Russia yesterday (10 September) announced a ban on imports of Moldovan wines and spirits, saying they contained impurities, a move certain to be seen in the small ex-Soviet republic as retaliation for its drive to expand ties with the European Union.
Russia's public health chief Gennady Onishchenko said the ban on one of Moldova's main export earners, due to come into force on Wednesday, had been imposed because Moldova had consistently failed to act to improve the quality of its produce.
"We don't intend to act as a nanny for the Moldovan economy," Onishchenko said in Moscow, according to Interfax news agency.
"The ban is a necessary step that we have undertaken reluctantly, but it is the only possible way of solving the present situation," he said. "There have been violations in technical preparation, storage and end-production."
In Chisinau, Economy Minister Valerii Lazar said the Moldovan side were unclear about the reasons for the Russian move.
"We will have to clarify where technical problems about the quality of Moldovan wine end and where political aspects begin," he told Reuters.
Moscow is unhappy with Moldova's drive to conclude political association and free trade deals with the European Union in November in preference to expanding ties with Russia.
A Kremlin envoy this month warned that Chisinau's policies could bring retaliation from Moscow, possibly involving cuts in Russian gas deliveries, on which Moldova relies heavily.
Moldova's neighbor Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, has also come under pressure from the Kremlin to halt its European integration plans.
Exports of wines and spirits such as cognac and vodka are a big currency earner for Moldova – which has a population of 3.5 million and is one of Europe's poorest states.
Sales to Russia, the main market for its alcoholic drinks, brought in some €100 million last year.
Despite pressure from Russia, both Moldova and Ukraine are looking to a November summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, to lock in place landmark agreements with the EU.
Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner Štefan Füle said in the European Parliament on Wednesday that his services had taken note of the Russian ban against Moldovan agricultural products.
“We are not aware of any food safety reasons which would justify this. The EU’s own food safety authorities have not established any health or hygiene problems with imports from Moldova; and we continue to import wine and other agricultural products.
“Together with my colleague Dacian Ciolo? responsible for agriculture, we intend to look into the possibility of being able to further increase the wine quota for Moldovan exports to the EU. We also intend to send short term expertise to Moldova to help overcome some of the remaining barriers that their exports in other sectors such as poultry face. This signs of solidarity are also applicable to other partners which are subject to undue pressure,” Füle concluded.
Borys Kushniruk, a Ukrainian economist, told EurActiv:
“Anti-Russian positions in Ukraine are spreading not because of the Ukrainian civil servants, politicians or their political assistants, but because of Kremlin representatives. It is them we should “thank’ for publicly punishing Ukrainian businessmen Petro Poroshenko for his open pro European position. It is them who organise, in violation of WTO rules, the blockade of free trade between Russian and Ukrainian enterprises. It is them who allow themselves openly offensive remarks about Ukraine and the Ukrainian Nation. It is them who organise the anti-Ukrainian campaign in Russia, Ukraine and other countries of the world. It is them who prevented Ukraine from signing the Membership Action Plan (MAP) with NATO, and then demonstratively gave high state awards to representatives of Russian Federal security service and intelligence services for achieving this result.
“Russian authorities will not tolerate Ukraine’s signing of Association agreement with EU. They will do everything to stop it. And the main direction – is political and economic destabilisation of Ukraine and its state.”
Russia is getting nervous with the approach of the 28-29 November Vilnus summit of the Eastern partnership, which is expected to see the signature of a landmark Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, and the initialling of similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia.
Instead of becoming part of the market, EU Russia wants those countries to join its Customs Union, which has as members only Belarus and Kazakhstan.
The Moldovan economy relies mainly on agriculture and exports to the Eastern market, such as Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.
Russia said that Moldova's EU rapprochement would jeopardise the future of Transnistria, a breakaway territory unrecognised by the international community located on the border between Moldova and Ukraine.
28-29 Nov.: Eastern Partnership Summit, to be held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU presidency. Ukraine hopes to sign the agreement there, and Moldova and Georgia expect to initial similar agreements