İrem UZUN -TDO- Moldova's incoming president Maia Sandu has called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from a breakaway region at the border with Ukraine. In her first news conference as president-elect, Sandu said Russian forces never had permission to be in the separatist area of Transnistria. "We are an independent country that does not want foreign troops to stay on its territory," she told reporters in the capital. "This is not just a declaration - this is a necessity," she added, stating that she would work with Russia for as long as it takes to solve the issue of the arms removal and troop withdrawal.

Maia Sandu, who defeated Moldova's pro-Russian incumbent earlier in November on a platform of balancing the ex-Soviet country’s ties between Moscow and the West, said the Russian troops should be replaced by civilian observers from Europe. Russia deploys around 1,500 troops in Transnistria, which has not been recognized internationally since its brief civil war following the Soviet Union's collapse in the early 1990s.  “Russia says that the Operational Group of Russian Forces (OGRF) guards ammunition depots here, but there are no bilateral agreements on the OGRF and on the weapons depots. These weapons depots are a big problem for us. It’s dangerous,” she said in an interview with Russian media.

The Kremlin has rejected Sandu’s comments, saying the move could be destabilizing. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia expected the authorities in Chisinau to remain constructive.  “Russia performs a very important function ... And of course, a change in some status quo, which is based on the spirit and letter of international law, could lead to serious destabilization,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow. 

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