Romanian lawmakers expressed support for reunification with neighboring Moldova in a symbolic vote Tuesday intended to highlight close historic ties, but the speaker of Moldova's own parliament said his country cherished its independence.
Romania's parliament was holding a special session to mark the 100th anniversary of Moldova's joining the then-kingdom of Romania after World War I.
Moldova was then annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and became an independent state in 1991.
The small, landlocked country is politically divided between supporters of closer ties with Moscow and those who want Moldova eventually to follow Romania, its much larger southern neighbor, into the European Union and NATO.
Most Moldovans speak Romanian and have close cultural ties with Romania but the country also has a large minority of Russian speakers.
"Romania's parliament ... considers as fully legitimate the desire of those citizens of the Republic of Moldova who support the unification of the two states," the resolution backed by lawmakers said.
"We underline that such an act would depend on their will and we declare that Romania and its citizens are, and will always be, ready to welcome any organic move to reunification by Moldovan citizens as an expression of their sovereign will."
Barely a fifth of Moldovans favor reunification with Romania, according to an opinion poll conducted in December by the Moldovan Institute for Public Policies, an independent think tank.
"The majority of citizens today want Moldova as an independent state," the speaker of Moldova's parliament, Andrian Candu, in Bucharest for the commemoration of the anniversary, told reporters after the vote.
"But I want to assure you that Romania is increasingly more present in Moldova through the projects supported by the government and political class."
Romania has energy projects in the country and supports its long-term process of trying to join the EU.
Moldova's government, which strongly backs closer ties with the EU and the United States, is often at loggerheads with the country's pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, who wants it to join a Moscow-led customs union.
Candu, who sides with the government, said Moldova faced many challenges ahead of a planned parliamentary election in November, adding: "We must be very careful to keep the country whole and on the path to the European Union."