Moldova’s Energy Crisis: Will Russia exploit Natural Gas as a Political Tool?

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Sergey Kupliyanov, a representative of Gazprom, threatened to cut off gas to Moldova on October 23, 2021. To avert natural gas cutbacks, Kupliyanov indicated that Moldova should pay its debt to Gazprom in full and sign a new agreement till December 1, 2021. A day before Kupliyanov’s remark, Moscow and Kishinev had a two-day meeting that ended without a resolution. During the discussion, Russia offered a 20% discount on natural gas if Moldova signed the new natural gas agreement by the deadline and paid its 700 million dollar debt. Moldova, on the other hand, claimed that it lacks the financial resources to pay and requested a 50% reduction in natural gas costs.

During these negotiations, the Moldovan Parliament declared an energy crisis in the country and imposed a state of emergency from October 22, 2021 until November 20, 2021. It also requested 15 million cubic meters of natural gas support from Ukraine.

Without a doubt, the unexpected hikes in natural gas prices in Europe had an impact on Moldova. The fact that certain of the natural gas prices mentioned in the Russia-Moldova agreement are dependent on oil prices and others on stock market prices has also impacted on Moldova. The Kishinev administration, which purchased 1000 cubic meters of natural gas for 127 dollars at the start of 2021, began purchasing it for 550 dollars in September and 800 dollars in October. The unexpected rise in natural gas prices, the extension of Russia-natural Moldova’s gas deal until September 30, 2021, and the approaching of this date, despite the expiration date of September 30, 2021, may produce a crisis in Moscow- Kishinev relations.

The gas dispute between Moldova and Russia is more than just a price issue. The majority of the gas debt claimed by Moscow, according to the Kishinev administration, goes to the Transnistria area, which declared independence from Moldova and is supervised by the Kremlin. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Transnistria issue has been one of the most contentious issues between Moldova and Russia.

Moldova is in a pickle in Transnistria. Chisinau is legally obligated to pay the region’s debts because it claims control over Transnistria. On the other side, the fact that it cannot effectively control the region and that Moldovan law does not apply in the region provides an excuse for Transnistria not to assume its responsibilities. As a result, Transnistria is seen as a “special case” in Kishinev’s relations with Moscow. Moldova anticipates sensitivity about the natural gas agreement because Russia is a party to this matter.

Russia’s unwillingness to negotiate in light of the “special situation” in Transnistria, as well as Gazprom’s threat to cut off gas to Moldova, are linked to the Kremlin’s political goals. Despite its claims to pursue business interests as an international company, Gazprom is under Russian government control and is occasionally utilized as a foreign policy tool. In this sense, Moscow’s danger to Kishinev is more than just the Kremlin’s Moldova strategy; it also seeks to influence European policies.

There are various reasons why the potential crisis on the Russia-Moldova line affects Europe. First and foremost, it should be highlighted that the increase in natural gas prices is a result of Europe’s energy policies. Europe is to blame for the six-fold increase in natural gas costs in Moldova, as well as the challenging situation with Russia.

The second point to make is that the Moldovan government elected in 2020 will pursue anti-Russian, pro-European policies. After the fall of the Soviet Union, one of the most serious issues between Moscow and Kishinev was Moldova’s decision to separate from Russia and seek integration with Romania in particular, and the West in general, as a foreign policy goal. Although governments have come and gone that wished to pursue a balanced approach between the West and Russia, no government has ever desired to move closer to Russia. As a result, Moldova’s relations with Russia are motivated by compelling factors such as the situation in Transnistria and Moldova’s reliance on Moscow.

Third, in 2014, Moldova, along with Ukraine and Georgia, signed an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU). In this context, the EU is interested in the decisions that the Moscow administration will make regarding Moldova. The EU feels that it should defend Moldova from Russia’s authoritarian policies.

In short, Moscow is attempting to utilize the situation in Moldova to further its objectives in Europe, knowing that any crisis in Moldova will also concern the EU. One of Russia’s top priorities in Europe is the completion of the Nord Stream-2 Natural Gas Pipeline. The second goal of Russia is to reverse the European Parliament resolution that prevents Gazprom from establishing a monopoly in Europe.

Moscow has not yet met its goal of starting operations for the Nord Stream-2 Pipeline Project in 2019. The European Parliament’s actions, US sanctions, Poland’s and the Baltic nations’ protests, Germany’s uncertainty, and the EU’s concerns all thwarted Russia’s aims in this direction.

The European energy crisis has provided an opportunity for Russia to fulfill its objectives. The cancellation of Moldova’s natural gas agreement with Russia, as well as the country’s lack of economic power to satisfy Moscow’s pricing demands, strengthens Russia’s influence in the energy negotiations with Europe. However, as in Moldova, putting pressure on both Moldova and Europe by seizing the opportunity given by Europe’s energy crisis entails risks for Moscow in the long run.

Russia’s efforts to turn energy developments into political ambitions will largely undermine the credibility of the Moscow administration in the sector of energy. Furthermore, it will encourage energy-consuming countries to look for alternate sources of energy for Russia. As in Ukraine in the 2000s, the country’s energy problems as a result of Russia’s natural gas restrictions during the winter months will push Moldova further away from Russia. Chisinau will seek alternate energy sources in order to lessen its reliance on Gazprom. Moldova, which has close ties with Ukraine and Romania, will also back Poland and other Eastern European nations in their fight against Russia.

As a result, it is now unknown whether a natural gas agreement between Russia and Moldova will be signed on December 1, 2021. However, it is apparent that the natural gas pricing issue has begun to wreak havoc on Russia-Moldova and Russia-Europe relations.

Lisans öğrenimini Ankara Üniversitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde tamamlayan Dr. Sabir Askeroğlu, yüksek lisans derecesini Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda almıştır. Doktora eğitimini İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda tamamlayan Dr. Askeroğlu, çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında görev yapmıştır. Başlıca ilgi alanları, Avrasya çalışmaları ve Rus dış politikası olan Dr. Askeroğlu, iyi derecede Rusça ve İngilizce bilmektedir.