Russia ups the pressure on Moldova as it halts selected wine imports

By bne IntelliNews September 6, 2013

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Russia stepped up pressure on Moldova to drop its movement towards closer relations with the EU on September 5, as it announced it is to halt several batches of wine imports, and threatened a blanket ban on the country's main hard currency earner.

Russia's Federal Service for Oversight of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare announced the import of several batches of Moldovan wine has been stopped due to "harmful impurities". Director Gennady Onishchenko told RIA Novosti "Moldova is close to facing another ban and we would repeat the draconian measures of 2005-2006. We have stopped a number of batches today."

Russia banned wine imports from Moldova in March 2006. In 2007, over 40 Moldovan wine producers passed sanitation and epidemiological checks and their supplies were resumed. The latest problem apparently stems from the fact that the wine is stored in plastic containers for long periods, he said. Chisinau has already promised to fulfill the requirements to avoid an embargo.

However, the issue looks unlikely to be solved by Moldovan wine producers on their own. Tensions are running high in the CIS ahead of a EU summit set to be hosted in Vilnius in November. Many of the countries in the region are due to sign off on Association Agreements. That would clear the way to seal free trade agreements (FTA) with the EU, and kill off any chance of them joining the Russian-led Customs Union.

Russia has been throwing its weight about trying to force countries to sign up for its trade club. This week,

Armenia caved in and said it would join. However, Moldova is defying Moscow, and has so far ignored threats from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin that trade bans will follow unless it halts its aspirations of European integration.

Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti insisted at a press conference on September 5 that his country will continue its course. "A statement by an official from another country is his personal business," Timofti said. "We have a program of European integration, which we are implementing regardless of statements made by the leaders of another state."

That defiance is no small consideration given that wine is the tiny country's major export and hard currency earner, and that Moldova is so heavily dependent on Russia for energy. It's much larger neighbour Ukraine is already mired in a major trade war over the same issue, although Kyiv continues to try to keep its options open as it has for years.

Russia's aggressive stance means the EU needs to step up if it is going to take these countries under its wing. Moscow's role as their major trade partner offers it no little leverage, especially through the ongoing crisis.

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