Will Moldova Make a Concession on the Dniester to Ukraine?

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Christian RUSSU

Ukraine has launched the fourth turbine at the Dnestrovskaya GAES and is planning to commission the next units, which leads to the risks of river eutrophication and a shortage of drinking water, including for residents of Moldova. What will Chisinau do?

On August 17, the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmyhal took part in the official start-up of the fourth out of the seven planned units of the Dnestrovskaya pumped-storage power plant in a generator mode. This is a very significant event for the neighboring state, since the country's energy system got additional 324 megawatts of electricity. This fact is expected to bring a lot of dividends, from political to economic, to the Ukrainian leadership and at the same time give a reason to declare another achievement on the way towards an independent and self-sufficient energy network. The latter is all the more important if we take into account the last year's experience when Ukraine, due to a shortage of generating capacities, had to return to purchasing electricity from Russia and Belarus. Amid the coal delivery problems from the uncontrolled areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the country's thermal power plants are losing significant amounts of resources. The situation with nuclear power plants remains difficult: non-routine power units shutdowns and off-schedule repairs at Ukrainian nuclear power plants do not add optimism. In this setting, the authorities really need to demonstrate to the population and Western partners their capability to implement large-scale projects. At an event in the Chernivtsi region, Shmyhal was generous with comments, saying that the launch of the fourth unit will be followed by immediate construction of the fifth one, and it is necessary to build the sixth and the seventh ones in the near future. Thus, according to him, all the work being completed, this will be the largest pumped storage power plant in Europe and the sixth in the world, which is important from the point of view of both ecology and replacement of energy generation with alternative and renewable energy sources. He also noted that such a launch is important ahead of Ukraine's integration with the European energy network ENTSO-E and in terms of maintaining national security in the field of energy. A big plus of the launched power facilities for Ukraine is the ability to quickly eliminate the power shortage at peak loads, which cannot be achieved from nuclear and thermal power plants. In fact, this is cheap electricity that can be used in case of a deficit within the country's network, and in addition, it can be exported to the EU from Moldova. In the latter case, Ukraine may significantly improve its negotiating stance to compete with the Moldavskaya GRES. Denis Shmyhal's references about Ukraine's attention to renewable energy sources are obviously aimed at the European consumer and are in tune with the global trends. On the other hand, not everyone shares the optimism about “environmental concerns”. Environmentalists and social activists of Moldova and Ukraine have long been fighting against implementing the construction project of the second stage of a hydroelectric power station in the upper reaches of the Dniester. According to experts, the shortage of drinking water can be faced by 10 million residents of Moldova, Romania and Ukraine, and the river itself on our territory risks turning into a swamp. With only two units commissioned at the Dnestrovskaya GAES, the annual volume of water in the Dniester has decreased from 10 to 7 cubic kilometers. Losses are commensurate with the volume of all water flowing through the Prut River per year. The temperature of the water discharged from the station is 6-8 degrees Celsius, which does not allow the traditional flora and fauna representatives to develop in it. Nevertheless, none of the representatives of the ruling majority have criticized Ukraine's actions so far. Despite the fact that the issue of the Dniester ecology was raised during the January meeting of Maia Sandu and Volodymyr Zelensky, it seems that Chisinau has decided to turn a blind eye to Kiev's accelerated construction of new units, apparently for political reasons. By the way, in view of the need to build new facilities for the technological process when launching the next turbines, the issue of 20 hectares of land owned by Moldova in this area will be extremely acute for Ukraine. During the future construction, it will be necessary to raise the buffer reservoir level by 7–8 meters, and as a result, most of the area will be flooded, including the aforementioned 20 hectares which Ukraine expects to lease. This issue has been negotiated for over ten years already, but the Moldovan officials have not expressed their clear consent yet. Even during Vlad Plahotniuc's years of power in Moldova and Petro Poroshenko's in Ukraine, a compromise on this issue was never reached. However, by all appearances, the parties are now close to resolving it. The new leadership of the republic seems to be ready to make concessions on environmental issues of the Dniester in order to maintain partnership relations with Ukraine and receive support in the issue of the Transdniestrian settlement. These plans have probably been agreed upon and have already received approval in Brussels, since no progress has been observed in the European examination of how new pumped storage facilities on the Dniester affect the environment. Indeed, why should European officials care about environmental issues in Moldova and Ukraine more than the leadership of these countries? The thirty-year anniversary of our republic's independence to be celebrated tomorrow will be attended by several "highly distinguished" guests, including the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. It will be very interesting to see if Sandu and Zelensky will raise the Dniester issue at a face-to-face meeting. But, be that as it may, if in the near future we hear about the agreement reached on Moldova's transfer of 20 hectares of land in the Naslavchi region for lease to Ukraine, then it will be possible to talk about the end of this long-standing dispute between the two countries - albeit, to the detriment of our country and its essential waterway.