CHISINAU (Reuters) - The Moldovan Foreign Ministry declared Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata on Wednesday - a further deterioration in bilateral relations after tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats.
Moldovan politics is divided between the current pro-Western government that has forged closer trade ties with the European Union, and the presidential administration which wants the ex-Soviet nation back in Russia's orbit.
Rogozin is Russia's special representative to Transdniestria, a self-proclaimed independent territory in Moldova that has remained loyal to Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The ministry accused Rogozin of making defamatory remarks about a Moldovan governmental delegation in an interview with a Russian television channel.
"In view of this the Russian ambassador was told that the Moldovan authorities have declared Dmitry Rogozin persona non grata, banning him from entering Moldova and also crossing its territory," it said in a statement.
Russia's Foreign Ministry summoned Moldova's ambassador to Moscow later on Wednesday to protest over the matter.
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The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that declaring Rogozin persona non grata was one of: "Chisinau's irresponsible steps aimed at a deliberate undermining of bilateral Russian-Moldovan relations."
"Such precarious actions may have a serious destabilising effect on the general situation in the region and in Europe as a whole," it said.
Rogozin has been at loggerheads with the Moldovan authorities in recent weeks, after they barred him from flying to Transdniestria in a military plane to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Russia's deployment of peacekeepers there.
He was also prevented from landing in Chisinau airport in a passenger plane last Friday.
Moldova has been governed by pro-Western leaders since 2009 and inked an EU Association Agreement in 2014. Russia retaliated by halting imports of Moldovan farm produce, depriving Europe's poorest country of a key market for its wine, fruit and vegetables.
Relations suffered further this year due to a dispute in March over the treatment of Moldovan officials travelling to or through Russia, and the expulsion of five Russian diplomats in May.
In an interview with Reuters last Friday, pro-Russian President Igor Dodon said the government was deliberately seeking to bait Russia.
"They embark on provocations against Russia in order to complicate relations," he said.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Additional reporting by Alexander Winning in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Alison Williams)