Romanian President’s Call for “Union” with Moldova Demands Response from Ukraine

August 22, 2013
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

There’s no question that Romanian President Traian Băsescu’s has triggered something of a diplomatic problem for Bucharest with his recent offhand comment: “We are talking about Moldova’s union with Romania. I say, citizens of Moldova: Ask for the union and you will have it.” The more important questions are, first, whether the problem is one of the content of what he said – as opposed to his unguarded honesty in saying it. And second, what Kiev’s follow-up will be.

First, on the content of Băsescu’s indiscreet frankness: does anyone really doubt that an Anschluss between Romania and Moldova is, one way or another, the conscious objective of virtually all political forces in Bucharest, not to mention many in Kishinev? Băsescu’s sin is that he let the cat of the bag, saying in so many words what everyone knows is the underlying objective of Romanian chauvinists on both sides of the Prut.

Foreign Minister Titus Corlățean nimbly tried to tap-dance around Băsescu’s faux pas, seeking to turn the topic back to uncertain prospects for initialing an Association Agreement (AA) between the European Union and Moldova at the November Vilnius summit:

“When you play with a topic such as the Union I want to understand whether you agree with me that the European and Romanian future of Moldova should be supported by political intelligence in a world of complicated international relations. . . . [Băsescu’s] speech generated additional complications to our Moldovan brothers, the government and us. We must try to get out of this kind of situation although it is not the first time,”

But Corlățean’s efforts to explain away the content of Băsescu’s comment and redirect attention to “the European and Romanian future of Moldova” in the context of the AA – and the manifestly failed “Eastern Partnership” – cannot be so easily dismissed, and may have made matters worse. It is common knowledge that for pro-Romanian politicians and parties in Kishinev initialing of the AA is less valuable for any tangible benefits than as a statement of geopolitical commitment to “European integration.” (As for what EU membership has done for Romania itself and its economy, it’s better not to ask.)

Or put another way, an initialed AA is sought by many in Bucharest and Kishinev – as well as in Brussels, Berlin, and of course Washington – precisely because it’s a step toward not only a European future but, as Corlățean put it, a specifically Romanian one. In the case of any potential “Romanian future” for Moldova, it’s important to note that this would entail not only actual EU membership (as opposed to just an AA) but membership in the other organization that defines European (or more precisely, “Euro-Atlantic”) integration: NATO. In the wake of the cancelled Obama-Putin summit, some U.S. politicians are suggesting another round of NATO expansion is called for. Romanian absorption of Moldova would be one way to do that without the need for any messy revisions of the North Atlantic Treaty or debates among the existing members.

As noted earlier by AIU Director Anthony Salvia, Rada deputy Eduard Leonov of Svoboda has called on Kiev to annex Pridnestrovie in the event Romania were to absorb Moldavia. Leonov’s suggestion highlights the need for the government in Kiev to be more actively involved in Moldova and not leave the initiative to the likes of Svoboda. In particular, it shows that Ukraine must make more of its dual role as a full member of the “5 + 2” negotiations between Kishinev and Tiraspol, both as Ukraine and as chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (of which Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara is also the OSCE’s current Chairman-in-office).

More ominously, however, in light of its own discussions with Brussels about possibly signing an Association Agreement, Kiev needs to interpret the West's agenda for Moldova in light of what it may have in mind for Ukraine. Soon after his election in 2010, President Viktor Yanukovych wisely took prospects for Ukraine’s NATO accession off the table, and there is no apparent prospect for revisiting that decision. But the verbal “problem” caused by Băsescu’s careless comments reminds us once again that what Western policymakers mean by “integration," whether they call it “European” or “Euro-Atlantic,” is very different from what many Ukrainians have in mind.