REVIEW: Ukrainian Crisis Approaching Merger of Moldova and Romania

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On the 100th anniversary of Bessarabia’s annexation to Romania, only the lazy did not argue about possible recurrence of the age-old events. Numerous newsbreaks encouraged it, for example, Moldovan unionists and country's settlements signed symbolic declarations on unification with Romania. The year is almost over, but the Moldovan statehood has remained a dead weight on the shoulders of the people's representatives. Some of Moldavian unionists believe that “unirea” is a kind of formalized institutional merger of two states. But in practice, the situation is completely different: political unification right now is not beneficial for both parties. The ruling Moldavian elites do not need it, as they risk losing not only political power, but also quite real financial capital. For Romania, this is also not the pressing issue on the agenda. Especially considering the fact that “unirea” will require enormous financial investments in the short term in order to bring Moldova in line with the requirements of the European Union. It means that the parties would have to make progress which was unattainable or unintended for Moldova for almost 10 years. The foregoing, however, does not mean at all that the idea of “unirea” has sunk into oblivion and has no practical implementation. On the contrary, the integration process is rather active, but in a progressive, “quiet” mode, which is not so noticeable to uninvolved people. For example, we can confidently state the consistent infrastructure integration of the two countries. So, Romania and Moldova are currently implementing a 2014-2020 joint action program. It includes following projects:
  • construction of the 1,435 km European standard railway from Ungheni to Chisinau;
  • launch of international roaming between Moldova and Romania at national tariffs;
  • construction of the Leova-Bumbata transport bridge;
  • border check of people, vehicles and goods at joint checkpoints at the of the Republic of Moldova and Romania.
In addition, countries are working to merge electricity gird and gas pipelines, build roads – that is, the boundary between them is erasing not declaratively, but in fact. We should not forget about nationality issue. Today, it is practically very easy for the residents of the Republic of Moldova to obtain a passport of a neighbouring state, which many Moldovans actively use. And for those who, for various reasons, do not want to do this, a visit to Romania is not difficult, due to the visa-free regime introduced by the European Union. So at the moment the process of crossing the Moldovan-Romanian border is, in fact, a formality. The population of the two countries can freely move within the territory of the so-called “Great Romania”. This status quo benefits Romania for several reasons. Currently, the process goes on its own and provides a “soft” scenario of “unirea”, where the Republic of Moldova should be actually integrated into the Romanian state and should follow in the wake of its interests. At the same time, Bucharest has no direct obligations to the nationals of Moldova, and the financial costs are minimal – hybrid Romanization is much cheaper than direct absorption. In addition, this option allows once again not to disturb Brussels looking askance at any ideas for redrawing the borders in the European space. It is worth emphasizing that the integration processes described above do not proceed chaotically, but are planned. Nevertheless, they are subject to the influence of external events and circumstances that may give an additional impetus to the merger of the two states. In the near future, the Ukrainian factor may become one of such accelerators. Ukraine’s relations with Russia have again become aggravated, and international partners are gradually involved in another conflict. At the same time, no one feels any enthusiasm to this end – it’s not 2014, and the European Union does not welcome what is happening between them. It is obvious that Moldova and Romania would not acclaim possible military actions close to their borders (and within NATO’s area of responsibility): the “reset” of relations between the EU and Russia is long overdue, but every time it is “postponed” by various demarches and provocations. Experts note that Kiev today has virtually no allies left. At least, this statement is absolutely applicable to the current leaders of the country. It is highly likely that Ukraine would face new challenges tete-a-tete. Brussels is losing interest to Ukraine, and even Moldova, being torn by internal political misadventures, looks much more attractive against Ukrainian background. And if initially the European Union tried to distribute attention evenly to the countries that signed the Association Agreement, now, in European officials have a doubt about the successful future of the Ukrainian project in the light of recent events. Thus, the geopolitical space where the European Union is ready to take active steps may very soon be reduced to the borders of Moldova, since Ukraine is increasingly looking like a costly and unattractive asset. This circumstance basically fuels the ambitions of Romania, which are not limited only to the territory of Moldova. Bucharest closely follows the processes in the former Romanian territories. And if before the events of 2013-2014, Romania expressed careful thoughts about the return of Southern Bessarabia – the current territory of the Odessa region, later Euromaidan, the war in Donbass and the subsequent political weakening of Ukraine only fuelled the expansionist aspirations of Bucharest. So, the need to revise the borders along the 1940 model is increasingly voiced in Romania. Romanian media published statements by politicians that it was necessary to return all the territories up to the Dniester. And judging by their growing number, the expert community develops this idea quite actively. Oddly enough, the new round of the Ukrainian crisis and the introduction of martial law can only serve as a catalyst for these processes. For the Romanian leadership, the “protection of Romanian nationals” (and in the case of Southern Bessarabia, ethnic Romanians) is an excellent opportunity to accelerate the integration processes throughout Bessarabia, including the Odessa region of Ukraine. If this assumption is true, in the near future we should expect a serious intensification of joint infrastructure projects of Romania and Moldova, as well as various civil initiatives and humanitarian projects within the Ukrainian-Moldovan borderland.