Moldovan President Igor Dodon has said he does not believe his country will ever be part of the European Union and that in order to be fully unified, it is necessary "to find common ground with Russia."
Speaking to Russia’s state-run RT television on January 23, Dodon said that people in Moldova's Transdniester and Gagauzia regions overwhelmingly opposed European integration.
He said that for that reason "we will not succeed in uniting the country if we do not build a strategic partnership with Russia."
Transdniester is a mostly Slavic sliver of land that has been controlled by pro-Russian separatists since a war in 1992. The autonomous region of Gagauzia is populated largely by ethnic Turkish Gagauz who speak Russian and have adopted Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Failing to do so, he said, would mean "the risk of losing our statehood" since "we have Romania right next door, willing to absorb us at any moment."
Dodon added that if a new parliament due to be elected in 2018 decided to terminate Moldova's 2014 Association Agreement with the European Union, he would "certainly" support that policy.
In the meantime, he said he will work to "restore friendly relations and a strategic partnership with Russia."
Dodon said that Moldova had not benefited "in the slightest" from its European-integration policies of recent years and that a majority of Moldovans now supported integration into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.
Dodon said he will work to secure for Moldova observer status in the economic union, which currently includes five former Soviet republics, a topic that he discussed during a recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to the European Commission, Moldovan exports to the EU grew by 21 percent between 2013 and 2015.
Economy Minister Octavian Calmic told RFE/RL that trade with Russia had declined because "Moldovan economic actors have found alternatives, primarily in European markets."
Dodon said he will go to Brussels in February, where he plans to propose the creation of a "trilateral platform" comprising Moldova, Russia, and the EU in order to discuss expanding Moldovan trade with Russia in the context of EU sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Moldovan president also said he opposed an agreement signed in December with NATO to open a NATO liaison office in Chisinau. Dodon said that when he meets with NATO officials he will ask if the transatlantic alliance is willing to sign a statement acknowledging Moldova’s neutrality.
Andian Candu, chairman of the Moldovan parliament, said on January 23 that the proposed NATO liaison office, which is expected to begin operation in March, "is a technical, communications structure" that will not affect Moldova's neutrality in any way.
Moldova participates in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and contributes troops to the alliance's policing mission in Kosovo.
Dodon won the presidency after running a strongly pro-Russian campaign and took office in December. Previously, he was the leader of the Socialist Party, which controls the single largest faction in Moldova’s parliament.
The Moldovan presidency is largely a symbolic position, and the government is controlled by a coalition of pro-European-integration parties.
With reporting by RT, Interfax, and TASS