Expert: Moldova-Azerbaijan relations almost non-existent
    Victor Josu replies Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  28 September 2022 - 15:59

    Matanat Nasibova
    Caliber.Az

    Caliber.Az presents an interview with Moldovan statesman, ex-deputy, editor-in-chief of the portal Traditia.md and political scientist Victor Josu.

     - Viktor Ivanovich, how do you assess the internal political situation in Moldova? What forces are behind today's [September 28] protests?

     - The Shor party, led by businessman Ilan Shor, former Orhei mayor and now Moldovan MP, who is hiding in Israel from Moldovan justice, is organising the protests in Chisinau. He is charged with financial fraud, and the court of the first instance sentenced him to 7.5 years in prison. Both the defence and the prosecution disagreed with the verdict and appealed it, but the case became stuck in the appellate instance and has been pending for several years. Nonetheless, Shor has been able to keep his party mobilised for more than a year, regardless of who or how they treat him, and the current street protests are proof of that.

    Tactically, the Shor party, unlike the opposition Socialists and Communists, performs quite competently. At a time when the ruling Action and Solidarity party, whose informal leader is Maya Sandu, has 63 parliamentary mandates out of 101, the opposition is a punching bag in parliament. All of her proposals and initiatives are rejected outright, without debate, and the speeches of opposition representatives at parliamentary microphones are ostracized and ridiculed by majority deputies. Shor (or his consultants) understood that the opposition had nothing to do in parliament and moved political activity outside of its walls.

    Another question is, what can this activity lead to? The demands for the resignation of the president, the government, and early elections, in my opinion, are devoid of prospects. The current government enjoys the unconditional support of the so-called collective West and has carte blanche from it for any actions. Including the possible legal ban of the Shor Party and the forceful dispersal of protests. It is still unclear whether Maya Sandu will decide to take such harsh actions. It is only clear that neither the protesters nor the authorities are ready for dialogue, and the situation remains uncertain.

     

     - As far as I am aware, there are some difficulties in the socioeconomic sphere at this time. Moldovans will pay the most for Russian gas in Europe beginning October 1. What is the cause of such inequality, and will it be possible to resolve it?

     - Unfortunately, in this case, the problem - our population's prohibitively high gas tariff - was created by the government itself. Furthermore, despite how paradoxical it may sound, she is influenced by both her actions and inaction. By actions, I mean the new formula for calculating the gas price, which was introduced at the end of 2020 at Moldova's request, and which bases the purchase price for Moldova on 70 per cent of the cost of the oil basket and 30 per cent of one of the stock indexes (Front Month Index) of the gas price. At the same time, the "70 to 30" ratio is used in the first and fourth quarters of each year, while the price is calculated in the "30 to 70" ratio in the second and third. The Moldovan government made an offer, and Gazprom accepted.

    Linking to exchange rates resulted in the fact that, for example, if the purchase price of 1,000 cubic metres of gas was $ 465 for us in November last year, it rose to $646 in January 2022, and to $1,193 in April this year. The price then dropped slightly - in June 2022, Moldova paid $873 for gas - and then crept up again, in line with stock market fluctuations: in July - $988.6, and in August - $1458.5. Such actions can only be explained by the authorities' incompetence, which in this case consists of a thoughtless and insane belief in the "justice" of stock speculation.

    And by inaction, we mean President Maia Sandu's persistent unwillingness to initiate direct negotiations with the Russian leadership to revise the current formula for calculating gas prices, which is unsustainable for the Republic of Moldova, and, if possible, return to the previous formula. After all, it's obvious that we made a mistake (I won't go into the reasons why now), so why not admit it and try to fix it? But no. Madam President cites a number of reasons why such negotiations should not begin. The main reason they are now practically impossible is the recent escalation of Sandu's anti-Russian rhetoric. So, to the question of how the authorities will solve the problem, I can only say no way. Instead, they are voicing various gloomy scenarios regarding Gazprom's termination of gas supplies to Moldova (not because we are unable to pay for the gas already supplied, but because Gazprom is an "unreliable supplier"), as well as already fairly dull mantras about "finding alternative sources of gas purchases".

     - In general, it is obvious. Another critical question is whether the threat in the direction of Transnistria is growing as the Russian-Ukrainian conflict intensifies.

