Geopolitically, there is not anything else more important for Romania’s foreign policy today than what is going on in Ukraine. Some will say that it is more important to consider what is taking place on the Western side of our territory, namely what Hungary under Fidesz and Victor Orban is doing; or the evolution of the European Union on the eve of the Brexit without deal already announced and after; others will say that Western Balkans is more important for the foreign policy of Romania due to the complexity of the security landscape; or the evolution of Turkey on the international arena after the acquisition of S-400 from Russia and the US warnings connected with that fact which is at least an inadequacy at the NATO level .
But in my opinion ,for us is most important security issue is Ukraine- even, I should recognize, it is very difficult to establish a hierarchy in the field of security . Here are three motives for what we are of such an opinion:
- Ukraine is the only neighbor who is home for a considerable Romanian minority ( more than 500 000 people ) in the Bukovina and also in the Southern part of former Romanian Bessarabia , now Ukrainian Odessa district ), namely the most consistent around the ancient cradle of Romanian nation ( more than in Bulgaria, Serbia or other neighbors taken together ) ; Republic of Moldova moving geopolitically between recognizing the Romanian language as an official one, or calling it Moldovan language is an important issue from our identity point of view, but rather a minor issue comparatively ; even if we have in Italy and Spain, and perhaps Germany and UK more Romanians in recent diasporas than in Ukraine of today , those within our greatest neighbor are natives since immemorial times on their own territories ;
- Ukraine has a military conflict with Russia ( not considered by it like being ongoing ) and the result of it will have remarkable consequences on Romania and the evolution of events on the Black Sea and on the Eastern frontier of NATO and EU.
- Even if Ukraine will succeed to recover Crimea or not or will develop or not close relationship with Russia, the potential of that state and nation are sufficient to assure a fast and multilateral economic development with a large impact on the neighboring states in the region; that fact coupled with the nowadays reality that the Republic of Moldova is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine could entail an unpredictable and dangerous evolution of relationship between Kiev and Bucharest ; this is more probable if , like today, in Chisinau there is a government which has the recognition of both EU and Russia, and which is based on the unforeseen alliance between pro-EU party and pro-Russia party
As a matter of fact, the future of Ukraine will depend on various factors, nor only on the result of its conflict with Russia ( not recognized by it ) .
The Russia narrative concerning the annexation of Crimea ( March 2014 ) underlines the fact- which is not enough substantiated documentary - that there were multiple contacts between US and Russia presidents ( Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin ), Obama asking Putin to use his influence for the peaceful settlement of Euro-Maidan in Kiev ( not to kill the protesters ) , and that Moscow has been deceived by Washington in that regard, already being prepared by the Americans a new Western ( and anti-Russian ) Ukrainian government to be installed by a organized putsch.
The Western narrative is that the repression armed police ( Berkut ) of president Yanukovich had opened the fire and the subsequent events has developed in the way of rejecting a criminal pro-Russian regime who kill the people with a new one devoted to the fundamental interests of Ukraine. More than that, the separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine has been conceived , triggered and developed under the close scrutiny of Moscow. The result of it was a huge crisis between Russia and the West , the creation of the ‘Normandy format’ for the management of that crisis and the economic and financial sanctions against Russia. Two agreements brokered by that format in Belarus capital- Minsk -1 and Minsk -2 - has not been sufficient for bringing peace or, what is almost unconceivable, the status quo ante .
In such a way Ukraine has became since 2014 a hotspot of international relationship, well beyond of a regional crisis- in spite of the fact that Obama has defined as such at the beginning- being closely connected with the new trends of creating a new world order. Russia is considering Ukraine as belonging to its sphere of interests – going so far to accept a restitution of the Ukrainian territories belonging to the neighbors form whom were taken by the former Soviet Union , according to some opinions-, and the West being attached firmly to the rules of the international system and asking Russia to agree a return to the status quo ante.
What means that for Romania ?
A single glance on the political map of today Europe is telling a lot regarding the answer. To make the long story short, for Romania the evolution of Ukraine is an unknown which should be known but it is not possible today. Nobody in Romania will neglect the importance of this question , but would not have for the moment a clear answer. Except that NATO has deployed after 2014 capabilities at its Eastern frontier in order to reassure and, at last, to deter a new military aggression . What is implied in the answer is not only the relationship in the future of Ukraine with Russia- which has an significant component on the Black Sea developments, very important for Romania-, but also the future of the relationship of Bucharest with Brussels. As a matter of fact the essence of the answer resides in the future relationship of Ukraine with Romania: would be a hostile or a friendly relationship between these two countries ? On what factors will depend- the caliber and the quality- any sort of bilateral relationship in the future ?
