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Russia freezes Moldovan wine import; Chisinau, EU suspect politics

September 11, 2013, 16:34 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, September 11 (Itar-Tass) - Russia has frozen the import of all alcoholic beverages from Moldova again, because the quality, it argues, leaves much to be desired. In reply, both Chisinau, the country's capital, and the European Union claim politics is behind the move: namely, Moscow’s anger over Moldova’s plans to put its signature to an agreement of association with the EU. Moscow warns that this ban may harm relations between the two countries and a solution to the problem of the self-proclaimed Republic of Trans-Dniestria.

The chief of Russia’s consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, Gennady Onishchenko, on Friday broke the news that Russia was imposing an embargo on Moldovan alcoholic beverages. As the supervision authority has found, over 28,000 litres of alcohol shipped from Moldova to Russia of late fell short of safety requirements. Several batches of Moldovan wines contained hazardous impurities - for instance, the plastifier dibutylphtalat, harmful to human health.

Onischenko speculated that the substandard alcohol had been kept in plastic tanks for too long. Hence the origin of harmful agents.

Previously, Russia imposed a ban on the import of Moldovan wines back in 2006. The presence of pesticides in wines was the official reason. However, some experts claimed the ban followed a worsening of bilateral political relations. Supplies resumed in 2007.

The Moldovan government is unaware of the causes of the just-introduced embargo, says Economics Minister Valeriu Lazar. “We’ve got to see first what is happening in the reality. It is very important for me to find out where the technical aspects end and where political ones begin. I recognise that there is still no full clarity,” he said.

Many experts, just as Western politicians, have linked the suspension of alcohol imports to Chisinau’s intention to sign an agreement of association with the EU at the forthcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, due in November.

As Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has said on behalf of the EU, the Eastern Partnership countries should redouble their efforts, if they really expect that at the summit on November 28 they will be able to sign an agreement with the EU that will pave the way for their admission to the European Union. Another participant in the programme is Ukraine, a country that Russia would much like to see a member of its Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

When he visited Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, and Tiraspol, the central city of the breakaway republic of Trans-Dniestria, at the beginning of September, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, special envoy for Trans-Dniestrian affairs, warned that Russia would reconsider its relations with Moldova should the latter conclude an agreement with the EU.

He said that a rapprochement with the EU would spell dire effects on the export of Moldovan goods, the ability of Moldovan guest workers to enter Russia to seek jobs and also the solution of the problem of Trans-Dniestria.

Tiraspol sees eye-to-eye with Moscow in that respect. The agreements of association and free trade zone with the EU, which Moldova and Ukraine hope to sign, may hinder the Trans-Dniestrian settlement process, the leader of the self-proclaimed republic, Yevgeny Shevchuk, has told ITAR-TASS.

“We respect the choice of our neighbours, but Trans-Dniestria has different priorities, such as integration with the Eurasian space. In a situation like this, Chisinau’s agreements with the EU, which incorporate the free trade agreement, will complicate the export of Trans-Dniestrian goods to the European markets and worsen the division and alienation along the Dniester River.

In the meantime, one in two Moldovans would like their country to enter the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, while the ranks of European integration enthusiasts are thinning out, as is seen in an opinion poll by the Association of Sociologists and Demographers of Moldova, just published in Chisinau. A total of 51.4% of the polled respondents are for Customs Union membership, in contrast to 47.9% in January.

“In this connection, two questions arise. One is about Russia-Moldova relations in the long term, including political and trading relations. The other concerns Moscow’s attitude to Trans-Dniestria, which has developed signs Moscow’s previous tactic may be changing,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper quotes the president of the Association of Independent Political Scientists of Trans-Dniestria, Andrei Safonov, as saying. “So far, only Moldovan wineries and distilleries have been the hardest-hit. Against this background direct assistance to Trans-Dniestria is being stepped up.”

“Rogozin visited Chisinau after Moldova had already made a decision in favour of drifting towards the European Union. In this particular case, the West is obviously planning to tear Moldova away from the post-Soviet space. Ideally, it would like Trans-Dniestria to follow. But Tiraspol is not involved in the Chisinau-Brussels agreements so politicians there must have decided a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” he concluded.