The European Council announced the punitive measures in Brussels, targeting "six individuals and one entity responsible for actions aimed at destabilising, undermining or threatening the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova".

Ex-Soviet Moldova, lying between Ukraine and EU member Romania, has been buffeted by the Kremlin's two-year-old invasion of Ukraine. Fragments of Russian drones have landed inside the country and President Maia Sandu has singled out Moscow as the single biggest threat to Moldovan security.

"The sanctions that have been adopted are a signal that we have unreserved EU support in the fight against Russia's hybrid war and attempts to undermine the rule of law and the security of our country," Prime Minister Dorin Recean posted on social media.

The EU sanctions targeted five Moldovan citizens and one Russian national.

They include two media officials, Arina Corsicova, who has links to the banned party of fugitive pro-Russian businessman Ilan Shor, and Dumitru Chitoroaga. They also include two officials close to the head of Moldova's restive southern region of Gagauzia, where Shor is active from exile in Israel.

Also sanctioned was Dmitry Milyutin, a senior official in Russia's FSB intelligence agency.

The punitive measures extended to a group of Moldovan veterans known as Scutul Poporului, or The People's Shield, which helped organise 2022 protests against Sandu, backed by Shor from exile.

Shor was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia last year for his role in the 2014 "theft of the century" in which $1 billion disappeared from the Moldovan banking system. Moldova's Constitutional Court later banned a party bearing his name.

The EU statement quoted Josep Borrell, the bloc's top diplomat, as saying that Moldova was "one of the countries most affected by the fallout of Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine" and the measures showed the "the EU's unwavering support".

(Reporting by Alexnder Tanas, Writing by Ron Popeski; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

By Alexander Tanas