TIRASPOL, Moldova (Reuters) - Yevgeny Shevchuk, the president of Moldova’s breakaway Transdniestria region, pledged to seek international recognition for the territory and build close ties with Russia as he was sworn in on Friday after beating a Moscow-backed candidate.
Former parliament speaker Shevchuk, 43, won the December 25 run-off against incumbent speaker Anatoly Kaminsky, backed by the Kremlin, the major donor to the unrecognized republic located along Moldova’s border with Ukraine.
“In foreign policy, we will focus our efforts on winning recognition for Transdniestria and on friendship with our strategic partners in Russia,” Shevchuk said at the inauguration ceremony.
Kaminsky’s defeat was the second time in two months that a Moscow-backed candidate has lost a contest for the leadership of one of the Russian-sponsored separatist regions that claims independence from other former Soviet states.
A Kremlin-endorsed candidate lost a presidential election in Georgia’s tiny breakaway South Ossetia region in November, leading to court battles, public protests and legal chaos there.
Sergei Gubarev, Russia’s presidential envoy on Transdniestria issues, attended the ceremony and read out a message to Shevchuk from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“You can rely on our friendly assistance in this complex task of ensuring stability and uniting society,” he said.
Shevchuk’s comments are certain to upset Moldovans who want to reintegrate the territory, most of whose 500,000 inhabitants speak Russian and were afraid of losing influence in Moldova after it gained independence from Russia.
Reconciliation talks sponsored by Russia and the West have stalled under Transdniestria’s previous leader Igor Smirnov who had run the region since 1992 and lost this month’s election.
Moscow, which has about 1,500 troops in Transdniestria, says it should become part of Moldova with a special status. However, it has not put any visible pressure on the Transdniestrian leadership to accept such terms.
Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Louise Ireland