In darkness but #withoutyou: How Moldova survives power cuts caused by Russia's bombing of Ukraine

Telegram post screenshot by Moldovan journalist Dumitru Ciorici participating in flash mob #withoutyou

Following a blackout that left Moldova – which relies on grid infrastructures located in Ukraine – without electricity for a few hours on November 23, President Maia Sandu wrote on her Facebook account that “Russia has dawned Moldova into darkness.”, following a blackout that left her country without electricity for a few hours on November 23. 

As the independent Moldovan media outlet Newsmaker reports, Sandu also wrote that the war in Ukraine is killing people, destroying houses and energy infrastructure. She highlighted that Moldova “cannot trust” the Russian regime which intentionally kills people, degrades them and keeps them in poverty.  In spite of the fact that it is very difficult for Moldova now, she continued in her post, the only way to Moldovan future has to be in the direction of the free world.

Moldovan electricity infrastructure is highly dependent on the Ukrainian one, and Russia has been targeting Ukrainian infrastructure for weeks. In a massive Russian strike on Ukraine on November 23, six people were killed, including a newborn baby, and over 70 percent of Kyiv was left without electricity.  As the BBC reports, half of Moldova was consequently also left without power, but in four hours electricity was reinstalled in Chișinău, Moldova's capital. According to Newsmaker, its readers also reported that there was no electricity in some other cities beside the capital, as well as in the whole unrecognized region of Transnistria. 

Global Voices asked prominent journalists in Moldova about the current mood in the country. Iulian Ciocan, a Chișinău-based journalist at Vocea Basarabiei, and a writer, responded by email in Russian:

Все большее людей даже из тех кто считается пророссийским, начинают смотреть с недоумением на Россию. Есть ощущение что это может повторится. Но, конечно, есть и такие которые ждут приход русских войск. Они всегда здесь были. Европа помогает Молдове с деньгами и в энергетическом плане, но сможет ли она помочь если Россия начнет бомбить Молдову как Украину? Это непонятно. Пока еще все спокойно. Посмотрим что будет.

More and more people, even those who are considered pro-Russian, are beginning to look at Russia with bewilderment. There is a feeling that it [the invasion] might happen again. But, of course, there are those who are waiting for the arrival of Russian troops. They have always been here. Europe helps Moldova with money and energy, but can it help if Russia starts bombing Moldova like Ukraine? This is unclear. So far, everything is calm. Let's see what happens next.

Vladimir Thorik, an investigative journalist at RISE Moldova, also answered Global Voices via email:

Почти каждый второй житель Молдовы, оставшийся на полдня без электричества, отреагировал на отключение оцепенением. Большинство в этой критической ситуации решили замереть, а не бежать. Это был шок. И растерянность. На следующий день, отойдя от шока, люди начали разбираться в причинах отключения. Когда стало ясно, что полстраны осталось без света не из-за того, что власти Молдовы не готовы целовать руки кремлевским безумцам. Люди погрузились во мрак из-за террора России против энергосистемы Украины. И тогда в соцсетях Молднета появился новый хаштег «в темноте, но #безвас».

Almost every second resident of Moldova, who remained without electricity for the afternoon, reacted to this with numbness. But most people in this critical situation decided to stay and not to run away. It was a shock. There was confusion. On the next day, having recovered from the shock, people began to understand the reasons for the blackout. It became clear that Moldova was left without power was not because Moldovan authorities refused to kiss the hands of the Kremlin. People were plunged into darkness because of the terror Russia applies against the energy system of Ukraine. And then a new hashtag “in darkness but #withoutyou [you here referring to Moscow] appeared in Moldova’s social media. 

The hashtag is indeed widely used by Twitter users in the country, as those examples show:

#without you #chisinau people charge their gadgets while standing in the rain, after a complete power outage.

As Thorik explains:

Все кто мог, уехал из Молдовы в Евросоюз еще раньше. Предыдущие 20 лет из Молдовы уехала половина трудоспособного населения, около миллиона человек. Оставшиеся сегодня надеются на поддержку западных партнеров по развитию. И власти Молдовы заявили: для того, чтобы пережить зиму, этой беднейшей стране в Европе необходима помощь в 1 миллиард евро.

Anyone who could left Moldova for Europe a long time ago. In the previous 20 years, half of the working-age population, about a million people, left Moldova. The rest hopes for the support of western countries. And the Moldovan authorities said that 1 billion euros is needed to survive the winter in this poorest country in Europe.

