By Stefan J. Bos
Moldova fears it will soon be left without natural gas supplies if Russia turns off the taps. So far, 100 percent of Moldova's natural gas comes from Russia. But the contract to supply it expired at the end of September.
Russia's energy giant Gazprom raised the price, but Moldova refused to pay it. Without a new deal, Gazprom reduced supplies, prompting Moldova to declare a 30-day state of emergency.
Gazprom accused Moldova of "provoking a crisis" and demanded repayment of a $709 million debt. But Moldova's Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu disputes Russia's demands. "Well, it's the worst time to have a gas crisis. At home, the prices are higher than ever," he said.
"You see the gas prices today. We don't know how high or how low they will be in two months or five months. So I can not tell you whether these prices are affordable [to Moldova]", Minister Popescu added in an interview with the BBC broadcaster.
Moldova has received some natural gas from Poland for the first time, but it isn't enough to prevent massive difficulties.
Russia's critics accuse Moscow of using energy as a political weapon to drive its broader geopolitical agenda, including in Moldova.
Russia denies wrongdoing
But Russia's government has denied using natural gas talks with Europe's most economically troubled country to extract political concessions saying the negotiations were purely commercial.
Moldova, currently ruled by the pro-Western government of President Maia Sandu, was one of the Soviet Union's 15 republics.
It has been at the center of a political fight for influence between Russia and the West since declaring independence in 1991 amid the Soviet collapse.
Russia's energy giant Gazprom reportedly offered Moldova a cheaper natural gas deal if it adjusted its free trade deal with the European Union. People close to the talks said Moscow also asked Moldova to delay market reforms agreed with Brussels.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that politics did not play a role in the talks with Moldova.
Yet, as the standoff continues, Moldova's nearly 3.4 million already impoverished people are faced with a potentially very cold winter.