Expert: Romania Is Activating Policy in the Black Sea Region

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Sergiu CEBAN Recent events around Ukraine and Moldova show that strategic planning issues acquire a new meaning for Bucharest and are prompting the Romanian leadership acting more proactively in order to increase its influence within the natural foreign policy area. After the dangerous episode with a sharp conflict escalation between Russia and Ukraine which was inextricably linked with the wide area of the international Black Sea region, perhaps for the first time, the Kremlin decided raising stakes with the West as high as possible. In fact, there was voiced the threat of a potential Ukrainian state destruction, whilst a possible short-term clash with individual NATO members not excluded as well. What has been happening over recent years in the Black Sea is a pronounced example of a long-term lack of geopolitical certainty that goes far beyond the sea and has a significant impact not only on the European continent, but also on the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Globally, the Black Sea basin continues remaining an arena of heightened competition between NATO, the United States, the EU and the Russian Federation, which since 2014, has been actively using the Crimean Peninsula as a point of power projection to the Middle Eastern states and the Mediterranean. As well seen, Moscow has been actively shackling the region over recent years within the Caucasus direction, and has significantly strengthened after the well-known last year Nagorno-Karabakh events. For all the complexity and confusion of relations between Moscow and Ankara, the dialogue between the two countries is actually quite predictable, ensuring relative stability in the medium term. Bulgaria, being one of the key countries in the region, tries not to show any military and geopolitical ambitions, but only maintains a general West line within Kremlin’s strategic containment. Romania stands alone in this row. Since the 90s, Bucharest has consistently positioned itself as a frontier eastern bridgehead of the North Atlantic alliance who was openly opposing Moscow. As a result of the American strategic system’s ground-based launchers placement, Romania found itself in the midst of confrontation between the United States and Russia. Afterwards, relations with Moscow fell at the lowest possible ebb and given the geographic factor and the active Black Sea region militarization, Moscow and Bucharest began to see each other as a direct threat to their security. Given Romania’s special location at the junction of East and West with a fairly convenient access to the Black Sea, the Romanian territory has long attracted the American military’s attention, as well as alliance’s strategists. The West perceived the Romanian Black Sea coast, including in the global context, as a corridor for laying military-strategic and energy routes of penetration to the Caucasus, Central Asia and, ultimately, to the borders of China. It is non-accidentally that the historic 2008 NATO summit took place in Bucharest, there where the United States planned to make a decisive geopolitical breakthrough and provide Ukraine and Georgia with an Action Plan for NATO membership. By the way, Bucharest did openly support the American idea of early admitting to NATO new members, which were to ensure the further bloc’s routing and ensure almost complete freedom of action for the Alliance in the Black Sea region. Accordingly, Russia should be edged out into the depths of the Eurasian continent. Throughout the entire period of recent history, Romania has sought contributing to European security formation. As already known, the general situation has been extremely dynamically transformed over recent years and did radically change the balance of power, including in the Black Sea basin. Therefore, today, Bucharest continues to actively seek its place both in the global and regional systems of coordinates, as well as its unique role in the implementation of the strategic tasks and foreign policy activities of NATO. Recent events related to Ukraine and Moldova do clearly show that strategic planning issues for Bucharest acquire a new meaning and need some additional reflection and reformulation as to their approaches. This prompts the Romanian leadership acting more proactively so that to maintain their current positions and increase their influence within the framework of the foreign policy area. It was precisely this purpose that consultations at the level of Foreign Ministers of Romania, Turkey and Poland were held in Bucharest last week, consultations the heads of foreign affairs agencies of Ukraine and Georgia were invited to. As a result of the event, a joint statement was signed, primarily in support of Kiev and Tbilisi. However, the main message should have apparently been a consolidated expression of all Eastern European and Black Sea countries’ readiness to act as a united front against Moscow's aggressive intentions. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the wide Black Sea region’s fate will be decided very soon when the highest and most authoritative levels are to be involved, including within the framework of the upcoming meeting of the presidents of the United States and Russia this summer. The existing tension between Washington and Moscow, if compared with other issues on the international agenda, looks much less critical, therefore, a strategic solution, even a temporary one will be anyway achieved in order to enable the White House concentrate on its main next decade’s problem – the growing China. Amidst the high probability for the entire regional space to get reconfigured, and when Kiev and Chisinau are to increasingly be forced accepting their internal conflicts settlement on a broad consensus basis, including taking into account the self-proclaimed rebellious regions’ opinion, along with the Romanian maritime borders’ issues, a completely different reality and a significant regional strengthening of Moscow might arise in the coming years. In this regard, it will most likely be possible to observe an additional Bucharest’s activation to determine measures aimed at adapting to new circumstances.