Europe’s Energy Dependence on Russia Leaves Moldova Vulnerable

Europe’s Energy Dependence on Russia Leaves Moldova Vulnerable

The global surge in demand for natural gas following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions has had a devastating impact on Moldova’s energy security. Chisinau had no choice but to enter into negotiations with the Russian state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, to restore its energy supplies. As Russia is set to increase its share of European gas imports in Nord Stream 2, the EU must find a way to help protect Moldova from further Russian pressure.

The efforts of the President of Moldova, Maia Sandu, to deepen her country’s ties with the European Union received a significant boost this summer. The victory of the Action and Solidarity Party over the pro-Russian bloc in the snap Moldovan parliamentary election puts the pro-Western president in a strong position to implement her anti-corruption reforms.

The legislative pathway now seems clear for Moldova to advance its European integration following a period of deep East-West political divisions that have plagued the country since the collapse of communism in 1991. However, the energy sector is an area in which Moscow can still maintain a political foothold in the landlocked post-Soviet state.

Moldova’s Energy Dependence on Russia

Despite the pro-European political orientation of its government, the sole reliance of a single pipeline running from Russia via Ukraine makes it difficult for Moldova to escape Moscow’s orbit.

As a result of the stronger-than-expected economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for natural gas surged across the world. This left Moldova particularly vulnerable to Russian political pressure. In deliberately withholding additional gas shipments on top of long-term contracts, the Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom choked Moldova’s gas levels to undermine the position of the pro-western administration in Chisinau.

After the Moldovan prime minister, Natalia Gavrilita, stated that energy supplies in her country had reached critical levels, Chisinau had no other alternative but to enter into negotiations with Gazprom on a new deal. Russia acted quickly to exploit the vulnerabilities in Moldova’s post-Soviet energy infrastructure.

According to the Financial Times, Moscow told Moldovan officials that it was prepared to offer cheaper gas deliveries if Chisinau withdrew from its free trade agreement with the EU. It also demanded the Moldovan government to abandon its alignment with EU rules on gas market liberalisation, which would hamper the pre-eminent position of Gazprom in providing energy for the former Soviet state.

Although the new 5-year agreement between Gazprom and its Moldovan subsidiary, Moldovagaz, put an end to the gas crisis in the landlocked country, it raises questions about the prospects of Moldova’s EU accession. If the Sandu presidency wishes to fulfill her plans on European integration, Brussels will have to do more to enable Moldova to withstand pressure from Russia.

Why the EU Needs to Act on Nord Stream 2

The construction of Nord Stream 2 does carry implications for European energy security. The new pipeline will increase Russia’s share of European gas imports, which leaves Moldova vulnerable to further energy crises. This means that the EU will have to address the issue of energy dependence on Russia in order to advance Moldova’s European integration.

Berlin insists that Nord Stream 2, which runs from Russia into Germany through the Baltic Sea, is a purely commercial project that serves to protect EU energy supplies in case of a deterioration in Russian-Ukrainian relations following the 2014 Crimean annexation. Despite Germany’s understandable reasoning, the project exposes the vulnerable position Moldova is in.

Moldova lies prone to further Russian pressure since the new pipeline allows Russia to bypass Ukrainian gas transit flows. Poland, which has been a vocal critic of Nord Stream 2, took the initiative to assist the diversification of Moldovan gas imports. Chisinau secured its first non-Russian gas shipment from the Polish energy company, PGNiG. Nonetheless, efforts to reassure Eastern European concerns over the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline have proven difficult.

The US-German deal, although stipulating mechanisms of imposing sanctions on Moscow, fails to address the newly-acquired leverage Russia would enjoy if the pipeline goes into operation, according to a Polish-Ukrainian joint statement. The chief executive of Naftogaz, Yuriy Vitrenko, stated that the crisis in Moldova shows how Putin wants to use Russian gas as a tool to negotiate ‘special conditions’ with European countries.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that the transatlantic alliance can act on behalf of eastern European interests in the gas crisis. The forthcoming NATO Strategic Concept plans to refocus its postwar role of protecting the Western hemisphere from the Soviet threat to the rise of China. This should act as an impetus for the EU to take on greater strategic responsibility in the area of energy security.

The European Green Deal: a Possible Framework of EU Support?

The process of achieving net zero in the EU by 2050 under the Commission’s European Green Deal may offer a practical way forward for Moldova to deepen its ties with Europe in the face of Russian pressure. Its neighbour, Ukraine, has a wealth of untapped green energy potential in hydrogen and wind power production.

EU investment in Ukrainian green energy infrastructure and existing gas storage and transportation facilities could help Moldova shake off its dependence on Russian gas. Following a period of rapid modernisation of its energy capacities, Naftogaz is well-placed to facilitate Moldovan energy diversification. However, foreign investment will need to ensure renewable energy meets demands currently served through Gazprom exports.

As things stand, however, Moldova is left in a vulnerable position. Until the EU responds to the implications of Nord Stream 2 for European energy security, Russia will remain able to severely undermine Moldova’s efforts to escape its sphere of influence.

Categories: Europe, Politics

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