Will Moscow Be Able to Change Moldova’s Mind?

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Sergiu Ceban
The coming months will show whether the country’s leadership is going to defend its strategic pro-European goals even to the neglect of Moldova’s economic interests, as well as to what extent Western partners are ready to provide real assistance during the energy crisis.
Tomorrow in Brussels, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita, together with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, will hold the sixth meeting of the Moldova-EU Association Council. It is expected that during the event, the head of government and her European colleagues will sign an Association Agreement on the Horizon Europe program. Apart from that, the politicians will discuss the current relations of the Union with Moldova, cooperation in foreign affairs, security and trade. And, of course, special attention will be paid to energy sector. The Head of the Cabinet visit agenda also includes meetings with the EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel and Deputy Director General of DG NEAR, the Directorate General for Neighbourhood & Enlargement Negotiations of the European Commission Katarina Mathernova. Prior to the meeting, the official representative of the European Commission said that Brussels is ready to help Moldova overcome the energy crisis, which resulted from tough talkss with Russian Gazprom and led to a natural gas shortage. At the same time, it was noted that the European Union provides “all available technical and financial assistance” to help deal with current challenges and identify alternatives to diversify energy sources. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had a telephone conversation with President Maia Sandu, expressed support for Chisinau. The European official stressed that the EU is currently considering additional measures to support Moldova’s energy security. Moscow, naturally testing the flexibility limits of the current Moldovan government with natural gas, still rendered it an invaluable service on the eve of the Association Council meeting. That is Brussels must now somehow more seriously attend to the need to support Chisinau in its determined pursuit of integration with the European community and a final break of ties with Moscow. In general, there is a feeling that Kremlin continues to revise the nature of bilateral relations with our country and consistently diversifies the means of its influence. Thus, Moscow’s long-time partner Igor Dodon, who still retains the status of the Socialists Party leader, somewhat hastily decided to hand over his deputy mandate and to head the “Moldovan-Russian Union of Business People” in order to rationalize relations between the two countries. It seems that in this way, although Dodon has been pushed out of the internal political processes in Moldova, he is being put into a separate orbit of Moldovan-Russian relations with particular tasks, resources and prospects. To demonstrate his presence “in the game”, the Socialist leader immediately left for Moscow in his new role, where, in addition to the usual photo meetings, Igor Dodon was organized to communicate with high-ranking representatives of the Russian banking sector, following which interest was indicated in the appearance of a large Russian credit institution on the Moldovan banking market. As a representative of Business Russia, the ex-president intends to organize another major event in order to stimulate investment interest from the Russian business community. Dodon and the Socialists’ attempts to join in the process of overcoming the energy crisis deserve special attention. Yes, Dmitry Kozak, in response to the Moldovan delegation’s requests to facilitate a mutually beneficial contract, re-stated Russia’s stance on lacking grounds for the price offer to be reduced. However, the very fact of the ex-president’s involvement in this issue at the level of Russia’s presidential administration indicates that his personal political relevance retains. Thus, Igor Dodon is apparently entering the investment and economic niche as a conductor and lobbyist of Russian capital in Moldova. Such a transfer of the Socialist leader seems to fit into Moscow’s strategic plans to ramp up financial and economic levers of influence on the internal situation in our country. Given the stalled gas talks and the lack of financial opportunities for Chisinau, the Kremlin, for example, may offer the Moldovan authorities certain credit resources from one of the Russian banks to refinance the debt, thereby confronting the Moldovan leadership with a tough but compromise-leading choice. The whole difficulty is connected with last year’s story when the Action and Solidarity party vigorously opposed the Russian credit line. Realizing a certain hopelessness of the current circumstances for Moldova, Moscow might even put forward the most radical demands. Thus, the British version of The Financial Times, citing its own sources (most likely in the Moldovan government), writes that during the recent negotiations in the Russian capital representatives of Chisinau were offered to adjust the Free Trade Agreement with the EU in favor of Russia, as well as postpone the energy market liberalization (the so-called Third Energy Package), in exchange for more favorable contractual terms. It must be assumed that Russia has created as comfortable as possible situation for itself and is now trying to make the most of it in order to serve not only commercial but also political interests. The only question that remains open is whether our government has the necessary safety margin to defend its strategic pro-European goals, and also to what extent our Western partners are ready to provide real assistance to Moldova in order to help find the most acceptable way out of the current energy ordeal.