By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova has not used Russian gas since late last year, but it is keeping open the option of buying supply from Gazprom if conditions are right, the head of the Russian gas giant's local subsidiary said on Tuesday.
Since last December, Gazprom's daily supply of 5.7 million cubic metres (mcm) has been channelled to the pro-Russian separatist Transdniestria region, which broke away from Moldova as the Soviet Union was collapsing in 1990.
Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has denounced Russia's war in neighbouring Ukraine and has been beset by years of disputes that pre-date the war over payment for Russian gas.
The Russian gas is used by a power station in Transdniestria that produces 80% of Moldova's electricity at low rates, so Moldova is keen to keep the arrangement in place. The rest of Moldova has been using gas from European suppliers bought through the state-owned gas and power company Energocom.
Vadim Ceban, head of Gazprom subsidiary Moldovagaz, said purchases of Russian gas for the bulk of Moldova's territory are possible if the right conditions are met.
"Theoretically, we can buy Russian gas, but this is subject to two key conditions - the price of gas must be lower than that proposed by Energocom and there must be appropriate volumes as needed by Moldova," Ceban told Reuters.
The current contract between Moldovagaz and Gazprom provides for prices higher than those offered through Energocom by European suppliers.
"The situation on gas purchases will become clear once the conditions on supplying gas from Energocom are proposed in the first quarter of 2024," Ceban said.
Moldovan Energy Minister Victor Parlicov told a conference in Bucharest on Monday that Moldova had secured sufficient quantities of European gas and had no plans to buy gas from Gazprom for use in areas under the government's control.
But on Tuesday, he acknowledged that purchases of Russian gas were possible, subject to strict conditions.
"It's possible, if Gazprom proposes a favourable price and if Russia does not impose political conditions," Parlicov told the news outlet newsmaker.md.
"I do not rule out Gazprom looking for ways to supply (the government-controlled part of) Moldova west of the Dniestr River and at the best prices. And we will have the opportunity to choose," Parlicov was cited as saying.
Purchases of Western European gas were made possible last winter by a financing facility of 300 million euros ($314 million) from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Moldova uses 1.1 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas annually, while Transdniestria consumes 2.2 bcm.
Transdniestria, long supported financially and politically by Moscow, has not made payments for Russian gas for some time, and Gazprom has not sought to collect the arrears.
Transdniestria fought a brief war with newly independent Moldova in 1992, and 1,500 Russian troops remain there as peacekeepers as part of a ceasefire negotiated that year.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ron Popeski and Tom Hogue)