* Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova sign pacts with EU
* Moldova benefits from lack of border with EU
* Size mattered for tiny Moldova
* Romania seeks speedy Moldovan moves towards EU
By Timothy Heritage and Alexander Tanas
MOSCOW/CHISINAU, Moldova, June 27 Moldova hailed
political and trade pacts signed with the European Union on
Friday as a David-and-Goliath triumph after decades of
domination by its former Soviet masters in Moscow.
The pro-Western leaders of the impoverished country of 3.5
million may still have a struggle on their hands after Russian
warnings not to sign accords that put it on a course taking it
further out of Moscow's sphere of influence.
They also face resistance from some Moldovans, notably in
the autonomous region of Gagauzia which has religious and
historical ties with Russia and in the Transdniestria region
where Moscow has a contingent of peacekeepers.
But for now they are celebrating Moldova's crowning
achievement in more than two decades of independence, a victory
made possible by the fact Moldova has no border with Russia.
Moscow is more worried by Ukraine and Georgia's simultaneous
march towards Europe, and economically and historically Chisinau
is less entangled with Moscow than Kiev.
"This event is the essence of my work as president of
Moldova and the highest priority of the state today," President
Nicolae Timofti said in an address to the nation on the eve of
the signing ceremony in Brussels.
Calling the EU the "most important union of states since
World War Two", he praised the fact that "the well-being of the
individual holds first place in the European Union."
His comments were a thinly veiled reference to the Soviet
era and, in another nod in Moscow's direction, he said Moldova
had succeeded "despite obstacles that were raised in the country
and beyond its borders".
MOSCOW FLEXES ITS MUSCLES
Before Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia signed their political
and trade pacts with the 28-nation EU, Moscow flexed its muscles
by warning the three former Soviet republics of "consequences".
Ukraine, which is seen by many Russians as the cradle of
Russian civilisation, has faced the most pressure from Moscow.
Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula after Kiev turned its back
on Moscow and is accused by Kiev of instigating a rebellion in
the Russian-speaking east, a charge it denies.
Georgia is especially wary because it waged a five-day war
with Russia over two breakaway regions in 2008.
Moldova holds less obvious interest to Russia. A vast
country - Ukraine - lies between Russia and Moldova, and the
small Moldovan economy would be a drain, at least initially, for
any Russia-led trading alliance it joined.
One of the poorest countries in Europe, it has no major
heavy industry or natural resources, though it is important to
Moscow as a pawn in a geopolitical struggle with the West.
Even so, attending a Russia-Moldova joint economic meeting
late last year, Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister
and Kremlin envoy to Transdniestria, warned Moldova against any
rush into the EU.
"Travelling at such a speed, a locomotive can lose its rear
carriages," he said.
Moldova's leaders have simply defied the pressure. They were
elected on a pro-Western platform which made backing down
extremely difficult, and they see no real alternative if they
are to revive the national economy.
The potential gains, they believe, far outweigh the risks.
THREAT OF RETALIATION
Possible retaliation by Moscow could include imposing visa
requirements on Moldovan citizens working in Russia, strangling
a valued source of income into its struggling economy.
Russia might also extend a ban on imports of Moldovan wines
- already in place since September last year - to include fruit
and vegetables, another important source of export income.
Moldova is also heavily dependent on Russia for gas imports
and Rogozin warned it last September: "Energy supplies are
important in the run-up to winter. I hope you don't freeze."
Timofti said in his address that he hoped other countries in
the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose group of former
Soviet republics, as "harmful" to their interests. His foreign
minister made a similar statement on Friday.
But Moscow also has other ways to hit back. Rogozin's
warnings last year included a suggestion that the people of
Transdniestria were alarmed by the country's pro-Western drive.
Transdniestria declared itself separate from Moldova in
1990, one year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, amid
fears that Moldova would shortly merge with neighbouring
Romania, whose language and culture it broadly shares.
Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean told Reuters in an
interview he would like to see Moldovan integration with the EU
proceed as quickly as possible.
"Of course there's still need for hard work especially in
the domain of the judiciary but there's political will."
Corlatean said Romania has focused investment efforts on
linking gas and electricity networks with Moldova, adding the
launch of a new gas link would take place in the border cities
of Iasi and Ungheni on Aug. 27 - Moldovan Independence Day.
"It's a symbolic day ... for the first time in history
Moldova will import gas from the western world not only from
eastern side," said Corlatean.
NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force
General Philip Breedlove, said in March the alliance was
concerned about the threat to Russian-speaking Transdniestria.
"There is absolutely sufficient (Russian) force postured on
the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the
decision was made to do that and that is very worrisome," he
Those troops have since been withdrawn from the border, but
the potential threat to Moldova remains.
(Writing by Timothy Heritage; additional reporting by Radu
Marinas in Bucharest; editing by Ralph Boulton)