After the victory of the pro-European forces in the last rounds of elections in Chisinau (presidential and parliamentary), many people wondered how Russia will respond and what will be the price paid by the Republic of Moldova for the deeply pro-European option. A few months later (and after several actions aimed at reforming the state) came the answer: Gazprom decided to increase the price for natural gas supplies to the Republic of Moldova to $790 for one thousand cubic meters (compared to about $149 up until now). In addition, the Republic of Moldova is required to pay a debt of 709 million dollars, an amount accumulated in the last 20 years.
Gazprom’s “offer” comes after the pro-European government in Chisinau had taken several important steps to reform the state, the most important of which being the removal of the prosecutor general – a move aimed at starting the reform of the judiciary. The reform in this sector has probably severely disrupted various networks of power and influence, especially in the context in which Moldovan prosecutors and judges played an important role in money laundering schemes and raider attacks (see the case of the Russian Laundromat).
As President Sandu pointed out at an event organized at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna, the current gas crisis may have major implications for the fate of the pro-European government in Chisinau, an exaggerated price risking to destabilize the Moldovan budget and to considerably reduce the pro-European sentiments of citizens (a situation that would inevitably affect all government plans to reform the state).
Russia’s energy blackmail seeks (as revealed by the Financial Times, quoted by the Romanian press) to limit Moldova’s ties with the EU – e.g. postponement, renegotiation or waiver of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU and the Energy Package 3 – and / or to foster popular protests amid the lack of heat during the winter.
After all, Russia’s actions are not a surprise: not necessarily because any Russian observer should already be accustomed to the fact that Moscow is using everything to gain political and economic advantage, but also because that Russia’s recently published Security Strategy makes it clear (in Articles 13 and 16) that Moscow is economically stable and has demonstrated the ability to withstand punitive economic pressures, while the world’s major economies stagnate or enter a recession.
These references can be read as follows: Russia has the resources to maintain its economic independence and since other actors are playing dirty, from an economic point of view (sanctions against Moscow), then Russia is also allowed to exploit their vulnerabilities – especially since Moldova’s current energy crisis is part of a global energy crisis.
The Actions of the Government in Chisinau
The main official communicators from Chisinau on the negotiations with Gazprom, Natalia Gavriliță and Andrei Spînu, pointed out that the price demanded by the Russian company is in fact a factor of pressure on the Republic of Moldova, an offer that is not to Chisinau’s advantage. Prime Minister Gavriliță said that negotiations for a new contract with Gazprom were going well, but the new price appeared just before the contract was to be renewed. Both Spînu and Gavriliță have recently hinted that Gazprom’s offer is not strictly commercial, but it has some strings attached, especially political ones such as the settlement of the Transnistrian conflict.
In addition to the two Moldovan officials already mentioned, President Maia Sandu, of course, has an extremely important role in managing this crisis. Sandu’s extreme relevance is not only due to the fact that she has had countless meetings with EU officials and EU Member States on the subject of economic blackmail to which the Republic of Moldova is subjected by Gazprom, but also from the fact that she is the main actor who contributes constantly to the creation and maintenance of channels of communication with Western Europe (both through official action and through a presence in various non-governmental formats – such as the presence at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna – designed to familiarize and keep the public informed with the situation in the Republic of Moldova).
Obviously, the Government didn’t just pointed out that Russia is blackmailing the Republic of Moldova and pursues major political concessions in exchange for a lower gas price (in fact, it is not difficult to guess that Transnistria is the real Russian stake, especially since on the main Russian negotiator is Dmitri Kozak, who, most likely, seeks revenge after the failure of the negotiations on the Transdniestrian issue, carried out by him during the Voronin regime).
Immediately after the stalemate in the negotiations with Gazprom, the leaders from Chisinau launched a real diplomatic offensive to identify alternative sources to Russian gas, and the first concrete result was the signing of an agreement between the Moldovan company Energocom and the Poles from PGNiG for the delivery of one million m3 of natural gas.
There was also media speculation about an agreement with Naftogaz (Ukraine) for the purchase of 700 million m3 of natural gas, but these rumors were refuted by Prime Minister Gavriliță. There have been speculations that Kiev will provide Chisinau with one billion m3 of natural gas in exchange for filing the case of the abduction of former Ukrainian magistrate Nicolae Ceaus. (who became known after the controversies that follwed his abduction from Chisinau, in April 2021). The speculations came after Andrei Gerus, an Ukrainian MP, posted on Telegram an announcement according to which at a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council (CNSA) in Kiev the decision was made to lend the Republic of Moldova with “a certain amount of gas”. In reality, however, it is a symbolic loan of 16 million m3 of gas, as confirmed for the Ukrainian press, the CNSA secretary, Oleksii Danilov.
