Moldova's pro-European election winner Maia Sandu on Monday vowed balanced ties with the West and Russia as Moscow-backed incumbent Igor Dodon conceded defeat and asked his supporters to refrain from violence.
Sandu's election is seen by analysts as a major blow to the Kremlin, which had pinned hopes on Dodon winning a new term.
Russia had wanted polarised Moldova to remain in its sphere of influence at a time when several Kremlin-aligned governments are rocked by political unrest and security crises.
Sandu vowed to strike a "true balance" in foreign policy and "pragmatic dialogue with all countries including Romania, Ukraine, European countries, Russia and the United States".
"I will work for all the citizens of our country," said the 48-year-old centre-right opposition politician, who briefly served as prime minister in 2019.
Addressing Dodon's supporters, she said: "You have not lost, I will be winning your trust with concrete deeds."
Sandu, who has also promised to root out corruption, garnered 57.75 percent of the vote in the second round run-off on Sunday against 42.25 percent for Dodon.
In the first round vote earlier this month, she won a surprise victory against Dodon.
Many former Dodon supporters said they were happy with the results.
"We've grown tired of the situation in the country," said Victoria, a 43-year-old nail technician. "We want something new for our children."
Some political observers warned of protests after the Sunday runoff but Dodon conceded defeat and congratulated his rival.
He also said his campaign had registered an "unprecedented amount of violations" but asked supporters not to take to the streets.
"We don't need destabilisation," he said.
Dodon had promised continued close ties with Moldova's "strategic partner" Moscow and said Russian should become compulsory in schools.
He came to power in 2016, beating Sandu in the second round.
Part of the Soviet Union between 1940 and 1991, Moldova is one of Europe's poorest countries and as many as 40 percent of citizens are estimated to have travelled abroad to work.
Moldova has been rocked by multiple political crises and a $1-billion bank fraud scheme equivalent to nearly 15 percent of annual economic output.
Path of progress
EU member Romania and pro-Western Ukraine quickly congratulated Sandu. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said Moldovans had chosen a "path of progress".
Moldova has close historic ties with neighbouring Romania and they share a common language.
"The people of Moldova have clearly chosen a course that prioritises justice, real fight against corruption and a more just society," tweeted European Council President Charles Michel.
He said the EU was "ready to intensify our close partnership".
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had called on Moldovans to support Dodon, also congratulated Sandu and wished her success.
"I expect that your work as head of state will facilitate the constructive development of relations between our countries," Putin said.
Russian political analyst Konstantin Kalachev said Moscow had "lost Moldova" because the Kremlin did not have a coherent plan to keep the former Soviet country in its orbit.
But he suggested that pro-Russian forces in Moldova could try and score a win during early parliamentary elections expected in Moldova after Sandu's win.
Russia stations troops in Moldova's Moscow-backed region of Transnistria, which broke away after a brief civil war following the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and is not internationally recognised.
OSCE observers praised the "well-managed" run-off conducted during a coronavirus pandemic.
"We noted that in the presidential runoff voters had a genuine choice between political alternatives and that... fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression continued to be respected," said Corien Jonker, head of the mission.
Wedged between Ukraine and NATO member Romania, the 3.5 million population has long been divided over closer ties with the EU, in particular Romania, or keeping traditional ties with Moscow.