CHISINAU -- Moldova's pro-Russian President Igor Dodon has told RFE/RL he thinks the planned opening of a permanent NATO liaison office in Moldova would amount to a provocation.
Moldova's pro-Western government signed an agreement with NATO on the opening of the civilian-staffed liaison bureau in November, before Dodon assumed office.
Moldovan Prime Minister Pavel Filip has urged his Foreign Ministry to accelerate the opening of a NATO liaison office in Chisinau, and the ministry has said it hopes to do so in April.
But in an interview in Chisinau on February 14, Dodon told RFE/RL that he wanted Moldova to remain neutral rather than joining any military alliance.
He said Moldova and NATO had been collaborating well so far.
But when asked about plans for the liaison office, he said: "What do we need a NATO office for? A NATO office in Chisinau, in a neutral country, is a provocation."
"I do not want this. I want neither NATO nor this Russia-led [military] alliance as far as armed forces are concerned," Dodon said in an apparent reference to the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a military organization grouping Russia and five other former Soviet republics -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
The Moldovan presidency is a largely symbolic position, but Dodon's position has been strengthened by the fact that he was elected in a direct popular vote -- the first president of the country to win office through such an election since 1997.
On February 7, Dodon said after talks in Brussels with NATO Deputy Secretary-General Rose Gottemoeller that the Moldovan people did not "welcome" the opening of a NATO liaison office -- despite the request for the office made by the center-right-controlled parliament and government.
The Moldovan government is made up of officials from pro-Western parties while Dodon previously headed the pro-Russian Socialist Party, which wants closer ties with Moscow rather than closer integration with European institutions.
Dodon said he had recommended to Moldova's current parliament and government that they "not rush it."
"If they do rush it, the next parliament and government will cancel this agreement, NATO will close down the office and will run away from Moldova. Why do we need such a thing," he told RFE/RL.
Dodon also had argued in Brussels that the NATO liaison bureau would "create impediments in regard to negotiations in the Transdniester issue."
Transdniester, a Russian-speaking region in Moldova's east, declared independence from Chisinau in 1990 amid concerns among separatists there of a possible unification of Romania and majority Romanian-speaking Moldova.
A war broke out between Moldova and Transdniester in 1992, which resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Russian troops quelled the fighting, but the conflict remains unresolved, and some 1,200 Russian soldiers are still deployed in Transdniester.
Russia says those troops act as peacekeepers, despite repeated calls for their withdrawal by both Chisinau and the international community.
Asked by RFE/RL to explain his stance on Transdniester, Dodon said he wanted "very much" to see Russian troops leave Transdniester.
"I am quite optimistic about resolving this problem, maybe by the end of my term, maybe even earlier," he said without elaborating.
Dodon's first visit abroad as president was to Moscow, followed by a trip to Brussels.
He told RFE/RL that he planned to continue visiting former Soviet republics as well as some European Union member countries.
"I believe I will visit CIS members Azerbaijan and Belarus, and probably Armenia, EU member Hungary, and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan will probably come to Moldova in May."
An official visit to Moldova by Erdogan has so far not been confirmed by Turkey.
Written by Eugen Tomiuc based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service