Guest post by Andrey Devyatkov—After the recent visit of Angela Merkel to Moldova on 22 August many experts expected that the Transdnestrian settlement is to become one of key issues in negotiations between the Kremlin and Moldovan prime minister Vlad Filat. The latter met this week both with Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin during his two day visit to Russia. It turned out that it is energy cooperation between the two countries that dominated the bilateral agenda.
In 2011 Moldova has pledged to implement the Third Energy Package which is one of the key international regimes promoted nowadays within the European Union. It prescribes energy market liberalization through structural unbundling of transmission from production/supply activities. For Moldova this condition is first of all an incremental opportunity to increase its participation in the European integration processes, bearing in mind that energy is a very important and sensitive area for EU’s external relations. But in Moldova it is Gazprom that is a key stakeholder both in transmission and supply activities. Gazprom possess 50 % in Moldovan energy company Moldovagas, while another 13,44 % belong to Transnistria, a de facto state, heavily dependent on Russia. That’s why the Third Package critically challenges Gazprom’s monopolist position in Moldova, as well as in some other East European countries where the company’s market position is close to monopoly. Gazprom assisted by the Kremlin did its best to keep under its control both transmission and supply systems in post-Soviet countries. Of course some Russian decision-makers perceived this commercial strategy as an additional instrument for obtaining (geo)political gains in respective countries.
Now we have two colliding interpretations of Russia’s “national interests” – economic and political. But the way in which Russia tried to reconcile them is detrimental for Russia’s international image: as energy minister Novak pointed out, Moldova – which asked Moscow for 30 % discount – must discontinue implementing the EU Third Package as the precondition for receiving the Russian gas at a cheaper price. Yet Moscow sets prices arbitrarily for each individual country, depending on the level of political cooperation and – ultimately – loyalty.
The second issue on the negotiation table was about solving the problem of huge gas debts. Moscow hinted that this matter could have been resolved should Gazprom get Moldovagas under its control. If implemented, this option would lead to the loss of Moldova’s national sovereignty in favor of Moscow, which quite hypocritically warns Chisinau that the integration with the EU is conducive to damaging the Moldovan statehood.
But Moldovans are also playing their own game. Vice-minister Lazar said recently that the Third Package is rather a long-term perspective for Moldova, and there is still no political decision on it. Chisinau understood very well that Gazprom would not simply give up its positions. The main aim for Moldova was to get the discount because gas prices have reached the level of almost 400 dollar, which is obviously unbearable for Moldovan economy. The Third Package is not supposed to be an uncontestable value for Moldova in this case.
Certainty is also in short supply in the Transnistrian settlement. In 2010 after the German-Russian Meseberg memorandum was signed, the Transnistrian issue became a “test case” for the EU-Russian common neighborhood and relations in security area in general. Yet after Putin’s return to presidency the Kremlin shows no readiness to cooperate at all and has retreated to the simplest but strategically loss-prone status quo approach.
One more psychological detail: according to Moldovan news agencies, the meeting between Filat and Putin in Sochi began one hour behind the schedule because of “Russian president’s busyness”. Any soft power can be undermined only by a single gesture like this.
Andrey Devyatkov is a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)