To answer directly and close to the reality – that is to base on real facts - it is necessary to understand the trends of the political landscape and the distribution of power within the Ukrainian elite .
Recently, in Ukraine has intervened a major redistribution of power. Two rounds of elections (presidential and legislative ) have altered radically the political map of Ukraine , and that would have tremendous consequences on the relationship of that country to the most important neighbors; Russia and European Union ( subsequently: Romania and also the countries of the Eastern frontier of NATO ).
The narrative in Romania regarding Ukraine post -2014 is generally one which is distributed largely by the international Western press. Namely, that Russia has entered by force in Ukraine after the flight of Yanukovich from Kiev and , due to the fact that the new pro-Western government is reorienting the country to the West, has instrumented the annexation by force of Crimea and the insurrections in the East followed by the proclamation of two new independent republics in Donbas using the invading troops. Ukraine post- 2014 is a country disputed between Russia- firmly against NATO and EU enlargement to the East- and the West which is answering to the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for liberty and democracy endangered by Russia militarily. Here are the motives which blocked any advance of ‘ Normandy format’ in managing the Ukrainian crisis, Russia being clearly against any Western entering in its own sphere of interest to which considers that Ukraine belongs. Speaking with the reference to the systemic importance of the Ukrainian crisis, in Romania the narrative is practically a geopolitical issue to be solved at the level of the ‘first league’ , formed by the great powers, , that is USA ( the West ) and Russia .
Beyond that narrative there is some very important nuances which has to be taken into account in Bucharest in order to understand clearly what is going on in Ukraine, especially after the recent two rounds of elections i, and to reflect adequately the reality on which should be based any decision of foreign policy .
Firstly, should not be neglected that there is also another competing narrative ( leaving aside the Russian one and its principal variants ) which has known interesting developments in the years since the Euro-Maidan and flight of Yanukovich . Namely, that the group which has installed itself in Kiev after the repression of Euro-Maidan is part of the Western Ukraine political activists ( what Moscow propaganda called ‘fascist junta’ and others “ Galician sector ” of the Ukrainian elite ). According to some authors, that part of the Ukrainian elite residing in the western part of the country ( Lviv district mainly ) are inheriting the main component of the militant group for the independence of Ukraine, and this has a historical legacy in what has been developed after the First World War.
Talking about that historical legacy it is not so unimportant to mention that in the Galician territory, part of the Habsburg empire, has been proclaimed an independent Ukrainian state- named West Ukrainian People's Republic ( Західноукраїнська Народна Республіка, Zakhidnoukrayins’ka Narodna Respublika, ZUNR ) in the complex landscape of the region created by the fact that the territory has been the frontline between the two belligerents- Russia and central Powers -coupled with the contradictory evolution of the Russian Revolution of February 1917. If the independent Ukrainian state with capital in Kiev was created at the end of 1917, being recognized by the Central Powers by the treaty of Brest Litovsk ( February 1918 ), ZUNR was formed in November 1918 within the process of dissolution of the Habsburg monarchy. Short-lived , this republic had a twisted evolution trying to cooperate/federate with the Ukrainian state ( Kiev ), but also with White Army of General Denikin, its main concern being the fact that the new Polish state considered Galicia as part of its historical territory. ZUNR comprised the main cities of Galicia ( Lviv, Przemysl, Ternopil, Kolomyia, Boryslav and Stanislaviv ) , among which Lvov it is a famous old medieval Polish city. Also, ZUNR had included also Cernauti and a large piece of the Northern part of the Bucovina, former province of medieval Moldova. After one year of existence , ZUNR disappeared, but during the peace Conference in Paris in 1919-20 has asked for the self-determination in Galicia, and it was internationally decided that Poland should recognize autonomy to Eastern Galicia. The Polish- Soviet Russian war ( 1920-1921 ) has obscured that evolution which has been forgotten during the interwar years.
