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Von der Leyen praises Moldova's 'enormous progress' toward EU membership despite Russian ire

Moldova's President Maia Sandu, right, welcomes European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a media conference in Chisinau, Moldova, 31 May 2023.
Moldova's President Maia Sandu, right, welcomes European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a media conference in Chisinau, Moldova, 31 May 2023. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AFP/AP
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The Kremlin is deeply hostile to the prospect of another neighbouring country joining the European Union, claiming Moldova's accession represents a security threat.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has praised the "enormous progress" made by Moldova in the reforms required before it can join the European Union.

"It is impressive to see that, despite all the pressure, Moldova is making rapid and qualitative progress", she said at a joint press conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in the Moldovan capital on Wednesday.

Von der Leyen is in Moldova for a major summit of European leaders designed to present a united front against Russian aggression in Ukraine, plus its intimidation of former Soviet countries on its borders - many of whom are EU members.

“The presence of 50 European leaders, 50 heads of state and government right now in Moldova, in Chisinau, gives a very strong message," said Von der Leyen. 

"Moldova is at the heart of Europe. Moldova is Europe.” 

She invoked the "moving" images of the "tide of European flags in the streets of Chisinau" during a rally in favour of joining the EU ten days ago.

Moldova obtained official candidate status for the EU in June 2022 along with Ukraine. Both countries now want to formally open accession negotiations. 

The Commission is due to submit its written recommendations on this point in October before the bloc takes a decision, expected in December.

"The presence of all these leaders in our country sends a clear message: Moldova is not alone", Sandu stressed.

Under pressure

Organising the European Political Community summit is a considerable logistical challenge for Moldova, an economically fragile state with a population of less than 3 million.

Sandu has warned Moscow is attempting to overthrow her government via political sabotage. Much of the tension between the two countries is focused on Transnistria, a long-disputed region along the Russian border.

Several incidents have also occurred in recent months involving missiles that have entered Moldova's skies, with apparent debris from the war in Ukraine found on its territory.

On Monday, Viktor Bondarev, the head of the defence committee in the Russian parliament's upper house, called for Russia’s military presence in Transnistria to be strengthened.

Russia is consistently and loudly critical of Moldova’s turn toward the West, claiming it represents a threat to its own security and provides further proof of the US and its EU allies' hegemonic intentions.

After the EU Partnership Mission to Moldova was deployed last week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Gazulin accused the EU of encouraging the Moldovan government on its "pro-Western" path, actions he said would "set up the country for confrontation" with Russia.

“The increase in cooperation between Chisinau and NATO and the EU in the military-political sphere, of course, cannot but cause us concern,” Gazulin said in an interview with state news agency RIA-Novosti.

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