By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top diplomat said on Thursday that Moldova was a victim of Russia’s efforts to use natural gas to bully its smaller neighbour, although he did not provide details.
Moldova’s gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom expired at the end of September, and the two have failed to agree on a new price, with Chisinau balking at Gazprom’s proposal to double the price Moldova used to pay.
The Kremlin on Wednesday denied the Russian company was using gas talks with Chisinau to try to extract political concessions, but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rejected that argument.
“In global terms the price increases around the world are not a consequence of weaponisation of the gas supply, but in the case of Moldova, yes it is,” Borrell told a news conference alongside Moldova’s Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita in Brussels.
He did not offer any detailed evidence of Russian pressure.
Gazprom has said it will suspend gas exports to Moldova, which borders Romania and Ukraine, if it is not paid for previous supplies.
“In the case of Moldova, political characteristics have to be taken into account … it’s a sharp (price) increase which was related with political problems, which requires our support,” Borrell said, referring to a 60 million euro ($70 million) grant from the EU to help with its energy crisis agreed this week.
“This will go to the most vulnerable Moldovan people,” he said.
Gavrilita said Moldovan officials continued talks with Gazprom in St. Petersberg and that she hoped for an “affordable” long-term contract.
Moldova, currently ruled by the pro-Western government of President Sandu, was one of the Soviet Union’s 15 republics and has been at the centre of a political tug of influence between Russia and the West since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Jan Harvey)