MOSCOW — Russia's prime minister warned Monday that Moscow could punish Moldova after a Russian politician's plane was briefly held while traveling in the region over the weekend, according to state news agency ITAR TASS.
Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of government officials that Russia would take the episode into account "with regards to economic cooperation" with Moldova.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was visiting the separatist province of Trans-Dniester on Friday, where he collected signatures for a petition calling on Moscow to recognize the region as independent from Moldova. Boxes containing some of the signatures were confiscated by Moldovan authorities at Chisinau airport.Russia annexed Ukraine's Black Sea region of Crimea in March after a referendum there, heightening fears that Moscow would move to grab more territory in eastern Ukraine or Moldova's Trans-Dniester region, which has a majority Russian-speaking population and where 1,500 Russian troops are already based.
Rogozin played a visible role in the Russian move to take Crimea, and was one of the Russian officials sanctioned by the EU and the United States in response to the Ukraine crisis. Rogozin wrote in a Tweet that "Next time I'll fly on board a TU-160," referring to a Soviet-era strategic bomber.
Russia opposes Moldova seeking an association agreement with the EU, which Chisinau hopes to sign this year. In the past, Russia has taken punitive trade measures against neighboring Baltic states and Ukraine, as those countries have opposed Moscow and sought closer ties with the west.