Russia threatened to stop the supply of natural gas to Moldova, and the crisis highlighted the diplomatic dilemma of this small Eastern European country and the former Soviet republics in the context of energy shortages.
In October 2021, European natural gas and other energy prices generally rose sharply. When energy shortages occur in many countries, Russia stated that unless Moldova repays its debt of 700 million US dollars, it may stop gas supply from December 1.
This move immediately aroused great international attention. The United States has been accusing Russia of using energy as a geopolitical weapon against Europe that needs to use Russian petrochemical energy.
Although neighboring countries Poland and Romania have expressed support for Moldova, Poland also needs to import Russian energy.
Small Central European Countries Between East and West
The Republic of Moldova is located in south-central Eastern Europe, bordering Romania and Ukraine. It covers an area of approximately 33,800 square kilometers. The population in 2021 is estimated to be less than three million inhabitants.
Historically, Moldova was annexed by Russia, Romania and other countries at different times. It became a republic of the former Soviet Union in the last century. It became independent when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Although Moldova after independence actively hopes to integrate into Europe and join the European Union, it cannot get rid of the influence of Russia in all aspects. Therefore, it has long adopted a diplomacy that emphasizes the development of a balanced East-West relationship with Europe and the United States as a priority.
At present, it is still one of the poorest countries in Europe. Moldova’s economy is dominated by agriculture, and its industry is heavily dependent on foreign energy supplies, materials and technical support.
Russia-Morocco gas dispute
So far, 100% of Moldova’s natural gas supply comes from Russia.
However, the original supply contract expires at the end of September 2021. Gazprom increased the gas supply price, and Moldova was unwilling to pay.
In the absence of a new agreement, the Russian energy giant reduced supplies, prompting Moldova to declare a 30-day national emergency.
Gazprom accused Moldova of provoking the crisis and demanded the repayment of US$709 million (514 million euros) in debt. Moldova disputed this.
Negotiations are still going on. Moldovan officials have stated that they hope to sign a new contract with Gazprom, but only if conditions are favorable to them.
Other energy channels
If there is no agreement with Russia, can Moldova buy enough natural gas elsewhere?
Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikko Popescu told BBC Russia correspondent Rosenberg that on October 26, 2010, Moldova created a new history. For the first time, it did not purchase natural gas from Gazprom, but from Poland. Of energy companies import natural gas.
However, the amount of natural gas imported from Poland is only 1 million cubic meters. This is far from enough for the natural gas needed by Moldova. Moreover, Poland itself needs to import Russian natural gas.
In addition, Popescu said that in recent years, Romania has built a new natural gas pipeline to Moldova, providing Moldova with a secure supply channel. The country also received some suggestions from the European Union on how to diversify the country’s natural gas supply.
Popescu admitted that now is the worst time for a natural gas crisis in the country. The price of natural gas is higher than ever. Moldova is also seeing a global market crisis. But the country still received the above-mentioned support.
Like many companies in Moldova, the sugar factory in Drocia was also affected by the shortage of natural gas.
Pro-European, pro-Russian and energy “ace”
Moldova used to be a satellite country in Moscow’s orbit, but has recently tilted from Russia to the west.
The country’s leaders now support Europe and support a closer relationship with the European Union. Many Moldovans suspect that the gas crisis is the Kremlin’s way of expressing opposition.
Sergey Tofilat, a former energy adviser to the President of Moldova, said that Moldova held parliamentary elections in 2021, and pro-Russian parties lost. There is now a pro-Western party in power.
He believes that, therefore, Russia has changed its approach to the issue of natural gas supply. The Kremlin wants to punish the Moldovan people for voting against pro-Russian parties. This is pure politics.
He said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to keep the countries of the former Soviet Union within the sphere of influence of the Kremlin. But Moldova does not want to succumb to Moscow. He believes that Russian extortion must be rejected, and now there is a chance to get rid of Russian influence in Moldova.
The Kremlin denies the use of energy as a weapon. President Putin recently refuted this statement, calling it “politically motivated nonsense and unprovoked delusion.”
However, it is not easy for Moldova to reduce Russia’s influence.
In terms of energy, Moldova and Moscow are closely tied together. The country is not only 100% dependent on Gazprom, Gazprom is also the majority shareholder of Moldova’s gas company. More than 80% of Moldova’s electricity comes from a power plant owned by Russia in the Trans-Dniester region. The power plant is located in a separatist region of Moldova, and the separatist forces receive economic, political and military benefits. Moscow’s support.
If you compare gas negotiations to a game of poker, Russia has a trump card.
But the area along the Transnistria may also prove to be a weakness for Moscow.
Tofilat said that Gazprom needs to sign a natural gas contract with Moldova so that it can also supply natural gas to separated areas. Gazprom is a listed company, and its shares are listed on the stock exchange. It cannot allow itself to sign contracts with suppliers in Transnistria that have not been officially recognized.
In the town of Balti, Moldovan motorists are also feeling the effects of the gas shortage. BBC reporter Rosenberg said he saw long lines at gas stations. Dozens of cars and dissatisfied drivers lined up.
A taxi driver named Valera told the BBC reporter that they are now in this situation because their country tends to be European. If Moldova were still with Russia, everything would be different.
Another driver, Yula, said that Moldova’s leaders now want to be friends with Europe and the United States. To get cheap natural gas, they should go to Moscow to reach an agreement. Moldova needs to bow to Russia.
Rosenberg believes that for a Moldovan government that has set a pro-European route, it is currently facing a danger: chronic natural gas shortages and higher energy bills may make Moldovans question whether their country is heading in the right direction. .
Rostislav Magdi, the manager of the sugar factory, said that currently only a quarter of the gas supply that is normally needed can be used. It is also supplemented by alternative energy sources. It is hoped that the Moldovan government can make up for any business losses caused by high fuel prices.