News / Europe

Shaken by Crimea, Moldova Sees Rebel ‘Provocations’

FILE - Iurie Leanca, prime minister of Moldova, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013.
FILE - Iurie Leanca, prime minister of Moldova, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013.
Reuters
Moldova's pro-Europe prime minister warned of “a series of provocations” from breakaway Russian-speaking Transdniestria, identified by NATO as a possible next target for Russia after it sent troops into Ukraine.
 
Iurie Leanca told Reuters that Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula “might raise expectations” in Moldova's rebel region, a sliver of land that broke away with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
 
Citing Europe's integration of the former Yugoslavia, he called on the EU to do more to help Moldova and other ex-Soviet republics sell the bloc to citizens either weary of the wait for closer links or more inclined to deepen ties with former Soviet master Moscow.
 
“I hope no one contests our European-ness,” Leanca said in an interview in Chisinau.
 
Transdniestria has not been recognized by any state as independent, but is home to some 2,500 Russian soldiers and half-a-million people - 30 percent of them ethnic Russians - who look to Russia as their patron, much like the narrow ethnic Russian majority in Crimea.
 
Alarm bells rang last week when NATO's top soldier, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, warned of a possible Russian troop dash across Ukraine to seize Transdniestria having annexed Crimea following the ousting in February of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in pro-EU street protests.
 
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he sees no reason to undertake any further action beyond Crimea. But he has also said he reserves the right to protect Russian-speakers and compatriots if they are in danger.
 
Leanca, 50, said there had been “a series of provocations” in recent months from Transdniestria, citing pressure on the few schools there still operating under the Moldovan curricula, on farmers trying to work land in boundary areas and maneuvers by “paramilitary troops” and Russian forces stationed in the area.
 
“What we really hope is that there will be no unilateral decisions taken by the leadership of this unrecognized region which might destabilize the situation,” he said.
 
Moldova fears joining Georgia and Ukraine as the target of Russian military intervention as it moves closer to the EU. The EU overtures vie with Putin's plans for a Russian-led Eurasian trade bloc to rival Europe.
 
“We follow developments, we have certain contingency plans, but there's nothing we could do to resist an outside attack,” Leanca said. “I just hope a reasonable approach will prevail.”
 
Ukraine's Yanukovich was brought down by protests triggered by his decision in November 2013 to spurn a pact on closer political and trade ties with the EU in favor of Russia's trade bloc. Armenia also backed out of the EU deal.
 
EU appetite “weekend”
 
Leanca plans to sign the pact by the summer, but warned that appetite for European integration among Moldova's 3.5 million people - Europe's poorest with an average income of $270 per month - had “weakened” even before the crisis in Ukraine.
 
He faces a sometimes subtle, often blatant battle with Russia for hearts and minds.
 
Even if Leanca presses ahead, a parliamentary election later this year may bring a return of the pro-Russian Communist Party that was forced from power in 2009.
 
“I thought the advantages of joining the European Union were self-evident, but it's not the case,” he said.
 
He called on the EU to adopt the same approach to the likes of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia as to the countries of the Western Balkans, which were told in a 2003 declaration that their future was “unequivocally” inside the bloc.
 
The prospect has helped drive reform and settle disputes between once-warring foes in the former Yugoslavia. Croatia and Slovenia have since joined.
 
Moldova, instead, falls under the EU's Neighborhood policy, which stretches into the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa. It contains no explicit promise of membership.
 
“As long as we are kept in this gray area of neighborhood ... the uncertainty will continue and it will be very difficult to explain to Moldovan citizens that we need to make painful but necessary reforms because they will take us somewhere,” Leanca said. “This somewhere should be very clear for us.”
 
EU-inspired reform and visa-free travel for Moldovans, he said, represents the best hope of resolving the “frozen conflict” of Transdniestria, by “making Moldova ultimately more attractive” to those in the rebel region.
 
Moldova, however, is in an awkward spot, wedged between EU member Romania and an unstable Ukraine, territorially challenged and overwhelmingly dependent on Russia for gas. In a thinly veiled threat of gas supply cutbacks, a Russian envoy told Moldovans in September: “I hope you don't freeze.”
 
Citing impurities, Russia banned imports of Moldovan wine the same month, depriving the impoverished country of its biggest market for alcoholic drinks worth $135 million in 2012.
 
Leanca said he held out hope Russia would change its mind. Otherwise, in wine as in global politics, Moldova would look elsewhere.
 
Russians “should have a choice between expensive French champagne and good and not very costly Moldovan sparkling,” he said. “And if we don't find access back to the Russian market, we will find a way to new markets.”  (Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Alison Williams)

You May Like

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid