Could Moldova be another pawn between West and Russia?

Could Moldova be another pawn between West and Russia?

Moldova was part of the Soviet Union from the Second World until the end of the Cold War in 1991 when it became independent.  A strip of land east of the River Dniester, close the Ukraine border, split away from Moldova and has been under the control of the breakaway government of Transnistria since 1990.

This has provided a Russian military base to the east of Ukraine at the gate to the Balkans. It is also a hub for smuggling and organised crime, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

Transnistria is not recognised internationally and is still considered part of Moldova. But while Transnistria opted to join the Russian Federation, Moldova - like Georgia - joined the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, much to Russia's dismay. Its membership was ratified by a large majority on November 13, 2014, by the European Parliament.

Parliamentary elections on Sunday, November 30, proved to be a close run between a pro-Russian opposition and a pro-European government coalition. The pro-European coalition won by a small margin.

Moldova, excluding Transnistria, has a Russian-speaking minority of some 15 per cent. A large proportion voted for the pro-Russian group, as they believe Russia can offer more economically than the EU to the people of Moldova.

The closeness of the result leaves Russia room for influence. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin questioned the elections because 700,000 Moldovans living in Russia were not allowed to vote. It was suggested they would have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the pro-Russian Socialists.

Mr Rogozin also reminded Moldova’s government the day after the election to carefully consider its association with the EU.

The pro-Russian Socialists announced their intention to introduce a bill which will cancel the association with the EU and offer a referendum to Moldovans to join the Eurasian Customs Union.

European politicians will have to handle this situation carefully. It is another case, like Ukraine, of a country having to choose between Europe and Russia. The outcome will depend a lot on wise European politicians who, together with Moldova’s new government, will try to avoid the problems heaped on Ukraine.

The priority should be with Moldova’s economy and trade.

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