Two-thirds of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, the languages are virtually identical and the two countries share a common cultural heritage.
The industrialised territory to the east of the Dniester, generally known as Trans-Dniester or the Dniester region, was formally an autonomous area within Ukraine before 1940 when the Soviet Union combined it with Bessarabia to form the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.
This area is mainly inhabited by Russian and Ukrainian speakers. As people there became increasingly alarmed at the prospect of closer ties with Romania in the tumultuous twilight years of the Soviet Union, Trans-Dniester unilaterally declared independence from Moldova in 1990.
There was fierce fighting there as it tried to assert this independence following the collapse of the USSR and the declaration of Moldovan sovereignty. Hundreds died. The violence ended with the introduction of Russian peacekeepers. Trans-Dniester's independence has never been recognised and the region has existed in a state of lawless and corrupt limbo ever since.
The region reasserted its demand for independence and also expressed support for a plan ultimately to join Russia in a September 2006 referendum which was unrecognised by Chisinau and the international community.
It still houses a stockpile of old Soviet military equipment and a contingent of troops of the Russian 14th army. Withdrawal began under international agreements in 2001 but was halted when the Trans-Dniester authorities blocked the dispatch of weapons. Subsequent agreements to resume did not reach fruition as relations between Moscow and Chisinau cooled.
The Moldovan parliament granted autonomous status to the Turkic-language speaking Gagauz region in the southwest of the republic in late 1994. It has powers over its own political, economic and cultural affairs.
Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe and has a large foreign debt and high unemployment. Its once-flourishing wine trade has been in decline and it is heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
The Russian gas supplier Gazprom cut the gas supply off at the beginning of 2006 when Moldova refused to pay twice the previous price. A temporary compromise arrangement was reached soon afterwards and the two sides agreed a new price in July 2006 with a further rise in 2007.
President: Nicolae Timofti
Nicolae Timofti, a senior judge, was elected president in a parliamentary vote in March 2012, ending nearly three years of political stalemate.
Aged 63 and chairman of Moldova's Supreme Magistrates Council at the time of his election, Mr Timofti is an independent who has never been involved in politics and has 36 years of experience as a judge.
In an address to parliament before his election, he strongly supported the aspirations of Prime Minister Vlad Filat's government for European integration but also promised to be an apolitical president.
Moldova had no full-time president since Vladimir Voronin, a Communist, resigned in September 2009.
The opposition Communists, who reject the government's goal of integration with the EU, boycotted the vote in which Mr Timofti was chosen.
Prime minister: Vlad Filat
Prime Minister Vlad Filat and his three-party pro-Western coalition were confirmed in office after winning parliamentary elections - the third since April 2009 - in November 2010.
The vote had been called after the failure of a September referendum on the coalition's proposal to introduce direct elections for the presidency.
Mr Filat said seeking associate EU membership for Moldova, raising the country's low average living standards and tackling corruption would be his main goals. He also said his government would maintain strategic relations with Russia, the US, Romania and Ukraine.
His coalition first took office in September 2009 after the re-run of a disputed election led to the ousting of the Communists, who had been in power since 2001.
The Communists had been declared winners of the April 2009 elections with 50% of the vote, but the results were overturned after mass protests sparked by vote-rigging allegations.
After the July re-rerun, Mr Filat's Liberal Democratic Party proceeded to form a coalition with other anti-Communist parties, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party.
He was born in 1969 and studied law at the University of Iasi in Romania. On graduating, he went into business.
He first entered parliament in 2005 and became the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2007. He is married, with two children.
Television is the most-popular medium. Public network Moldova One broadcasts nationally. Russia's Channel One and Romania's Antena 1 are widely available.
By 2009 there were 37 terrestrial TV channels, 47 radio stations and 168 cable operators, according to the media regulator.
The press divides along pro-government or opposition-leaning lines. Political parties publish their own titles. Moldovan editions of Russian papers are popular. The reach and impact of the print media are low. The government influences the media through financial subsidies and advertising, says US-based Freedom House.
While the constitution guarantees press freedom, the penal code and press laws prohibit defamation of the state. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the media were "targeted" by demonstrators and "treated as an enemy" by security forces amid post-election protests in 2009.
Nearly 1.3 million Moldovans were online by June 2010 (Internetworldstats). Anti-communist youth protests in 2009 were organised with the help of social media and text messaging.
The authorities in the breakaway Trans-Dniester region operate their own TV and radio outlets.