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Kerry accuses Russia of exerting 'pressure on Moldova'

WASHINGTON -- U.S. leaders Monday took another swipe at Russia — for pressuring Moldova — as they gave strong backing to the former Soviet state seeking closer ties with the West.

Moldova Prime Minister Iurie Leanca — scheduled for a meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden — got an unexpected visit with President Barack Obama as well, the White House said.

“The President praised the strong and important friendship between our two countries and underscored the United States' deep commitment to supporting Moldova's European aspirations,” a statement said.

Both Obama and Biden “re-affirmed the United States' strong support for Moldovan sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” the White House added.

Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry, who has lambasted Russia over its military actions in Ukraine, also met with Leanca, where he said Moscow “has put pressure on Moldova.”

“There are challenges with respect to their energy sources and also their ability to trade. We are committed firmly to the direction that Moldova has chosen for itself.”

Russia has strong ties with separatist movements in Moldova's Russian-speaking region of Transniestria and has not met longstanding pledges to withdraw its soldiers from the country, which it committed to do in 1999. Russia also keeps a large amount of armaments there.

Pledging additional funding to Moldova, the top U.S. diplomat added: “The prime minister is leading a transformation effort in Moldova. We are very pleased with the fact that they continue their efforts to move towards their association agreement with Europe.”

In total, Washington plans to increase aid to Chisinau by US$2.8 million, bringing total U.S. aid to US$7.5 million for “their effort to develop competitiveness.”

Leanca said: “Moldova is keen to build an energy interconnection with the European Union and American support is critical in this perspective.”

“Same about the security cooperation. We see right now in the region some very negative developments unfolding,” Leanca added, referring to Ukraine, which has accused Russia of pouring troops into Crimea, in Europe's worst standoff since the Cold War.

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