(Corrects headline, paragraphs 1,4 after ministry corrected figure to 659.5 mln, not 695 mln)
By Thomas Escritt
BERLIN (Reuters) -European and international donors agreed on Tuesday to extend 659.5 million euros ($718.6 million) in aid to Moldova, Europe’s poorest country, which is hosting more than 100,000 refugees from Ukraine at a time of soaring energy prices.
Speaking after a donor conference she hosted in Berlin, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany would work to help Moldova free itself from its dependency on Russia for energy supplies.
With fewer than 3 million people, Moldova has taken in more refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine per head than any other country.
“We agreed today to support Moldova with loans, budget support and other financial assistance worth 659.5 million euros,” Baerbock said at the end of the conference she hosted jointly with her French and Romanian counterparts.
Like Ukraine, Moldova is a former part of the Soviet Union, some of whose territory is occupied by Moscow-backed separatists.
Although it has strong historical and linguistic ties to neighbouring European Union member Romania, it relies exclusively on Russia’s Gazprom for gas imports.
Moldovan Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita asked donors at the conference, who included the EU and the French and Romanian foreign ministers, for support in diversifying her country’s energy supplies even as it deals with refugees in need.
“Since the beginning of the war, 400,000 refugees have crossed Moldova’s borders and 100,000 have decided to stay,” she said. “Almost half of them are children, these are vulnerable populations.”
Moldova’s electricity network needed to be interconnected with the European Union’s over the Romanian border in order to boost its energy independence, she said.
She also asked the EU to lift barriers to selling its agricultural produce westwards, noting that Russia, Belarus and Ukraine had accounted for 15% of Moldova’s foreign trade before the war.
“Moldova is the most vulnerable among Ukraine’s neighbours,” she said. “Today Moldova needs good friends and reliable partners.”
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Madeline Chambers and David Holmes)