Moldova, a country sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, was part of Romania until 1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union.
Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent and the languages are virtually identical.
It is one of the very poorest countries in Europe and has a large foreign debt. As economic reforms proved slow to materialize, the IMF and World Bank froze financing in 2001 although ties have since resumed.
The Communists swept to power in elections in February 2001, promising cheaper food and better wages and pensions. Their leader, Vladimir Voronin, who favours closer ties with Russia became president soon afterwards.
The breakaway Trans-dniester region in the industrialised east is mainly inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian speakers. It unilaterally declared independence from Moldova in 1990 as the people became increasingly alarmed at the prospect of closer ties with Romania.
Fighting broke out in the turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to hundreds of deaths and ending with the introduction of Russian peacekeepers. Independence has never been recognised and the region has existed in a state of lawless limbo ever since.
Trans-dniester still houses a stockpile of old Soviet military equipment and a contingent of troops of the Russian 14th army. Withdrawal was proceeding under international agreements until December 2001 when the Trans-dniester authorities halted it. However, they agreed to allow the pullout to resume nine months later in exchange for a deal cutting gas debts.
The Turkish-speaking minority in the Gagauz region in the southwest of Moldova also has ambitions to secede. There are ceasefires in force, but the political situation is one of stalemate.
|Population: 4.3 million (UN, 2003)
|Major languages: Moldovan, Russian
|Major religion: Christianity
|Life expectancy: 65 years (men), 72 years (women)
|Monetary unit: 1 leu = 100 bani
|Main exports: Foodstuffs, animal and vegetable products, textiles
|Average annual income: US $400 (World Bank, 2001)
|Internet domain: .md
|International dialling code: +373
President: Vladimir Voronin
Voronin used his inaugural address at the beginning of April 2001 to criticise his predecessors. He said they had reduced Moldova to humanitarian catastrophe and dire poverty.
Voronin: wants the state to have more say
Voronin says he wants create to 'modern socialism' by forging closer ties with Russia and increasing the role of the state in improving the economy, which has shrunk by two-thirds since 1991.
Voronin has described Moldova as a European Cuba. He says Moldova must hold out against 'imperialist predators' in Europe, as Cuba had in the Americas.
Prime Minister: Vasile Tarlev
Foreign Minister: Nicolae Dudau
Interior Minister: Gheorghe Papuc
While the Moldovan constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the penal code and press laws prohibit defamation and insulting the state.
Political parties publish their own newspapers, which often criticise the government, but their independence is questionable.
Journalists and opposition newspapers are subject to occasional harassment, particularly when reporting on corruption.
Few Moldovans read newspapers as these are generally perceived as not having been set up to inform readers accurately and pertinently, but rather to manipulate and misinform them in the political wars waged by various political forces.
Newspapers, faced with falling circulation, have been accused by the Moldovan Independent Journalism Centre of seeking to attract readers by giving priority to scandal, crime, the vulgar and gossip.
The Moldovan parliament - where communist deputies form a sizeable majority - dismissed the chiefs of state radio and television in April 2001. The parliament said their programmes were not balanced.
The opposition accused the governing communists of wanting to suppress dissent.
The 1995 broadcasting law, which says that 65 % of broadcasts must be in the country's official language, regulate broadcasting.
Russian and Romanian TV and radio are also available.
In December 2001 Parliament passed a new law on broadcast licences introducing two types of licences to end the "chaos" and "piracy" denounced by the new media watchdog.
The president later refused to promulgate the amendments that would have made it more difficult for foreign broadcasters to operate in Moldova.
In June 2001, the state broadcasting company announced plans to extend cooperation with TV and radio companies in the breakaway Trans-Dniester Republic.
The Moldovan Independent Journalism Centre has denounced the poor quality of news coverage on radio and television.
The pressTimpul - MoldovanTara - MoldovanFlux - Moldovan
Kommersant Moldoviy - RussianKomsomolskaya Pravda - RussianNezavisimaya Moldova - RussianEconomie si Reforme - English page
TelevisionMoldovan Television - State TV
Pro TV Chisinau - Commercial channel
RadioRadio Moldova - State radio, English pageRadio Nova - commercial
News agenciesBasa Press - English pageInterlic - English pageMoldova News - in English