Expert: Trades between Moscow and Chisinau Continue

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The country’s leadership can deliberately bring the gas contract situation to the brink of an abyss, hoping to re-sign it on more favorable terms at the last moment. But if they are mistaken and Moscow proves to be principled, Moldova will have a very hard time surviving the coming winter.
Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: Relations with Russia are deteriorating swiftly. Many expected the disagreement to peak in the fall, but Chisinau and Moscow have already fallen out greatly. For example, the Kremlin ruined PAS’ anniversary by imposing a ban on the import of Moldovan agricultural products, which became effective today. Mutual sparks appear even at the diplomatic level. According to Nicu Popescu, Moldova is preparing for any development, for the front line is in dynamics, and no one can give any encouraging or alarming forecasts. The Minister admits that the hostilities in Ukraine have had a negative impact on relations between Chisinau and Moscow, which had been complicated long before all these events. However, the Moldovan diplomat considers Russia’s decision to ban the import of agricultural products from Moldova to be political. Besides, yesterday, in solidarity with Western diplomats, Popescu called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Zaporizhzhia NPP to access the IAEA experts there. The Russian Foreign Ministry, in turn, is concerned with our country’s deteriorating media climate. The authorities are allegedly putting pressure on independent and opposition media resources, and are generally cleansing the media space of undesirable opinions. Russians recalled that Russian news and information programs have been banned since March, and fines are often imposed on media outlets that broadcast and print in Russian. Moscow has called on our authorities to reconsider their policy of restricting our own citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. It’s hard to say to what extent the pro-Russian media problems are related to Moldovan fruits, but on August 9 Moscow announced a ban on imports of Moldovan agricultural products from 31 districts (excluding Transdniestria). The FSVPS motivated its decision by non-compliance with phytosanitary safety requirements. So far, the embargo affects only vegetable products, the export of which to Russia last year reached $300 million. At the same time, more than 70% of all exported fruits and about 95% of Moldovan apples are exported there. So, the ban imposed is a serious blow for a significant part of our farms, especially in the height of the season. In addition to formal phytosanitary claims, which may surely be justified, it is most likely that politics had something to do with it. It is becoming obvious that Moscow is stirring up the internal political situation in Moldova and is signaling to our business that access to its market is, in a sense, a privilege. Gagauzia instantly noticed the exclusion of left-bank districts from the ban. The autonomy’s authorities decided to solve the problem with Moscow on their own and directly address the FSVPS proposing to send a commission to study the situation. We must admit that such regionalization of Moscow’s decisions by the criteria of political loyalty is a bad sign for the central authorities. Especially when they are still undecided about how to respond to the Kremlin’s decision and what alternative to offer agricultural producers, who are already in crisis due to the drought. Our authorities still seem to be trying to ease tensions with Moscow by, for example, sending a request to the Venice Commission regarding the ban on the St. George ribbon and by finally signing a contract with two European companies to audit the right bank’s historical debt to Gazprom. This reflects our traditional policy of balancing, in which harsh anti-Russian statements made in solidarity with our Western partners are offset by the actions the Kremlin expects. And a lot will depend on the Russian gas monopolist’s decision in the near future. Last week Head of Moldovagaz Vadim Ceban admitted that the big cash gap won’t let make the August advance payment for Russian gas. At the same time, Gazprom was offered to consider the possibility of deferring the payment. Recall that last autumn the company already reduced the pressure in the pipe and threatened to completely suspend supplies if payment was not made within 48 hours. We can still count on our neighbors’ help. Especially since Iasi municipality concluded a contract for the purchase of thermal coal to provide the city with heat during the heating season, and offered the Romanian government to transfer the natural gas reserves intended for heating the city to Moldova. However, we also need to prepare ourselves for critical developments, so the government has presented a plan of action in case of reduction or termination of imports of Russian gas. Thus, the authorities are considering three basic scenarios: reduction of volumes by 35%, by 50% and complete cessation of supplies. However, it seems that the plan is designed for winter and doesn’t account the possible gas crisis already in August. Judging from previous experience, the government can find a way to help Moldovagaz financially. But in order to calculate all the moves and Russia’s reaction, our officials apparently decided to try the limits of Kremlin’s patience and readiness to further escalation. By the way, Moscow has tolerated lack of an audit until May 1. Moreover, Andrei Spinu openly hinted to his Russian partners that in case of stopping the gas supplies the Transdniestrian region will also be left without gas. In response, Russian deputies said that a deal and delay of payment is possible, if the stability of the Transdniestrian region is ensured. Experts have been saying for a long time that the Transdniestrian card should be played more actively in the talks with Moscow. Perhaps this very exchange of public signals and bringing the situation in the gas industry to the edge is the very “firing line” to reconsider the current contractual conditions causing enormous financial losses for our country and put the stability of gas supplies on the line. On the other hand, this tactic is very risky. If Moscow shows principle and decides to pursue, no matter what, we will all have a very hard winter.