Internally, on October 21, 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spînu decided to allocate 16,500 tons of fuel oil for domestic consumption in the context of the expiring contract with Gazprom. On October 22, 2021, the government also declared a state of energy emergency for 30 days, an extremely important decision because it allows the authorities to quickly purchase natural gas and streamline the consumption of energy resources if necessary.
The establishment of the state of emergency and the rapid action of the decision makers in Chisinau brought the second success after signing the contract with PGNiG: the Dutch company Vitol announced that from October 27, 2021 it will deliver to the Republic of Moldova one million cubic meters of natural gas.
The entire external and internal tour de force was doubled by the continuation of negotiations with Gazprom. Present in Moscow for talks with Dmitri Kozak (October 21, 2021), Deputy Prime Ministers Vladislav Kulminski and Andrei Spînu demanded a 50% discount on the price per one thousand cubic meters, but the Russian counter-offer was a 25% discount together with the payment, in three years, of the debt of over 700 million dollars.
As expected, the crisis in the energy sector was fully exploited by pro-Russian forces in the Republic of Moldova. The spearhead was the Bloc of Communists and Socialists (BCS), which accused the government of bearing full responsibility for the crisis that the Republic of Moldova is going through (practically, a resumption of the theses expressed by Gazprom representative Sergey Kuprianov).
The parliamentary session meant to establish a state of emergency in the energy field was the perfect opportunity for BCS to disseminate conspiracy narratives against the government – such as the accusation that pro-Europeans deliberately provoked the current crisis to divert money from the budget (under the pretext of buying quickly large quantities of natural gas). The narrative was later rolled by various representatives of pro-Russian forces in Chisinau.
In an attempt to pose as the “savior of the nation,” BCS sent a delegation to Moscow to negotiate with Kozak a new price for the gas. The BCS representatives invoked the fact that “Moldovan negotiators (ie. the rightful authorities) are young and inexperienced”, the Communists and Socialists being the only ones able to negotiate a good price for the Republic of Moldova.
A short comment: it must have been a tremendous surprise for Kozak to see in Moscow the representatives of BCS, “Russia’s reliable partners”, who, despite all forms of support from the Russian side, lost all their leverage in two years. In fact, Kozak & Russia would not have been put in the position of resorting to energy blackmail, if Voronin & Dodon had not proved to be such weak politicians. We can only imagine the astonishment and indignation of Kozak – a tough and powerful Russian decision-maker – at the demands of “great politicians” such as those who came from BCS.
On various pro-Russian social media channels, the dominant message is that the Chisinau authorities refuse to buy natural gas from Gazprom not because of the price, but because of a Russophobic reflex. Natalia Gavriliță and Maia Sandu are accused of acting under a Russophobic ideological imperative, specific to Western Europe, which leads to the suffering of the ordinary people. At the same time, the President of the Republic of Moldova is accused of seeking to seize all power in the state, to censor the media and to introduce a strict austerity regime. Moldova’s participation in the Crimean Platform is described as a provocative gesture against Russia.
A message like “Moldova provoked Russia” aims to shed a positive light on Moscow’s energy blackmail (automatically, such a message can provoke a response such as “it is only normal for Russia to react in some way!”). The narrative “Moscow is taking revenge on Chisinau for participating in the Crimean Platform” is only seemingly in contradiction with the one claiming that the Republic of Moldova does not want to buy Russian gas because of a Russophobic reflex. In fact, they address to different audiences: the first message is addressed to citizens who are afraid of a price explosion but do not necessarily have geopolitical biases, the second message seeks to agitate the pro-Russian electorate. In both cases, the goal is the same: to blame the pro-European government.
The energy crisis in the Republic of Moldova was also in the media attention in Moscow. For example, in an edition of Время покажет of October 25, 2021, the main idea about the situation in the Republic of Moldova was that although Chisinau clearly claims to be independent of Russia, Moldovan leaders are also the ones who are currently asking Russia to reduce its gas tariff (even though the price proposed by Gazprom has a strictly economic motivation). It was argued that you cannot accuse Russia of being an aggressor and an occupier, but then also ask Russia for favors.
The Chisinau-Kiev relationship and the decision of the Ukrainian authorities to lend natural gas to the Republic of Moldova were not forgotten either, being resumed in this regard the statements of Oleg Voloshin (former spokesman of the Ukrainian MFA during the Yanukovych regime) according to which: “Giving gas to the Moldovans while the schools in Ukraine are closed due to lack of heat, this is a state betrayal, and CNSA members who voted for this are simply bastards!”
