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Ukrainian Leader And New Moldovan President Develop Strategic Ties With One Eye On Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (right) meets with his Moldovan counterpart Maia Sandu in Kyiv on January 12.

The leaders of Moldova and Ukraine have called for rebooting ties as the two neighbors pursue a pro-EU agenda and fend off territorial disputes with Russia-backed forces.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu was in Kyiv on January 12 to meet her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy for her first official visit abroad.

Sandu was inaugurated last month following her victory in an election against the Russia-backed incumbent Igor Dodon on a pro-EU and anti-corruption platform.

Under Dodon, Moldova's relations with its neighbors Ukraine and Romania had been largely frozen.

Speaking alongside Zelenskiy, the Moldovan leader spoke of a "resumption of friendship" with Ukraine.

"I'd like to reaffirm that Ukraine is a strategic partner for the Republic of Moldova, and the development of sustainable and pragmatic cooperation with Ukraine is a priority for Moldova. I am delighted to say that we agreed today to bring our relations to a different level, to a strategic partnership level," Sandu said.

She said that the two countries would set up a presidential-level council to advance and coordinate bilateral cooperation.

Since her election, the former World Bank economist has called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Moscow-backed separatist region of Transdniester, prompting the Kremlin to issue warnings.

Deeply Divided

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, is deeply divided between those who support closer ties with Russia and those who advocate links with the EU and particularly Romania, with which it shares a common culture and language.

Ukraine is also pursuing a pro-EU direction and has been locked in conflict with Russia over its forcible seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskiy said following the talks that the two sides discussed EU membership as a common strategic goal.

"European Union membership is a strategic goal indeed. Our approaches fully coincide here," he said.

On the separatist Transdniester region, Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s position was unchanged.

"We firmly support the Republic of Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders," he said.

Zelenskiy also called on the European Union to help Ukraine and Moldova obtain Western-produced coronavirus vaccines.

The presidents also announced that they would work on developing better transport links connecting the two countries and facilitate border-crossing procedures.

Last week, a group of EU member states jointly urged the bloc's executive, the EU Commission, to do more to help combat the coronavirus in the Balkans and Ukraine.

In December, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visited Sandu in Chisinau for the first time in six years as the two neighbors pledged to open a new chapter in their relationship.

During the visit, Iohannis announced an economic aid package and said Romania would provide Moldova with 200,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from its quota allotted by the EU.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Moldovan Service and Interfax
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