Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Vinul Nostru

Nearly a quarter of Moldova's gross domestic product is based in agriculture, and agricultural workers comprise 40 percent of the labor force, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Wine alone constitutes about $300 million in sales, according to Moldova's wine export association. Eighty percent of this, approximately $250 million worth of wine, is shipped to Russia. This sets up a possibly disastrous scenario: What happens when the Russian government decides to no longer accept Moldovan wine?

That's the exact situation in which Moldova, as well as Georgia, has found itself since April 1. The crackdown has come from Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief epidemiologist, claiming that Moldovan and Georgian wines contain traces of pesticides that make them unsafe for Russian consumption. Wine imports were stopped, leaving millions of bottles of wine to sit in Moldovan and Georgian cellars.

A few choice quotes from the Associated Press article:

The National Union of Wine and Spirits Producers and Distributors said its analyses showed no dangerous substances in imports from either country and threatened a lawsuit against regulators.

"We don't want to be hostages to political intrigues," said Vadim Drobiz, a spokesman for the Russian industry group.

Elsewhere in the article:

- "Of course you need sanitary rules. Everyone has them: France, Italy. But to ban all wines from one country like this? It's absurd. It's a fraud," restaurant manager Maria Markoziya said.

I have waited to comment on this for the past two weeks, because I try to keep this blog full of mostly first-hand experiences. But in order to understand why so many Moldovans feel that Russia is simply
too powerful to escape from, this story is essential.

The popular opinion of anyone outside the Russian government is that this is a political punishment, similar to state-owned GAZPROM shutting off the natural gas pipeline to Ukraine in January and Moldovans being required to pay American-level prices at the pump instead of the rock-bottom rates that more "loyal" CIS countries pay. I don't know the Georgian political situation, but this announcement follows Moldova's renewed efforts in February and March to negotiate with the break-away Transnistrian government. The Transnistrian government is held in power in large part by the Russian military.
Another article, this one on Moldova Azi, says that wines and cognacs from Transnistria "remain on the shelves of the Russian shops." This continues the long history of Russian political subtlety that began when Khrushchev banged his shoe on a desk at the United Nations and
yelled, "We will bury you!"

Thankfully, the Russian punishment does not seem to have made the desired effect; Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin says that the country needs to find more diverse markets for its wine in order to avoid another such economic hardship, according to a separate Moldova Azi article. Instead of succumbing to Russia's threats, Voronin sees the situation as "an original form of political education, and [Moldova] can draw the moral from this."

The Moldovan and Georgian governments are suing Russia in order to re-impose trade connections. Voronin and Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili are both in China this week, hoping the Chinese will help the situation.

The impositions with which Russia bullies its former partner states show how strong Russia still is; but reactions like Moldova's and Georgia's show how much weaker Russian international authority is becoming every day.


At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate the political insights, though your first hand accounts of life in Moldova tend to be much more entertaining.


At 6:42 PM, Blogger Val said...


For daily articles from foreign press on Moldova and Eastern Europe you can visit my blog: Most of the information is in Romanian though as it targets those who don't speak English but are willing to get a different view on things about their country.



At 3:42 PM, Anonymous andrei said...

Krushchev was Ukrainian not Russian. He was the head of the USSR not Russia. He didn't say "We wll bury you!" Мы вас похороним is translated as "We will be present at your funeral" meaning communism will outlive capitalism. Transdniestr is also under Ukrainian-Moldavian economic blocade as you certainly know. Morale - write about things you understand.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Peter Myers said...

I will accept your point about Kruschchev being the Soviet leader, and not necessarily the voice of Russia. However, the translation that I used is the one commonly used among English speakers, and I fully understand the interpretation you give; it was explained to me in a Soviet politics class at Boston University two years ago. I hope you don't want to nitpick over whether he "slammed" his shoe on the table or merely "repeatedly placed it".

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I try not to get too involved in the Transnistria debate. I will, however, say that the Transnistrian regime complains about what you call a "Ukrainian-Moldavian economic blockade," Russia is the only country in the world with a sympathetic ear. Russia also happens to be the only country with tanks and soldiers in Transnistria. Go figure.

For those of you looking for more information about this touchy subject, see's entry on Transnistria.


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