The region that is now Moldova (also called Bessarabia) has historically been inhabited by a largely Romanian-speaking population. The region was part of the larger Romanian principality of Moldova in the 18th century, which in turn was under Ottoman suzerainty. In 1812, the region was ceded to the Russian Empire, which ruled until March 1918 when it became part of Romania. Moscow laid the basis for reclaiming Moldova by establishing a small Moldovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic on Ukrainian territory in 1924.
The 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact assigned Moldova to the Soviet sphere of influence. Soviet forces seized Moldova in June 1940. After the Nazi invasion of the USSR, Germany helped Romania to regain Moldova. Romania held it from 1941 until Soviet forces reconquered it in 1944.
Moldova declared its independence from the USSR on 27 August 1991. In December, Mircea Snegur was elected the first president of the new nation. Moldova's new constitution was adopted on 28 July 1994, replacing the old Soviet constitution of 1979. The Agrarian Democratic Party, composed largely of former Communist officials, won a majority of seats in the new parliament elected the same year.
Although independent, Moldova has remained one of the poorest countries in Europe and has confronted internal problems with two breakaway regions, the predominantly Turkish Gagauz region in the southern part of the country, and the largely Russian Transdniestria region east of the Dniester River. Russian forces have remained in the latter region and have supported its Russian population in proclaiming an independent "Transdniestria Republic," with which the Moldovan government was still trying to reach a political settlement as of 2003.
Petru Lucinschi (Independent), former speaker of the parliament, defeated Snegur in a December 1996 presidential runoff election (54% to 46%) and become Moldova's new president early in 1997. The following year, Moldova's Communist Party won a parliamentary majority in legislative elections. By 1999 Lucinschi was seeking to strengthen the nation's presidency in order to overcome an extended stalemate between the executive branch and parliament that was preventing the government from effectively addressing the nation's pressing economic problems. In a referendum, voters approved constitutional changes proposed by Lucinschi, but they were rejected by the parliament.
In July 2000, parliament cancelled the direct election of the president, and he or she is now elected by parliament for a four-year term. Parliament failed to chose a new president by December 2000, and early parliamentary elections were held in February 2001. Communists took 71 of 101 seats, and in April, Vladimir Voronin, head of the Communist Party, became president. Voronin campaigned on a platform of protecting human rights, continuing the process of democratization, and ensuring that citizens had adequate food, employment, and medical care. In February 2003, Voronin, a native of Transdniester, proposed a new initiative to settle the dispute with Transdniester. He called for a new constitution that would turn Moldova into a loose confederation of two states, and grant the Russian language official status. Both Moldova and Transdniester would have their own governing and legislative bodies, and budgets. Defense, customs, and monetary systems would be common for the federation. However, when in January 2002 plans had been announced to make Russian an official language and compulsory in school, mass protests were held, and ended only when the plans were revoked. As of February 2003, Russia maintained 2,500 troops in Transdniester, although in 1999 it agreed to withdraw all of its troops by 2001. The situation in Transdniester is complicated by fears among the Slavic population of Moldova's unification with Romania. On the other hand, at the beginning of 2003, consultations were taking place on the possible entry of Moldova into a union with Russia and Belarus.