By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) - The pro-Russian winner of Moldova's presidential election said on Tuesday the country would not cut ties with the European Union, appearing to row back on campaign comments that it should move closer to Moscow.
Igor Dodon won Sunday's election with just over 50 percent of the vote after calling in the campaign for a referendum on its 2014 political and trade pact with the European bloc and focus on improving relations with Russia.
His stance put him in direct conflict with the ex-Soviet republic's pro-EU government, but his latest comments suggest he is seeking to find a middle ground.
"All ties with the EU remain in effect, all decisions with the external partners of Moldova will be carried out in the future," Dodon told a news conference. "The president should be neither pro-European nor pro-Russian, but only pro-Moldovan."
In contrast to this conciliatory tone, Dodon told a Russian news channel on Monday he would push for early parliamentary elections next year to force out the government.
This would spell yet more instability for the ex-Soviet nation, where a $1 billion graft scandal in 2014 damaged trust in pro-EU leaders and resulted in the prime minister being jailed. The impoverished country has had four premiers since.
Dodon said he had been congratulated on his victory by EU leaders as well as by Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that he planned to visit Moscow before the end of 2016.
Russia imposed trade bans on key Moldovan farming exports in response to the EU agreement. Dodon's promise to boost relations with Moscow has found favor with the many Moldovans suffering financially from the bans and a broader economic downturn.
The economy of Moldova, the poorest country in Europe, shrank 0.5 percent in 2015 after two years of growth. It is expected to return to modest growth this year, but exports have yet to recover to pre-crisis levels, falling 4.3 percent in the first quarter of 2016.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Matthias Williams and Tom Heneghan)