A huge pro-EU rally has taken place in Moldova’s capital Chisinau, organized by the country’s president Maia Sandu.
An estimated 75,000 people turned out to support Ms Sandu’s well-known bid for Moldova to gain EU membership.
Her pro-Western government has previously accused Russia of stoking tensions by supporting Moldova’s pro-Russian opposition party Sor. Moscow denies meddling in the country’s affairs.
Ms Sandu told protesters her country no longer wanted to be an outlier.
“We no longer want to be on the fringes of Europe,” she said, promising that Moldova would join the EU by 2030.
Moldova “does not want to be blackmailed by the Kremlin either,” she told the rally, where crowds waved EU flags and shouted pro-European slogans.
In February, Ms Sandu accused Russia of planning to use foreign “saboteurs” to topple her government, saying the plot would involve “protests by the so-called opposition”, with the aim of “overthrowing the constitutional order”.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry rejected the accusations, branding them “completely unfounded and groundless”.
Moldova, a former Soviet republic with a population of about 2.6 million, applied to join the EU last year and in June 2022 became a candidate country along with Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has accelerated both countries’ attempts to join the 27-nation bloc – not least because of the protection it offers against any Russian threat.
Moldova has been badly affected by the war, and Russian missiles are reported to have crossed into Moldovan airspace en route to Ukraine on several occasions.
The country, which lies between Ukraine and Romania, is also dependent on Russian gas – something Moscow took advantage of last year by halving its supply to Moldova.
At the meeting on Sunday, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola addressed the crowds and praised them for defying Russian threats to come out in their thousands.
She told the BBC that the EU would welcome Moldova “with open arms and open hearts” and that a “Europe with Moldova can be stronger”.
She added that the Moldovan government was “slowly implementing reforms” the EU wants in place before accession talks begin – which include changes to the legal system and a commitment to “fight corruption at all levels”.
“We’re very impressed, frankly, with the progress so far,” Ms Metsola said.
Analysis by the Pew Research Center think tank shows that current EU members were granted candidate status an average of 3.5 years after application.
Ukraine and Moldova’s applications were approved much faster than that, taking less than four months, but it could still take some time for them to gain full membership.