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Foreign Affairs Minster John Baird is expressing strong support for Moldova’s territorial integrity.

FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says Moldova has "many good friends" in Canada and the West as the former Soviet state works to integrate more closely with the European Union.

Mr. Baird told government officials in Moldova, which is wedged between Romania and Ukraine, that Canada would support the country in maintaining its current borders amid a heightened fear that Russia could annex part of the country. The breakaway region of Trans-Dniester has previously voted in favour of joining Russia, and recently asked the Kremlin to allow it to become part of Russia.

Mr. Baird travelled to Romania and Moldova this week to tout Canada's support for both countries ahead of a NATO meeting in Brussels that is expected to focus on Russia's annexation of Crimea. He said Russia has chosen to be a rival, rather than a partner, to the West, and added that Canada wants to send a strong message that Moldova has many good friends in Canada and the West.

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During his visit, Mr. Baird said he met with the Deputy Prime Minister responsible for the re-integration of Trans-Dniester into Moldova to discuss the region.

"You have someone that believes deeply in your sovereignty, and we believe deeply in Moldova's territorial integrity. And you have an important partner in your democratic and economic development and your course to strengthen the rule of law," Mr. Baird said. "We hope that all Moldovans will build prosperity and freedom that all people aspire to."

The Conservative government has emerged as a vocal critic of Russia in recent months, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggesting that Russian President Vladimir Putin is motivated by a Cold War mentality and urging his counterparts in Europe to take stronger action to isolate the Kremlin.

Dominique Arel, chair of Ukrainian studies at the University of Ottawa, said the mood in Moldova has become more radicalized since Russia's annexation of Crimea because of an expectation that a similar takeover could occur in Trans-Dniester. "Clearly, the Crimea situation creates a really dangerous precendent," Prof. Arel said.

In a press conference in Moldova, Mr. Baird said he believes Russia sees the virtue of a diplomatic pact but added that the "actions of the Russian Federation will speak more loudly than its words." Mr. Baird said he wants to see Russia begin by withdrawing troops along the borders of eastern Ukraine and begin dealing directly with the Ukrainian government.

Mr. Baird will attend NATO meetings in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday, where the agenda is expected to be dominated by the situation in Ukraine. In a statement, he said the meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate a common resolve against Russia's actions in Ukraine and to find ways to support other countries in the region.

The foreign ministers are expected to review NATO's relations with Russia and Georgia and discuss the situation in Afghanistan and co-operation with Gulf states. The ministers will also be looking at how they can support Ukraine's ability to defend itself. Mr. Baird will also attend the International Conference on the Prevention of Genocide during his trip.

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