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Moldovan President Says Russia Has Made 'First Step' Toward Troop Withdrawal

Moldovan President Igor Dodon made his comments in an interview with RFE/RL. (file photo)

CHISINAU -- Moldova’s Moscow-friendly President Igor Dodon says the settlement of the frozen conflict in Transdniester is heading in the right direction, citing a Russian proposal to shutter a massive ammunition depot in the breakaway region.

Dodon made the remarks in an interview with RFE/RL on November 1, after Moscow earlier this year expressed readiness to resume dialogue with Chisinau on the removal and disposal of the munitions stored near the village of Cobasna.

Pro-Russian separatists in Transdniester declared independence from Moldova in 1990 amid concerns that officials in Chisinau would seek reunification with Romania as the Soviet Union fell apart.

The separatists fought a war against government forces two years later in which about 1,000 people were killed.

The conflict has been frozen since Russian troops stationed in Transdniester during the Soviet era intervened on the side of the separatists.

The ammunition depot in Cobasna is one of the reasons Russia has cited for the presence of about 1,400 Russian troops in the region.

Moscow has resisted numerous calls over the years to withdraw its troops.

Transdniester's independence is not recognized by any internationally recognized country, but Moscow has unofficially backed the separatists' self-declared government.

In the interview with RFE/RL, Dodon said the Russian government made a "first step" toward a troop withdrawal with the proposal to clear out the ammunition depot.

The Moldovan leader also said that one cannot really speak about a Russian army in the Transdniester region, but about "several hundred soldiers guarding some old shells" that need to be urgently disposed of.

Following a visit by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Chisinau in August, Dodon wrote in a Facebook post that Russia "proposes starting the process of destroying ammunition in the warehouse near the village of Cobasna…and is ready to provide the necessary equipment for this purpose.”

During a visit to Moscow in September, Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Popescu proposed discussing the matter soon both in a bilateral format and with the involvement of international partners, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Russia had previously committed itself to getting rid of the arms depot by 2001.