Moldovan regional leader in Moscow as president fears destabilisation

A sign informs motorists about entering the territory of the autonomous region of Gagauzia

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - The pro-Kremlin head of Moldova's Gagauzia region asked Russia on Friday for its support and to maintain close ties, after the pro-European Moldovan president said Moscow was mounting new efforts to destabilise her country.

Eugenia Gutul, governor of Gagauzia, met the speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament in Moscow, accusing the central government in Chisinau of "oppressing" people's rights in her region in the south of Moldova.

"We want ... to continue to receive support from the Russian Federation," she told Valentina Matviyenko, Russia's most senior lawmaker, in a video published by Russia's RIA news agency, requesting the establishment of direct flights to Moscow.

Gutul was elected last year to head Gagauzia, a region populated mainly by ethnic Turks. That vote was marred by what Chisinau said were irregularities that are being investigated.

The government has shunned Gutul, who is an ally of Ilan Shor, an exiled pro-Russian businessman convicted of fraud in Moldova. Shor founded a political party that has now been banned, and has been sanctioned by the U.S. as a Russian agent.

On Wednesday, officials from Transdniestria - a largely Russian-speaking region in the east that broke away from Moldovan control at the end of the Soviet era - had also appealed to Moscow for help, accusing Chisinau of stifling its economy.

Transdniestria, which has a garrison of Russian troops, has long been seen as a possible flashpoint with Russia.

On Thursday, pro-Western president Maia Sandu said Russia was using Transdniestria to put pressure on Moldova, a poor ex-Soviet state sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania that has set out on a path to joining the European Union and the Western defence alliance, NATO. She repeated her view that Moscow was trying to destabilise her country.

Oazu Nantoi, a lawmaker with Sandu's party, told Reuters on Wednesday: "The Gagauz and the Transdniestrians have a goal: to further destabilise the situation in Moldova."

He added: "I just don't understand why the chair of the Federation Council of Russia, in a country of 140 million people, has such concern about 26 villages in Gagauzia that don't have sewers."

(Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)