Kerry snubs Ukraine, visits Moldova

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US State Secretary John Kerry has snubbed a ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine, reportedly to show disapproval for the country’s recent U-turn toward Russia. Instead, Kerry paid a lightning visit to Moldova, which withstood Russian pressure and initialled an association agreement with the EU.

As ministers gathered in Kiev today (5 December) for the OSCE meeting, the city was besieged by protests, after the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovich, decided on 21 November to put the country's move for closer integration with the EU on hold in favour of talks to revive economic relations with Russia.

Ukraine holds the rotating OSCE presidency and the 20th meeting of the organisation’s Ministerial Council.

But Kerry decided to snub the OSCE gathering and made instead a four-hour visit yesterday to neighbouring Moldova, a former Soviet republic known for its wines. Moscow recently punished Moldova for its EU drive by banning its wines from the Russian market. Russia's food authority said the decision related to the quality of Moldovan wines.

Kerry's visit to Moldova lasted for four hours, and included a visit to the country’s famous wine cellars, which stretch for several kilometers underground.  

The US secretary of state reportedly did not publicly mention Russia by name in comments praising Moldova for its Western aspirations.

“In support of Moldova's economic growth, the United States is working to strengthen core Moldovan export-oriented industries, including wine, information communication technology, high-value agriculture, fashion, tourism, and home furnishings, and is supporting policy-level and regulatory reform to improve the business environment and attract increased investment,” says the website of the State Department.

At the 28-29 November Vilnius Eastern partnership summit, Moldova initialed an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU, coupled with a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). The country also received praise for being technically ready for the lifting of the visa barrier for his citizens to enter the EU’s Schengen border-free area for periods for up to three months.

Moldova hopes to sign the AA during the current term of the European Commission and Parliament. It also hopes that the EU will lift its visa requirements during that time.

Russia is getting nervous with the approach of the 28-29 November Vilnius summit of the Eastern Partnership, which is expected to see the signature of a landmark Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, and the initialling of similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia.

Instead of becoming part of the market, EU Russia wants those countries to join its Customs Union, which has as members only Belarus and Kazakhstan.

The Moldovan economy relies mainly on agriculture and exports to the Eastern market, such as Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

Russia said that Moldova's EU rapprochement would jeopardise the future of Transnistria, a breakaway territory unrecognised by the international community located on the border between Moldova and Ukraine.

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