Moldova's No. 1 problem after more than a quarter of a century of independence isn't poverty or corruption, it is depopulation, President Igor Dodon has told RFE/RL.
"We've lost one-third of our population. Therefore, depopulation is the No. 1 problem we're facing at this stage," Dodon said on August 22.
"This is a problem we're going to have to face, regardless of the color of the next government. And, I'm sorry to have to say it, this is going to be a stumbling block for us for many years to come," Dodon said.
According to Moldova's latest census, the population of the former Soviet republic sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine was almost 3 million people in 2014. Various estimates put the number of Moldovans who have emigrated at between 600,000 and more than 1 million.
Moldova, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991, is one of Europe's poorest countries. Besides endemic poverty, Moldova is also plagued by corruption.
The disappearance of an estimated $1 billion, or one-eighth of the country's gross domestic product, in 2015 enraged a large majority of Moldovans, who took to the streets in protest of what they dubbed "the heist of the century."
It also disrupted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union on funding and triggered a political crisis.
"All the problems -- corruption, foreign policy, geopolitical struggle, a divided society -- lead to this major depopulation issue," Dodon said.
"Slowly but surely, we are turning into a country of pensioners. I'm not against the pensioners, but young people are leaving the country," Dodon said.
Dodon, the leader of the Socialist Party -- a splinter group from ex-President Vladimir Voronin's Communist Party -- is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Dodon won the presidency in 2016 after a campaign that capitalized on a wave of nostalgia for what many in Moldova perceived as the more prosperous Soviet era.
During the interview, Dodon pushed again for stronger economic relations with Russia, although he admitted that the bulk of Moldova's mainly agricultural exports goes toward the European Union -- mainly to Romania, with whom Moldova shares a common language and history.