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Moldovan president says satisfied with gas accords with Russia

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NOVO-OGARYOVO, June 22 (RIA Novosti) - The president of Moldova told his Russian counterpart Thursday that he was satisfied with recent deals on Russian gas supplies, a sensitive issue in relations between the former Soviet allies.

During talks at the Russian presidential residence near Moscow, Vladimir Voronin and Vladimir Putin also addressed two key bilateral disputes - Russia's ban on Moldovan wine, and its alleged support for Transnestr, a breakaway region of Moldova.

Voronin told the Russian leader: "We have tackled the problem of [Russian] natural gas supplies to Moldova following tensions in previous years," adding that a stable five-year supply scheme was quite appropriate.

Russia supplies about 3 billion cu m of natural gas annually to Moldova. In early 2006, Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom [RTS: GAZP] demanded a dramatic increase in the price of gas to Moldova, but Chisinau refused to agree to the new rate. A provisional deal was struck in July, when the countries agreed on a price of $160 per 1,000 cubic meters, with a further gradual rise to European-level prices by 2011.

But, under a deal signed toward the end of 2006, Moldova is set to pay $170 per 1,000 cu m of Russian gas in 2007, or 75% of the average price Gazprom charges consumers in Europe.

On the issue of Moldovan wine, Putin signaled on Friday that Moldova's main export commodity could return to the Russian market soon.

Moscow's embargo on Moldovan wine in March 2006, which Russia said was due to consumer safety concerns but Moldova called political, has been another irritant in relations between the two countries.

"The Russian government has issued instructions on Moldovan wine supplies to the Russian market," Putin told the Moldovan leader, without elaborating.

Voronin earlier complained Moscow had failed to act on its promise in November 2006 to resume wine imports following checks at wineries in Moldova. Earlier reports said supplies could restart in January 2007.

Moldova's largely Russian and Ukrainian-populated region of Transdnestr, which has sought independence and to eventually become a part of Russia, is another point of contention between the countries.

However, tense bilateral relations have seen a thaw in recent months. Voronin reportedly pledged that Moldova would not join NATO, as many former Eastern Bloc states including three ex-Soviet Baltic republics have done since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Other former allies of Russia are now seeking membership in the Western security bloc. Russia's leadership's trust in NATO has been eroded over the alliance's refusal to sign a re-drafted arms reduction treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in Central Europe.

Earlier this week, Voronin was noticeably absent from a summit of the post-Soviet GUAM group, perceived as anti-Kremlin, comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. The organization is considering deploying its own peacekeeping troops to replace Russian troops in Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia breakaway territories, and Moldova's Transdnestr.

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