Kerry opted to make his brief stop after Moldova and another
former Soviet republic, Georgia, initialed agreements on closer ties
with the European Union last week.
In doing so, Kerry skipped a ministerial conference in Ukraine,
which has rejected an accord with Brussels in favor of cultivating
closer ties with Russia.
"I am here to affirm to you that the United States will stand with
you," Kerry said at a meeting with President Nicolae Timofti.
A senior State Department official briefing reporters traveling
with Kerry said the purpose of the four-hour stop in Chisinau — the
first by a U.S. secretary of state since a visit by James Baker in
1992 — was to offer support and encouragement in the face of Russian
Kerry repeated the message at a reception at a labyrinthine winery
once celebrated throughout the Soviet Union, where he toasted Prime
Minister Iurie Leanca.
"The United States believes deeply that European integration is the
best road for both security and prosperity in Moldova," Kerry said
at the Cricova winery on the outskirts of Chisinau.
"This is about building the bridges of opportunity and defining the
future of your own hopes and aspirations," he said. "To the people
of the Ukraine we say the same thing — you too deserve the
opportunity to choose your own future."
Russia has responded to Moldova's moves towards Brussels by cutting
off imports of Moldovan wine. Wine sales to Russia have been an
important source of revenue for the country of about 3.5 million
people, which is the poorest in Europe.
In announcing its ban on imports of Moldovan wines and spirits in
September, Russia said they contained impurities and that Moldova
had consistently failed to act to improve the quality of its
Kremlin critics say previous Russian bans on wine from Moldova and
Georgia have been politically motivated.
U.S. officials said Washington was working with the EU to help the
Moldovan wine industry find new markets.
At Cricova, Kerry unveiled a new marketing logo for Moldovan wine
and said the United States would sponsor Moldovan wine growers to
allow them to visit America to explore new markets.
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Moldovans describe Cricova as the largest wine cellars in the world,
with 120 km (75 miles) of tunnel-like storage galleries.
The EU has already reduced or dropped all its tariffs on Moldovan
wine in response to the Russian move.
The senior State Department official said Russia should see the
benefits of closer ties between its neighbors and the EU.
"We have been very clear with the Russians that we don't see any
need to see the decision of Moldova and Georgia to initial
agreements with the EU as a zero-sum game, and that we think that
kind of play is self-defeating," the official said.
"If Russia's neighbors become richer and more prosperous as a result
of having visa liberalization to the European Union and increased
trade, they are more able to buy more things from Russia as well,
and they are more stable on Russia's periphery."
Russian sanctions against Moldova were "a matter of concern" given
Moscow's membership of the World Trade Organisation, the official
said, but added that it would be up to the Moldovans to decide
whether to raise a complaint at the world trade body.
While ties with former Soviet republics are not Washington's
foremost foreign policy priority as they were in 1992, and U.S.
officials say the United States is not trying to compete with Russia
for influence in the region, Kerry is keen to show that the United
States is not abandoning it to Moscow.
On Tuesday, he urged the Ukrainian government to "listen to the
voices of its people" after President Viktor Yanukovich's decision
to spurn the pact with the EU sparked mass protests.
Referring to Russia's efforts to lure Ukraine away from the EU,
Kerry said Ukrainians should be allowed to make their own choice
without "a bidding war."
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Steve Gutterman, Alistair
Lyon and Sonya Hepinstall)