CHISINAU -- The leader of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester has told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service that his political future will be decided by voters, not by Russia.
Igor Smirnov, 70, who has led Transdniester for the past two decades, is seeking reelection in a presidential poll scheduled in the self-proclaimed republic on December 11.
Last month the chief of Russia's presidential administration, Sergei Naryshkin, said Moscow would prefer to see a new leader in Transdniester such as Smirnov's main challenger, Anatoli Kaminski, who is currently the speaker of Transdniester's parliament.
Kaminski is also favored by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. As leader of the ruling United Russia party, Putin sent Kaminski a letter of support ahead of the election.
But in his remarks to RFE/RL on November 21, Smirnov shrugged off Moscow's calls and said they must not be overestimated and taken out of context.
"It was also the president of Russia who said the people have a right to elect [their leaders], and this is the principle we respect. It is a different question if one gets elected or not," he said.
The Transdniestrian leader made the remarks after a rare meeting on November 21 with Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat in the city of Bender (Tighina), which lies on the demarcation line between Moldova proper and its breakaway region.
After their discussions, Filat and Smirnov announced that official talks aimed at resolving the Transdniester conflict will be resumed in Vilnius on November 30-December 1 after a five-year break.
International mediators from the "5+2" group -- Russia, Ukraine, the European Union, the United States, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- have been involved in efforts to resolve Moldova's two-decade-old territorial dispute with Transdniester, which seceded in 1990.