Berliner Tageblatt - Blinken vows support for Moldova as Russia fears loom

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Blinken vows support for Moldova as Russia fears loom
Blinken vows support for Moldova as Russia fears loom / Photo: © AFP

Blinken vows support for Moldova as Russia fears loom

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday promised steadfast US support to Moldova in areas from energy independence to democracy promotion on a solidarity visit to the pro-Western nation as alarm grows again over Russia.

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The top US diplomat saluted the work of the country's president, Maia Sandu, who has charted a firm pro-European course in the face of what US officials fear is a coordinated Russian campaign as she seeks a new term.

"We see you as a very valuable partner in the region and we have an enduring commitment to work together," Blinken told her as they met at the presidential office.

He promised to support a "resilient democracy" and alluded to US allegations of Russian disinformation against her.

The United States hopes to ensure "that fundamentally, the people of Moldova are the ones who decide their own future and their own course. That's what this is really all about", he said.

The trip comes as Moscow, which stations troops in Moldova's breakaway Transnistria region, has recently scored a series of battlefield victories in Ukraine, stirring new calls to let Kyiv use Western arms to strike directly on Russian soil.

Russia also appears to have gained ground diplomatically in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, which on Tuesday rammed through a law against "foreign influence" seen as inspired by the Kremlin.

Blinken was later set to visit a substation to push ahead US work on Moldova's energy sector. The country of 2.6 million people until recently imported nearly all its natural gas from Russia but has been seeking to diversify its supplies.

The United States has already committed some $300 million to Moldova in hopes of helping it link to Ukraine, Romania and other non-Russian sources of energy.

The United States is "working to help you continue to diversity your energy supply so that you are not dependent on any one source", Blinken said.

- Moldova back on agenda -

Sandu hailed the US support both to Moldova and to Ukraine, where President Joe Biden has directed billions of dollars in weapons since Russia invaded in 2022.

The assistance to Ukraine "also makes Moldova more safe and resilient", she said.

"We are very grateful to you and the American people for helping us during this difficult time," she said.

Blinken last visited the tiny country weeks after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, when he some made gloomy predictions that Moscow would also strike Moldova.

Speculation grew earlier this year that Russia would seek to annex Transnistria, but US officials say they see no imminent military threat from the 1,500 Russian troops in the separatist region.

Russia launched an assault on Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region two weeks ago, seeking to press its advantage before US weapons reach the front lines.

The US election in November could have major ramifications for Ukraine.

Biden's Republican challenger, Donald Trump, has voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and doubted Ukraine's chances for victory.

Blinken's trip comes a week after the European Union signed a security and defence pact with Moldova that is also aimed at helping the country defend against Russian threats, including in cyber security.

Andrei Curararu, a security expert and co-founder of WatchDog.md, a think tank based in Moldova, said Blinken's 2022 visit had come at a time of "extreme alert" and uncertainty.

He said the latest trip could lay the groundwork for a more formal bilateral security agreement with the United States, of the sort Moldova has reached with France.

"A visit of this level also speaks to the fact that the Republic of Moldova is back on the US agenda," he said.

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M.Furrer--BTB