Russia has a weapon, an energy weapon, and it wields it ruthlessly.
It has recently curtailed production to create gas and oil shortages.
Thus, the prices have gone up.
Then Moscow cracked its energy whip and Moldova caved first.
Moldova sits in the east-southern corner of the Intermarium, the lands between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas. Europe’s poorest nation, it is a landlocked country between Rumania and Ukraine.
Stalin created the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia by attaching Rumania’s Bessarabia to Soviet Ukraine’s Transnistria. After 1991 the SSRM proclaimed independence as Moldova with the capital in Chișinău (Kishiniev).
Transnistria promptly rebelled with Russia’s blessings. A de facto separate state, Transnistria remains de jure in Moldova but invariably sides with Moscow.
This time around it blocked free flow of gas through its pipeline to exert pressure on Chișinău on the Kremlin’s behalf.
Moldova is largely Rumanian speaking.
The majority population tends to be pro-European Union (EU), while the elites are split between a pro-Western (and usually pro-Rumanian orientation) and a pro-Eastern, pro-Russian option. The later enjoys the support of Moldova’s Russian speaking minorities, including Ukrainians and Russians, as well as the Gaugaz Turks.
Despite having lost the last elections, the pro-Russian orientation continues to exercise some leverage in Moldova. Russian President Vladimir Putin counts on it to help to keep the rest of the nation in line. This naturally concerns energy policy.
Ostensibly all transactions on that field concern the Moldavian government and the Russian energy company, Gazprom. When the last-short term contract between Chișinău and Gazprom expired in September, the Russians dictated extremely high prices for their product.
The Moldovan government has attempted to ease its dependency on Russian energy by joining the European Energy Community. That seemingly strengthened Moldova’s position as an associate non-member of the European Union.
Brussels even sent 60 million euros to Chișinău to address the energy crisis.
The Moldovans have also received gas and oil from the Poles and Ukrainians, which they used as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with the Russians.
Publicly, Moldavia swore it would not sign a long-term binding contract.
Moscow was unimpressed. The Russians reduced their energy output to drive the price up. Then, they forced the Moldovans to sign a five-year contract for energy delivery. Chișinău meekly obeyed. Winter is coming.
The pressure exerted by Gazprom should be viewed as part of the Kremlin’s geopolitical game to counter Western influence in what Putin considers his own bailiwick.
The energy weapon is one of the mightiest tools of Russian statecraft.
Its immediate objective is to make Europe’s energy dependency on Russia permanent. Nord Stream 2, which is completed but not operational, is crucial for this outcome.
To that end the Kremlin’s steps include hiking up the energy price and forcing customers into unfair long-term contracts, as well as countenancing the threats from Belarus to stop the flow of gas through the pipeline leading to Poland. There was even a mysterious explosion of a Romanian gas conveyer pipe and a destruction of a Norwegian undersea monitoring system.
Coincidence? Moscow plays hardball not just with Moldova or the EU.
Moscow showed little consideration for its long-time ally, Serbia. Gazprom told the Serbs to pay market prices for gas and oil.
Belgrade was taken aback.
And then it signed a long term contract on harsh terms. So did Kazakhstan.
If not a virtual monopolist on the European energy scene, Moscow is the largest oil and gas supplier on the Old Continent. Norway and Scotland trail far behind.
Also, Russian energy is most plentiful and least expensive, all things considered.
Gas and oil account for over 30% of Russia’s foreign revenues. They are the single most profitable item. Of course, it is in the interest of the Kremlin to keep energy prices as high as possible. The Russian Federation is essentially a one-trick pony as far as its imports.
As we have mentioned many times here, there is an alternative to Russian energy hegemony, however. The Trump administration started a project to supply first the Intermarium and then the EU with American gas, via coastal hubs in Poland, Croatia, and, possibly, Bulgaria..
The U.S would sell energy and make money; the Europeans would be safe from Putin’s blackmail. It is a win-win situation.
Tell it to Joe Biden.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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