Doesn't Maia Sandu Need Good Relations with Russia?

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Vladimir ROTAR
Our authorities seem to learn nothing from the gas crisis - judging by the presidential statements, the republic's leadership has no plans to develop partnership relations with Moscow
The gas crisis has completed satisfactorily, at least for now, turning out to be a fairy tale with a happy ending. Chisinau walked a razor's edge, but at the last moment the reason of our politicians ultimately prevailed. Or it might well be fear – after all, thanks to the candor of the head of the EU foreign policy service, Josep Borrell, the country's leadership finally realized that we risk being left both without cheap gas (as compared to spot prices) and without financial aid to buy a more expensive one. "Butting heads" with Gazprom has cost us a bundle –17 million euros, a total waste for the purchase of gas from the "alternative sources". Now, of course, they are trying to convince us that it was all about sticking to the tactics, that Gazprom was steered to an agreement based on the Moldovan formula, which means that everything was not in vain. But the facts say the opposite – it is Moscow that got what it wanted: a long-term contract for five years, the actual acknowledgement of the right-bank debts, the protection of its property in Moldova, the postponed "Third Energy Package", and gas supplies to Transdniestria. As for our country, we ended up agreeing to a price well above the one we originally wanted - so, was it worth digging our heels in for two months? I believe, from the very onset of this whole gas story our actions could have been much smarter. At the very least, we should have immediately established contacts with Moscow in all directions rather than given Moldovagaz complete control over everything and tease the Kremlin for any reason. This could result in more favorable prices. Perhaps, not the same as for Belarus (127 dollars), but at least as for Hungary (350 dollars). Whatever it was, even the current result can be considered positive, especially given the possible alternatives. So it's time to exhale, look back and thoroughly analyze which decisions were initially wrong and what could be done to prevent a crisis as such. Unfortunately, some comments show it is safe to state right now that no lessons have been learned from this whole story. First of all, Maia Sandu's interview with the Russian Kommersant is indicative in this regard. It should be noted that during the crisis the president was "sitting it out in the rear" and went to the front line only after all the fights over the contract had subsided. No wonder: everyone remembers Sandu's big mistake when she confidently stated that there was no need for the government to get involved in talks with Gazprom. As soon as this stance had been acknowledged fundamentally wrong, with one failure after another on the energy front, the head of state tried to distance herself as much as possible from this issue capable of damaging her ratings and image, while Andrei Spinu and Vlad Kulminski were brought to the fore. The president's interview turned out to be almost half full of mutually exclusive paragraphs. First, she again peremptorily declared her support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. As I mentioned once before, this quite obviously casts doubt on the territorial integrity of Russia, which considers the Crimean peninsula part of its territory. It is clear that Sandu sticks to the Western view of this problem, but why not use more elegant and diplomatic phrases avoiding blunt statements is unclear. Secondly, the head of state constantly speculates about economic interests, but, for some reason, she does not even want to think about an observer status in the Eurasian Union. The latter did not impose any special responsibilities on Moldova at all, but still was beneficial. By stating that this status hadn't been properly formalized, she immediately demonstrated her unwillingness to at least try to do this, thereby depriving the country from the potential economic opportunities associated with this organization. The same applies to foreign activities. Sandu explains her ignoring, for example, the meeting of the Council of heads of CIS countries with "the lack of necessary powers". However, it seems like the presidential party is now in power, having a parliamentary mono-majority and a government consisting only of its natives. And even though according to the Constitution Sandu really does not have so many levers, she is now rightly perceived as Moldova’s "head". But it only turns in one direction – the Western one –where the lack of authority does not prevent meetings with both the heads of European states and senior officials of the European Union. Again, when it was necessary, the president herself communicated with Dmitry Kozak, and did not sent Natalia Gavrilita, Igor Grosu or anyone else. And there was no clear answer to the question of why not a single contact at the highest level has taken place so far. In general, one conclusion can be drawn from this interview – the president has no desire to establish relations with Russia, she is simply not interested. “Why?” is a good question. And random answers to it are unlikely to suffice. Either it's ideological narrow-mindedness, when the loyalty of the country's European integration is so high that any contacts with Moscow are considered as “deadwood” – they want to get rid of and forget them as soon as possible. Or it’s political infantilism which easily overrides the promised “pragmatic foreign policy for the benefit of Moldova's interests”. Or it’s rather both. Meanwhile, as we can see, Moscow did not demand anything supernatural during the negotiations with Chisinau. Sandu herself confirmed that there was no political pressure – that is, it turns out that the Western media and officials (the same Borrell) publicly lied about it. And the left bank does not even appear in the final protocol. Speaking of Pridnestrovie. The subject was also mentioned in the interview, and it raises no less questions than the ones of gas or relations with Russia. Once again, the usual mantras about the need for a unified vision and concept that Igor Dodon spoke about were heard. Given that there is now only one power in office, how much time will it take to develop this vision – a month, a year, decades? So far, judging by recent events, the ruling party has about the same desire to build bridges with Tiraspol as with Moscow. The situation in the settlement is deteriorating, the left bank is tightening its stance. Like it or not, the Transdniestrian issue and good relations with Russia are interrelated. This is far from a priority for the Kremlin right now, but it still needs predictability and stability here that would preserve the status quo for tens of thousands of people with Russian citizenship on the left bank. And regardless of Moscow's opinion, the authorities should be interested in rapprochement with the region, but this, apparently, is not yet necessary by any means. Thus, it is difficult to expect that the reintegration process will move forward soon, which means that the republic once again risks losing unique opportunity for approaching a solution to this long-standing problem. What does that leave us? We got the contract, but there are many pitfalls that can easily destroy it: historical debt, the “Third Energy Package”, etc. Our Western partners have shown their true colors, being ready to help only with gas with a maximum margin and small handouts. At the same time, we will still stubbornly follow the same vector, demonstrating complete indifference to the development of friendly relations with Russia and even vice versa, contributing to future conflicts – on the same gas, the left bank, the peacekeeping operation and the Russian troops, even on Crimea (Moldova's participation in the notorious platform). Perfect plan. What's next? Building an “anti-Russia” following the example of our Ukrainian neighbors?