Russia bars Moldovan nationals, summoning ambassador

FILE PHOTO: Moldovan President Maia Sandu speaks at the USAID "Democracy Delivers" event at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, in New York City

(Reuters) - Russia barred entry to a number of officials from Moldova on Monday and complained about moves by its pro-European government to block Russian media outlets ahead of local elections earlier this month.

The moves were the latest in a series of acerbic exchanges between the two sides and allegations by Moldova that Russia has been exerting pressure on the ex-Soviet state's affairs and President Maia Sandu's drive to join the European Union.

A Russian foreign ministry statement said Moldovan Ambassador Lilian Darie was summoned to be told of the decision.

"The Moldovan side was presented with a decisive protest in connection with the continuing politically motivated persecution of Russian media in Moldova, including the blocking of access to their Internet sites," a ministry statement said.

It said the ambassador was told that Moscow was taking an "assymetrical measure" to bar entry to a number of Moldovan officials, but gave no further details.

Moldovan foreign ministry spokesperson Igor Zaharov told Moldova-1 television that the government stood by protecting its media from interference regardless of Moscow's moves.

"...We are committed to continuing our defence of our information space from any outside interference and uphold our firm position against disinformation, hybrid attacks and attempts to destabilise the situation in Moldova," Zaharov said.

Moldovan news outlet said the Russian list barred 11 parliamentarians -- all members of Sandu's pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity.

Ahead of the election, Moldova suspended licences and barred access to 30 media sites - some based in Russia, others in Moldova - on grounds of spreading disinformation.

Sandu has denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine and accused Moscow of trying to remove her in a coup. Russia denies the allegations and says Sandu is infusing an anti-Russian atmosphere in the country.

(Reporting by Reuters and by Alexander Tanas in Chisinau, Editing by Ron Popeski and Sandra Maler)