     - In my opinion, with the exception of minor local breakthroughs on one side or the other, the situation on the frontlines of the Ukrainian war has generally stabilised. The fighting is primarily taking place in Ukraine's southeast and parts of its south, which are relatively close to the Republic of Moldova's border. I don't see any new threats in Transnistria in this scenario. We'll have to wait and see what happens in October and November. Then, if any new threats to Transnistria emerge, they can be assessed.

    - The Moldovan leadership, judging by the media, is concerned about partial mobilisation in the Russian Federation. Is there any real reason for this?

    - So far, I don't see a direct link between the Russian leadership's partial mobilisation and the potential intensification of military operations. Moldova's leadership is far too entrenched in the Western mainstream. Washington, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin hastened to worry about this mobilization... So let us be concerned as well. Although, in our case, it looks like pure imitation. However, following last Saturday's [September 24] Security Council meeting (an advisory body to the Moldovan president), Ms Sandu stated at a press conference on September 26 that the authorities are considering revoking the citizenship of Moldovan citizens who also have Russian citizenship and will join Russia in the war against Ukraine. The president stated that there is a risk of mobilisation of Moldovan citizens from the eastern regions. To prevent this, we are analysing the possibility of deprivation of citizenship of those who will fight on the side of the aggressor, and tougher penalties for this.

    But so far this is nothing more than another statement of intent, besides legally dubious. The Moldovan law on citizenship does contain the possibility of revoking it by decree of the head of state. It says that a person who "voluntarily enlisted in the armed forces of another state" can be deprived of citizenship in the Republic of Moldova. But strictly legally, this also applies to Moldovan citizens who have enlisted in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and not only in the "army of the aggressor" - the law does not provide for a selective approach depending on geopolitical antipathies. So what is the prospect of such an intention is still unclear. And the president does not have data on specific Moldovan citizens fighting on the side of Russia, as she herself admitted.

     - In what time frame can we expect the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and what, in your opinion, will be its results?

     - I can't say how long the war will drag on, but I don't expect an early outcome. As for the results, one of them, in my opinion, is obvious: Ukraine has already lost part of its territories. And any sane person is aware that they will not come back.

     - How do you find the current relations between our two countries on the eve of the Moldovan prime minister's visit to Baku? Is it timed to coincide with the agreements on the supply of Azerbaijani gas?

     - Moldova-Azerbaijani relations can be described in one word – smooth. But at a level close to zero. I've already talked about this once. Not a single Chisinau government has tried to formulate our interests in strengthening cooperation with Baku - to formulate them specifically, by regions. Therefore, there is nothing to comment on here yet. Another thing is that the current critical situation with gas prompted the head of the Moldovan government, Natalia Gavrilitse, to make this visit. Let's see what she will agree to, and what documents the parties will be able to sign.

    As you know, Azerbaijani gas supplies to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor have started since the end of 2020. It is also known that this year Azerbaijan exported its natural gas at an average price of $480, including Bulgaria at $230, Türkiye at $280, and Italy at $890. And hypothetically, it can be assumed that Moldova could conclude a contract for the purchase of Azerbaijani gas at a more favourable price than the price formula for the purchase of Russian gas provides. However, there may be one or even two "buts".

    The first risk was recently formulated by one of our well-known economic analysts, the former head of a department at the Economy Ministry, Dumitru Barbalat.If our operator, JSC Moldovagaz, in which the Russian monopolist has a majority stake, fails to meet its obligations under the protocol signed with Gazprom last year, the latter may declare it bankrupt and then sell the Moldovan gas network to someone, but necessarily to his own, fake, "at a favourable price to the parties", ignoring the partisan decision of the minority shareholder - the Moldovan government. In this case, if Moldovagaz assets are sold to another owner in order to at least partially cover the total debt to Gazprom of $7,832.2 million, 35 per cent of the Moldovan government's shares will be written off. It will be impossible to pay even one ban (1 Moldovan lei = 100 bans) per share. Following that, our government will no longer be a shareholder in both the current and new gas monopolies.

    Even if we disregard the hypothetical risk, the second "but" remains. According to experts in the gas transportation sector (politicians, for some reason, ignore this aspect), the Iasi-Ungheni-Chisinau gas pipeline, through which alternative gas supplies from the west are supposed to be carried out, is currently inoperable. To make it work, a compressor station near the gas border with the Republic of Moldova must be built and operational in Romania to pump gas into the designated pipeline.What investments and time are required, and we do not have either. I'm not sure if the Gavrilitse government has another option for gas supplies, other than Russia, through this gas pipeline. It remains to be seen whether Azerbaijani gas will replace Russian gas in Moldova.

    Caliber.Az

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