In the same tone, meant to attest to the ferocious Russophobia of the leaders from Chisinau, in the show broadcasted by Pervyi Kanal it was recalled that the Moldovan citizens were shocked by the fact that, due to the natural gas crisis, the Flame from the Eternity Memorial Complex was extinguished. In fact, as reported by the Chisinau press, Flacăra was only temporarily moved, with all the necessary honors, to the Museum of Military Glory from the “Ștefan cel Mare” Motorized Infantry Brigade.
The inventory of accusations includes the statements of Igor Korotchenko (editor-in-chief of the National Defense publication) on Rossia 1. With a martial mine and an extremely strong tone, Korotchenko pointed out that the Republic Moldova owes Russia $ 800 million for natural gas supplies, which is a trade debt, not a historical one, and the talks should be very clear: “No gas for any Russophobic regime in the former Soviet states! Either you buy gas from Europe at spot prices, or if you want contracts with Russia, with discounts, accept the conditions we have indicated to you”. After Russophobia, the Republic of Moldova was also accused of theft – since through negotiations would seek “to steal money from the pockets of Russian taxpayers, because Gazprom’s income is generally used to finance social spending (pensions, allowances).” Korotchenko was clear: “Russophobes should be allowed to freeze!”
Romania and Norway: possible solutions to the energy crisis in the Republic of Moldova?
Regarding Romania’s actions in the context of the current energy crisis, the main stake is not to ask ourselves What can Romania do?, but to make a clear inventory of what Romania has done. And Bucharest has done a lot, practically in anticipation of this vulnerability now exploited by Gazprom.
The most important thing that Bucharest has done is the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline, which became operational in October 2021. Deputy Prime Minister Spînu noted that the price of gas that will come through this gas pipeline is higher than the one that the Republic of Moldova used to pay. However, realistically, the Republic of Moldova should not expect the detachment from Russian energy to be done effortlessly and, in no case, extremely quickly. The gas pipeline exists and is functional (largely due to the Romanian company Transgaz), representing a real alternative to Russia. Obviously, there are still technical and economic aspects to be calibrated, but neither Romania nor the current government in Chisinau can be blamed for these setbacks.
The Romanian Commodity Exchange (RCE) is also involved in solving the energy crisis in the Republic of Moldova. As Gabriel Purice, head of the Stock Exchange, stated in Chisinau, “RCE is a platform. On this platform, sellers meet buyers. The stock exchange ensures the best price for the buyer, obviously it also generates transparency and competition at all times. In addition, we also guarantee the transactions. The existence of such a platform on the gas market will lead to the diversification of supply sources“.
In addition, as always, the Romanian MFA put the case of the Republic of Moldova on the EU agenda, this time asking for the support of the European institutions for helping the Chisinau in these extremely difficult times.
In the Chisinau media, Norway has already been mentioned as a possible solution to the energy crisis. For example, during a Jurnal TV talk-show it was mentioned that the only solution for the Republic of Moldova is to buy natural gas from Norway, via Poland (based on the Polish-Norwegian partnership and a possible pro-Chisinau lobby made by Warsaw in Oslo).
All we know so far is that the Republic of Moldova has indeed bought natural gas from Poland, from PGNiG Upstream Norway – which has a great deal of experience in exploitations in Norway and a strong partnership with this state.
A Romanian-Norwegian aid for the Republic of Moldova would turn Chisinau into a point of convergence of the interests of these two states and would demonstrate that, in the face of Russia’s malicious actions, states identify compatibilities and can advance solutions, regardless of geographical location.
So far, these are the main developments regarding the energy crisis that the Republic of Moldova is facing as a result of the Russian blackmailing. The Moldovan-Russian negotiations will certainly continue, and Russian propaganda will intensify as Chisinau strives to break its dependence on Moscow. Internally, Chisinau continues to act responsibly, as evidenced by the statements of President Sandu after convening on October 28, 2021 the Supreme Security Council. The Republic of Moldova also received EU aid worth $ 60 million, which, according to Prime Minister Gavriliță, will be used to offset the price of gas.
All this proves that the Republic of Moldova has solutions to overcome the current crisis. However, these are only temporary solutions, which cannot help the Republic of Moldova to survive through the winter. The current crisis will certainly continue and it is not excluded that the situation will deteriorate significantly in the absence of some concessions to Russia (this is what the Kremlin is hoping for). For the time being, the mood of the citizens is good, communication and activism for resolving the crisis being the most important resources to avoid important popular dissatisfaction. As always, the weak social spots (and with the potential to be inflamed by propaganda, especially against the background of the lack of heat) remain the Transnistrian region, the north of the Republic and Gagauzia.