The Ukrainian elite of ZUNR has been educated in the Habsburg empire and was constantly confident in the values of democratic processes and had a firm Western orientation
According to the alternative narrative , there is on the domestic political arena a competition among two sectors of the Ukrainian elite: ‘ Galician” ( Western portion of it) and “ Eastern part” of it. Recent parliamentary election has reflected categorically that split among the ruling elite, the results being the overwhelming victory of the ‘Eastern part’ and the defeat of the “ Galician’ elite, practically the engine behind the Euro-Maidan revolution and the subsequent events in Kiev. The following table of legislative results of July 21 elections is conclusive:
Green colour represents the Zelenciuk party, Sluga Naroda, and blue colour is Opposition Platform led by Victor Medvedchuk, with the base in Donbass, the leader being considered as Putin’s puppet, which ended up with 13% nationally; 48% in Lugansk; 42% in Donetsk; 24% in Odessa; and 19% in Nikolaev; orange is European Solidarity party of ex-president Petro Poroshenko; brown=Batkivshchina (“Fatherland”) party of ex-prime minister Yulya Timoshenko; red is Holos (“The Voice”), with its base within Lvov region (Galicia) led by pop singer, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. For results in each region for the parties which has entered in the new Parliament of Ukraine see the interactive map published by BBC ( in Russian language ).
Following this narrative, green and blue represents the party of ‘peace’, and red the party of ‘war’. Of course, it is about the continuation of the hostilities with the separatists supported by the Russian troops in the East and the attempt to recover the lost territories ( war with Russia ) or a negotiating peace. Both colors ‘ green’ and ‘ blue’ – ‘Sluga Naroda’ and ‘Opposition Platform’ – are militating for peace.
Back to the split among the Ukrainian elite should be mentioned that behind the both parts are powerful magnates in Ukraine. Victor Pinchuk is seen as being mainly behind the “ Galicians” and Ihor Kolomoisky of the “ Eastern” group. The main line of contest has been the nature of the interpretation of the events in eastern part of Ukraine, namely in the separatists territories.
The narrative of the ‘Eastern group’ has been essentially presented by Ihor Kolomoisky in an interview offered to an Ukrainian site on May 2, 2019 in which he said that : “ Russia-orchestrated ‘civil war’ in Donbas, eastern Ukraine, / and it – our note/ will immediately end after the Russian Federation stops supporting fighters. " In the words of Kolomoisky, the main supporter of the present-day president of Ukraine “ Maidan was no good, a revolution is always no good/…/Because [it is] eventually minus 13 million people, minus Crimea, minus Donbas. [Ex-president of Ukraine Viktor] Yanukovych, Russia and the revolution are of course [to blame]. Mutual hatred, internal civil conflict, internal civil war. Thank God it has not spread to the whole territory, but it has a hot phase in Donbas and a cold phase in the rest of the country." For the Ukrainian magnate , the cold phase of the civil war has been manifest in the killings of the civil society activists and journalists in the territories under Ukrainian government control . He continued saying that "Civil war [is when] Ukrainians [are] against Ukrainians, Russia supports one side of the Ukrainians. If it hadn't, it would have ended a long time ago. The Ukrainians would have made it up with each other. [But] it was Russia that instigated and masterminded the conflict. [This is the case] on the one hand, but on the other hand, not everything was all right either".
It is not without significance that ‘Unian info’ – news site from Ukraine- which present a summary of the Kolomoisky interview put at the end of it what Ivan Aparshyn, an adviser to Ukraine's President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky on security and defense issues, said recently : the return of Ukrainian territories by military means is "already a lost chance of 2014."
