WASHINGTON — Facebook has allowed an exiled Moldovan oligarch with ties to the Kremlin to run ads calling for protests and uprisings against the pro-Western government, even though he and his political party are on US sanctions lists. Ads featuring politician and convicted ster Ilan Shor were eventually removed by Facebook, but not before they were seen millions of times in Moldova, a small country of about 2.6 million sandwiched between Romania and war-torn Ukraine. Seeking to capitalize on anger over inflation and rising fuel prices, paid posts by Shor's political party targeted the government of pro-Western President Maia Sandu, who detailed what he said earlier this week was a conspiracy to overthrow Russia's government using foreign saboteurs. "Destabilization attempts are a reality and represent a real challenge for our institutions," Sandu said Thursday as he sworn in for the new government led by pro-Western Prime Minister Dorin Recean, a former defense and security adviser. "We need decisive action to strengthen the security of the country." The ads reveal how Russia and its allies exploit the vulnerabilities of social media platforms—mostly run by US companies—to spread propaganda and disinformation that weaponizes economic and social insecurity to undermine governments in Eastern Europe. Get The Times of Israel's Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories Get the email By signing up, you agree to the terms According to Dorin Frasineau, foreign policy adviser to former Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita, whose resignation led to its formation, Shor's ads helped fuel angry protests against the government and appear to be aimed at destabilizing Moldova and returning it to Russia's sphere of influence. new government on Thursday. "Despite being on the US sanctions list, I still see sponsored ads on Facebook," Frasineau said, adding that he thinks there are fake accounts sharing the posts this week. He said the Moldovan government sought answers on Facebook in vain. "We talked to Facebook, but it's very difficult because there is no specific person, no contact." The rules governing the sanctions list prohibit US companies from engaging in financial transactions with listed individuals and groups. The US Treasury Department, which oversees the sanctions program, declined to make a public statement when asked about the ads. Advertising Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, told The Associated Press that it removed the posts as soon as it found it. "When Ilan Shor and Shor Party were added to the US sanctions list, we took action on their known accounts," a company spokesperson said. “Once we identified new associated accounts, we took action for them as well. We are bound by US sanctions laws and will continue to work to identify and take action against fake accounts and pages that violate our policies.” Meta, which recently announced deep layoffs, did not answer questions about the size of its employees in Moldova or the number of employees speaking Moldovan languages. Like many major US-based tech firms, Meta has sometimes struggled to moderate content in languages ​​other than English. The ads were identified by researchers at Reset, a London-based nonprofit that studies the impact of social media on democracy and shared their findings with The Associated Press. Felix Kartte, a senior adviser to Reset, said Meta's response to disinformation and propaganda in Moldova could have far-reaching implications for European security. "Their platforms continue to be armed by the Kremlin and Russian secret services, and the US and Europe are at risk of losing an important ally in the region due to the company's inaction," said Berlin-based Kartte. Advertising Nine different paid posts from Shor Party were posted on Facebook after the US imposed sanctions. Most were lifted within a week of the sanctions being announced, but Shor bought another paid post in January, two months after he was sanctioned. All were clearly identifiable by Shor's name. Posts can be found in Facebook's online advertising library, which includes a searchable catalog. The library confirms that the ads placed by Shor and his team were seen millions of times before they were ultimately removed. According to a note attached to one of the videos in the library, the most recent ad, which was removed a month ago, was retracted because it didn't contain a disclaimer about the ad's sponsor. The library doesn't talk about sanctions. Advertising wasn't what made Meta money, it only generated around $15,000 in revenue, a small amount for a company that made $4.65 billion last quarter. However, they were effective. An ad that ran on Facebook for just two days, October 29-30, received more than one million views in Moldova. In the post that cost Shor's party less than $100 to upload, the oligarch accuses the Sandu government of corruption and kleptocracy. "You and I have to pull them out of their offices by their ears and expel them like evil spirits from our country," Shor tells the audience. Shor, 35, is an Israeli-born Moldovan oligarch, leader of the populist, Russian-friendly Shor Party. Shor, who now lives in exile in Israel, was involved in the theft of $1 billion from Moldovan banks in 2014; He is accused of bribing to secure the presidency of a Moldovan bank, and accused of working for Russian interests on the US Treasury Department's sanctions list in October. Advertising The US says Shor is working with "corrupt oligarchs and Moscow-based organizations" to "create political unrest in Moldova" and undermine the country's bid to join the EU. The sanctions list also includes the Shor Party and Shor's wife, a Russian pop star. The UK also added Shor to its sanctions list last December. Last fall, Moldova was rocked by a series of anti-government protests initiated by the Shor Party. Moldova. Most of the protesters called for early elections and demanded Sandu's resignation. At the same time, the Moldovan government submitted a request to the country's Constitutional Court to outlaw the Shor Party, an ongoing case. Moldova's anti-corruption prosecutor's office has also launched an investigation into the financing of the protests, which prosecutors say involved at least some Russian money. On Monday, Sandu made public what he claimed was a conspiracy by Moscow to overthrow the government using foreign saboteurs, to put the nation "at Russia's disposal" and divert it from one day's path to join the EU. Sandu said the so-called Russian plan foresees attacks on government buildings, hostage-taking and other acts of violence by saboteur groups. Russia has since vehemently denied these allegations. Once part of the Soviet Union, Moldova declared its independence in 1991. In recent years, the country has lurched from one political crisis to the next, often caught between pro-Russian and pro-Western sentiments. But in 2021, after decades of largely oligarchic power structures and various Russian-friendly leaders, Moldovans elected a pro-Western, pro-European government, which put it on a more distinctly Western-oriented path. In June, Moldova was granted EU candidate status on the same day as Ukraine. Gotopnews.com