MOSCOW (Reuters) -Gazprom said on Tuesday it may switch off gas supplies to Moldova if the country fails to comply with its payment obligations by Oct. 20.
The Russian energy group also said it reserved the right to annul its gas supply contract with Moldova at any stage over its historical debts in a long-running dispute.
Gazprom has threatened similar moves before amid political tensions between Moscow and an avowedly pro-Western government in Chisinau.
Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, is reliant on Russian gas, the price of which has surged this year because the contract with Gazprom fluctuates from month to month based on the spot market price of gas and oil.
Oazu Nantoi, a lawmaker from Moldova's ruling party, told Reuters the move "is another element of soft blackmailing Moldova for its European course".
"The Republic of Moldova pays for gas. Gazprom is obliged to supply it to us," Moldova's Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spinu who is responsible for the energy sector, said on Telegram messenger.
"Transportation and reservation of the required amount, according to the contract, is the responsibility of Gazprom," he added.
Spinu said that Moldova has always paid for gas, including in advance and "small delays in payments are caused by a huge increase in natural gas prices."
Vadim Ceban, director of Moldova's gas company, said on Telegram that his company "as before, will make every effort to fulfil its contractual obligations to Gazprom in October."
Gazprom also said the Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz had refused to provide it with sufficient transit capacity, and that it was therefore cutting gas exports to Moldova by around a third to 5.7 million cubic metres per day this month.
High inflation, notably for energy, sparked street protests in Moldova last month demanding the resignation of the pro-Western president, Maia Sandu, who was elected in 2020 and is pushing for Moldova to be admitted to the European Union.
(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey, David Evans and Jane Merriman)