EU must protect Moldova from Russia: Juncker

23rd March 2014, Comments 0 comments

Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourg prime minister and a candidate to become the next European Commission chief, warned the EU Sunday not to let Moldova become Russia's "next victim" after Ukraine.

Juncker told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that the European Union should quickly reach out to Moldova with an association agreement like the one it got underway with Ukraine last week.

"After the events in Ukraine it is now a matter of great urgency that the Europeans sign an association agreement with Moldova very quickly, that is, in the coming weeks," he said.

A former Soviet state with a restive Russian-speaking minority in its Transdniestr region, Moldova has expressed fears that developments in neighbouring Ukraine could set an example for its own separatists in the wake of Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Moldova, along with Georgia, initialled an association agreement with the 28-nation EU in November. The countries are currently expected to sign the accords for closer ties by 2015.

Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti has urged the EU to hasten the process given the events in Ukraine, where anger at the pro-Kremlin regime's move away from an EU accord led to its ouster, and Russia's subsequent absorption of Crimea.

Juncker backed that call, saying: "We must beat (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to the punch, he needs to know that he cannot do in Moldova what he did in Crimea."

He said the EU needed to "stabilise Moldova and bind it to the West".

"Otherwise, Moldova could become the next victim of Russian aggression," he said.

Wedged between Romania to the west and Ukraine to the east, Moldova with 3.5 million people is the poorest European country with a per capita income of $2,037 (1,475 euros) in 2012, according to the World Bank.

Ukraine's interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the political provisions of a landmark association accord with EU leaders in defiance of Russia in Brussels on Friday.

European conservatives this month picked Juncker as their candidate to be the next European Commission president after elections in May.

© 2014 AFP

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