Moldova has elected as president a pro-Russian politician who has threatened to derail co-operation with the EU, in another setback for Brussels in eastern Europe.
Igor Dodon, whose campaign called for closer ties with Moscow, had won 55.4 per cent of the vote with over 96 per cent of ballots counted, according to Moldova’s election commission.
Mr Dodon’s election as head of state could strengthen Moscow’s hand in eastern Europe amid a surge in support for Eurosceptic and anti-establishment politicians across the continent. It comes on the same day as EU member Bulgaria elected as president a Russian-leaning candidate, triggering the resignation of the prime minister.
The polls come just days after Donald Trump’s election victory raised questions over continuing US support for countries in central and eastern Europe against pressure from Moscow.
Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, lies in the political conflict zone between the EU and Russia where both sides have spent the past decade vying for influence.
Landlocked between Ukraine and EU member Romania, the former Soviet republic includes the breakaway region of Transnistria, which has called — so far unsuccessfully — for Russia to annex it.
Like ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia, Moldova has signed a political association and free-trade agreement with the EU and relies heavily on western financial support.
But scandals involving pro-Brussels governments, including allegations that politicians facilitated the theft of €1bn from the country’s banks in 2014 — equivalent to 12 per cent of Moldova’s economic output — have boosted support for pro-Russian parties.
Mr Dodon has called for 3.5m-strong Moldova to withdraw from its EU association agreement and deepen trade and economic co-operation with Moscow. He has said Russia’s 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea should be internationally accepted.
In a statement made as polls closed, Mr Dodon said his priority if elected would be “to quickly ensure peace and social cohesion” after a “difficult and disruptive” campaign.
Maia Sandu, Mr Dodon’s pro-EU rival in the presidential ballot, had previously said his election would mean “big dangers” for Moldova and tarnish its relationship with Brussels.