Russia Is Dissatisfied with Moldova's Intransigence

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Anton ȘVEȚ
Moscow starts punishing Chisinau for its intransigence on important foreign policy issues, announcing the first prohibitions for Moldovan imports to Russia
Moldova keeps getting on Russia’s nerves by refusing to engage in pragmatic cooperation and actively stressing its Euro-Atlantic orientation. Moscow was particularly sensitive to the recent statement by Maia Sandu accusing the Russian Federation of triggering the conflict on the Dniester and preventing Moldova from gaining independence. Russia responded to this with a series of military exercises in the Security Zone on the left bank of the Dniester, i.e. in the territory de facto controlled by the unrecognized Transnistria. Chisinau reacted quite smoothly to this fact, since the campaign to denigrate the Kremlin has not been worked out yet due to difficulties with paying for Russian gas. The constant hysteria around the contract (certainly expensive, but quite profitable given the circumstances and the current market situation, even in comparison with our neighbors) irritates Moscow, forcing it to act without excessive pity. Decision-makers in Russia are particularly annoyed by mentioning certain political conditions in the gas negotiations, to which “bold and principled officials from the ruling party would never agree”. Even admitting these statements being longshots we cannot really admit that making them public can be regarded as a kind of “etiquette” violation. But we do not believe that relations with Moscow require playing by the rules. On the contrary, the stakes are as high as possible, transforming, in general, a purely financial issue almost into the plane of civilizational choice and geopolitical confrontation. The next crash-test for Russian-Moldovan relations is just around the corner - the conclusion of a contract for the supply of electricity from the left bank of the Dniester, where the Kuchurhan power station controlled by Inter RAO is located. Although several more gas crises, price increases for consumers and a “happy” ending (except for the population) can be expected before the final phase of negotiations, the authorities are already preparing for bargaining with might and main. For example, it is planned to adopt amendments to legislation that will strengthen our negotiating positions and bring down the price of purchased electricity through a commitment to diversification. It is assumed that MGRES price should be significantly lower so that electricity is not partially purchased from other suppliers (primarily in Ukraine). At the same time, options for Moldova’s and Ukraine’s test synchronous shutdown from the power systems of Russia and Belarus are being considered. However, it is not entirely clear how Chisinau and Kiev are going to do this without agreeing with the Russian MGRES, which is a key regulator of energy flows in the region. Tiraspol and Moscow are unlikely to voluntarily lose harm their budget, helping Chisinau to achieve energy independence. However, Moldova has always been an unaccommodating trading partner and has been able to beg for bonuses regardless of whether pro-Russian or pro-Western forces are in power. Moscow is hardly seriously annoyed by this particular plot. On the contrary, many Russian officials are satisfied that Chisinau has been forced to pay a relatively commercially justified price for gas. The Kremlin is concerned about completely different circumstances. Namely, the unfriendly position of Chisinau on foreign policy issues. If anti-Russian demarches on international platforms and full solidarity with Ukraine can still be ignored (although contradictions will grow here – recently Mihai Popsoi successfully beat his Russian counterpart Pyotr Tolstoy in the race for the post of PACE vice-chairman), then Chisinau’s outright unwillingness to settle the Transnistrian conflict causes serious misunderstanding in Moscow. Dmitry Kozak, the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration responsible for this issue, is ready to include the topics of Donbass and Transnistria in the general package of agreements with the United States and the West on security guarantees. According to Maia Sandu herself, he pointed out to her the possibility of a speedy resolution of the conflict during the first personal meeting in Chisinau. There is also no doubt that it was Kozak who initiated the sudden proposal of Tiraspol to discuss the final settlement of the conflict and the future of relations between the two banks. Still, the country’s leadership stubbornly ignores this diplomatic activity. Maia Sandu categorically refuses to visit Moscow. The post of Deputy Prime Minister for reintegration had remained vacant for a long time, and now it has been received by a staunch supporter of Moldova and Romania unification, who has negative views on the Russian factor. Given Oleg Serebrian’s demands for the withdrawal of Russian troops, Moscow is unlikely to take his appointment optimistically. Russia now needs the maximum level of trust and professionalism in relations with Moldova in order to master the project to develop a special status of Transnistria. This special status could become not only a prototype for Donbass, but also part of the final agreement on the architecture of pan-European security. There are supporters of such plans not only in Russia, but also in the countries of the European Union. However, Chisinau is in no hurry to get on these rails and is “stalling” the process so far. For example, the requirement to first withdraw troops and weapons, then discuss changing the format of the peacekeeping mission and only then proceed to a final settlement that will not provide for the Russian presence in any capacity. Such a defeatist deal clearly cannot suit Moscow, which forces it to look for ways to influence Chisinau. One of the typical steps was the ban announced yesterday on the import of live poultry, poultry meat and eggs to Russia from Moldova. Formally, the ban is explained by an outbreak of avian influenza in the northern regions of Moldova. However, such outbreaks are regularly recorded on the European continent and do not always become a reason for Rosselkhoznadzor sanctions. Moreover, our specialized agency has already taken control of the situation. Apparently, our country is waiting for a number of painful blows from the Russian direction. Chisinau, afraid of political negotiations and not seeking to unite with Transnistria in an emergency mode and under “Kremlin supervision”, is not to be envied here, since Moscow clearly intends to ensure Moldovan territorial integrity according to its vision and is not going to retreat from its plans yet. The authorities will obviously try to block or at least delay these negotiations for as long as possible. But if a potential deal turns out to be beneficial for Washington and Brussels, the situation will become a stalemate for Moldova. Moreover, Kyiv, despite US pressure, diligently avoids the implementation of the “Minsk agreements”, which makes the Transnistrian issue (considered to be much easier to solve than any territorial conflict in Europe) even more “attractive” for Moscow.