World

Moldovan leader: We prefer European Union but Russian presence still felt in ex-Soviet state

Moldovo President Nicolae Timofti, left, talks with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, center, and Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Tirana, Tuesday May 26, 2015, during the South East European Cooperation Process summit, a regional grouping of 13 Balkan and eastern European countries. Moldova's 4 million citizens would prefer to join the European Union rather than stay in the Russian orbit, its president said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

Moldovo President Nicolae Timofti, left, talks with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, center, and Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Tirana, Tuesday May 26, 2015, during the South East European Cooperation Process summit, a regional grouping of 13 Balkan and eastern European countries. Moldova's 4 million citizens would prefer to join the European Union rather than stay in the Russian orbit, its president said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)  (The Associated Press)

Moldova's president says the country's 4 million citizens would prefer to join the European Union rather than stay in the Russian orbit.

President Nicolae Timofti told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Moldovans are reaping economic benefits from closer ties with the 28-nation EU and visa-free travel through much of it.

However, he added Russia's presence is still a factor in the former Soviet republic, 24 years after it declared independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.

He says "we can't deny the realities that exist in Moldova. We were part of a union where Russia predominated."

Moldova's pro-European government, however, relies on the support of the Communist Party, which does not favor fast reforms. Timofti was speaking at a meeting of southeast European nations.