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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova, Russia Differ on Troop Withdrawal

CHISINAU, Molodova — Russia told Moldova's new western-leaning leadership on Thursday that it would not pull its troops out of the breakaway Transdnestr region until a peace deal with separatists was in place there.

Moldova has said it would use a summit of presidents of the Commonwealth of Independent States, opening in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on Friday, to press Russia to withdraw its soldiers from Transdnestr.

Moscow has a peacekeeping force of about 1,200 soldiers stationed since 1992 in the rebel territory, a mainly Russian-speaking sliver of land bordering Ukraine.

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after a meeting of CIS foreign ministers, told reporters that this should take place only in the context of a 2003 Russian proposal.

The so-called Kozak memorandum foresaw an "assymetrical federation" between Moldova and Transdnestr, giving the latter strong autonomy rights and the right to secede if Moldova merged with Romania, its neighbor with which it shares a common historic and linguistic heritage.

But Moldova's then-President Vladimir Voronin, a staunch Communist, refused to sign the memorandum. Voronin stood down last month after losing a parliamentary election in July to pro-European parties, potentially moving the small nation away from Russia.

"Our military contingent is in Transdnestr ... because we guard huge stocks of weaponry, the withdrawal of which was suspended because the former leadership of Moldova wrecked the Kozak memorandum," Lavrov said.

In the past few years, Russian officials preferred not to revive the memories of the failed "Kozak memorandum," which is seen as one of Moscow's most humiliating defeats.

Then-President Vladimir Putin, and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, have said they would accept any deal that Transdnestr and Chisinau could reach.

Moldova wants to install an international peacekeeping force in the rebel region of 600,000 people.

Russia, Moldova and Transdnestr agreed in March that an international force could replace Russian peacekeepers once a peace deal is reached, but there is no sign of a breakthrough on an accord.

Transdnestr broke away from Moldova in 1990, fearing that it would unite with neighboring Romania. That never happened, but the region continues to insist on independence.

Transdnestr wants integration with Russia, although they do not share a common border.

Moldovan Foreign Minister Yurie Leanca, however, told reporters on Thursday, "New realities require new approaches to be found for settling the Transdnestr problem. As far as the Kozak memorandum is concerned — that was an event of long ago."

A group of demonstrators from parties belonging to the Alliance for European Integration, the new coalition in power in Moldova, rallied outside the foreign ministers' meeting.

Many carried flags with slogans such as "EU-Yes, CIS-No!" A group from the ecological party "Green Alliance" chanted, "We do not want war! Russia, take away your arms!"