CHISINAU, MOLDOVA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Ukrainians deserve the same opportunities to share in Europe's future as other former Soviet states. Protesters in Ukraine are calling for the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych after he backed out of a trade deal with the European Union, saying the country needs to develop closer ties with Russia.
Heralding Moldova's new agreements with the European Union, Secretary Kerry says the United States believes deeply that European integration is the best road for both security and prosperity.
"The European Union has offered Moldova an historic opportunity to be able to cement a European future for its people. And you have seized that opportunity through the leadership of your government," said Kerry.
The government in neighboring Ukraine backed out of a similar European Union trade deal, prompting Kerry to cancel a visit to Ukraine in favor of Moldova.
A senior U.S. official says that move was meant "to send a very strong signal of support for those countries that had moved forward with the EU because of what it means in terms of their commitment to reform."
Russian opposition to former Soviet states moving closer to Europe now includes a ban on imports of Moldovan wine, which is one of the country's leading foreign currency earners. In a visit to a 15th century winery outside the capital, Kerry said Moldova moving closer to Europe means its future is "not locked into any one place or any one relationship."
"It is about building the bridges of the opportunity and defining the future through your own hopes and your own aspirations. And to the people of the Ukraine we say the same thing: You too deserve the opportunity to choose your own future," said Kerry.
Kerry came to Moldova from Belgium, where Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told NATO officials that Russia will not interfere in the political unrest in Ukraine and said other nations should stay out of the dispute as well.