Moldova Chronicles: It is not Out of Good Life to Try to ‘Sit’ on Every Possible Geopolitical Chair

On 29 October, representatives of the government of Moldova and the Russian state-owned Gazprom finally announced a five-year extension of the contract for the supply of natural gas to Moldova, following agreement on the price formula proposed by the Moldovan side.

On the eve of the meeting, Chisinau adressed Kiev for supply of 15 million cubic metres of gas. Andriy Gerus, chairman of the Energy Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, who announced the request on his account on the internet social network, told that the requested amount is only 0.08% of the total amount of natural gas stored in Ukrainian storage facilities (18.4 billion cubic metres), but is vital for the neighbour in the coming days to avoid any interruption of domestic supplies while complicated negotiations with Gazprom are still taking place.

On 27 October, Ukraine lent 15 million cubic metres of gas on a condition that the debt would be repaid by 31 October. Romania has also lent natural gas to Moldova.

The day before, Naftogaz Ukrainy, the Ukrainian state-owned company, took part in a tender to supply Moldova with natural gas for the first time, and won the tender, winning the right to start supplying 500,000 cubic metres of gas to the neighbour on 29 October.

On 26 October, Energocom, Moldova state-owned company also concluded its first contract with the Polish state-owned company PGNiG for the supply of one million cubic metres of gas. The following day, Chisinau concluded a contract for the same volume of gas with the Dutch company Vitol.

All these steps are not even out of good life, as Moldova still did not have a contract with Gazprom at that time. Until then, the Moldovans had been supplied with gas by the same supplier: the contract with the Russian company was first concluded in the middle of the first decade of this century, was constantly renewed and expired at the end of September.

Talks of this year on the same issue until the end of October were fruitless, both because of the price and because of the threat by a Russian company to cut off gas supplies to the small republic if it did not repay the accumulated debt. Gazprom was asking $790 per thousand cubic metres of gas, compared with $150 for Moldova last year.

Under pressure of time and a looming gas shortage, the Moldovan authorities declared a state of emergency on 22 October, with a plea to local gas sellers and the population to save the blue fuel.

The negotiations with the Russians, which were finally successfully concluded by the Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development Andrei Spynu on PROTV-Chisinau on 2 November, were politely described as very difficult, but also constructive (it was agreed that in November, Chisinau would pay $450 per 1,000 cubic metres to Gazprom, which was still double the market price at that time).

According to the official, he even bought a one-way ticket to St Petersburg because he had no idea when it would be finished. He thanked the negotiating teams of both companies – his state-owned company MoldovaGaz and Gazprom for their patience and professionalism.

However, the Minister admitted that Chisinau did eliminate a possibility of non-renewal of the contract as a very real one, which would eventually lead Moldova to buy more expensive gas from alternative suppliers.

Because the context of the natural gas deal was totally impolite. According to the Financial Times (27 October), in return for a discount on the gas price, Gazprom ‚insisted‘ that Moldova adjust its free trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and postpone the adoption of EU rules opening its gas market to alternative suppliers in the interests of competition and thus of promoting price cuts.

According to the British daily, the Kremlin saw the natural gas negotiations with Moldova as a continuation of the policy after the convincing victory of the pro-Western Party of Action and Solidarity President Maia Sandu in the elections on 11 July (with more than 52% of the votes and 63 out of the 101 seats in the Parliament). This majority allowed the 49-year-old President to finally keep her electoral promises to fight corruption and move closer to the EU.

On 6 August, the new Parliament approved for the third time the mandate of the centre-right government led by Natalia Gavrilița, a long-time associate of Maia Sandu, a Harvard graduate, who has worked at the World Bank and the European Commission, and vice-president of the Party of Action and Solidarity.

This is the ‘gas battle check’, hoping for a continuation of the policy of the former Moldovan president Igor Dodon, who during his entire presidency in 2016-2020 did not go to neighbouring Ukraine, but was a regular visitor to Moscow and even coordinated his foreign policy statements with the Kremlin, where not a single democratic leader went there then.

According to the member of partliament of Moldova Oazu Nantoi, President Maia Sandu has inherited the deeply corrupt system fostered by Igor Dodon (gas in exchange for loyalty to the Kremlin), also in the energy sector, where, for example, the separatist region of Transnistria has been supplied with gas by Gazprom for de facto free (once the region is pro-Russian, it means it supplied gas to itself).

