Moldova country profile - Overview
- 4 August 2015
- From the section Europe
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova emerged as an independent republic following the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
The bulk of it, between the rivers Dniester and Prut, is made up of an area formerly known as Bessarabia. This territory was annexed by the USSR in 1940 following the carve-up of Romania in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR.
Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, the languages are virtually identical and the two countries share a common cultural heritage.
The industrialised territory to the east of the Dniester, generally known as Trans-Dniester or the Dniester region, was formally an autonomous area within Ukraine before 1940 when the Soviet Union combined it with Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.
This area is mainly inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian speakers. As people there became increasingly alarmed at the prospect of closer ties with Romania in the tumultuous twilight years of the Soviet Union, Trans-Dniester unilaterally declared independence from Moldova in 1990.
There was fierce fighting there as it tried to assert this independence following the collapse of the USSR and the declaration of Moldovan sovereignty. Hundreds died. The violence ended with the introduction of Russian peacekeepers.
Trans-Dniester's independence has never been recognised and the region has existed in a state of lawless and corrupt limbo ever since.
The region reasserted its demand for independence and also expressed support for a plan ultimately to join Russia in a September 2006 referendum which was unrecognised by Chisinau and the international community.
It still houses a stockpile of old Soviet military equipment and a contingent of troops of the Russian 14th army. Withdrawal began under international agreements in 2001 but was halted when the Trans-Dniester authorities blocked the dispatch of weapons.
Subsequent agreements to resume did not reach fruition as relations between Moscow and Chisinau cooled.
The Moldovan parliament granted autonomous status to the Turkic-language speaking Gagauz region in the southwest of the republic in late 1994. It has powers over its own political, economic and cultural affairs.
Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe and has a large foreign debt and high unemployment. It is heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies, and Russia has not hesitated to take advantage of this fact as a way of exerting economic pressure on Moldova.
In November 2012 Moscow issued an ultimatum telling Chisinau to withdraw from energy agreements with the EU or face losing discounts on Russian gas supplies from Russia.
The fact the Moldovan economy has traditionally been heavily dependent on the export of wine to Russia has also allowed Moscow to apply economic pressure by occasionally banning the import of Moldovan wine.
In 2013-14, wine was among a broad range of Moldovan agricultural exports banned by Russia before and after the country's signing of an EU association agreement, along with Ukraine and Georgia. But the pro-EU government defied calls from Russia for it to delay the deal's implementation.