Moldovan President EXCLUSIVE to Russia: joining the EU is our choice


  • Moldova urges Russia to follow pro-Western path
  • President to challenge Russian gas debt demands
  • President wants Western help to catch criminals

BRUSSELS, December 14 (Reuters) – Moldova aspires to join the European Union and the former Soviet republic has told Russia it is its choice, Moldovan President Maia Sandu said on Tuesday.

His comments in an interview with Reuters were his clearest public remarks on Moldova’s pro-Western course. Since Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, pro-Russian and pro-EU politicians have been vying for control.

Sandu, whose Reform Party won a landslide victory in parliament in July, is seen in Moldova as a symbol of the change that is offering Brussels foreign policy success in a country nearly bankrupt with corruption endemic six years ago.

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But on the eve of a summit with leaders of the EU and other Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, Sandu said Russia was making life in Moldova difficult with rising prices. price of natural gas. She said it was also up to the West to help catch the criminals who had stolen money from Moldova and were on the run in Europe.

“Moldova wants to someday become a member of the EU,” said Sandu, who has avoided clear references to the country’s direction since seizing power at the end of 2020, given Moldova’s dependence on Russian gas.

“We would like to get there sooner rather than later,” she said in an interview in a Brussels hotel.

When asked if Russia would allow Moldova – which sits between Ukraine and EU member state Romania – to join the European Union, Sandu said she told Russian officials that the model of the bloc of 27 countries was that of his country.

Ukraine accuses Russia of trying to curb its own Western ambitions. Moscow denies it.

“We will insist that it is our choice (to join the EU) and we would like other countries to respect that choice,” she said.

GAS LITIGATION, SEARCH FOR ‘SCAM’

The EU’s top diplomat accused Moscow in October of using natural gas to intimidate Moldova, a charge denied by the Kremlin. Sandu called Moldova’s new five-year gas deal with Russian Gazprom (GAZP.MM) “reasonable”, but said Moscow had given “preferential prices” to its close allies.

Her government will challenge Gazprom’s claim on October 30 for $ 709 million in Moldovan gas debt, she said.

“When the (gas) prices went up so much, Gazprom started talking about some debt that they say has been around since 1994 … Of course that was used (in the negotiations). We think the debt should be much weaker, “she said.

Sandu said she was concerned about a Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border. But she said there were no signs of increased Russian activity in Transnistria, a Russian-speaking breakaway province in eastern Moldova.

“Unfortunately, we still have Russian troops on our territory,” she said, calling for their withdrawal from Transnistria, which the United Nations considers part of Moldova.

Sandu’s control over the executive and parliament offers Moldova its best chance to get the state out of the hands of the venal elites, according to officials in Brussels and Chisinau.

Moldova has asked Interpol to track down two of the richest people in the country, accused of siphoning state money.

One of them, Vladimir Plahotniuc, is accused of being involved in the theft of a billion dollars from Moldovan banks in 2014-2015.

Plahotniuc’s lawyers have denied that he was involved in what is known locally as the “robbery of the century”.

“We are counting on international support because the biggest crooks who robbed our people have left the country,” Sandu said, claiming that Plahotniuc was probably in hiding in Turkey.

(This story has been passed on to add the word “life” deleted in the fourth paragraph)

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Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Timothy Heritage

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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