Strategic Plans of Romania: Regional Leadership and Expansion

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Christian RUSSU
Romanian political and expert groups are increasingly talking about the unique “window of opportunity” that opens for their country in any outcome of the conflict in Ukraine, while shaping Bucharest’s bid for lasting leadership in the region and the development of territories in its traditional area. In practical terms for Moldova this will mean an even stronger influence of the “big brother”
The growing expansion into key sectors of Moldova’s economy and state institutions is only part of an ambitious policy supported by Romanian politicians. “Time to gather stones”: perhaps this is how we can characterize the mood emerging in local corridors of power and academic circles, which are increasingly vocal about the need for more active action on the external perimeter of the country’s traditional interests. Romania’s long-standing “diligent obedience” before Brussels against this background, as well as the example of Hungary’s independent policy, is causing growing irritation and protest. Of course, Bucharest cannot be as arrogant as Budapest and has to make concessions to meet public demand to join the Schengen Area, but there are still plans to move away from the timid policy with which many associate the personality of President Klaus Iohannis. This process should go hand in hand with attempts to achieve greater influence of Romanian politicians of German origin within the EU structures. Honorable exile of Iohannis to the European Council would be the best solution for resetting power in the country. The current international environment and the actual loss of Ukraine’s entity give Romania a unique chance to restore the influence lost a hundred years ago. And this requires not strong slogans, but a consistent programme of measures to secure a foothold in the adjacent territories, which won’t be subject to bargaining under any military-political scenarios. A strong argument in favor of changes is the fact that boneless nature of Romanian policy is a result of its dependence on EU policy, which has become even more unstable over the past two years. Romanian politicians only sneer about the Union’s current sovereignty in international affairs, realizing that if Donald Trump returns to power in the U.S., the nature and significance of directives from Brussels will seriously change. Therefore, by that time, Romanians should have their own strategic proposal for the new American administration and a leader capable of presenting it. Against this background, the degree of internal political struggle in Romania is noticeably decreasing, and the awakened imperialistic spirit is beginning to influence not only national but also regional elites on the westernmost borders. For instance, in Timisoara where they are waiting for Maia Sandu to honour her with the Award for European Values. Many people in the country are beginning to realize their personal responsibility for the future of the country and are tacitly following the growing aspirations for leadership in the region. For Moldova, this bodes an even stronger influence of the “big brother”. In less than fifteen years since the dismantling of the 360-kilometre barbed wire fence on the left bank of the Prut, Bucharest has practically managed to regain its former influence on the Moldovan territories. The current exploration level of the key sectors of economy and infrastructure of our republic allows the Romanian political elites to consider the applied model of expansion successful for extending it to the territory of Ukraine. One of the main areas of integration used in the European Union is transport accessibility. The rehabilitation and construction of new motorways with EU support has been one of the main factors of Romania’s success. The refurbished European-level roads crossing the Prut River have been enough to link Moldova’s main trade and economic flows. Now the link to the northern territories, namely Bukovina, is next in line. One of the current priorities is the construction of the so-called Moldova 7 motorway, which should link Ploiesti and Pascani, and then via Suceava and Siret to the Chernivtsi oblast of Ukraine. This project, designed to provide access from Ukraine to Romanian ports bypassing Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, is being implemented at a rapid space. The Chernivtsi oblast along with Moldova are the main objects of Bucharest’s efforts. And not only because these territories were once part of Romania, but also because they are guaranteed not to become objects of Russia’s claims if Ukraine fails. And this scenario is being voiced more and more clearly in the Romanian political and expert community. Sooner or later, the outlines of the new European security architecture will take shape, and Romania has very little time to form a confident negotiating position. At the same time, even if the continuity of power is maintained in Washington, no one will be able to accuse Romania of playing a game that goes beyond acceptable limits. Indeed, all the current infrastructural and other preparations so far do not contradict in any way with the commitments to NATO allies in terms of economic and military assistance to Ukraine. The left bank of the Dniester is not yet among the approved objects of the political elite’s external aspirations, where Bucharest’s funds have already been invested. Perhaps due to fears that this is where the new NATO border might be. The territory stretching from the Danube coast to the Dniester estuary is not in the list either, as it remains disputed for Romania, as well as a potential theatre of military operations. However, even these plans may be revised in case of approval by the new American administration and the absence of active military-political countermeasures on the part of the Russian Federation.