CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday pledged America’s support to the small, Western-leaning former Soviet republic of Moldova that is coping with an influx of refugees from Ukraine and warily watching Russia’s intensifying war with its neighbor.
Blinken met with senior Moldovan officials who are appealing for international assistance in dealing with more than 120,000 refugees from Ukraine that it is now hosting while also seeking security reassurances against potential Russian aggression.
More than 230,000 people have fled into or passed through Moldova from Ukraine since the war began 11 days ago. Blinken said Moldova’s welcoming of refugees is an inspiration to the world.
“We admire the generosity of hospitality, the willingness to be such good friends to people who are in distress, and, indeed, I want to do everything we can to help you deal with the burden that this has imposed,” he said before heading to Lithuania.
Russia has troops in Moldova, a country of 2.6 million, stationed in the disputed territory of Transnistria, and they are being closely watched as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses ahead with the invasion of Ukraine.
“This is a subject of high vulnerability and we watch it carefully,” Moldovan President Maia Sandu said. She said there had not yet been any indication that the roughly 1,500 Russian soldiers based in Transnistria had changed posture but stressed that it was a concern given what is happening in Ukraine.
“In this region now there is no possibility for us to feel safe,” Sandu said.
Although it is neutral militarily and has no plans to try to become a member of NATO, Moldova formally applied to join the European Union just three days ago in a fast-track bid to bolster its ties with the West.
“While we are facing this unprecedented circumstances, we are firmly committed to our path for European integration,” Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said. “We believe that this is an agenda to transform Moldova into a modern, prosperous European state based on the fundamental values of human rights and the rule of law.”
Blinken praised Moldova’s European aspirations and said Moldova could count on U.S. support.
“Moldova has chosen the path to democracy, a more inclusive economy, a closer relationship with the countries and institutions of Europe, and the United States supports Moldova in those efforts grounded in our respect for the neutrality that’s enshrined in the constitution,” he said.
“Moldova is a powerful example of a democracy rising to the moment with vision and with determination,” Blinken said.
The U.S. State Department said Sunday that Blinken will meet with Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, in Riga, Latvia, on Monday during the American’s tour of Baltic nations. Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, was in Moscow on Saturday for talks with Putin on the war in Ukraine and spoke again with Putin by phone on Sunday. Bennett also has spoken on the phone multiple times with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy — most recently Sunday morning
Blinken will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday evening.