Moldova Prepares to Stop Gas Transit through Ukraine

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Cristian RUSSU
This winter, the right bank of Moldova is doing without direct gas supplies from Russia for the first time. The negotiated contractual minimum by the traditional route through Ukraine is supplied only to the Transdniestrian region. It is obvious that nobody is going to maintain such a delivery scheme for a long time.
Late December the ANRE Board of Directors approved the development plan for 2022-2031 of Moldovan-Russian enterprise Moldovatransgaz, which is the main operator of the natural gas transportation system in the territory of Moldova. One of the main provisions of the document concerns the supply of gas to consumers from the right and left banks of the Dniester from alternative routes, given the uncertainty of the situation in Ukraine and the possible change of gas transportation routes. The Balkan countries and the TurkStream are named as such alternatives. In order to provide Moldovan consumers with gas from them, investments and technical preparation of pumping stations for operation in the reverse mode are needed. Thus, the plan provides for works to ensure gas supply in reverse mode via main gas pipelines Rozdilna-Izmail and Shebelinka-Dnipropetrovsk-Kryvyi Rih-Izmail via Orlivka gas metering station. The authors of the plan point, in particular, to the need to reconstruct and modernize the Tokuz metering station in Causeni, which provides gas supply to Chisinau through the Tokuz-Cainari-Mereni gas pipeline. However, the most important part of the plan is the construction of the 88 km long Drochia-Ungheni main gas pipeline, which should connect in the north the gas transmission network systems between Romania, Ukraine and Moldova, as well as expand access to the use of natural gas storage facilities in the territory of western Ukraine. Interestingly, the mentioned works are not new proposals, which were developed based on the realities of last year. All of them appear in the previous development plan of Moldovatransgas for 2020-2029, approved by the authorities back in 2019. The same Drochia-Ungheni pipeline initially was planned to be 7 kilometers longer, and 30 kilometers of it should have been built last year. However, in the end, only a feasibility study of the project was developed. According to the new plans, it will only start being built in 2025. The reconstruction and modernization of the Tokuz gauging station in Causeni is planned for 2026-2028. A similar situation is with the repair of the Chisinau-Rybnitsa section of the gas pipeline near the village of Bunet. The works at the half-kilometer stretch had to be already completed, but finally they were postponed till 2025. One gets the impression that the new nine-year plan for the development of the company was prepared without regard to the cardinal changes in gas supply to the region which have occurred during the year, but only based on the failure of the previous plan. In such a case the practical value of such strategies is highly questionable. A lot of questions immediately arise. Why adopt such long-term plans if their implementation is highly uncertain? What guided the national regulator when approving them? Of course, one can say that many of the “constructions” in our country, declared by the authorities as strategic (take, for instance, the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline), have stood idle for a long time, and their completion date has been repeatedly postponed. But here, it seems to me, the situation is somewhat different. Take even the period of 2025-2029 from the previous and 2029-2031 from the new development plan. No investments are planned for these periods, which is quite illustrative. However, the main question is whether the country’s gas infrastructure is now ready to operate exclusively in the reverse mode and whether it will be able to simultaneously supply consumers on the right and left bank? In the updated plan, one can find a reference to the existence of a certain agreement on cooperation between the operators of the gas transportation system of Ukraine, Moldova and a representative of the operator of the gas transportation system from the territory of Transdniestria dated January 30, 2021. However, it was concluded a year before the war in Ukraine and does not take into account all the latest anti-Russian demarches by the authorities, as well as the actually achieved independence from Russian gas supplies. So it is reasonable to ask what is the current status of these agreements, given all the changes? Recently, our eastern neighbor has been sending signals about the intention to apply economic measures of pressure to Transdniestria, since the Moldovan authorities are not ready to accept the proposals of force cleaning of the region. Among these measures is just the termination of gas supplies to Transdniestria, and even imposing sanctions against the gas company Tiraspoltransgas. If these signals are not just an expression of discontent, but a probing of the ground on the eve of real restrictions, then all the previous agreements are no longer worth anything. Следует учесть, что все схемы по реверсным поставкам газа в Молдову от Moldovatransgas is in any case tied to the Ukrainian infrastructure. Supplies through the Trans-Balkan pipeline from Romania first reach the territory of Ukraine, which has the ability to control gas supplies further to Moldova, including the Transdniestrian region. For Ukraine to get a new lever to put pressure on Russia through Transdniestria is quite logical. As well as for our leadership. Don’t forget that we have another “trump card” in the form of a threat to expropriate the assets of Moldovagaz by May of this year in case the latter fails to pay back the credit provided earlier. Thus, it is quite probable that Moldova will not return to importing Russian gas via Ukraine this year. Moreover, the left bank is likely to be deprived of it as well, even at the cost of shutting down the Kuchurgan thermal power plant, which ensures the stability of a synchronized system of power grids in both countries and generates cheap electricity for the right bank. How Russia will respond to this is a big question. One may assume that in fact Gazprom’s strategy, if any, with respect to gas supplies to Moldova and Transdniestria is to freeze investments and refrain from any activity, given the understanding of the inevitability of losing its assets in the region. Perhaps this explains the adoption of formal long-term development plans with rather doubtful content.