Why US is investing in Moldovan storage to guard against Putin

US has pledged £85m to enhance energy storage systems and transmission lines in Moldova and lessen the country’s dependence on Moscow


June 6, 2024

  • US last week pledged £85m to enhance storage systems and transmission lines in Moldova
  • US sees Moldova as vulnerable to Russian advances and wants to bolster its energy security and lessen its dependence on Moscow
  • Russia has ‘weaponized’ energy, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he met Moldovan president Maia Sandu

Following on from Russian president Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukriane in 2022, speculation is mounting that neighbouring Moldova could be Putin’s next target as he bids to seize control of former Soviet republics. Early this year, pro-Russian leaders in Transnistria, a region that broke away from Moldova around 30 years ago – with Russia’s support – issued an appeal to Russia for ‘protection’. As the policy institute Chatham House has highlighted, this scenario mirrored similar ‘appeals’ from inside Ukraine which set in motion the illegal Russian annexations of its territories – the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, and the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in 2022.

In October this year, Moldova is due to hold presidential elections and a referendum about its future membership of the European Union. Chatham House has said that both polls constitute opportunities for Moscow to strengthen its influence over the country and to subvert Moldova’s possible integration into the EU. In perhaps another parallel to Ukraine, the EU decided to open accession negotiations with Moldova in December 2023. Ahead of these polls, Chatham House says that Moscow is targeting the Moldovan public information space with toxic disinformation and is seeking ways to undermine the country’s social cohesion.

Battery storage will play key role in boosting Moldova’s energy security

But another key weapon in Moscow’s armoury as it seeks to undermine the Moldovan state is energy. As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked during a visit to Moldova last week, “we’ve seen through Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine its weaponization of energy, the threat that dependence on Russia for energy poses to national security and economic security – and so, an important part of the work that we’re doing with Moldova, as are many other countries, and notably Europe, is helping build greater energy independence and energy security”.

And battery storage will play a key role in improving Moldova’s energy security. Indeed on his recent visit Blinken made special mention of the work that had been done by USAID [The United States Agency for International Development] to develop large-scale batteries in Moldova in order to store energy and, in doing so, make a “huge difference in helping to deal with having a stable grid, to deal with fluctuations, to enhance the use of renewables, to better connect with the European grid, and to ultimately integrate the European energy markets.”

The US sees shoring up the Moldovan energy system – through the wider deployment of battery storage – as a key element of its strategy for containing Putin and, consequently, Blinken used his visit to pledge funds of $85 million to further bolster Moldova’s energy security.

Bombing has caused blackouts

Moldova used to be entirely dependent on Russia for its natural gas supplies. It endured a major energy crisis in the winter of 2022 when Moscow dramatically reduced supplies – a move that led to the European Union pledging €250 million to Moldova to help it tackle the energy crisis. The country’s energy woes worsened the same year when it experienced temporary blackouts because its energy systems remained connected with Ukraine’s, which were being bombed by Russia’s military. Renewable energy generation capacity in Moldova is low. In 2023, only 6 per cent of electricity demand was met by renewable energy – 54 per cent of this is wind, 34 per cent is photovoltaic energy and 6 per cent is hydro and biogas-based energy. Moldova has committed to increase the share of energy produced from renewables sources to 30 per cent by 2030.

Installed electricity generation capacity by technology in Moldova (source: DENA – German Energy Agency)

As of 2022, there was 120MW of renewable energy generating capacity in Moldova, according to Dena, the German Energy Agency. However, the agency says Moldova could potentially install almost 30GW of renewable energy generating capacity by 2030.

Renewable energy potential in Moldova (source: DENA – German Energy Agency)

Building resilience

The $85 million pledge made by the US last week is not the first significant investment Washington has made to shore up Moldova’s energy system. The US has previously made a similar amount available to Moldova to help the country meet the cost of buying energy.

On his Moldovan visit, Blinken made clear the value of ensuring battery storage was more widely deployed in the country. In a speech, he told Moldova president Maia Sandu that the latest funding package would “help you enhance things like battery storage, as well as the high voltage transmission lines that we’ve already dedicated some funds to”.

In the last two-and-a-half years, the US has provided around $775 million worth of support to Moldova to build its resilience amid Russia’s efforts to undermine it. Washington will be hoping the latest investment in battery storage will further help one of Europe’s poorest countries to resist Putin’s advances.

Main image: Moldova president Maia Sandu (top) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (bottom)

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