What Does The Ukraine Crisis Mean For Moldova?

Russia's takeover of Crimea has other nations in the region worried. Linda Wertheimer talks to Igor Munteanu, Moldova's ambassador to the U.S.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Russian moves in Ukraine have rattled the nerves of nations in the neighborhood. One of the neighbors is Moldova, a small, former Soviet republic sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. NATO's supreme commander has warned that Russia might even send troops to Moldova.

To talk about what the Ukraine crisis means for Moldova, we've invited their ambassador to Washington, Igor Munteanu, to come to our studio. Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for doing this.

AMBASSADOR IGOR MUNTEANU: Good morning. Thank you for inviting me.

WERTHEIMER: As you have watched Russia move on the Crimea and threaten other parts of Ukraine, what are you thinking and feeling about what's happening?

MUNTEANU: First of all, let me start by saying that this is a very important test to the international order and to the international law. And we are very much concerned that this kind of incursions into the territory of a sovereign state may have far-reaching complications and consequences for the stability and security in Europe.

WERTHEIMER: I wanted to ask you about the NATO commander, General Philip Breedlove, warned that Russia might be preparing to send forces into a breakaway region of your country, that is, like parts of Ukraine, dominated by Russian speakers. Russia already has troops in this region, which is called Transnistria. Do you think it's plausible that they might send troops into Moldova, into Transnistria?

MUNTEANU: We are watching every step that they are doing in that region. We still consider Transnistria as a part of the republic of Moldova. So, we are watching carefully and we are prepared to take any kind of counter-steps in this regard. We are trying to get attention of our Russian counterparts to keep a dialogue. But we want to make sure that our path to Europe is very much clear and understood by Russia.

WERTHEIMER: This curious little state - that calls itself a state, Transnistria, which you don't recognize as a separate entity - is also a criminal enterprise with a lot of gun-running, drugs, human trafficking. Should something be done to sort of clean up Transnistria while you're at it?

MUNTEANU: It is a pity that the most important international and the European conventions cannot be applied in the territory of this region. And de facto, this statelet has a lot of autonomy, because it is protected by military force from the Russian Federation, which do not allow the monitors from the European Union to oversee the operation of some of the sites that may produce guns.

WERTHEIMER: Now, last year, Russia banned imports of wine from your country after Moldova took steps toward the European Union. Your country is poor. Trade is very important. Have the Europeans offered to make good on some of those losses?

MUNTEANU: The European Union has showed the maximum openness to the needs and demands coming from the Moldovan side. For instance, at the beginning of the year, they have lifted all the restrictions to the quota of wine that can be exported to Europe. This is just to show how important is European Union in terms of showing solidarity.

WERTHEIMER: One of the things that people we've talked to have said about what President Putin is doing is that it is in his interests and in Russia's interests to encourage instability in these countries that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. Is that what you think is happening?

MUNTEANU: Well, certainly, President Putin is following a strategy of his own. I think this strategy makes Russia unstable, unpredictable actor. At this point, we are more convinced that Europe and the United States will be able to exert an authoritative voice and make the continent of Europe more secure. We trust in the force of the European Union, and we believe that what does not kill you makes you stronger. And this is exactly the situation right now in Eastern Europe, in spite of the hard threats, which our neighboring Ukraine is living from.

WERTHEIMER: Ambassador Igor Munteanu represents Moldova. He is Moldova's ambassador to the United States. And thank you so much for coming in for this conversation.

MUNTEANU: Thank you very much for the invitation and for your attention to my country.

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