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Moldova / Russian London
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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, Transdniester 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.
It still houses a stockpile of old Soviet military equipment and a contingent of troops of the Russian 14th army. Withdrawal was proceeding under international agreements until December 2001 when the Trans-dniester authorities halted it. However, they agreed to allow the pullout to resume nine months later in exchange for a deal cutting gas debts. It is scheduled to be complete by mid 2004 but delays have caused previous deadlines to be extended more than once.
The Turkish-speaking minority in the Gagauz region in the southwest of Moldova also has ambitions to secede. There are ceasefires in force, but the political situation is one of stalemate.
Moldova is one of the very poorest countries in Europe and has a large foreign debt and high unemployment. Its once-flourishing wine trade is in the doldrums and it is heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
The Communists returned to power in elections in February 2001, promising cheaper food and better wages and pensions. Their leader, Vladimir Voronin, who favours closer ties with Russia, became president soon afterwards.
Population: 4.3 million (UN, 2003)
Major languages: Moldovan, Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 65 years (men), 72 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 leu = 100 bani
Main exports: Foodstuffs, animal and vegetable products, textiles
GNI per capita: US $460 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .md
International dialling code: +373
While the Moldovan constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the penal code and press laws prohibit defamation and insulting the state.
Political parties publish their own newspapers, which often criticise the government. Moldovan editions of Russian titles are among the most-popular Russian-language publications.
In 2003 there were more than 20 radio stations and some 30 TV stations on the air, many of them rebroadcasting stations from Russia and Romania.
The authorities in the breakaway Transdniester region operate their own TV and radio outlets.