Moldovan President Igor Dodon says his country needs to maintain good relations with Russia amid uncertainty about the future of the European Union.
In an interview with the Associated Press published on February 21, Dodon said his country relies on Moscow for energy, exports, and for help to settle the long-standing conflict in its pro-Russia breakaway republic of Transdniester.
The interview comes ahead of the country’s February 24 parliamentary elections, which have the potential to tilt the country either to the West or East.
The country’s leadership is split, with the ruling Democratic Party pursuing a pro-EU stance while the president has pressed for a policy more focused toward Russia.
Until assuming the presidency, Dodon was the leader of Moldova's Socialist Party, a splinter group from former President Vladimir Voronin's Communist Party. He also is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The pro-Russia Socialist Party, the country’s leading opposition group, is expected to win the most votes in the February 24 vote.
However, it is not expected to receive a clear majority. Along with the Democratic Party and the Socialists, the ACUM (Now) bloc, which accuses Moldova’s leadership of rampant corruption and is also considered pro-West, will be among competitors in the vote.
An Association Agreement between Moldova and the EU came into force in 2016, but the Socialists favor the country joining the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.
Chisinau’s unsteady record in fighting rampant corruption has angered many Moldovans, increased support for the Socialists, and brought complaints from the EU.
Dodon asserted in the AP interview that he sees the need to maintain ties with the EU, which accounts for 70 percent of Moldova’s exports -- much of it to neighboring Romania, with which Moldova shares a common language and history.
But he also said the EU’s development over the next 10 to 15 years is uncertain, making it important for Chisinau to keep friendly relations with Moscow.
Moldova's mainly Russian-speaking Transdniester declared independence from Moldova in 1990 over fears that Chisinau would seek reunification with Romania. Most of Moldova was part of Romania in the interwar period.
Moldovan forces and Moscow-backed Transdniester fighters fought a short but bloody war in 1992.
The conflict ended with a cease-fire agreement after Russian troops in the region intervened on the side of the separatists. Some 1,400 Russian troops remain in Transdniester, despite UN calls to remove them.
Dodon won the presidency in 2016 after an election campaign that capitalized on a wave of nostalgia for the Soviet era.
Dodon has been suspended at least five times by Moldova's Constitutional Court, accused of failing to fulfill his constitutional obligations by refusing to sign into law bills passed by parliament and other matters.