Eight billion dollars of debt has accumulated, which is a very heavy burden for poor Moldova. With the threat of Chisinau’s geopolitical vector shifting towards the West, Gazprom remembered about the debt (to tell the truth, ‘only’ 700 million).

According to Oazu Nantoi, Moldova is unfortunately not a country that can loudly proclaim injustice internationally, and the volume of gas supplied by the Russian company is a negligible part of Gazprom overall sales structure. Therefore, Chisinau can appeal to the solidarity of its democratic neighbours (Romania and Ukraine in particular).

In any case, it took the President of Moldova a great deal of resolve (certainly more than anyone else could afford) to publicly support Ukraine’s ‘Crimean Platform’ at the end of October, stating that her attendance at the Platform’s inaugural meeting at the end of August was a further confirmation of Chisinau’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

In the same statement, President Maia Sandu nevertheless justified the attendance of Prime Minister of Moldova Natalia Gavrilița at the meeting of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow in August on the basis of Chisinau’s pragmatic interest in pursuing a dialogue in all possible geopolitical arenas.

On 28 October, the Prime Minister attended the EU-Moldova Association meeting in Brussels, after which Head of the Community diplomacy Josep Borrell announced about support of the EU for Moldova in the face of the Kremlin’s energy pressures, as a first step in the form of a EUR 60 million donation to help neutralise the threat to the country’s most vulnerable sectors of the population.

On the same note, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, in a telephone conversation with his Moldovan counterpart on 31 October, both reassured that Kiev would support its neighbour on the issue of energy independence (agreeing to consultations of Energy ministers) and discussed the Euro-integration of the two countries, with both presidents pledging to have the EU ‘Eastern Partnership’ meeting in Brussels in December as productive as possible.

At the meeting of the Presidents of Moldova, Romania, Poland and Ukraine in Chisinau on 27 August, President Volodymyr Zelensky encouraged Moldova and Romania to act with one accord in the geopolitically sensitive Black Sea, which Moscow is seeking to turn into its own ‘inland lake’, and which, since annexation of Crimea, has been steadily militarised at the expense of the freedom of international trade.

Moreover, President Maia Sandu’s public demand for Russia to withdraw its forces (1,200 troops deployed since 1992, called peacekeepers by Moscow) from Transnistria on 23 September from the rostrum of the United Nations (UN) at the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The pro-European politicians in Molowa needed more ‘above-average’ determination, even when on 5 October they fired also Igor Dodon’s ‘legacy’ (he was appointed in November 2019 a few weeks before the handover of power to Maia Sandu) Prosecutor General Alexandru Stoianoglo as incapable of combating corruption and having being alleged with the same corruption and misuse of powers.

The text ‘Silent Advance of MoldovaTowards the West”, published here, notes about viscous transformation of Moldova into a real foreign country in relation to the autocratic East.

The opposition in the Moldovan Parliament is a bloc with the expressive name Socialists and Communists. After the election defeat, Igor Dodon ominously declared that the result meant the end of his cherished good relations with Moscow, but also expressed hope that Chisinau would not support sanctions against Russia.

For the first time in the history of the country, the President of Moldova chose Kiev over Moscow for her first foreign visit in January. On 19 July, President Maia Sandu, together with her Ukrainian and Georgian counterparts, took part in the conference in Batumi on ‘The Pulling Power of the EU and Transformation of the Region (the Black Sea – A.S.)’, and signed a final declaration on the three countries’ aspirations to become full members of the Community.

Another piece of news also belongs to the Western vector of Chisinau’s foreign policy (albeit a symbolic one) that on 12 August the Minister of Defence of Moldova Anatoly Nosaty and the Ukrainian ambassaror to Chisinau, Marko Shevchenko, had agreed that Moldovan troops from the Guard of Honour Company would march in a parade in Kiev to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Ukrainian independence.

And so on and so forth. Moscow cannot help but be irritated (to say the least) by such matters.

In this connection (and not only in view of the recent realities in our region), the least surprising thing is that in the midst of Gzaprom‘s demands to Moldova, the Speaker of the Federation Council of Russia, Valentina Matviyenko, threatened the Speaker of the Moldovan Parliament, Igor Gros, that his country would have to answer for President Maia Sandu participation in the Crimean Platform.

Arūnas Spraunius

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