escort and banned from returning for 10 years, Moldova’s General Inspectorate for Migration said in a statement.

“The measure to remove the foreigner was ordered in connection with his involvement in the internal affairs of the Republic of Moldova, a fact that endangers the informational security of our country,” the inspectorate statement read.

Sputnik Moldova is the Moldovan arm of the Russian state-owned Sputnik news agency.

Moldova’s government spokesperson, Daniel Voda, said Wednesday in a press briefing after a government meeting that the authorities “have zero tolerance for fake news.”

“The institution of which the respective citizen belonged was constantly dealing with informational attacks, lies, propaganda and disinformation,” Voda said. “Our message is clear: We will continue to protect the interests of our citizens.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded Wednesday by calling it an “ugly move” by the Moldovan authorities, who she accused of trying to “purge the information space … disliked by the authorities and intimidating dissent.”

In an online statement, Zakharova promised “retaliatory measures” to what she called an “anti-Russian” move.

“The Moldovan leadership has once again demonstrated what their statements about commitment to the ideals of democracy and pluralism of opinions are really worth,” she said.

She alleged that Moldovan authorities “burst into” Denisov’s home early Wednesday morning, detained him and escorted him to the airport, “without allowing him to pack personal belongings,” for immediate deportation.

Since Russia invaded Moldova's neighbor Ukraine in February last year, tensions have skyrocketed between Russia and Moldova, which became a European Union candidate member in June last year. Moldova’s leaders have repeatedly accused Moscow of conducting campaigns to try to destabilize the country, which was a Soviet republic until 1991.