Moldova said on Wednesday it was sharply reducing the number of diplomats Russia can have in Chisinau, citing years of "hostile actions" by Moscow and a media report about possible spying kit installed on the embassy's rooftop.
Relations between ex-Soviet Moldova and Russia have reached new lows after President Maia Sandu strongly condemned Moscow's invasion of neighboring Ukraine and accused Russia of plotting to overthrow her, as well as Moldova's application to join the European Union.
"We agreed on the need to limit the number of accredited diplomats from Russia, so that there are fewer people trying to destabilize the Republic of Moldova," Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said at a cabinet meeting.
Embassy personnel numbers will be reduced to 25 from more than 80, the foreign ministry said in a separate statement, bringing Russia's embassy in line with Moldova's diplomatic mission in Moscow.
Russia should implement the decision by August 15, it said.
Accusations of hostile actioned leveled against Russia
"For many years we have been the object of hostile Russian actions and policies. Many of them were made through the embassy," Popescu said, adding the embassy had been informed of Moldova's decision.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a weekly briefing that Moldova's decision would "not go unanswered," calling it "another step in the destruction of bilateral relations" between the countries.
In his remarks, Popescu alluded to a media report by The Insider and television channel Jurnal TV about equipment installed on the Russian embassy's rooftop that could be used for spying.
The report prompted Moldova's foreign ministry to call in Russia's ambassador to provide an explanation.
Commenting on the report, Zakharova said: "The accusation of spying activities by employees of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau is unfounded. It is a fantasy which has nothing to do with reality."
Russia's ambassador to Moldova, Oleg Vasnetsov, accused Moldova of "Russophobia" and said the embassy needed antennas because it was built at the end of 1990s.
"If telephony and internet worked well, there probably wouldn't be a need for constant upgrades," he said.