Moldova's pro-Russia president has renewed criticism of plans for a liaison office of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the country, saying the ex-Soviet republic should stay clear of a "geopolitical confrontation" between Washington and Moscow.
Igor Dodon's comments in a September 26 interview came weeks after he accused his country's pro-Western government of trying to "add the Moldovan Army" to the alliance by sending a contingent of soldiers to NATO-led military exercises in neighboring Ukraine.
The planned NATO office in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, "will not bring peace" to Moldova and will hamper efforts to resolve the frozen conflict with the country's breakaway Transdniester region, Dodon said.
"We are a neutral state. Why would we need offices of military blocs in Chisinau?" he told RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service.
Moldova's government, which backs closer ties with the United States and the European Union, signed an agreement with NATO on the opening of the liaison bureau in November.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has described the planned office as "a small diplomatic mission with only civilian staff" and said "it is absolutely possible to further strengthen our partnership with Moldova, fully respecting the neutrality of Moldova."
Dodon, who took office in December, has opposed the plan. The Moldovan presidency is largely symbolic but Dodon's position has been strengthened by the fact that he was elected in a direct popular vote, the first president to win office through such an election since 1997.
Moldova has been a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program for more than two decades, with the alliance helping it to train troops for international peacekeeping missions.
Growing Suspicion From Moscow
Dodon told RFE/RL that, while he welcomes some forms of cooperation between Moldova and NATO, "that doesn't mean we should open a NATO office here."
Dodon advocates stronger ties with Russia, which has bristled at NATO's expansion toward its borders after the fall of the Soviet Union. The three ex-Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the alliance in 2004.
After years of growing suspicion from Moscow, relations with the alliance deteriorated sharply in 2014 following Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its subsequent backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Moldova's government overruled Dodon in order to send 57 Moldovan soldiers to NATO-led exercises in Ukraine.
Russia maintains an estimated 2,000-strong force in the pro-Moscow Transdniester region, which declared independence from what was then the Soviet republic of Moldova in 1990.
The Russian presence includes 1,500 troops who Moscow says guard huge Soviet-era arms depots, and up to 500 peacekeepers to maintain the uneasy 25-year-old cease-fire that ended fighting between Moldova and its eastern separatist region.