Moscow: Russia has banned meat exports from Moldova and made a fresh overture to its rebel region of Transdniestr after the ex-Soviet country defied Moscow by signing an association deal with the European Union.
Moldova, along with fellow ex-Soviet countries Ukraine and Georgia, last week opted to boost its links with the EU in a move seen as a major snub to the Kremlin.
This week Moscow banned exports of Moldovan processed beef, horse meat, lamb and pork over what it said were "crude violations" of the Moscow-led Customs Union`s regulations and signed new cooperation agreements with Transdniestr.
From Saturday, only carcasses, semi-carcasses and quarter-carcasses will be allowed into Russia, said its veterinary oversight agency.
Brussels on Thursday condemned the move, which it indicated might be in retaliation against the Romanian-speaking country for seeking closer ties with the West.
EU Trade spokesman John Clancy said Brussels "regrets" the ban, pointing out that it came as the Moldovan parliament ratified an association and free trade agreement with the EU.
The EU accords delivered a stinging blow to Moscow`s hopes that Chisinau would join the Moscow-led Customs Union, which already includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine`s Moscow-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted after months of street protests in February for rejecting the deal under pressure from Russia.
Moscow had repeatedly warned its ex-Soviet neighbours against the move, saying it would be forced to protect its markets.
Political analyst Azhdar Kurtov said there was a direct link beweent the meat ban and the EU accords.
"Russia sees the signing of the association agreements as a serious challenge to its influence and economic stability on domestic markets," he said.Russian officials on Wednesday signed seven agreements with the leader of Moldova`s separatist Transdniestr region, Yevgeny Shevchuk, covering several areas including economics and trade.
After Moscow annexed Ukraine`s peninsula of Crimea, the breakaway statelet, which has declared independence from Moldova but is not internationally recognised, renewed calls to join Russia.
But in a sign that Moscow wants to avoid fuelling tensions with the West in the face of fresh sanctions over its role in Ukraine`s political crisis, Shevchuk said Transdniestr`s independence was not on the agenda.
"We would like Russia to make such decisions but we cannot impose our will on Russia," he told reporters on Thursday.
"Citizens of Transdniestr are waiting for Russia to acknowledge the results of the 2006 referendum," when they voted overwhelmingly to come under Kremlin rule, he said.
Russia`s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who hosted Shevchuk, said on Wednesday that Russia was putting together a plan to "rescue the Transdniestr economy".
"It is a pity Moldova`s economy is not part of this plan. We could help them too but it looks like they have got rats in the attic," said the official.
Transdniestr is a strip of land bordering Ukraine, which broke away from Moldova following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a brief civil war the following year.
It has never been recognised as an independent state by any United Nations` member.
Moscow has since maintained thousands of troops in Transdniestr, and has for years provided money to prop up the poor region of 500,000 people, which includes some 180,000 Russian nationals.
The Russian foreign ministry said fostering closer cooperation was especially important due to "regional and economic conditions becoming more complicated".
Moldova has repeatedly warned Russia against making any moves that would threaten its territorial integrity.