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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Envoy Says Russia Is Prepared to Withdraw From Moldova

CHISINAU, Moldova -- Russia will fulfill its pledge to remove troops and arms from Moldova when a solution is found to the 13-year conflict pitting the ex-Soviet state against its breakaway Transdnestr region, Moscow's ambassador said Wednesday.

Trying to debunk fears in the West that Russia would keep its troops and Soviet-era arms in Moldova to consolidate its influence in the region, Yury Zubakov said Moscow had always said it would withdraw when the time was right.

"Russia has never said it would not remove them," Zubakov told a news conference. "This is not an army. This is in connection with maintaining stability and peace. As soon as the conditions are right for a withdrawal, then of course it will be done."

Russian troops have helped maintain an uneasy truce since they intervened in 1992 to end a civil war with Transdnestr, a Russian-speaking sliver of land that broke away from Moldova in 1990 before the collapse of Soviet rule.

Moscow undertook to leave the region, and remove weapons inherited after the fall of the Soviet Union, by 2002, a deadline later extended for a year by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which funds the withdrawal.

The new deadline for the end of 2003 passed and attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict failed.

Late last year, Russia offered a plan which would have turned Moldova into a demilitarized federal state with Russian troops remaining in place until 2020.

But the plan enraged the nationalist and centrist opposition in Moldova, an agricultural country of 4 million wedged between Ukraine and Romania.

Opponents said it would turn Moldova, where the official language is Moldovan -- all but identical to Romanian, into a Russian protectorate.