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Moldova urges EU to fast-track integration

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(BUCHAREST) - The president of the former Soviet republic of Moldova on Wednesday called on the European Union to speed up his country's integration, as Moscow tightened its grip on Crimea.

Pro-Western President Nicolae Timofti's appeal came a day after he cautioned Moscow against trying to annex Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestr as President Vladimir Putin signed a historic treaty to make Crimea part of Russia.

Officials in Russian-speaking Transdniestr earlier reportedly appealed to lawmakers in Moscow to pass legislation that could see the region absorbed into Russia.

"I hope that we will have the support of the European Union to sign the association agreement as soon as possible," Timofti said after talks with his Romanian counterpart Traian Basescu ahead of Thursday's EU summit in Brussels.

"My country is asking the European Union to offer clear membership prospects."

Moldova and formerly Soviet Georgia in November initialled a watershed agreement on closer trade and political ties with the EU despite Russian pressure. Officials in Chisinau say they hope to tie up the deal later this year.

A decision by then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to spurn a similar deal for Ukraine in favour of a multi-billion dollar bailout from Moscow sparked months of street protests that led to his downfall.

Transdniestr, a strip of land on the Ukranian border that is economically dependent on the Kremlin, seceded from Moldova in 1990 before the Romanian-speaking Soviet republic had even declared its independence.

In 1991, civil war broke out between independent Moldova and Transdniestr, ending the next year.

Residents in the region, which has never been recognised as an independent state by any United Nations member, voted overwhelmingly to join Russia in a 2006 referendum and Moscow still maintains thousands of troops there.

Ahead of a meeting on Transdniestr in Moscow on Thursday, Timofti said he hoped Russia would "take into account criticism by the EU and Romania's and Moldova's position."

Romania's president warned after meeting Timofti that a speedy integration of Moldova into the 28-member EU and EU guarantees were the "only solution" to a looming conflict over Transdniestr.

Europe has been "too hesitant" so far, said Basescu, whose country joined the European Union in 2007.

But he cautioned against accepting new members before they were ready, saying Moldova should be given more financial and technical assistance.

"Russia will not stop there (...) Crimea is just an episode after the Georgia episode," he said, referring to a brief 2008 war when Georgia lost two renegade regions after Russia's military intervention.

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