Eurasian disunion – Russia’s vulnerable flanks - Part Twenty Five

Analysis 10 July 2018
Eurasian disunion – Russia’s vulnerable flanks - Part Twenty Five

The think tank Institute for Strategic Analysis continues publication of excerpts from a book “Eurasian disunion-Russia’s vulnerable flanks” to keep English-language readers informed of new trends, developments and analyses of President Vladimir Putin’s policies in former Soviet nations during his reign over Russia.

Part Twenty Five


Romania’s political elite has no illusions about or favorable historical memories of Russia’s policy. They view Moscow as a traditional rival that has revived its aspirations toward territories along Romania’s northern borders, whether in Moldova or Ukraine. While the struggle over Moldova is ever-present, Bucharest also complains that the Black Sea has been turned into a Russian-Turkish condominium increasingly dominated by Moscow. President Traian Basescu in particular resisted Moscow’s pressures and energy enticements, while the Kremlin endeavored to appeal to opposition parties to gain a political foothold in the country.

In the aftermath of Russia’s offensive against Ukraine, during 2014, Romania intensified its support for Moldova’s EU Association Agreement. Basescu also underscored that rationally there was no danger to Romania, but Bucharest must also be prepared for the irrational. The government has campaigned for a greater presence of NATO navy forces in the Black Sea because the major security threats were generated by differences in naval capacities between Russia and NATO members Romania and Bulgaria, Turkey’s proximity notwithstanding. Officials believe that the Monroe Treaty, whereby only ships of the riparian countries may station in the Black Sea for more than 21 days, should either be amended or there should be a more frequent rotation of NATO vessels.

Moscow’s representative to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, accused the US of eroding regional security by deploying a missile defense shield in Europe. He warned that Russia would take measures in response to the US army assuming command of a missile defense base in Deveselu, Romania. US naval forces established a Naval Support Facility (NSF) in Deveselu, on October 10, 2014. In the words of Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the opening of a permanent NATO military base on Romania’s territory represented a “strategic project.”

Russia’s state propaganda conjures up convoluted schemes to foster disputes between neighbors in the Black Sea region. For instance, it claims that Kyiv is preparing to forcibly merge Moldova and the separatist enclave of Transnistria and will assist Romania in absorbing the whole of Moldova. Simultaneously, it charges that Bucharest seeks to annex pockets of territory in Ukraine, including northern Bukovina and southern Bessarabia. Hence, Moldova, Romania, and Ukraine are all portrayed as threatening each other’s integrity and statehood. In addition, by asserting that Kyiv and Bucharest menace Transnistria’s autonomy, Putin can justify a land link between Transnistria and a future Novorossiya forcibly sliced away from southern Ukraine.

Moscow may also threaten both Romania and Ukraine with territorial partition by claiming a broad swath of territory for an enlarged Moldova. Alternatively, it may back splitting both Ukraine and Moldova through the creation of a separate Budjak Republic to include Gagauzia, Taraclia, and parts of the Odesa region in Ukraine. Romania can then be offered the rest of Moldova and slivers of Ukraine in exchange for Bucharest’s recognition of Novorossiya.

Another avenue to unsettle Romania is the Greater Moldovan question. Seeking to turn the tables on Romanian nationalist aspirations for uniting Romania and Moldova, the Moldova Mare People’s Patriotic Alliance was formed in Balti, Moldova, on May 5, 2014, to openly support a Greater Moldova within its “historical borders” with Russia’s assistance. This would purportedly include parts of northern Romania. The organizers stated that they were encouraged by Moscow regaining Crimea and claimed to have branches inside Romania. Moldova Mare is considered a separatist group by both Chisinau and Bucharest, and it has links with Gagauz leaders.

On the energy front, Romania was dismissive of the South Stream project, viewing it as a tool to deepen the region’s dependence on Russian energy. As an oil and gas producer, Romania has one of the lowest energy dependence rates in Europe. It has also diversified its oil imports, with Kazakhstan supplying twice as much crude oil as Russia.166 Romania previously imported about a quarter of its natural gas from Russia, but this is decreasing. As new discoveries of gas reserves are registered in the Black Sea shelf, Romania plans to become energy self-sufficient by 2020. In April 2015, Romania stopped buying Russian gas for several months because its domestic gas production exceeded demand. However, its gas consumption is expected to grow again after 2020.

Russian companies have sought to penetrate Romania’s energy sector. Oil giant Lukoil has operated in the country since 1998 and owns one of the largest Romanian refineries in Ploiesti (Lukoil Petrotel). In October 2014, Romanian prosecutors started investigating Lukoil Petrotel for tax evasion and money laundering, seizing the company’s assets. The investigators estimated that the Romanian state lost about €230 million due to the company’s illegal activities. As Lukoil threatened to permanently close the refinery, President Basescu asked his government to be ready to take over the Ploiesti refinery. Lukoil planned to appeal accusations of money laundering and tax evasion after Romanian prosecutors seized €2 billion ($2.2 billion) worth of its assets.

Russia’s energy companies experience greater difficulties in entering Romania than other countries in the region. The most recent attempts to establish a presence have been through proxies, such as Serbia’s oil company Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS), in which Gazpromneft has a majority stake. NIS has purchased a number of petrol stations in Romania, as Russia’s energy companies try to close the circle of supply, production, and trade in Romania, similarly to Bulgaria.

Romanian politicians and activists have claimed that Russia was behind the environmental protests against shale gas exploration by the US company Chevron in 2012–2014. Potential shale gas discoveries in Central and Eastern Europe would shrink Gazprom’s European markets. Hard evidence of money transfers from Russian sources to Romanian activists is not readily available. However, the accounts of several witnesses point to Moldovan nationals from pro-Russian political parties actively agitating the population in eastern Romania against Chevron operations.

Bulgarian activists, also suspected of being funded by Russia’s energy lobby, have likewise contributed to stirring non-governmental organizations in Romania to protest against fracking. On June 5, 2013, scores of Bulgarians crossed the border with Romania to join the protest against drilling for shale gas. Simultaneous rallies took place in Bucharest, Cluj, Sibiu, Mangalia, Iași, Sighisoara, and Brașov in Romania, and Sofia, Varna, and Dobrich in Bulgaria.

Anca-Maria Cernea of the conservative Ioan Bărbuş Foundation has noted that “the protesters included groups that usually have nothing to do with one another, like radical socialists, some with ties to the heavily Russian influenced security apparatus in neighboring Moldova, and deeply conservative Orthodox priests.” The Russian media was extremely active in mobilizing the anti-fracking movement, with the newly licensed RT news channel in Romania carrying warnings that villagers, along with their crops and animals, would perish from poisoned water. While Chevron was bombarded with demonstrations, Gazprom’s Serbian subsidiary NIS continued conducting shale gas exploration in western Romania. The company was never subjected to public protests or objections of any kind, and exploration has continued.

In the metals sector, RusAl, which accounts for 75% of Russia’s aluminum output and 10% of global supplies, purchased Cemtrade, a Romanian aluminum refinery. RusAl controls an extensive network of production outlets in several countries, including two giant alumina refineries in Ukraine. Russia’s efforts to acquire the aluminum industry were viewed with great concern by Romania’s intelligence service. They reported that oligarch Oleg Deripaska had attempted to take over the entire industry when three state-owned aluminum enterprises were slated for privatization. Although Deripaska failed to win the tenders, the Russian-Israeli magnate Vitaliy Machitsky, with close ties to Gazprom, subsequently acquired two aluminum firms, Alum Tulcea and Alro Slatina.


Republished from a book "Eurasian disunion - Russia's vulnerable flanks".