Moldova's support for Ukraine did not spark Russia gas row, president says

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French President Macron welcomes Moldova's President Sandu, in Paris
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CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova's pro-Western President Maia Sandu on Friday batted away suggestions her support for Ukraine against Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea had sparked a gas dispute with Moscow this winter.

Sandu was speaking at a press conference where she defended a new gas supply deal struck by her government with Russia that has defused an energy crisis in the country of 3.5 million, where the West and Moscow tussle for influence.

Sandu in August travelled to Ukraine, where she condemned Russia's annexation of Crimea as illegal and a "blatant violation of international law".

Those remarks, and her reluctance to travel to Moscow in person for energy talks, were seized on by opposition parties as reasons for the energy dispute that prompted Russia's Gazprom to threaten a supply cut-off.

"The official position of Moldova is that Crimea is the territory of Ukraine. Its participation in the 'Crimea Platform' did not affect the gas negotiations," Sandu said.

Sandu said her government wanted "friendly and constructive relations with Russia" though differences remained, including over the fate of the breakaway region of Transdniestria, which hosts Russian peacekeeping forces.

Sandu's government declared a state of emergency after its gas contract with Gazprom expired at the end of September and the sides tussled over the price and other details of a new long-term deal. They reached an agreement at the end of October.

The Kremlin denied suggestions it was using the negotiations as a way of blackmailing Moldova and extracting political concessions.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Potter)

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