Moldova no longer needs Russian gas, minister says

The logo of Gazprom company is seen on the facade of a business centre in Saint Petersburg
The logo of Gazprom company is seen on the facade of a business centre in Saint Petersburg, Russia March 31, 2022. REUTERS/REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER

CHISINAU, March 15 (Reuters) - Ex-Soviet Moldova is no longer receiving Russian gas or enduring the "blackmail" imposed by gas giant Gazprom over its difficulties in paying for supplies, the country's energy minister said.

Victor Parlicov, speaking to TV8 television on Wednesday evening, said Gazprom had been providing supplies only to Moldova's Russian-backed Transdniestria separatist region since December, with none going to central authorities in Chisinau.

He said Moldova, wedged between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, was able to secure European supplies thanks to 300 million euros ($318 million) in credits from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

But Transdniestria, he said, has never paid Gazprom for the gas it receives.

"Transdniestria did't pay for gas before and it's not paying now," Parlicov said. "Gazprom puts up with debts from there. But when the (rest of Moldova) was getting gas, the Russian company resorted to supply cuts, to blackmail."

Gazprom had allowed this for 30 years, Parlicov said, to keep the pro-Russian sliver of land from collapsing.

"They understand that if they abandon this contract they will be practically be allowing the region to collapse," he said.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has been buffeted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the presence of pro-Russian separatists on its doorstep.

Led by pro-European President Maia Sandu, Moldova accuses Russia of plotting to destabilise it. Transdniestria, meanwhile, last week said it had foiled a Ukrainian plot to assassinate its leaders.

A contingent of 1,500 Russian "peacekeepers" remain in the separatist region 30 years after a brief war pitting it against newly independent Moldova.

Transdniestria channels funds from gas bills paid by domestic and industrial users to a "gas account" used to cover some of its substantial budget deficits.

The sum of Transdniestria's unpaid bills for Russian gas is estimated by Moldovan officials at several billion dollars.

Accumulated arrears for the Moldovagaz company in the rest of Moldova stand at $709 million, though officials in Chisinau last year ordered an international audit of the debt.

Moldova depends on Transdniestria to provide most of its electricity at relatively cheap prices from a thermal power station supplied by Gazprom.

Editing by Ron Popeski, Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.

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