Why Is Moldova Being Pushed to the Edge of the “Energy Abyss”?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Moscow is ready to escalate the energy relations with Moldova, especially under the conditions when it is provoked to do this actively
The events of the last weeks – damage of Northern streams, a number of incidents on oil and gas pipelines in Germany, Denmark and Poland – have seriously raised the question of critical infrastructure protection. It’s not just pipelines, but also Internet cables that provide modern communications and functionality of the electronic services system. Some experts have even suggested that such attacks in Europe will continue – marking the beginning of a new round of geopolitical confrontation, which so far excludes a frontal clash between states or military blocs, but which already allows “anonymous” attacks on their infrastructure. This is quite consistent with Moscow’s new tactics against Ukraine, which involve shutting down the country’s main “life support systems” with an emphasis on the energy sector. The Ukrainian leadership reports that 30% of power plants have already been destroyed and urges citizens to prepare for permanent interruptions in the supply of light, water, and heat. When the population lacks vital utilities and the economy is in a critical situation due to a shortage of energy resources, the state essentially ceases to function and becomes insolvent. Perhaps this is what the Kremlin is counting on. Ukraine’s energy supply problems were immediately felt in our country and in the European Union, because after the missile attacks Kyiv suspended supplies of surplus electricity to the EU and Moldova. But the negative consequences may not only be energy-related. If the Kremlin continues such attacks and the Ukrainian authorities fail to rehabilitate the damaged facilities, it will create an additional risk of an influx of refugees to Moldova to pass the winter in our country. However, there is no certainty that we ourselves will not have serious excesses. Moreover, there are already plenty of signs that things will be much worse than they were last winter. On Monday, the left bank authorities announced that Gazprom had allegedly decided to cut gas supplies to the region by 30% in October and by 40% in November, compared to the same periods of previous years. Therefore, Tiraspol is preparing to reduce natural gas consumption at the expense of industry. This decision, it is said, will affect almost all major enterprises in the region, including the Moldovan GRES, which generates two-thirds of our electricity needs. The ruling circles hastened to say they have no information about a planned reduction in gas supplies, but, alas, anything can be expected from Moscow now. Most likely, it is not about cutting volumes as such, and Tiraspol meant that Gazprom has no plans to reserve additional capacities in November and will keep them at the level of October. And next month, for obvious reasons, household consumption will increase significantly, and the industrial sector will have to “start a gas diet”. Although the government believes that all this will not affect Moldovan GRES’ production of electricity contracted for October, it is obvious that the shortage of fuel will not allow the Kuchurgan plant to produce in November a similar volume, sufficient for uninterrupted operation of the entire energy system. Consequently, we will face a growing shortage not only of gas, but also of electricity, which, unlike natural gas, is much harder to find on international markets, let alone to deliver to the country. All calculations that European partners will respond to the same alarming calls of Bucharest not to leave Moldova at the mercy of the energy industry seem, to put it mildly, unconvincing. Especially our situation looks hopeless against the background of unsuccessful attempts of the European Union to introduce at least some sanctions against Russian energy resources or to agree on a price cap. As a result, the European Commission, as part of a new package of measures to combat the energy crisis, proposed only to oblige EU countries to share gas with each other in case of emergency. Alas, but so far we have not received any clear assurances of help even from Romania, not to mention the other EU members. Meanwhile, we are again approaching another calendar deadline, when we have to pay Gazprom for last month’s supplies and make an advance payment for this month. Moldovagaz has saved up some money and again asked the government for financial assistance so that the payment is made in full. In addition, as of this week, companies from Norway and Great Britain have finally started working in Moldova to audit the historic debt to the Russian gas monopoly. In contrast to previous months, this time Gazprom, through the Transdniestrian administration, warned our leadership in advance of its intention, if not to make things worse, then at least to maintain the increased tension and uncertainty in the Moldovan energy sector. Moscow is seeking something similar in Ukraine and appears to be trying to provoke a similar crisis in Moldova by non-military means. Therefore, as the cold weather is approaching, it cannot be ruled out that the gas valve will gradually be tightened and the electric switch will be lowered to put the Moldovan energy system, and with it, the country’s authorities, into a stalemate. Previously, our government officials assured us and themselves that Russia would not go for a gas escalation, so as not to provoke an economic and humanitarian disaster in the Transdniestrian region. However, Andrei Spinu has now openly admitted that the Kremlin will apparently stop at nothing, even if it has to leave the left bank without gas for political reasons. Moreover, Kremlin strategists have clearly calculated the price and may even compensate for the stopping of industry on the left bank for a certain period of time in order to ignite a social uprising in Chisinau and other major Moldovan cities. As expected, late autumn and winter in Moldova will be cold, but politically hot. Any moderate scenarios are not visible yet, because Moscow is ready to go on aggravation, especially in the conditions when it is provoked to it. No demands are voiced publicly, except for hints to the Moldovan leadership to come to the Russian capital to “have a talk”. This means that it is not necessarily a question of overthrowing the current government, but of a desire to agree on something, and most likely on traditional Kremlin topics: neutrality, the Transdniestrian issue and Dodon.