In Russia, Moldovan president says may scrap EU trade pact

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 17, 2017 10:33 AM

By Denis Dyomkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moldova may scrap a trade agreement with the European Union after the country's next parliamentary elections, Moldovan President Igor Dodon said on Tuesday during his first state visit to Russia.

Speaking in Moscow at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dodon said it was "curious" that Moldova's trade turnover with the EU had wilted since signing a political and trade pact with the bloc in 2014.

"We gained nothing from this agreement," he told reporters.

"We are not against the EU, we have common borders, but you cannot build a relationship on anti-Russia rhetoric," news agencies quoted him as saying at a news conference held after the meeting with Putin.

Dodon was elected in November with just over 50 percent of the vote after calling in his campaign for a referendum on Moldova's relationship with the EU, which came at the expense of ties with Russia. No referendum has yet been announced.

Moscow imposed retaliatory trade restrictions on Moldovan farming exports, and Dodon's promise to improve relations with the country's former Soviet master found favor with many Moldovans who have been hit financially by the bans and a broader economic downturn.

Dodon's win and move away from the EU reflects a loss of trust in pro-European leaders in Moldova and Russia's increasingly assertive influence over ex-Soviet states.

Putin struck a conciliatory but sharp tone with his counterpart, saying Russia's neighbors were free to make their own decisions and even court the EU, but Moscow would want its interests to be respected.

"It needs to be recognized that mutually beneficial ties with Russia deteriorated against the background of attempts to force a closer relationship with the European Union," he said.

Dodon's promise to side with Russia over the EU is in direct conflict with the stance of Moldova's current government and his stance on the issue has been mixed since taking office.

He has called for early parliamentary elections this year to force out the government but also said the president "should be neither pro-European nor pro-Russian".

On Tuesday, he said Chisinau did not intend to build an "iron curtain" with the bloc.

Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, is expected to return to growth in the near future after contracting 0.5 percent in 2015. But its exports have yet to recover to pre-crisis levels, falling 4.3 percent in the first quarter of 2016.

Ukraine, another ex-Soviet republic, also played with the idea of closer ties with the EU but abruptly pulled out of the trade deal in late 2013.

The move prompted mass street protests in Kiev, forcing then President Viktor Yanukovich from office and paving the road for Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Dodon said Moldova needed to maintain friendly relations with Ukraine and would not risk changing its position on Crimea. Previously, Moldova has said it does not recognize Russia's right to annex Crimea.

(Addition reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Alison Williams)