Energy Vulnerability of the Ruling Regime

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Sergiu Ceban
The authorities are still making inconsistent and hardly explainable decisions in the energy sector. Why?
Traditionally in spring, when the cold season is coming to end, the topic of energy becomes particularly important in Europe, not only in terms of preparation for the next winter but also in order to take a longer-term view. Thus, on 21 March, a Nuclear Energy Summit took place in Brussels. According to the final statement, representatives of about 30 states, including France, the United States and China, expressed their intention to promote the rapid expansion of the nuclear power plant network and to facilitate financing of NPP construction. Despite the fact that nuclear power should be of good quality, high-tech, safe and accessible to everyone, it is quite obvious that it will, one way or another, become a tool of political influence and competition between the leading players in this industry. The recent calls by the Belgian prime minister to refuse the Russian nuclear fuel to avoid a risk of swapping one dependency on Russia for another once again show that the energy sector is still one of the most politically charged issues. The resumption of Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is another serious challenge. On 29 March, two Ukrainian hydroelectric power plants, Kaniv and Dniester, were shelled, the second of which, by the way, is of critical importance to Moldova. In addition, Moscow launched for the first time a missile attack on gas production and storage facilities in Ukraine. Increased energy vulnerability of the neighboring state is likely to force European companies, and ours as well, to reconsider their plans for energy transportation and storage. While Europe is thinking about the energy generating capacities of the future and how to protect itself from crisis scenarios, Chisinau continues to imitate a whirlwind of activity, calling it “diversification, strengthening energy independence and connection to the single European market”. Last week, the construction of the 400 kV Vulcanesti-Chisinau overhead power line, which is expected to provide a direct connection to Romania by the end of 2025, was finally started amid loud cheers. Maia Sandu, who decided to attend in person the digging of the first pit for the power pole, proudly declared that the construction of the transmission line is one of the most important projects and almost a turning point between the two types of Moldova – “a vulnerable Moldova, which can be cut off from gas or electricity at any moment, and an independent Moldova, which can freely choose where to buy energy resources at any time and without political blackmail”. In addition, reports came earlier this month that Moldova will receive a 30.8-million-euro loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the construction of another high-voltage power line, which will connect Balti and the Romanian county of Suceava. However, the construction of this line is expected to be completed only in 2027. It is strange, of course, to hear again about some kind of blackmail, without any details. If we are talking about MoldGRES and the Transnistrian administration, the contract with Chisinau is an existential necessity for the latter, so it is difficult to understand what exactly Sandu means. By the way, in autumn 2022, Tiraspol in no way prevented us from purchasing electricity from Romania for a month, but for objective reasons, primarily price, we returned to purchasing the left-bank electricity. If we put aside all these pompous statements, it becomes clear that Romania is needed only as an alternative and as a tool of the same blackmail, but in the hands of Chisinau. Any knowledgeable expert is aware that Bucharest is not yet able to offer us an acceptable price and to be a supplier capable of providing the necessary balancing capacities. Therefore, this whole narrative about “connection to the common European energy space” is nothing more than a figure of speech and an advertisement in Sandu’s election campaign, which has no real and economically justified calculations. Nevertheless, the ruling party and officials loyal to it continue to carefully set the stage and are already trying to convince us that Moldova is no longer dependent on a single supplier, as from this spring several companies will supply gas to the local market. As if forgetting all his emotional arguments about “the dignity and inadmissibility of energy dependence on Russia”, Minister Victor Parlicov immediately warms up public opinion, admitting that Moldova may resume purchases from Gazprom from 1 May. All these inconsistent and hardly explainable moves of the country’s leadership can only be construed by the discovery of unpleasant circumstances in the energy sector, which can be very painful for Maia Sandu’s image and her prospects for re-election. First of all, it is about the procurement of energy resources for the country during the last two years. As recently as a month ago, reports came that the prosecutor’s office had opened several criminal cases related to the purchase of blue fuel. At the same time, according to some experts, political factors actively interfered in the criminal proceedings, which prevented the speedy completion of all procedures and the submission of materials to the court. The fact that situation with gas purchases is not that simple has been known for a long time, but apparently now it has been decided to target this sensitive area for the ruling regime. Recently, a well-known expert and researcher Veaceslav Ionita made a rather detailed presentation of the scheme of gas purchase by Moldova in the recent past. According to his study, our country has overpaid more than 20 billion lei on this in the last two years when compared to previous periods. It also clarifies how Energocom, buying blue fuel at one price, sells it to Moldovagaz at 48% higher price, and the latter, in turn, applies to domestic consumers the biggest surcharge in the country’s history and sets the final price 2.5 times higher than the cost of natural gas. And all this happened after the Commission for Emergency Situations obliged Moldovagaz to buy natural gas from Energocom. It is known that Ionita is not only an employee of the US-funded IDIS research Centre, but also a member of the CUB party, which according to some estimates may become that very alternative to PAS. For this reason, there is no doubt that the appearance of the high-profile expert opinion, which caused a great resonance and almost instant reaction of all the organizations involved in gas purchases, was sanctioned by the key embassies in Chisinau. It remains to be seen what exactly lies behind this public warning from our Western development partners. Perhaps it is a targeted signal to one of the clans within the ruling regime, which has been making a good profit on gas purchases, with a proposal to moderate its political (prime ministerial) ambitions. Or this is the beginning of reshuffles in the ruling team with the aim of forming a new government to significantly reduce toxicity in the run-up to the presidential election race.