Blinken vows support for Moldova against Russia 'bullying'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised robust support to Moldova, ranging from energy independence to democracy, following talks with President Maia Sandu in Chisinau. (Elena COVALENCO)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised robust support to Moldova, ranging from energy independence to democracy, following talks with President Maia Sandu in Chisinau. (Elena COVALENCO)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday promised steadfast US support to Moldova in areas from energy independence to democracy promotion on a solidarity visit to the pro-Western nation as alarm grows over Russian pressure.

The top US diplomat saluted the work of the country's president, Maia Sandu, who has charted a firm pro-European course in the face of what US officials fear is a coordinated Russian campaign as she seeks a new term.

"We see you as a very valuable partner in the region and we have an enduring commitment to work together," Blinken told Sandu as they met at the presidential office.

"What's so powerful is the deep and deep-rooted commitment to democracy," he said.

"This in the face of bullying from Russia -- interference, efforts to spread misinformation, disinformation, weaponising corruption, manufacturing anti-government protests. Despite that, we've seen extraordinary resilience," Blinken said.

The United States hopes to ensure "that fundamentally, the people of Moldova are the ones who decide their own future and their own course. That's what this is really all about", he said.

Blinken said President Joe Biden's administration was asking Congress for another $50 million in support for Moldova, including assistance in cyber security during the upcoming election.

The United States has already committed some $300 million to Moldova's energy sector as the country has been making moves to reduce its reliance on Russian imports in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken announced that $85 million of the already committed funds would go into immediate projects, including battery storage and helping to link Moldova to Ukraine, Romania and other non-Russian sources of energy.

The United States is "working to help you continue to diversify your energy supply so that you are not dependent on any one source", Blinken said.

- More turbulence expected -

Sandu said she expected to see more "attempts at Russian interference" as she seeks reelection and pursues eventual membership in the European Union.

"We do expect the situation to get more difficult in the next few months," she said.

The trip comes as Moscow, which stations troops in Moldova's breakaway Transnistria region, has recently scored a series of battlefield victories in Ukraine, stirring new calls to let Kyiv use Western arms to strike directly on Russian soil.

Biden is wary of direct military confrontation with Russia but Blinken suggested he was receptive to calls from France and elsewhere to loosen restrictions.

"At every step along the way we've adapted and adjusted as necessary. And so that's exactly what we'll do going forward," Blinken said.

Sandu hailed US support both to Moldova and to Ukraine, where Biden has directed billions of dollars in weapons since Russia invaded in 2022.

The assistance to Ukraine "also makes Moldova more safe and resilient", she said.

"Our neighbours and friends in Ukraine pay a terrible price every day for the simple aspiration to be free," she said.

Blinken last visited Moldova weeks after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, when he made some gloomy predictions that Moscow would also strike the tiny country of 2.6 million people.

Speculation grew earlier this year that Russia would seek to annex Transnistria, but US officials say they see no imminent military threat from the 1,500 Russian troops in the separatist region.

Russia launched an assault on Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region two weeks ago, seeking to press its advantage before US weapons reach the frontlines.

Blinken voiced confidence in Ukrainian forces once the weapons come, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin had already failed in his earlier goal of taking Ukraine's second-largest city of Kharkiv.

The US election in November could have major ramifications for Ukraine.

Biden's Republican challenger, Donald Trump, has voiced admiration for Putin and doubted Ukraine's chances for victory.

Russia also appears to have gained ground diplomatically in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, which on Tuesday rammed through a law against "foreign influence" seen as inspired by the Kremlin.

sct/kym/gv