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News 18 Mar 14

Moldova's Jitters About Russia Worry Romania

News that Moldova’s Transdniester region is seeking to follow Crimea and join Russia is causing concern in neighbouring Romania.

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest

Romanian officials on Tuesday expressed support for the government of neighbouring Moldova and urged Russia not to encourage separatists in Moldova's Transdniester region in their quest to join Russia.

“Romania together with its EU and NATO partners should show their commitment to supporting Moldova’s independence and territorial integrity,” Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said.

Ponta spoke one day after the speaker of Transdniester's separatist parliament, during a trip to Moscow, urged Russia to incorporate his mainly Russian-speaking region, which split away from Moldova in 1990.

Romania is concerned that after taking over the strategic peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine, Russia may be tempted to try a land grab in Moldova. Russian troops are already stationed in Transdniester.

"There is above all a fear of possible contagion in the region. Romania is extremely preoccupied," Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean said in a recent interview.

In related development, Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti on Tuesday said Russia would be making a "mistake" if it agreed to the request for annexation from Transdniester's officials. "This is an illegal body," Timofti told a news conference.

"I believe that such actions are counter-productive and will do no good for Moldova or Russia. If Russia makes a move to satisfy such proposals, it will make a mistake," he said.

Russia has said nothing about any designs on Moldova. But on Tuesday President Vladimir Putin signed a bill allowing Russia to absorb the Crimean peninsula, which was Russian until 1954, when the former Soviet authorities assigned it to Ukraine.

Analysts say tensions between pro-Russian Crimeans and pro-European Ukrainians remind Moldovans of their own separatist conflict involving Transdniester.

The strip of territory on Moldova's eastern border with the Ukraine declared independence with Russian help in 1990, after Moldova broke away from the Soviet Union.

It has a predominantly ethnic Russian and Ukrainian population. The two sides fought a short war in 1992.

No country has recognized its independence. But, although in international eyes Transdniester remains part of Moldova, it has no power there.

The problem has defied international efforts at a settlement on the part of the OSCE, Russia, the EU and the United States.

While the developments in Crimea have roused fears in both Romania and Moldova that a similar scenario could occur in Transdniester, analysts see no reason to worry for the time being.

"There is no sign that the situation in Crimea will be replicated in Transdniester. Besides, even Moscow recognizes the authorities in Moldova,” Romanian diplomat Mircea Geoana noted.

Moldova was part of Romania before the Soviet Union annexed it in World War II. Before the First World War it was part of Tsarist Russia.

A landlocked country lying between Romania and Ukraine, most people speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls the language Moldovan. Russian is widely spoken.

Russia and neighbouring EU member Romania vie for influence in Moldova, where reforms are needed to end corruption and depoliticise key institutions like the judiciary and police.

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