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U.S. Pledges Moldovan Border Aid


U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (left) and Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman at a press conference in Chisinau on March 30
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (left) and Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman at a press conference in Chisinau on March 30
Visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland has said that Washington will provide $10 million to Chisinau to help secure the country's borders.

The pledge comes with Moldova eager to burnish its pro-Europe stance amid concerns that Russia may target some of the country's regions, as it did when it occupied and then annexed Ukraine's Crimea.

"The United States will contribute an additional $10 million to support Moldovan border security efforts -- this is on top of money that we have been providing for a number of years to support nonproliferation objectives and security objectives on the borders," Nuland said.

Nuland had met with Moldovan Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman in Chisinau ahead of her remarks.

She met earlier on March 30 with Prime Minister Iurie Leanca and President Nicolae Timofti.

Nuland rejected Russian reports that the Moldovan separatist region of Transdniester is being blockaded either by Ukraine or Moldova, a claim made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his call with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 28.

"This is not a blockade by any means," Nuland said. "Commerce and trade is continuing to move normally across that border, as are tourists and business people -- of some tens of thousands of people who crossed that border over the last month -- [a] mere 200 [approximately] have been stopped and denied access. This reflects a concern on the Ukrainian side that there have been young people moving across the border carrying weapons, attempting to smuggle, with intentions to stir up trouble, to be provocateurs."

Gherman also rejected claims that there is a blockade of Transdniester.

"I obviously believe that we cannot speak about any blockade because my government is very much in favor of the freedom of movement and freedom of circulation that has traditionally been part and parcel of the comprehensive settlement of the Transdniester conflict in the Republic of Moldova," Gherman said.

Gherman added that, on the contrary, Transdniester officials have barred members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) mission to Moldova from entering the separatist region.

She called for officials in Tiraspol, Transdniester's main city, to allow the OSCE officials into Transdniester to monitor the situation on the border with Ukraine.

The mainly Russian-speaking Transdniester declared independence from Chisinau in 1990 over fears that Romanian-speaking Moldova might seek reunification with neighboring Romania.

The two sides fought a brief war in 1992 that ended when the Russian military intervened on the side of Transdniester.

Russia still has some 1,400 troops in Transdniester.

Last week NATO's top military official, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, warned recently of a possible Russian incursion across Ukraine to occupy Transdniester.

Transdniester's "foreign minister" has appealed to Moscow to allow the region to join Russia in a manner similar to what Ukraine's Crimean peninsula did in an unrecognized annexation.

Nuland said the United States supports the Moldovan government's choice to move closer to Europe and sign an association agreement with the European Union.

She said Washington looks forward to all Moldovans -- "including those in [Transdniester] and [the autonomous region of Gagauzia]" -- benefitting from visa-free travel to Europe after the signing of the agreement with the EU.

Gherman said the Moldovan government is in close contact with both Ukrainian and Russian officials.

"The fact that the Moldovan government recognizes the authorities in Kyiv means that we keep a permanent dialogue with our Ukrainian partners, but very important -- all controversial subjects are also discussed with our Russian partners, in a long-lasting and constructive dialogue," Gherman said.

Gherman is due to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on April 4.
With reporting by Reuters