Moldova's pro-Western coalition government is forging ahead with its European-integration agenda, despite considerable resistance at home and strong pressure from Moscow.
RFE/RL's Moldovan Service correspondent Valentina Ursu sat down in Chisinau with U.S. Ambassador to Moldova William Moser to discuss the country's post-Soviet development and the prospects for its future.
RFE/RL: You have been the ambassador to Moldova for two years now. Where do you think Moldova is today?
William Moser: Moldova has done a lot in the last 22 years and I think Moldova should be proud of the progress it has made toward becoming a free and democratic European state. Given its short history [as an independent country] it has made remarkable progress and that is particularly noticeable by the way it conducts its elections and the way it has real, true freedom of speech. In Moldova, people have real freedom at the ballot box and they also have the freedom to say exactly what they think about every politician and every issue confronting the country. And when I look at these things I think that -- in 22 years -- Moldova has made a tremendous and impressive amount of progress.
RFE/RL: Moldova is a former Soviet country that still has strong economic and cultural ties to Russia. How are its relations with the United States?
Moser: We have supported Moldovan independence and sovereignty for 22 years and we will continue to support it. As I said before, I'm very happy that Moldova has developed -- admittedly, still incipient, but still very definite -- democratic institutions that serve the will of the Moldovan people. Moldova is an independent country and it is up to Moldova to defend its own interests. It is also up to Moldova -- and this is what we would like to see -- for Moldova to have good relations with all its neighbors, just like we try to have with all of our neighbors.
RFE/RL: Since 2009 Moldova has, in fits and starts, followed a generally pro-European course. How do you see Moldova's future?
Moser: I'm very optimistic, because I think that Moldova has made -- during my tenure here as ambassador -- exceedingly good progress toward its European-integration agenda. And I think the future that that integration agenda promises is very, very bright. You know, if you look at the countries that have joined the European Union over the last 20 years, they have seen tremendous growth in their [gross domestic product], in their job prospects, and in their exports. I feel that that is the future that can be true for Moldova as well.
Now, that said, it means there are some very tough decisions about reforming Moldova internally that have to be made in order for Moldova to achieve those European-integration goals. But I think if the people of Moldova are consistent and supportive in the choice of their government and in terms of advocating for a European path, then Moldova, too, can attain this European prosperity.
RFE/RL: What do the country's rulers need to do to make this happen?
Moser: I think that instead of asking what the political class should do, let's first of all ask what the people of Moldova want. The people of Moldova want a more stable, more prosperous nation that can deliver economically for them. And if the political leadership listened to what the people of Moldova want, I think the country can have success. And when I say "what they want," that is true across all party divisions.
RFE/RL: The former Soviet countries participating in the EU's Eastern Partnership program are coming under intense pressure from Moscow to join its Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia instead. Do you see this as a problem?
Moser: All of the countries in the [EU's] Eastern Partnership are sovereign states and it is up to each individual country, including Moldova, to make its own decision according to the wishes of its own people. So, it is really up to the people of Moldova to decide, and it is not really a competition -- it is a democratic choice.
RFE/RL: This week Armenia seems to have chosen to go with Russia into the Customs Union. Do you worry that Moldova will follow suit?
Moser: I think that's a question to ask Moldova [and] the Moldovan leadership. But, as I have said before, Armenia's choice is the choice of a sovereign nation. And that's up to the Armenian people and its leadership to decide.
RFE/RL: You have said the people of Moldova want a country that can deliver economically. Today, it is Europe's poorest nation. How do you see Moldova making economic strides?
Moser: The Moldovan economy is growing and statistics show that. But it is not growing as well as it could. What could Moldova do to improve its economic prospects? Well, one of the obvious things is to keep on its path toward the reforms required for its integration into the greater European market and the greater European space. And most importantly in that regard is to seriously tackle justice-sector reform and eliminate corruption.
If you look at the one thing that [most] holds business development back in Moldova, it is the amount of corrupt behavior on the part of officials and judges in the country. Now, other countries have had to deal with this corruption problem as well and we still have corruption problems in the United States. But if the people of Moldova have zero tolerance for corrupt behavior, this can be eliminated.
Now, why is that important for businesses? Because then people will want to invest in Moldova -- because businesses, whether they are foreign investors or Moldovan, don't want to invest in the country if they think the process is rigged against them. Businessmen don't mind competing, but what they don't want to do is have their resources taken away from them because of some corrupt decision. So, if you really want to improve the country's economic prospects, you'll really work on the corruption problem. And I urge all Moldovan citizens to think about this.
RFE/RL: Switching gears, are you and your staff working on discussions to resolve the conflict over the breakaway Transdniester region?
Moser: Well, yes we [are]. You know, we are an observer to the 5+2 process, which is the mechanism we have to find a final solution to the Transdniester conflict. Now, I was very encouraged last year in Dublin when all the OSCE ministers -- the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ministers -- all agreed on what the final status will be. And that was Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and all the other members of the OSCE. They said, very simply, that Transdniester was to have a special, autonomous status within the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova. We know what the final solution is. We need to keep negotiating in order to find the way to get there.
RFE/RL: One final question: If you could speak directly to the Moldovan people, what would your advice be?
Moser: Stay engaged in the political process. Make your political leaders do what you want them to do. Don't let them tell you what to think -- you tell them what you think. And you express that through your own political activism and particularly through the ballot box. Moldova can have a brighter and more successful future if its citizens stay engaged in the political process and really shape the future that they want to have.