CHISINAU -- The Kremlin has rebuffed calls by Moldova's incoming President Maia Sandu for Russian troops to withdraw from the separatist region of Transdniester, saying such a move could lead to "serious destabilization."
Sandu, who favors closer ties with the European Union, vowed to balance ties with the West and Russia after decisively defeating pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon in the second round of Moldova's presidential election two weeks ago.
But the former World Bank economist on November 30 called for Russian troops in Transdniester to be removed in favor of civilian monitors under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), adding that she wanted dialogue with Moscow.
"We are an independent country that does not want foreign troops to stay on its territory," she told a press conference.
In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia expected the authorities in Chisinau to remain "constructive."
Russia is playing a "very important role" in Transdniester, and "a change in some status quo" there could lead to "serious destabilization," Peskov told reporters.
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 not recognized by any country, but Moscow has been unofficially backing the separatist regime.
Putin congratulated Sandu after the November 15 runoff vote, which was viewed as a referendum on whether the former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania should move closer to the EU or be drawn more tightly into Moscow's orbit.
Sandu is to be inaugurated as president on December 24.