Moldova's pro-Russia President Igor Dodon has warned NATO against moving too quickly to seek closer ties with Moldova and opening a planned liaison office in Chisinau.
Speaking after talks with NATO deputy head Rose Gottermoeller on February 7, Dodon said the liaison office would be of no benefit to the majority of Moldovans and NATO should not "rush" to open it.
"For me, the opening of such an office is not helpful for the security of the people; it is a provocation set up by the previous government," he told reporters at NATO headquarters during his first visit to Brussels.
The Moldovan presidency is largely a symbolic position. Chisinau's government remains under the control of a coalition of pro-European integration parties.
Since being elected in December, however, Dodon has repeatedly said he wants to restore political and economic relations with Russia, reversing the closer NATO and European Union links championed by his predecessors. His first trip out of the country was to Moscow.
Gottermoeller described her talks with Dodon as "intensive positive discussions," but insisted that NATO will proceed with plans to open its liaison office in Chisinau later this year.
The new office will be similar to those set up in other countries, such as Russia or Ukraine, and will be staffed only by civilians, not by military personnel, she said.
"This is not a military base, but a small diplomatic mission staffed only by civilians," Gottemoeller said. "There will be no NATO troops in Moldova."
"It will increase transparency about what NATO does with Moldova," she said.
Disappointing Economic Performance
The U.S.-led military alliance fully understands Moldova's desire for neutrality and respects all nations' right to decide their own security arrangements, she said.
"Moldova does not want to join NATO," she said, but neutrality does not mean isolation. Gottermoeller added that the two parties had worked together in the past and she hoped they will do so in the future.
After a meeting later on February 7 with EU President Donald Tusk, Dodon said Moldova will cooperate with both the East and West, but its economic performance since signing an association agreement with the EU has been disappointing and it is important for Chisinau to resume stronger economic relations with Russia.
"We have failed to expand exports to the European Union but have lost the market in Russia, which used to be of major importance for our country for years," he said.
Since signing the free trade agreement with the EU in 2014, Dodon said trade and investment have been on a downtrend while public debt has exploded as a result of low economic growth.
Russia imposed customs duties on Moldovan imports after Chisinau signed the EU agreement -- a move that likely contributed to the disappointing economic performance Dodon cited.