Moldova’s new prime minister Valeriu Strelets has ruled out seeking closer ties with Russia amid an ongoing crisis in the relationship between Moldova and Western countries.
Speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Prime Minister Strelets said the country’s new government would work to improve ties with the West after revelations of corruption last year damaged relations.
Strelets was appointed as prime minister on June 30 after his former pro-European predecessor Chiril Gaburici resigned following revelations that he forged his high school and university diplomas.
Gaburici had been appointed as prime minister only for four months prior to his resignation, his Liberal Democratic Party managed to form a coalition with other pro-European parties.
Gaburici was also questioned after he accused the state prosecutor of neglecting an investigation over the disappearance of $1.5 billion from the Unibank, Banca Sociala and Banca de Economii. According to some leaked documents, the money was transferred to four Russian banks.
Despite his pro-European stance, during his short reign Gaburici had made moves to “reset” relations with Russia, which critics in the former Soviet country abhorred.
Strelets was also accused of making overtures with Russia last week after speaking with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and inviting him to visit Moldova’s capital Chisinau.
However, Strelets told RFE/RL that Moldova’s Western partners encouraged the country to maintain normal ties with Russia.
"I assure you that our [Western] development partners are interested in having a normal commercial and economic relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the Russian Federation," he said.
Russia has been gradually easing bans on Moldovan imports, particularly imports from Moldova's Gagauzia region, where 98.4 percent of voters expressed a desire for closer relations with the Russian-led CIS Customs Union in a poll conducted last year.
The import bans were originally put in place to discourage Chisinau from signing an Association Agreement with the EU, bans resulted in Moldova’s trade with the EU to increase to 54.5 percent.
Furthermore, almost 600,000 Moldovan nationals migrated to work in EU member states after the 28-nation bloc lifted the Schengen visa for Moldovans in April last year, as its economy is becoming more dependent on Europe.
Russia, however, still maintains influence over Moldova through the breakaway enclave of Transnistria - an unrecognised state wedged between war-torn Ukraine and EU member Romania which declared its independence from Moldova after a war in 1992.
Although Russia does not formally recognise Transnistria, many of the half a million people living in the region have Russian citizenship and enjoy the support of the Russian state. Russian Cossacks were also involved in the region’s war of independence.
Today, Russia has 1,200 soldiers from its 14th Army and more than 20,000 tons of bombs stored in Transnistria, despite having promised to withdraw its troops and weapons from the region at an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Istanbul in 1999.
In 2014, Transnistria requested to unite with Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. It has also been speculated that Russia aims to create a corridor along Ukraine’s southern Black Sea coast to link Transnistria with territories under the control of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In the wake of the Russian threat, Moldovan citizens who back pro-European attitudes have been holding rallies in Chisinau to demand the reunification of Moldova with EU-member state Romania under the region’s traditional name of Bessarabia.
In 2011, the Actinuea 2012 (Action 2012) movement was formed to support the reunification of Moldova and Romania, 200 years after imperial Russia separated the two countries by annexing Bessarabia (Moldova). Members of Actinuea 2012 and the Union Council, which was also created to promote the idea of unification of Moldova and Romania, have both organised rallies in support of reunification.
However, despite their attempts, polls and surveys indicated that only 10 to 20 percent of the population wants reunification.