Divisions are deepening in Moldova as an energy crisis engulfs the former Soviet country ahead of winter.
In the space of a just month, Chisinau has seen Russian gas imports cut in half and electricity from the pro-Russia breakaway region of Transnistria — which supplied 70% of Moldova’s needs — stop completely. The other 30%, imported from war-hit Ukraine, has also been cut as Moscow bombs the country’s energy infrastructure.
Household energy tariffs have soared in the last year, with the price of electricity jumping by around 50% this month alone. It’s pushed people to consume less and turn to alternative heating sources, such as firewood and coal.
Moldovans are divided between those who don’t want Russian “energy blackmail” to deviate the country from its pro-EU path and others who think Chisinau should make concessions and cosy up to Vladimir Putin in order to get more gas.
Constantin, 60, a farmer from a village in the north of the country, was in Chisinau on Sunday (6 November) to attend a protest organised by pro-Russian fugitive Ilan Shor against the government of Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita.
“I don’t think Moldova has enough gas to get through this winter,” he told Euronews. “I think they should buy more from Russia. We used to live better with the Russians. It was different. In Europe, everything is expensive. Where can Europe get gas to give to Moldova?”
Moldova’s pro-EU president Maia Sandu, added Constantin, “had better reconcile with Putin, not turn his back on him”.
Amid the crisis, Moldova has turned to its neighbour Romania for help, which has stepped in to cover 90% of the country’s needs.
But it’s a lot more expensive: nearly double the price of electricity from Transnistria, which has not paid for the Russian gas it imports for 15 years, accumulating a historical debt of $9 billion to Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The energy crisis developed after Moldova became a candidate for EU membership — alongside Ukraine — in June.
Natalia, a 36-year-old mother employed in the wine industry, is optimistic that her country will endure the current crisis and remain on its pro-EU path.
“We can overcome this crisis because our small republic has chosen the democratic way,” she told Euronews.
“If we choose this path, we can also pay these prices for gas. This winter, the prices will be very high, but people understand and are on the right way.
“Our president Maia Sandu did not go to Moscow to ask for help, which means that we hope for EU’s support because we are a small country.”
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development lent Moldova €;300 million this summer to help with the crisis. Earlier this month, the US announced that it was offering Moldova around $50 million to reimburse electricity costs and “reducing dependence [energy] towards Russia”.
Moldova has already stored more than 157 million cubic meters of gas in Romania and Ukraine, which would be enough to meet the country’s needs for about a month and a half this winter.
Victor, 64, present at last Sunday’s protests, said this is not enough.
“Gas is cheaper in Russia, if the EU will give us gas, it has to go through several countries, including Romania, and that costs more. If Ukraine were not bombed, the gas would reach us more easily from Russia. Romania cannot help us. They can’t give us gas at a low price, that’s clear,” he told Euronews.
Moldovans are most scared of the upcoming gas bills, even though, just like last year, the government has paid generous compensation, especially for those on low incomes.
“I dread the thought of having to turn on the heat. However, we don’t know what will happen if we bear in the cold,” Evdochia, a 63-year-old, told Euronews.
“I need heat, and we need to turn on the gas. I think that Russia will help us more in the winter. Those who voted for the current pro-European government are [the] diaspora. They are welcome there, and we are dying of hunger and cold here in Moldova.”
Galina, 55, an actress, disagrees and says if necessary, she will put on more clothes to get through this winter, where temperatures can hit as low as -15C.
“We don’t know if we will have enough gas to get through the winter, but with faith, patience and national dignity, we will have enough.
“I will be in solidarity with my country, and I will be free,” she told Euronews.
She admits that the current government lacks experience but believes the anti-governmental protesters are being manipulated.
Protests are organised regularly by the party named after Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor.
His supporters held protests in Chisinau last month chanting against the government’s pro-EU policies and carrying banners with slogans such as “No to Cold War, no to cold winter.”
The US State Department said Shor was working with “corrupt oligarchs and Moscow-based entities to create political unrest in Moldova” and to undermine Chisinau’s efforts to become a member of the EU.
Sandu similarly accused “corrupt” political actors in Moldova of pushing for Russia’s interests while the violence from the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine spills into their country.
On Monday, a Russian missile landed in a Moldovan border city when Ukrainian forces shot it down. Residents of Naslavcea said they were shaken by the explosion, which caused damage but no casualties.