Opinion: Chisinau’s Recent Actions Make Absolutely No Sense

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The peculiarity in the maneuvers of the authorities during the gas crisis is enhancing. Unless, of course, there are hidden motives behind them.
Vladimir Rotar, RTA: While there are few days left before the expiration of the existing agreement between Moldova and Gazprom, the responsible officials regularly go somewhere, hold not so informative briefings, but there are no answers to the main questions: at what price and from whom we will buy gas. Tomorrow, Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu will once again travel to Russia to finally get an appointment with the head of the Russian gas monopolist Alexei Miller. However, the chances that the case will get off the ground seem small. Both sides stand firmly on their positions, believing that they have conceded enough. Is this the reality? Let’s figure it out. The statements in the media by the official representative of Gazprom give the impression that the company is ready to extend the current contract for another month, subject to full payment of supplies for September and October of this year. It sounds quite reasonable. During this time, they propose to find a final compromise this time on a long-term agreement and are ready to make a 25 percent discount for Chisinau, provided that the historical debt of right-bank Moldova is repaid within a few years. It is clear that the Russian side is being a little deceitful when they say that in the current situation there is only a purely economic implication and no politics – with the Moldovan government more pleasant to the Kremlin at least the issue of debts could not be raised so acutely. On the other hand, Gazprom's position is hardly radical, especially taking into account some points that will be mentioned later. The final discounted price is not announced, but according to some reports it will be about $ 600. Which, of course, is much more than before, but quite sparing in the current market conditions. As for Chisinau, things are not so clear. At first glance, the authorities act absolutely correctly, seeking the best contract terms and the most favorable prices for the country. Officials openly say that by doing so, first of all, they protect the interests of the republic. Nevertheless, the peculiarity in sometimes completely illogical actions of our managers is enhancing, which is already difficult to turn a blind eye to. In fact, Chisinau wants to get an enormous non-market discount on natural gas from Gazprom, but at the same time: under the pretext of introducing a EU Third Energy Package, they plan to take away the company's property in the republic; are unwilling to even raise the topic of the historical debt of the left bank or to recognize the gas debt of the right bank of Moldova, which at the moment exceeds 700 million dollars. That is, Gazprom's interests are not only being disregarded, but, let's say, they will be violated with might and main. It is not very clear what big discounts can they expect with such attitude. At the same time, Chisinau is trying to put pressure on Moscow in the negotiations on two main points. The first is the availability of alternative sources. Our responsible persons have developed particularly vigorous activity in this area in recent weeks. Very quickly and in violation of the law, we found in the budget 1.7 billion lei for the state-owned company Energocom. And through it the first commercial purchase by tender from the Polish supplier PGNiG was already made. Thus – this is what the authorities are now bragging about – for the first time in the history of Moldova, gas will come as if not from Russia. However, the price for it – about $ 1,200, twice as high as Gazprom's – and a small volume, which was called a “tentative”, do not look so inspiring anymore. In addition, according to Ukrainian media reports, the same Energocom signed a framework agreement with Ukrainian Naftogaz for the supply of up to 700 million cubic meters. This is a lot – more than half of the annual needs of the country, excluding the Pridnestrovian region. However, this gas is naturally not humanitarian aid and will cost accordingly - about the same $ 1,200, which will include, among other things, the profit of our neighbor. If we keep thinking, it becomes quite strange. It turns out that Chisinau is going to buy “Ukrainian” gas – previously purchased from European suppliers, who in turn bought it from Gazprom – with associated costs for mediation and transportation instead of receiving gas directly from Russia. And they call it a profitable offer! Such maneuvers will hardly impress the Kremlin, for which the Moldovan gas market is, in fact, only a drop in the ocean. Therefore, Chisinau has another trump card – Pridnestrovie, which also needs gas and in even larger volumes. The authorities, as already mentioned, give every appearance that Moldova will be able to receive gas from other sources and through other lines as, for example, the long-suffering Iasi-Chisinau gas pipeline. At the same time, the latter covers all the needs of Moldova, but without the left bank, to which the pipes are naturally not fitted. The calculation is clear - Moscow cannot leave the enclave without gas, which, in general, supports the local economy, and allows the most important enterprises like MMZ and the largest power plant to operate. However, this card may play much weaker than the ruling party imagines. Firstly, we should not rule out the possibility of a separate gas agreement with Pridnestrovie. Secondly, the calculation that Ukraine will block the supply for the region on its territory as a “first call resolution” is unrealistic. On the contrary, Kiev is now clinging with all its might to transit through its own GTS, bringing billions of dollars to the treasury, which, after the launch of all the “streams”, including Nord Stream-2, is highly likely to be unattended. There is a reason why Ukraine, for all its hostile rhetoric towards Moscow, recently agreed to make a huge 50% discount on gas transit in excess of the volumes established by the contract, including for Gazprom. Somehow it will be extremely unprofitable for Ukraine to harm its transit State position, even for the sake of the interests of friendly Moldova. After all, it's one thing not to let the transport with Pridnestrovian license-plates in, which basically costs Kiev nothing, and completely another thing – to give additional trump cards to Moscow in order to once again show the country's insolvency as a gas hub. And we all know the scrupulousness of Ukrainians when it comes to financial issues. The same example with the continuation of the construction of a hydropower plant cascade on the Dniester, despite all the objections of Chisinau, is quite illustrative. Plus, it is worth keeping in mind that by leaving Pridnestrovie to the mercy of fate in the gas crisis, the central authorities will certainly not contribute to the reintegration of the region, which in this case will certainly be able to count on a significant increase in support from the Russian Federation. The whole situation is downright strange. The authorities seem to be selflessly fighting with Gazprom for the benefit of the best contract terms for the country. Nevertheless, there is an increasing feeling that Chisinau's rigid positions are not based on noble motives, but on the desire to make a historic break in gas ties with Russia, even despite the enormous financial losses. And all these endless rounds of negotiations are just an imitation and a basis for subsequent statements that “everything possible has been done”. This explains the hysteria escalated in the Moldovan media about “Russian blackmail”, “exorbitant demands”, etc. Unwilling to conclude a contract with Gazprom at an “inflated” price, the authorities are making strange maneuvers, even violating the law, buying gas for twice the price and presenting it to society as a “breakthrough” and a “historic” achievement. If we take the officials at their bare word, it turns out that the logic in their actions is faulty. However, if we consider ulterior motives, everything falls into place: the Crimean platform, the crisis in the Pridnestrovian settlement, demands to the UN for the withdrawal of Russian troops, actions against peacekeepers. And now we’re having the gas split, which may drive another – if not one of the last – nail into the coffin of the prospects of Moldovan-Russian relations.