Moldova has been the collateral, but too often overlooked victim of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
On Tuesday (14 November) the country, edged between Romania and Ukraine, temporarily experienced major power outages after Russian military strikes on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure downed a key power line.
Infrastructure minister Andrei Spinu said in a statement that any bombing by Russia against Ukrainian power plants may lead to the same situation in the future.
“Russian aggression against Ukraine directly affects our country,” Spinu wrote on Facebook, according to AP news.
The former Soviet republic of 2.6 million people has been granted EU candidate status along with Ukraine in June, and is in survival mode as it faces a winter energy crisis. Russia, on which Moldova relies entirely for natural gas, recently halved its supply to the country.
Moldova’s pro-Western president, Maia Sandu, who came into power in 2020 on an anti-corruption platform, grapples with the energy crisis, steep inflation and a series of anti-government demonstrations by pro-Russia opposition forces.
Last week, the EU pledged €250m to help Moldova tackle the energy crisis consisting of €100m in loans, another €100m in grants, and €50m directed to help the most vulnerable citizens.
“European solidarity with the Republic of Moldova is unshakable,” EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said at a visit to the country, adding: “We assure you that we will do our best to help you through this crisis.”
Sandu said that Moscow is using gas as “political blackmail” in the country, with energy prices for households increasing six-fold with zero economic growth this year and inflation topping 28 percent, according to Reuters data.
“We are facing the worst energy crisis in three decades,” Sandu said last week. “A crisis in which energy resources are being used as weapons against democracy,” she added.
“Moldova occupies a significant geostrategic position with regard to the war in Ukraine, as a key ally and neighbour to that country’s immediate west,” Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in an analysis earlier this week.
“If the government can get through this winter, in 2023 it should be able to further diversify its energy options and make stronger progress on reform of the judiciary, defence, and security,” he added.
Crises and lifeline
Moldova has been at the forefront of the multiple crises created by Russia’s invasion.
Almost half a million Ukrainian refugees have at some point entered the country, the highest per capita number in Europe, with almost 90,000 Ukrainians remaining.
The EU’s border agency Frontex deployed 70 officers to its border with Ukraine to help with surveillance and processing refugees.
The country is not a Nato member, and has a breakaway region, Transnistria, which hosts around 2,000 Russian troops. Moldova has a small armed forces, consisting of 6,500 soldiers.
It shares a 1,200km border with Ukraine, however, it does not control the 400km section between the Transnistrian region and Ukraine, which Kyiv closed a few days after Russia launched its invasion.
Transnistrian authorities are unlikely to want to get dragged into Russian military activity, and there has been a delicate balance reached by Chisinau and Transnistria amid the war.
Moldova has also provided a lifeline for Ukrainian exports, crucially grain, as Kyiv rerouted exports from its souther territories though Moldova.
At the same time, Moldovans are under immense pressure by rising energy costs and inflation, and have been taking to the streets.
One of the parties that has been trying to exploit grievances is the pro-Russia opposition Shor party, named after its leader Ilan Shor.
The Moldovan oligarch was placed on a US State Department sanctions list in October as working for Russian interests.
The US said “Shor has worked with other corrupt oligarchs and Moscow-based entities to create political unrest in Moldova and sought to undermine Moldova’s bid for EU candidate status”.
“Stoking unrest and creating difficulty for Moldova will always be a useful tactic for Russia,” Wilson added.