Sheriff Tiraspol are the first Moldovan football team ever to compete in the Champions League. They beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 in their opening game on 15 September, and face Real Madrid tonight. None of their starting eleven has Moldovan citizenship. The team’s cosmopolitan make-up would be something to celebrate if it didn’t throw light on Moldova’s underfunded sports infrastructure, and the source of the money that allowed the club to buy its high-performing international players.
In a runoff vote on 15 November, Moldova elected its first female president, Maia Sandu. A graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and former World Bank adviser, she ran promising to fight corruption and poverty, and to take Moldova out of international isolation. The defeated incumbent, Igor Dodon, has been investigated by journalists for alleged human rights infringements, corruption schemes, the use of Russian funds in his campaigns (via offshore accounts in the Bahamas) and secret deals with Vladimir Plahotniuc, the tycoon who – informally, if not secretly – controlled the country between 2016 and June 2019, when he fled to the US, and then Turkey.
A couple of weeks ago, on the eve of the vote in the House of Commons on military action against Syria, I happened to be passing through Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, on my way from Odessa to Bucharest. I was on holiday. I went for a walk and, out of carelessness, lost my passport. Although the roads and pavements of Chișinău, decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, have potholes big enough to lose a child in, the internet’s a glideway; even the roadside sausage shacks have wifi. My phone told me that if I took €114, two photos and a police report to the British embassy, they’d give me a temporary passport.