Located between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova emerged as an independent republic following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent and the two countries share a common cultural heritage. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe (ranked 113 out of 175 on the Human Development Index).
President Voronin of the Communist Party took office in 2001, ending a decade of post-Soviet reformist government. Following the Communist Party's victory in general elections held in March 2005, President Voronin was re-elected by Parliament for a second term. While he came to power promising to forge closer ties with Russia, relations cooled sharply in 2003 over a dispute in regard to Transnistria. President Voronin has since sought support from the West in resolving the conflict. The Communists campaigned in 2005 on a pro-Western platform and for Moldova integration with the EU is a key objective.
Transnistria was formerly an autonomous area within Ukraine before 1940 when the Soviet Union combined it with Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The area is mainly inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian speakers. Transnistria unilaterally declared independence from Moldova in 1990. This led to a fierce civil war in which hundreds died. A ceasefire was signed in 1992, and the settlement enforced by the Russian army. Transnistria is not recognised by the international community as independent. It still houses a stockpile of old Soviet military equipment and is host to a contingent of Russian troops. The OSCE-sponsored peace talks process, which includes Russia and Ukraine, was expanded to include the US and EU as observers in 2005. However, finding a resolution to this conflict continues to be difficult.