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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Border Crisis Grows

Itar-TassProtesters holding up signs at the Ukraine-Transdnestr border on Tuesday.
KIEV -- The top diplomat for Moldova's breakaway region of Transdnestr warned Tuesday of a growing political crisis, as Ukraine tightened its border rules and turned away some cargo from the separatist region.

Ukraine, under pressure from the European Union and Moldova, last week instituted new regulations aimed at curbing smuggling from Transdnestr, which has largely run its own affairs since breaking away from Moldova in a war in the 1990s.

The rules, which Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said "entirely comply with European standards," require all cargo to be cleared by Moldovan customs officers. Some cargo from Transdnestr has been blocked at the Ukrainian border.

"Unfortunately, I should warn everyone that in the next days ... we'll see a growing political crisis," Valery Litskai, foreign minister of the unrecognized region, said in an interview with Ukraine's Channel 5 television during a visit to Kiev.

Both Transdnestr and Russia, which has a 1,800-strong military presence in the Russian-speaking region, have accused Ukraine and Moldova of trying to pressure it.

"Moldova wants to make Ukraine an instrument, in supposedly resolving a technical issue, of achieving political pliancy in talks," Transdnestr's president, Igor Smirnov, said after meeting with a Russian delegation dispatched to look into the dispute, in comments broadcast on Russian state television.

He said a phone conversation Tuesday with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko convinced him that Yushchenko was "misinformed" about the situation.

The Moldovan government and Transdnestr have held on-again, off-again talks on the region's status. Ukraine and Russia have helped to mediate the negotiations, and Moldova has called on the United States and the European Union to join.

Smirnov said there was no point in holding mediation talks, given the current impasse.

"Ukraine is moving from being a guarantor state and mediator to a party to the conflict, joining in the blockade by ... Moldova," RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying.

Russian envoy Valery Nesterushkin expressed concern that ongoing talks might be suspended.

"We are terribly sorry to lose this negotiating mechanism, especially given our meager set of instruments," Nesterushkin was quoted as saying by Interfax.

State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said the ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in Transdnestr would suffer due to the border rules.

"I just don't understand the actions of Ukraine in this situation," Gryzlov said on Russian state television.

He said there were 170,000 ethnic Russians in Transdnestr, including 70,000 Russian citizens.

The leader of the Russian delegation that met with Smirnov, Valery Kenyaikin, said Russia "will never leave its compatriots in trouble," and also vowed to help Ukrainians and others affected.

Russian officials, stung by Yushchenko's victory over a Moscow-backed candidate in December 2004 and hoping for gains by pro-Russian politicians in parliamentary elections this month, often depict the Ukrainian president's actions as damaging the interest of Ukrainians.