Moldova's pro-European Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has warned of "a series of provocations" from Transdniester, which NATO has warned could be Russia's next target.
Leanca on March 27 told Reuters that Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula "might raise expectations" in Moldova's separatist region.
"Of course we are concerned because of the proximity [of the Ukrainian crisis] to our borders. We are concerned because we have a similar problem of an unrecognized Republic [of Transdniester] and we've had it for 23 years," said Leanca.
Last week, NATO's top military official, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, warned of a possible Russian incursion across Ukraine to occupy Transdniester.
Mainly Russian-speaking Transdniester declared independence from Chisinau in 1990 over fears that Moldova might seek reunification with neighboring Romania.
The two sides fought a brief war in 1992 that ended when the Russian military intervened on the side of Transdniester. No state has recognized Transdniester's independence, but the region has enjoyed Moscow's continuous support.
Russia still has some 1,400 troops in Transdniester, which it describes as peacekeepers.
Leanca said he was concerned about possible provocations.
"What we really hope is that there will be no unilateral decisions taken by the leadership of this unrecognized region [of Transdniester], which might destabilize the situation through provocations, raise tensions," he said.
Leanca cited pressure on the few schools in Transdniester which still teach in Romanian, harassment of farmers trying to work land in boundary areas, and drills by "paramilitary troops" and Russian forces stationed in the area.
Moldova in November initialed a key association agreement with the European Union, which Leanca plans to sign by the summer.
However, Leanca said the EU should give Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia the same kind of assurances as to the countries of the Western Balkans, which were told in a 2003 declaration that their future was "unequivocally" inside the bloc.
He also called on the EU to back his pro-European government's efforts to gain more domestic support for closer integration with the bloc.
Although the EU has agreed to lift visa restrictions for Moldovans from May or June, Leanca warned that enthusiasm for European integration among the citizens of Europe's poorest state had "weakened" even before the crisis in Ukraine.
"I thought the advantages of joining the European Union were self-evident, but it's not the case," Leanca said. "So that's why we now need to pursue another campaign of informing -- just informing, not brainwashing the minds of Moldovans -- but informing them about the real advantages," he concluded.
Ahead of crucial parliamentary elections in November, Moldova's staunchly anti-EU Communists remain the largest political party in the country, still wielding considerable influence among the elderly and the poor.
Meanwhile, Moldova's Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman on March 27 said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would visit Chisinau in late April.
Gherman also said that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland will arrive in Chisinau on a one-day visit on March 30.
With material from Reuters, hotnews.ro, and ITAR-TASS