One main agenda for Moldovan politics: Energy security

Global Voices also asked if the topic of energy security would be the main political topic of the year 2023 in Moldova. According to Ciocan:

Я думаю да. С одной стороны, власти хотят освободится от Газпрома и русского шантажа, а с другой упрекают Газпром что не дают столько газа, сколько нужно и прописано в контракте, а с другой упрекают Газпром что не дают столько газа, сколько нужно и прописано в контракте. Эта зима будет решающей. Если власти смогут удержать ситуацию в нормальном русле, давая компенсации людям и делая запасы газа, находя других поставщиков, отсоединение от Газпрома не за горами.

In my opinion, yes. On the one hand, the authorities want to get rid of Gazprom [The Russian state company providing gas] and Russian blackmail. On the other hand, they accuse Gazprom of not providing as much gas as necessary, based on what is in the contract. This winter will be decisive. If the authorities can keep the situation on track by compensating people and stockpiling gas by finding other suppliers, ending contracts with Gazprom does not sound outlandish.

Thorik echoes similar views:

В 2023 году главной темой в Молдове станет проблема снижения энергетической зависимости от России и связанных с российскими компаниями посредниками. До сих пор страна зависит от электросетей, связанных распределительными станциями через Молдавскую ГРЭС, принадлежащую российскому государственному энергогиганту ИнтерРАО. Актуальным останется и проблема компенсации беднейшему населению тарифов на газ, электроэнергию и централизованное отопление. Ведь тарифы эти повысились за полгода после начала войны на 600-1000%. Для беднейшей страны в Европе такой галлопирующий рост цен, да еще и годовая инфляция в 35%, означает, что каждый молдаванин обеднел примерно наполовину. То есть доходы (зарплаты и пенсии) у местного населения – по 100-500 евро в месяц, то есть молдавские, а цены на товары и услуги – как на Западе. 

Более того, власти Молдовы не слишком коммуницируют с населением. И совсем невнятно объясняют причины такого галопирующего роста цен и обеднения граждан. Ситуацией пользуется пророссийская оппозиция, обвиняя во всем,  от аварийных отключениях до роста цен исключительно команду президентки Майи Санду. Если власть Молдовы продолжит отмалчиваться, уже в 2023 году ее могут снести в результате местных выборов и протестов пророссийской оппозиции. Ну и консультанты зарубежные, как показало наше расследование «Кураторы Молдовы из ФСБ», для таких протестов запросто найдутся. Причем опытные. Связанные с ФСБ. Уже натренированные работать с молдавским обществом.

In 2023, the main topic in Moldova will be the problem of reducing energy dependence on Russia and intermediaries associated with Russian companies. So far, the country has been dependent on power grids linked by distribution stations through Moldavskaya GRES, owned by Russian state energy giant InterRAO. The problem of compensating the poorest population for tariffs for gas, electricity and centralized heating will also remain relevant. After all, these tariffs increased by 6001000 percent in six months after the start of the war. For the poorest country in Europe, such a galloping rise in prices, coupled with an annual inflation of 35 percent, means that every Moldovan has become impoverished by about 50 percent. That is, the income (salaries and pensions) of the local population is 100500 euros per month, but the prices for goods and services are like in the West.

Moreover, the Moldovan authorities do not communicate much with the population, and in fact quite confusingly explain the reasons for such a galloping rise in prices and the impoverishment of citizens. The pro-Russian opposition is taking advantage of the situation, blaming everything from emergency shutdowns to rising prices solely on the team of President Maia Sandu. If the Moldovan government continues to remain silent, it could be demolished as early as 2023 as a result of local elections and protests by the pro-Russian opposition. Foreign consultants as our investigation “Curators of Moldova from the FSB” [FSB stands for Russia's Federal Security Service] showed, are available to coordinate such demonstrations and have great experience in working with Moldovan society given their FSB training. 

In addition to the electricity blackouts, Russia continues using its gas blackmail with Moldova. On November 23, Gazprom announced that it suspected Ukraine was preventing gas supply from getting to Moldova in significant amounts.  The company also said that if they identify in such “transit discrepancy,” they would lessen the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine starting from November 28, 2022.

Moldovan vice-prime minister, minister of infrastructure and regional development, Andrei Spinu has denied the allegations

It remains to be seen if Gazprom will act on its threats, regardless, gas prices went up by 2 percent on the European market in light of this statement.

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters its ninth month, Moscow continues to destroy Ukrainian electricity infrastructure every day. Ukrainians, though, agree with Moldovan social media users in saying that it is better to be in darkness but #without you. 

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