Moldova’s foreign minister resigns as country moves towards EU

FILE PHOTO: Moldova's Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu delivers a speech during a ceremony opening the European Union's Partnership Mission in Chisinau, Moldova, May 31, 2023. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza/File Photo © Thomson Reuters

CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s foreign minister announced his resignation on Wednesday, saying he had fulfilled his objective of steering the country towards the European Union, a process that pro-Russian separatists in the country have threatened to fight.

The small former Soviet republic led by pro-European president Sandu was given the green light by the EU in December to open negotiations on joining the 27-nation bloc along with neighbouring Ukraine.

Both countries face a long process involving changes to meet EU standards, which Popescu, who became foreign minister in 2021, noted had been going on for several years.

“I have completed all obligations to integrate Moldova into the EU which were set by President Maia Sandu. I need a pause,” minister Nicu Popescu told a media briefing.

Analysts praised Popescu’s role in supporting Sandu’s efforts to move the country closer to the EU and said he was resigning to spend more time with his family living in France.

His resignation comes at a sensitive time for Moldova, where a duty on imports and exports introduced in the New Year were met this week by a call from pro-Russian separatists in its Transdniestria region for military readiness.

Sandu has denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and accused Moscow of plotting a coup to oust her. The Kremlin says she is fomenting Russophobia.

Before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the bulk of Moldovan energy needs came from a single Soviet-era pipeline controlled by the Russian state-owned gas monopoly, Gazprom.

The Moldovan government took steps to reduce its reliance on Russian gas and strengthen its energy security.

Sandu has also said that Chisinau could press ahead with its bid to join the EU without Transdniestria, which split from Moldova before the collapse of Soviet rule and fought a brief war against the newly independent state lying between Ukraine and Romania.

Transdniestria, which lies on Moldova’s eastern fringe, has since seen little turmoil or violence — 2,000 Russian “peacekeepers” remain on the line separating the two.

Source: Reuters/Reporting by Alexander Tanas, writing by Olena Harmash; editing by Philippa Fletcher