An interesting nuance of that narrative- whose origin is difficult to find, although is close to the variants of the Russian reading of the events since the Euro-Maidan, but is more than it - is that the ‘ Galician’ part of the Ukrainian elite is supported by the Foreign Minister of Canada, Chrystia Freeland, who has Ukrainian origins. Her grandfather , Mykhailo Khomiak ( or Michael Chomiak, to use his Anglicized name), before the World War Two was a young journalist in Lviv, then part of Poland , now part of Ukraine . Chomiak was a reporter for a Ukrainian-language Lviv newspaper called Dilo, or Deed. When in 1939, Lviv fell to the Soviets the staff of the newspaper fled for Krakow, in the Nazi German zone of occupation. There, they were encouraged by the nationalist Ukrainian Central Committee to start a Ukrainian-language paper, the ‘News of Krakow’ ( Krakivski Visti) . The Germans gave them printing presses, confiscated from a Jewish-owned paper, and Chomiak was named chief editor. From Krakow, the paper staff left for Vienna when the Soviet troops have approached the city, and at the end of war he retretead to Bavaria where he surrendered to the American troops . Questioned about these facts, Chrystia Freeland said that is a Russian propaganda at work . But, being seen comparatively with other similar cases, including among the Ukrainian elite- as is a case of V. Turchynov- according to David Marples, professor of Russian and Canadian history at the University of Alberta “There’s always an element of truth in Russian propaganda/…/It’s never an outright lie. But this is a sign that Russia has now interfered in our affairs. And it’s an ominous sign that they’ve delved so deeply into the background of a senior Canadian leader.” In spite of that Russian propaganda, Minister Freeland has been involved on the eve of the recent Ukrainian election ( July 21 ) supporting the representatives of the Holos Party and took the floor during a huge electoral meeting at the beginning of July.
Of course, it is not about to consider that the descendants of certain people to be blamed historically and held responsible for that, but that nuance of the narrative here discussed is significant to show the complexity of the historical evolution in that area, a contested land between the great empires all along the last centuries . The domestic combustion for the independent nation building was , as a result of this feature, a contradictory phenomenon due to the asymmetry of capabilities facing the external pressures.
Finally , I would like to present the following tweets , which could be found on the Zelensky, President of Ukraine, twitter account relating the speech of him at the electoral meeting developed in Toronto- Canada on July 3, 2019 :
New president #Zelensky insists on return of #Donbass and #Crimea #Canada #Toronto
Actually, NATO expansion is a bigger threat. Crimea does not have much of a history as Ukraine. 64 years. It was ceded to Ukraine when she was a sister soviet republic. Ukraine is and has been torn between it’s western and eastern tilt. Figure that out first!
4:06 PM · Jul 3, 2019·Twitter for iPhone
So, according to that approach , Ukraine is targeting , under new president Zelensky, status quo ante from the territorial integrity point of view. Answering, practically, to the statement of Zelensky , the comment put forward an opposite point of view. Leaving aside that NATO enlargement to the East is considered the main threat, it underlined something more important: namely that Ukraine has been awarded by Moscow with Crimea in 1954 as a guarantee that it remained close to Russia, avoiding any Western orientation. If not, Crimea and Donbas, and even Novo Russia, which historically has been conquered in 18 century by Russia , will have to be returned in a way or another. This is what Moscow is thinking about Crimea today and it is the real issue for Ukraine. Would Kiev like independence – and more than that , namely the territorial integrity of 1990- it would trigger, being Western oriented ,consequently , hostility of Russia. At the same time this implies forgetting about Crimea, eventually Donbas, and secondly perspectives of having both Crimea and Donbas with the price of not becoming NATO full-fledged member. That is oriented to Russia. The third way – literally becoming a buffer state – is a facilitator of instability, depending entirely on the relationship of Russia with the West , as it is proved many times after the end of the Cold War.
That kind of approach which is common in the Russian narrative about Ukraine post-2014 means a lot of unknowing for the future of Romania’s behavior on the international stage. The compass of foreign policy of Bucharest will depend not only , for example ,if the EU will survive after Brexit or if NATO will be of interest or not for USA in the following years, but also in connection with the choice of Ukraine answering to that above mentioned question, which is : with Russia or not ?
Of course, there are many variables intervening in that judgment to oblige us to change it : if Russia will be able to maintain its own assertiveness of today on the international arena; if the USA will be interested geopolitically to approach Russia for a kind of strategic partnership against China ; if EU will abandon the present-day policy toward Russia; if China will press Russia for the construction of the Eurasian independence , excluding USA and partnering with EU; etc.
But at least for the foreseeable future- that means at least 5-10 years- the logic above detailed will resist. Because it is about the cycle of the presidential elections in USA namely at least four years- about the decision of Washington to be assertive in the Indo- Pacific area , or how China will react to the Hong Kong protest of today – Tiananmen style or otherwise- ,or excluding any change in the Moscow’s international policy. It is of course the factor of unexpected event which will change everything in the world or regionally.
That is why Romania has to think about the future evolution of Ukraine in a way which will preserve its own national interests seen in the historical perspective and for that to envision its own inclusive narrative of the strategic policy in the region.
August 21, 2019