Is Moldova the next Crimea? Russia is worried

A top Russian policymaker issued a warning to Moldova as election results from the former Soviet republic showed that pro-EU parties were edging toward victory.

Russia is worried that a Moldovan government wanting closer ties with Europe would weaken its power in the region. The warning Monday comes after Russia annexed Crimea in March, following a referendum that showed overwhelming support for the move.

By 9 a.m. London time on Tuesday, over 98 percent of the votes had been counted following a parliamentary election on Sunday. Initial results showed that the pro-Russian Socialist Party was leading the way with 20.77 percent of the vote, but three pro-European parties were faring well enough that observers said they might be able to form a coalition.

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Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's deputy prime minister, tweeted on Monday that Moldova's capital Chisinau should "think seriously whether the right path is chosen to move forward."

Moldova, Eastern Europe, including breakaway region of Trans-Dniester
Lonely Planet Images | Getty
Moldova, Eastern Europe, including breakaway region of Trans-Dniester

He bemoaned the dismissal of the pro-Russian Patria Party, which had been accused of illegal use of foreign funding, from the election. A Moldovan High Court upheld the ruling just days before the vote.

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Rogozin also claimed that Moldova's labor migrants in Russia had been denied a vote, and highlighted the breakaway state of Trans-Dniester, a narrow strip of land on the border with Ukraine, which did not take part in the elections.

Meanwhile, international election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the elections "were generally well administered in a campaign influenced by geopolitical aspirations."

But it did stress that the campaign environment had been affected by the "deregistration" of the Patria Party shortly before the election.

With neighboring Ukraine locked in a battle with pro-Russian separatists, there have been fears that tensions could spread to Moldova. The republic lies in eastern Europe between Romania and Ukraine.

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It has signed an association agreement with the EU alongside Ukraine and Georgia, however, clearing stating its intentions to form closer bonds with the West.

Timothy Ash, head of emerging market research at Standard Bank, said the pro-EU parties would likely get a narrow majority in parliament, but stressed that Trans-Dniester would continue to "loom" over Moldova.

The region declared its independence in 1990 but has never been recognized internationally. There are fears of potential Russian intervention, Ash said, given that Moscow has been blamed for backing the rebels fighting in the eastern part of Ukraine.

"I think the Russians are biding their time, still keeping their options open," Ash told CNBC via email. "Ukraine remains the big prize, and Moldova is being used as something of a bargaining chip."