Moldova's separatist Transdniestria region says it needs more gas

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Orenburg gas processing plant of Gazprom in the Orenburg Region, Russia September 1, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Manzyuk/File Photo

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) -Moldova’s pro-Russian separatist region of Transdniestria has said it needs more Russian to operate its industry as supply and cost emerge as election issues in the former Soviet republic.

Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, long depended on Russia for gas but last year met its needs from European markets, leaving all available gas from Russian giant Gazprom (MCX:) for the breakaway eastern region.

Moldova’s pro-European president, Maia Sandu, who denounces Russia’s war in Ukraine, has backed the switch to European gas as an element in her drive to abandon the country’s Soviet legacy and join the European Union. She is running for re-election in a vote scheduled for late 2024.

Transdniestria, on Ukraine’s western border, split from Moldova before the 1991 Soviet collapse and fought a brief war against the newly independent state, but has remained on its eastern fringe without turmoil for three decades.

The Ukraine war, which Russia launched in February 2022, has limited Gazprom’s daily supplies to 5.7 million cubic metres.

“The volumes involved over the past two years are insufficient to ensure Transdniestria’s natural gas needs over the winter,” the region’s economic development minister, Sergei Obolonik, told reporters on Thursday.

The supplies met demand from households and the power plant which produces 80% of the electricity used in government-held areas of Moldova. But Obolonik said there was not enough to run a cement factory and a building supplies plant.

Obolonik’s statement coincided with a debate in the government-controlled part of Moldova over the benefits of switching from Russian to European gas.

Moldovan Energy Minister Victor Parlicov told national television this week the country could resume taking supplies from Gazprom later this year if the price was suitable. He said buying on European markets in 2023 had saved 60 million euros ($65 million) compared to Russian gas purchases.

Buying gas in the future from Russia, he said, depended on price and such purchases would not violate Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the war in Ukraine.

The head of the national gas company Moldovagaz, Vadim Ceban, also suggested Moldova could switch back to Russian gas in May, when demand for gas declines.

Veaceslav Platon, a Moldovan businessman in Britain who is wanted by Chisinau in connection with several criminal cases, said this week that an audit he had commissioned found the country had lost 70 million euros by paying European suppliers above market rates.

Moldovan authorities see Platon’s statements as deliberate disinformation aimed at misleading citizens and eroding their trust in Moldovan institutions, a government source said.

Platon has been convicted by Russia in absentia for illegally taking money out of the country, charged in Moldova with large-scale money laundering he denies, and sanctioned by Canada.

Experts suggest that Moldova and its separatist enclave could once again divide the supplies provided by Gazprom. Transdniestria has not paid for its supplies for years and Gazprom has not sought to collect the arrears.