Moldova rejects Russia's gas ultimatum

26/09/2012

The pro-European administration in Chisinau is not willing to meet Moscow's conditions for cheaper gas exports.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 26/09/12

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If Moldova joins the Third Energy Package, Russian gas giant Gazprom will be forced to sell part of its gas infrastructure in the country. [Reuters]

Moscow's warning to Moldova to give up its co-operation with the EU in return for cheaper Russian gas was met with reticence in Chisinau and drew alarm calls from economic analysts who ruled out any possibility that the former Soviet republic will yield to the ultimatum.

During a visit to Russia earlier this month, Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat tried to negotiate lower gas prices with his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin.

In 2011, Moldova imported 3.1 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia, for which it paid $1 billion.

Filat's drive was cut short immediately. "Moldova seeks a 30 percent cut … we propose that the Republic of Moldova denounces the protocol on adhering to the Europe Energy Community Agreement. This is a precondition for us to discuss the issue of gas price cuts and the relief of debt, which now amounts to $4.1 billion," Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said.

The former Soviet republic, which has embarked upon a winding road toward the EU accession, is due to adhere to the Third Energy Package which forbids a company to both supply and transport gas at the same.

This requirement would affect Russian gas giant Gazprom, which will be forced to sell part of its gas infrastructure in Moldova. Russia announced in January that it contested the package and was seeking juridical means to elude it.

"Through this proposal, Russia hopes to weaken Moldova's relations with the EU. Denying the agreement on the Third Energy Package means denying the whole European vector of the country. Without Brussels' support, Moldova would become an easier prey to Moscow," Valeriu Prohnitchi, executive-director of Expert Group, a Moldovan independent think-tank, told SETimes.

"Geopolitically, all this equals to Moldova's substantial reduction of its political dependence on the Russia Federation and an increase of its diplomatic maneuver margin," he said.

Long term, Russia's aim is to bring Moldova back into its sphere of influence and integrate it in Moscow's backed economic projects, such as the Euro-Asian Union, Prohnitchi said.

In Chisinau, Russia's request was met with opposition. "Moldova's European integration course cannot be negotiated," Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti said on September 17th.

"This is out of question. If we denounced the protocol on the energetic co-operation with the EU, this would mean not one step, but 10 steps back on our European integration road," Moldovan Parliament Speaker Marian Lupu said.

Filat, however, said Moldova can offer Gazprom guarantees concerning the protection of the investments made by the Russian gas company even if the country joins the European energy community.

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Filat's visit to Moscow came amid tensions between Russia and the EU after the latter started an investigation against Gazprom over prices and conditions under which the Russian company operates on the European market.

Russia has often used its gas as a geostrategic weapon, cutting gas supplies to strengthen its influence on countries it envisaged as being in its sphere of influence, such as Ukraine and Belarus, and even to highlight its energy vantage point in relation to the EU.

"We must break this vicious circle of Russian gas imports if we want to evolve as a sovereign country. We've been captive in this paradigm for too long," Alexei Strunga, a Moldovan political science student in Bucharest, told SETimes.

"And EU is the best answer for this. If we do not know how to seize this opportunity, maybe our place is not in the European community after all. And Russia has to learn to also accept 'no' for an answer."

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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