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Moldovan Foreign Minister Says Country 'Strong Enough' To Resist Russian Pressure

Natalia Gherman, Moldova's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, speaking in Washington on September 18. (photo credit: Erin Kelly for The European Institute)
Natalia Gherman, Moldova's deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, speaking in Washington on September 18. (photo credit: Erin Kelly for The European Institute)
WASHINGTON -- Moldova's foreign minister says her country is "strong enough to resist any pressure" from Russia as it strengthens ties with the European Union.

"We might experience continuous challenges, of course, on that [front], both from inside and outside of the Republic of Moldova," said Natalia Gherman, "but I firmly believe that we are strong enough to resist any pressure [and] uphold the sovereign choice of the Moldovan people to become a member of the European Union in the foreseeable future."

Gherman, who also serves as Moldova's deputy prime minister, spoke to RFE/RL at the end of a three-day visit to Washington. She said her trip to the U.S. capital was aimed at intensifying political and economic ties between Chisinau and Washington.

That goal was made all the more urgent after Russia banned imports of Moldovan wine earlier this month.

Russia's top public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, said the ban was put in place because of impurities in Moldovan wine and a lack of quality controls.

But the move was read by analysts as a warning to the tiny state ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius this November, where Moldova hopes to initial an Association Agreement that will cement its political ties with the EU.

Europe's poorest country is also working toward a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement with the bloc. Chisinau is also looking to secure a visa-free travel regime with the EU in the near future.

Gherman said her government has asked the EU to show "concrete support" by increasing its import quotas on Moldovan wine and other agricultural products, which form the backbone of the country's economy. In 2012 Russia accounted for more than one-fifth of Moldova's exports.

"As an emergency measure, I'm sure our European Union partners will be looking positively at this request," she said.

While in Washington, the Western-educated Gherman met with officials from the departments of state, trade, and energy, as well as members of Congress. She said that in those meetings she had pressed for more U.S. investment in her country.

U.S. President Barack Obama lifted the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik Amendment's trade restrictions on Moldova in December 2012. Gherman said she had received positive feedback from U.S. officials on taking the next step.

"I have also pursued talks with the U.S. administration about concluding a trade and investment framework agreement between Moldova and the United States of America. Now it is about time to substitute [Jackson-Vanik restrictions] with a viable trade and economic cooperation framework. The initial reaction to that was quite positive and we are going to pursue this goal further," she said.

Representative Eliot Engel (New York), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the lawmakers Gherman met with, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on September 18 expressing "deep concern regarding recent attempts by Russia to deter Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia from deepening their economic and political ties with Europe."

Gherman said she had received assurances from U.S. lawmakers that they would use "all the influence of the legislative bodies to send a message all over the world about their assessment of the situation."

She also said she was increasing communication with her counterparts in Georgia and Ukraine ahead of the November summit. She said that the intention of EU foreign ministers to visit Moldova ahead of the summit "is growing with each passing day."

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