“Deliberate Crisis”. What Went Wrong with the Next “Gas Escalation” in Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
Many signs show that the new gas crisis wave in Moldova was deliberate in nature, where each side tried to get some kind of political benefit from it
The past week’s turbulent events have once again brought to light the big problems in the country’s energy sector. So far, it has re-entered a short-term remission period after Moldovagaz found the missing resources and payed to Gazprom almost at the last moment. However, the story clearly does not end there. It seems that we are expecting another increase in the gas tariff, as well as deterioration in relations with Moscow. A new stage of chronic energy problems was predicted back in December. The main reason is the increase in the price of energy resources on international markets, while tariffs for Moldovan consumers remain unchanged. Because of this, Moldovagaz had problems with the payment. Attempts by Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu to negotiate with Gazprom on a postponement of advance payments for the first month of 2022 did were not successful. Moreover, the Russian company notified Chisinau of the natural gas supplies termination in case it the corresponding money is not paid by the end of the day on January 20. The best solution the authorities managed to find is to go back to introduce a state of emergency once again, and straight for 60 days to help the Cabinet of Ministers find the gap-filling funds. As a result, one paragraph of the emergency resolution temporarily froze Moldovagaz’s obligation to pay VAT to the budget. In addition, the regime provides for a deviation from regulations for operational actions when delivering natural gas, as well as creating ways for quickly collecting payments from consumers. Basically, through the state of emergency, the government has secured a great opportunity for actions for a fairly long period. Thus, it reserves the right to make decisions on financing quick purchases of gas and to empower suppliers and operators to purchase, transport and distribute it. All this suggests that the government fully admits the possibility of developing a scenario where the current contract with Gazprom can be terminated. The political logic of the authorities and their unwillingness to rush to raise tariffs in order not to provoke additional social tension are fairly understandable. But in this case, it would be necessary to calculate every move, because the main reason for the next and most likely inevitable crisis wave can be the excessive arrogance of our officials, who expected a softened position from Gazprom out of the blue. Or, even worse, everything that is happening is deliberate in order to demonstrate Moscow’s hostile attitude not only towards the pro-European leadership in Chisinau, but even towards ordinary citizens. Some experts seriously consider the new wave of “energy escalation” as something not accidental, since the $ 25 million gap for paying to Gazprom clearly falls short of calling it a critical situation requiring a two-month state of emergency. But, either way, it already happened. And Chisinau publicly complained to the Russian monopolist because of its principled position, whereas earlier, according to Natalia Gavrilita and Andrei Spinu, Moscow showed more flexibility. Russia in turn was quick to say that the issue has nothing to do with politics and is purely commercial. However, it was clearly not without politics. For all that, each of the participants in the process settles their tactical tasks and derives political benefits from it. The Kremlin seems to believe that the most prudent gas-related actions are gradually heating up the domestic political situation, leading to weakened positions of the current Moldovan leadership and, consequently, opening the way for the political rehabilitation of all those who were gathered under the banner of the communist-socialist bloc. Our authorities, in turn, portray themselves as a victim of Kremlin’s pressure, which makes them fit into the global context of worsening relations between the collective West and Russia. Whether the citizens are disappointed with or have rallied around the Moldovan authorities will become clear following the upcoming opinion polls. However, Maia Sandu’s public appeal “to show solidarity and not to yield to manipulation” may be a sign that the situation is actually getting out of hand. Against this background, the quiet and observant behavior of the parliamentary opposition is somewhat surprising. The situation with tariffs and in the energy sector in general is enough to instigate social discontent to the required level and organize mass anti-government protests with an appropriate set of requirements. However, there is a feeling that Moscow is deliberately restraining communists and socialists because it is not yet ready to finally burn bridges with the Moldovan leadership. Meanwhile, it consistently imposes political, energy and social risks in order to force Maia Sandu to get in contact and make agreements with the Kremlin. Moreover, as you know, the gas issue in our case is inextricably linked with electricity, the contract for the supply of which expires at the end of March and may become a source for another crisis wave. Realizing that an increase in the gas tariff will inevitably lead to higher prices for electricity, the government and parliament have already started preparations for negotiations to secure favorable starting conditions for themselves. Last week, deputies voted in the first reading for a law providing for the obligation to purchase electricity from at least two sources, while the final proportion of deliveries will be determined based on the difference in the proposed prices. Unfortunately, the probability of energy crisis can also be ranked as very high. The introduction of a state of emergency for a period of two months confirms that the government also envisages a protracted negative scenario. Therefore, one way or another, we should prepare for tough times, since the situation on the energy market depends in a way on the international political situation and talks around the European security. So far, this issue gives no reasons for optimism. The current government rocked by successive sectoral crises, should work to create a special emergency mechanism that would be used in case of the inevitability of the next problems in the energy sector. This, at least, would allow them not to resort every time to the introduction of a state of emergency, the use of which already seems to be an excessive measure. At the same time, it is necessary to prepare for renewal of the basic contract with Gazprom, most of the provisions of which are already obsolete, as well as for a full-scale revision of the energy sector which keeps Moldova in the Kremlin’s reach.