By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) - Russian state-owned Gazprom is still shipping supplies to Moldova's indebted separatist enclave Transdniestria without receiving payment purely because it wants to prop up the region, Moldova's energy minister said on Sunday.
Moldova's pro-European government, bolstered by loans from EU institutions, has been buying its gas from other European sources since last December.
Disputes over price and supply cuts imposed by Gazprom generated tension between Russia and Moldova, a former Soviet state lying between Ukraine and EU member Romania.
"I believe that for Russia, de facto free supplies of gas to Transdniestria are a greater priority, far more important than any commercial relationship, money or other considerations," Victor Parlicov told the news website deschide.md.
"You saw what Gazprom did when debts built up (in Moldova) what steps were taken to curtail volumes. But as for debts (in Transdniestria), Gazprom basically provides supplies for free and receives no payment. And I can see that suits them."
Transdniestria owes Gazprom $9 billion for gas supplies and places money collected from consumers in a "gas account" rather then paying. Gazprom says Moldova owes a long-term debt of $709 million, but the government has submitted that sum to an international audit.
Helped by a 300 million euro ($325 million) credit from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Moldova has secured supplies from European sources. It bought a small amount of gas last month from Greece to test the import route.
Pro-Russian Transdniestria is a sliver of land that broke away from Moldova in the dying days of Soviet rule.
A brief war pitted the region against newly-independent Moldova in 1992 and 1,500 Russian "peacekeepers" remain there despite attempts to resolve the dispute. Conflicts and violence between the two sides are virtually non-existent.
Moldova has repeatedly denounced Russia's invasion of Ukraine as Russian missiles have landed on Moldovan territory.
The separatist leaders in Transdniestria accuse Ukraine of plotting to assassinate them.
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ron Popeski and Grant McCool)