FILE PHOTO: Leader of Moldova's Gagauzia region Gutsul gives a press conference in Moscow

FILE PHOTO: Leader of Moldova's Gagauzia region Gutsul gives a press conference in Moscow

Reuters:  The United States imposed sanctions on the pro-Russia governor of Moldova's Gagauzia region on Wednesday, a move supported by the pro-Western government in Chisinau.

Evgenia Gutul is a Kremlin ally who was elected last year to head the autonomous southern Moldovan region and has been at odds with the government and President Maia Sandu, who seeks to take the small ex-Soviet state into the European Union.

Gutul faces criminal allegations of channelling funds from Russia to finance the now-banned Shor Party set up by Ilan Shor, an exiled pro-Russia businessman convicted of fraud in Moldova.

She has denied those allegations as fabricated.

The sanctions announced on the website of the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control freeze any assets held by Gutul in the United States and generally prohibit Americans from doing business with her.

"The United States announced sanctions against (Gutul) as an active facilitator of fugitive convicted oligarch Ilan Shor and his Shor Party, and their Kremlin-backed illegal political interference efforts," the U.S. embassy in Chisinau said in a statement.

Moldovan Prime Minister Dorin Recean said the sanctions had been imposed after "effective cooperation" with partners and that "we will continue to take decisive action to counter corruption and threats to national security".

"The prompt reaction of the USA must serve as an example for the judiciary in the Republic of Moldova to do its duty and defend the interest of the country and our citizens," Recean said in a statement.

Gutul, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said she was unsurprised by the U.S. punitive measures.

"There is no point being afraid of judges, sanctions and threats," she said. "We have overcome and will continue to overcome the obstacle course organised by Maia Sandu and her backers."

Shor mocked the sanctions, describing then as "a quality mark, a symbol that we are correct in what we are doing."

Pressing for closer ties with Russia

As Moldova's relations have deteriorated with the Kremlin during Moscow's full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, Gutul has called for closer ties and met high-level Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin in March.

Moldova's pro-Western government has staunchly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, at one point accused Moscow of plotting its overthrow and expelled Russian diplomats.

Gagauzia, a region populated mainly by a Turkic-speaking largely Orthodox ethnic group, has had an uneasy relationship with the capital Chisinau since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, and was later granted autonomy.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has a Romanian-speaking majority and a large Russian-speaking minority, and political control has alternated between pro-Russian and pro-Western groups since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Another region of Moldova, mainly Russian-speaking Transdniestria, broke from Chisinau's control after a brief war in the early 1990s, and houses a garrison of Russian troops.

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