Moldova must boost defences, given presence of Russia troops -president

Moldova's President Maia Sandu attends a joint news conference with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continue, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 27, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

CHISINAU, Sept 28 (Reuters) - The small ex-Soviet state of Moldova must boost defences because Russia is not respecting its neutrality, pro-Western President Maia Sandu told national television on Wednesday.

Moldova, which borders Ukraine and Romania, applied for European Union membership this year and strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. There are Russian troops and peacekeepers based in its Transdniestria breakaway region and it relies heavily on Russian energy.

"Moldova is a neutral country, ... but now Russia does not respect our neutrality, keeping its military on the territory of Moldova. We therefore need to strengthen our defence capability," Sandu said.

The nation, one of Europe's poorest countries, allocated just over 1 billion leu ($196.97 million)- or 0.45% of its gross domestic product - for defence spending this year.

Sandu's comments went further than those made by a senior aide on Monday, who said the nation had to ramp up its defensive military power but made no mention of Russian troops.

Russia has stationed peacekeeping troops in Transdniestria since the early 1990s, when an armed conflict saw pro-Russian separatists wrest most of the region from Moldovan control.

Earlier this month Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moldova that threatening the security of Russian troops in Transdniestria risked triggering a military confrontation.

Sandu reiterated on Wednesday that Moldova wanted a political settlement to the stand-off.

($1 = 5.0769 lei)

Reporting by Alexander Tanas; writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler

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