Moldova calls on Russia to withdraw troops from breakaway region

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldovan lawmakers on Friday called on Russia to pull troops out of the pro-Moscow breakaway region of Transdniestria, speaking out in a stormy parliament session that underlined the split in the nation’s loyalties between the West and Russia.

Sixty-one MPs in the 101-member assembly approved a symbolic statement that called for Russia to withdraw troops, weapons and other military equipment from Transdniestria, which seceded from the ex-Soviet republic in 1990.

The main opposition Socialists left the chamber in protest, calling it a provocation that would worsen relations with Russia and damage efforts to achieve a lasting settlement of Transdniestria’s status.

Parliament “calls upon the Russian Federation to recommence and finalize the process of withdrawing its troops..., its munitions, weapons and military equipment from the territory of the Republic of Moldova,” the statement said.

Moldovan politics is divided between a pro-Western government that has forged closer trade and diplomatic links with the European Union and Washington, and a pro-Russian president who wants to move Moldova back within Russia’s orbit.

The Russian-speakers of Transdniestria seceded from Moldova one year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union amid fears that Moldova would shortly merge with neighboring Romania, whose language and culture it broadly shares.

The separatist region fought a brief war with Moldova in 1992 and declared itself an independent state, but it remains unrecognized by any country, including Russia.

Attempts to resolve the dispute have made little progress. A 2006 referendum in Transdniestria, which borders Ukraine but not Russia, produced a 97.2 percent vote in favor of joining Russia.

Moldova has been governed by pro-Western leaders since 2009 and inked an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014. Russia retaliated by halting the import of Moldovan farm produce.

Relations between Moldova and Russia suffered further this year in a row in March over the treatment of Moldovan officials traveling to or through Russia, and the expulsion of five Russian diplomats in May.

There was further tension in the run-up to Friday’s vote when Moldova barred Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin from flying to Transdniestria in a military plane.

Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Mark Heinrich