Moldova should leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) only after it has formally become a candidate for European Union membership, Deputy Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has said.
Leanca's statement came after five opposition Liberal Party lawmakers put forward a bill to pull Moldova out of the CIS, arguing that membership in the post-Soviet group of states runs counter to the country's European aspirations.
Moldova's government of Prime Minister Pavel Filip, which favors closer ties with the EU and the United States, has been at odds with pro-Moscow President Igor Dodon, who is advocating the country's deeper integration with Russia and former Soviet states.
"Once we have filed an application for EU membership and obtained candidate status, then we can announce that we are leaving the CIS," Leanca said in an interview with RFE/RL on January 25.
Leanca, himself a pro-Western former premier and foreign minister, returned from a two-day trip to Brussels. He told the media upon return to Chisinau that Moldova has no alternative to EU integration.
"We should bring up the matter of our European integration prospects in two or three years," Leanca said, adding that Moldova "doesn't necessarily have to do that within the Eastern Partnership framework, we can do this individually."
However, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told Leanca in Brussels that the bloc is ready to support Moldova's European drive but insists on Chisinau's implementation of its commitments under the Association Agreement with the EU.
In July, Moldova's parliament speaker Andrian Candu said Chisinau would file an EU membership application in the second half of 2018 or in 2019.
Candu, together with the Georgian and Ukrainian parliament speakers, jointly signed an open letter asking the EU and the European Parliament to offer the three former Soviet republics a clear membership perspective.
However, the request was not taken into consideration at the EU's Eastern Partnership summit in November.
The EU has criticized Moldova over evidence of corruption and money laundering.