U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton has held talks with Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu of the pro-Western Now Platform in Chisinau on "security matters" following a two-day stay in Ukraine as part of visit to the region, which also includes Belarus on the itinerary.
Bolton is one of the most senior-ranking U.S. officials to visit Chisinau since ex-Vice President Joe Biden in 2011, and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright in 1994 and James Baker in 1992.
Bolton, speaking at a joint news conference with Sandu in Chisinau, voiced support for the new Moldovan government's anticorruption moves.
"I'm expressing best wishes for your anticorruption campaign, which is extremely important for potential U.S. investors and business partners, because they believe in a strong rule-of-law system, to have government agencies that are accountable, and a corruption-free environment," Bolton said.
"There are real [security] challenges in the region and outside the region. The United States believes very strongly in the sovereignty and independence of Moldova. It's up to its citizens to decide what its future will be, not to outside influences," Bolton said.
Since assuming office, Sandu has chosen an agenda of fighting corruption, integrating with the European Union, and normalizing relations with Russia.
Sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania, the former Soviet republic has a territorial dispute with the Moscow-backed breakaway region of Transdniester, which occupies an eastern sliver of the country.
It declared independence almost 30 years ago with more than 1,000 Russian soldiers stationed there. Moldova is also reliant on Russia for energy resources.
Referring to the frozen Transdniester conflict, Bolton said, "This is something I think we would strongly support -- the efforts of the [Moldovan] government to resolve that problem, to make sure that Moldova is a truly united country, not subject to foreign influences. It is an issue for the people of the country [to decide], but maintaining territorial integrity and full sovereignty is critical for us as well."
Sandu said that U.S. assistance for the modernization of Moldova's defense and security sector had reached approximately 15 million dollars annually. "The support of the United States of America in this field is extremely important for us," she added.
"This year," she said, "we will negotiate a new individual action plan within the Moldova-NATO Partnership, and we will open the second phase of the initiatives to consolidate the defense capabilities of the Republic of Moldova.
After Bolton's visit, Sandu will head a government delegation to the United States on August 31-September 4.
"Our priority is expanding strategic dialogue with U.S., cooperation in key areas, attracting investment, and creating new jobs for our citizens in the homeland," she said.
A former World Bank official, Sandu said she was looking forward to her upcoming visit to Washington and voiced hope for increased U.S. participation in Moldova's energy sector, telecommunications, and infrastructure.
"I am very grateful for the openness and support of our American partners. I hope that this visit will have an impact and will contribute to developing our partnership and the opening of new fields of cooperation, such as the energy sector, telecommunications, and infrastructure," Sandu said.
Bolton also met with President Igor Dodon of the pro-Russian Socialist party. Dodon and Sandu formed a coalition government in June amid a constitutional crisis.
"I positively assessed the U.S. leadership's heightened interest in building more intense contacts with our country... which indicates that the development of the strategic partnership between the Republic of Moldova and the U.S. is entering a completely new stage," Dodon wrote on his Facebook page.
Bolton will also hold talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The trip will mark the highest-level U.S. government visit to Belarus in the past 20 years.
In March 2008, Belarus recalled its ambassador from Washington after the United States imposed sanctions on several Belarusian companies. The U.S. ambassador in Minsk left the country shortly afterward and Belarus has not has a U.S. envoy there ever since.
Bolton's Eastern European tour will most likely irritate Moscow, which has been trying to restore its influence over former Soviet republics in recent years.