Romanian and Hungarian political parties once again recalled territorial claims to Ukraine, which triggered a large scandal. However, these claims are quite legitimate for many reasons and have a direct impact on Moldova’s prospects
The end of last week was marked by a number of high-profile statements about territorial claims to Ukraine from some politicians in Romania and Hungary. The leader of the far-right Hungarian party Mi Hazank (Our Homeland), Laszlo Torotskai, accused Kyiv on Sunday of refusing to fulfil its obligation to grant full autonomy to Transcarpathia, which, in his opinion, is a violation of the results of Ukraine’s 1991 referendum. He believes that Hungary could claim peaceful reunification with Transcarpathia if Ukraine is divided following the conflict with Russia.
Note, Our Homeland is an opposition parliamentary party which according to the results of the 2022 elections has six representatives in the state assembly – the unicameral legislative body of Hungary. The political contradictions between Kyiv and Budapest over the rights (economic, linguistic, educational) of the population of Transcarpathia, potentially home to up to 100,000 Hungarian nationals, have a serious background and are one of the main reasons why Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has consistently objected the EU military and financial aid to Ukraine. The situation is aggravated by the AFU forced mobilization from among the Hungarian minority living in Transcarpathia.
Historically, the territory of the present-day Zakarpattia oblast with the name of Podkarpatska Rus’ (with the cities of Uzhhorod, Mukachevo, Beregovo) was indeed part of various countries, such as Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and even was a one-day “independent state”. It would be an exaggeration to argue that there are specific secession plans there, for example, through the Party of Hungarians of Ukraine. However, Laszlo Torotskai’s statements are an obvious attempt to put forward a claim, historically justified, to the territory and population in case Ukraine disintegrates as a result of the war.
In the same vein shall we perceive the statements of Claudiu Tarziu, leader of the right-wing Romanian party Alliance for the Union of Romanians, who on Sunday outlined territorial claims for the lands of western Ukraine. He expressed readiness to renounce Romania’s NATO membership if it was necessary to return districts in the Chernivtsi oblast. Similar claims were made by other Romanian politicians against both Ukraine and Moldova. Among them are MP George Simion and Senator Diana Sosoaca.
Bucharest is now providing Kyiv with sustainable military and logistical support, while squeezing concrete political concessions, for instance, on language issues. The Ukrainian Cabinet recently decided to start teaching Romanian language (instead of Moldovan) and Romanian history, replacing the relevant textbooks in schools and universities. Previously, the two countries had regularly clashed over the operation of Romanian educational institutions in Ukraine. The issue of Ukraine’s agricultural exports and transit, as well as shipping in the Danube river basin, also remains a constant stumbling block in relations.
Ukraine is in dire straits. The state finds itself at a railroad crossing, jammed in an accident between an American train and a Russian bus. Russian attacks after the failure of the Ukrainian counter-offensive are getting tougher amidst a shortage of military equipment and shells in the AFU due to reduced foreign supplies. It is possible that the Russians will launch strategic offensive operations in a number of directions in the spring. According to Vladimir Putin, more than 600,000 Russian servicemen are already involved in the conflict.
If Kyiv faces with regional territorial and political problems on the western track, Ukraine’s prospects will be rather deplorable. Since because Poland’s interests in Western Ukraine should never be dismissed. Warsaw backs Kyiv, but revisionist sentiments among the population are extremely strong there. Especially given the uneasy historical background of relations between these two countries, including strong divergence on a number of the WWII events.
Such territorial disputes directly affect Moldova as well. Kyiv and Chisinau, by mutual agreement, violated the 1991 borders by exchanging territories in the early 20th century, which allowed us to gain control over a 400-metre coastline and build the Giurgiulesti port, while Ukraine gained agricultural land near Palanca.
Meanwhile, Claudiu Taziu openly claims that the territorial game can be played together with Russia: “I admit the need for good cooperation between the countries, and I am ready to support it if Moscow wants it too”.
In Romania, sentiments for the so-called “reunification” with Moldova are traditionally strong, and recently the next anniversary of “unirea” was solemnly celebrated. No restoration of historical Romanian territories will be complete without solving the Moldovan issue. The “unirea” scenario, given the political, economic, energy and logistical interconnection of Romania and Moldova, as well as the presence of a corresponding public demand and party leaders ready to “ride the trend”, can develop quite quickly. The situation in Ukraine may further accelerate this process.
The role of Russia in this case, which will openly claim at least the territory of the Transnistrian region, seems to be paramount. For the current political regime in Moldova, this “scenario of European integration” is not optimal, but it is certainly not critical and quite consistent with the attitudes and identity of its representatives.