* Moldova and Georgia to sign agreements with EU
* Russia fears losing influence in both countries
* Barroso visits region, hopes to reassure Moscow
By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU, June 12 The head of the European
Commission urged Russia on Thursday not to stand in the way of
tiny Moldova forging closer ties with Europe, despite the
conflict caused by Ukraine's lurch towards the West.
Moldova and another former Soviet republic, Georgia, plan to
sign an "association agreement" on trade and political relations
with the European Union on June 27 - a move which Moscow fears
will take both countries further out of its sphere of influence.
Visiting the capital Chisinau to show solidarity with
Moldova, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU executive,
delivered a speech that made no mention of Ukraine but sought to
assure Russia that it had no reason to feel threatened.
"The association agreement is a positive agreement meant to
add more momentum to Moldova's established international
relations, not to compete with or intrude on Moldova's relations
with any of its other partners, in particular Russia," he told
an investment conference.
A more stable, secure and prosperous Moldova would benefit
Russian producers and investors, he added.
"So I call upon Russia to take advantage of the new
opportunities and not to take punitive measures further to the
upcoming signature and implementation of the agreement with
Moldova. There is no economic reason nor legal justification for
such behaviour," Barroso said.
Russia has flexed its muscles less over Moldova and Georgia
than it did last year over Ukraine's plans to sign up for an
association agreement with the EU.
Under Russian pressure, Ukraine's president at the time
spurned the pact, but this sparked protests which toppled him
and fuelled the crisis in which Russia annexed Crimea and
pro-Russian separatists rose up in east Ukraine.
Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin signalled Russia's
displeasure to Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca during talks
on Tuesday, warning of "complications" in economic ties and a
"serious test for them."
FEARS OF RUSSIAN RETALIATION
Moldova, with a population of just over 3.5 million, and
Georgia, which has 4.5 million people, see the signing of an
association agreement as a crucial step towards mainstream
Europe and eventual membership of the powerful EU trading bloc.
Moldova, which lies between Romania and Ukraine and has no
border with Russia, fears Moscow might impose visa requirements
on Moldovan citizens working in Russia or extend a ban on
imports of Moldovan wines to include fruit and vegetables. It is
also heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
It is also concerned that Russia could foment unrest in
Transdniestria, a Russian-speaking strip of land running down
Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine where opposition to the
pro-Western policies of the Chisinau government runs strong.
Georgia, which borders southern Russia but has no frontier
with the EU, is wary of Moscow's political intentions six years
after their five-day war in 2008 over two breakaway regions.
Georgian politicians fear Russia might now try to absorb
those regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, following the
annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Russia says it recognised the two countries' right to sign
the association agreements, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
is scheduled to visit Chisinau on either June 17 or 18, giving
him a last chance to spell out Moscow's view.
Barroso, who was due to arrive in Georgia later on Thursday,
said that forging closer ties with Europe, including joining a
free trade zone, would help bring prosperity and stability.
Sensitive sectors of Moldova's economy would initially be
protected, he said, but import and export duties would
eventually all be removed.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas, Writing by Timothy Heritage)