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Moldovan President-Elect Sandu Says Territorial Integrity Important In Talks On Breakaway Region

Maia Sandu

Moldovan President-elect Maia Sandu, a pro-European economist who rode an anti-corruption platform to defeat Russia-friendly incumbent Igor Dodon, says her country's sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected in solving the ongoing issue of the breakaway Transdniester region that is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

In separate interviews with RFE/RL's Russian and Moldovan services on December 2, Sandu said a solution to the issue must be sought through the so-called 5+2 format, which includes the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union, along with Moldova and Transdniester.

Sandu's victory in a November 15 runoff vote was seen by many as a sign that Moldova will move closer to the European Union.

The former World Bank economist drove the point home in the interviews, noting that such an orientation is also good for the breakaway region, which has "strong ties with Europe" with more than 60 percent of its exports directed toward the European Union.

"I am open and I will work equally hard for having an active foreign policy both in the interests of our citizens in the West and to have an active policy in the interests of our citizens in the East as well,” she said, adding that the Transdniester issue can be solved by peaceful means only as "we want our relations with the Russian Federation to be good."

Transdniester declared independence from then-Soviet Moldova in 1990. Moldovan forces and Moscow-backed Transdniester fought a short war in 1992 over fears that newly independent Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania. The conflict ended with a cease-fire agreement after Russian troops in the region intervened on the side of the separatists.

Some 1,400 Russian troops remain in Transdniester guarding Soviet-era arms depots.

Transdniester's independence is recognized by no country, but Moscow has been unofficially backing the separatist regime.

On November 30, Sandu called for Russian troops in Transdniester to be removed in favor of civilian monitors under the auspices of the OSCE, adding that she wanted dialogue with Moscow. The Kremlin quickly rebuffed the idea saying it could lead to a "serious destabilization" of the situation.

A former prime minister, Sandu eschewed geopolitics during the election campaign, focusing on her pledges to combat corruption, strengthen Moldova's institutions of governance, and build on the country's Association Agreement with the European Union.

She campaigned on a "pragmatic approach" to Moldova's national interests and in her December 2 interviews she stressed that the fight against deep-rooted corruption in one of Europe's poorest countries aligns with her pledge to work for everyone in Moldova, including residents of Transdniester.

"Once there is political will, those corruption schemes can be curbed. Less corruption will mean that both the people on the right bank of the Dniester [River] and those on the left bank [in Transdniester] will be robbed less, because contraband means unpaid taxes, it means people on both banks of the Dniester are being robbed. People live in poverty both here and there, unfortunately, people are desperate both here and there -- there are similar problems," Sandu said.

Sandu said people voted for her with the hopes she will focus on the fight against corruption, especially "to clear the judicial system of corrupt judges."

"For this we need to change the parliament. We are now working to create conditions and hold early parliamentary elections as soon as possible, so that the people have a chance to choose those who share the goals that the people of our country have," Sandu said.

Sandu's inauguration is scheduled for December 24.