Balkans forced into spotlight for NATO summit
Romania is buzzing with geopolitical significance at a time when NATO’s heads of state arrive in Bucharest this April.
After a rare moment of calm, the Balkans is again a flashpoint of political struggle. There is a major schism in the EU between countries choosing to support Kosovo’s independence and those who deny its legality. Russia has never been more at odds with the west since the Cold War. The greater Black Sea region is dividing into countries with Russian influence, such as the Republic of Moldova, those tied to the EU consensus, such as Romania, and those with divided loyalties, including Ukraine and Serbia. The geography of these new divisions forms a kind of iron patchwork.
But Romania is no longer playing poodle to the USA. Bucharest’s non-recognition of Kosovo is the first moment when modern Romania has challenged American and major European powers on a serious geopolitical issue. Instead the country has sided with its neighbours and domestic public opinion.
Recent bilateral visits between Presidents Basescu and Tadic indicate that Romania wants to show solidarity with the embattled EU-leaning head of state’s moderate position. The motivation for this seems to be a good neighbourliness. The kind that was absent when Romania allowed NATO air strikes to pass over its territory and bomb Belgrade during the 1999 Kosovo uprising.
Serbia also has great relations with Russia, whose foreign policy over the last three years publicly seems to have been to ignore Romania’s existence. Bucharest must regain some dialogue with Moscow, beyond the trading of insults. Hopefully, Belgrade can build a bridge for Romania to Russia, while Bucharest can act as a bridge for Serbia to the EU.
Romania has nothing to fear from the ‘Kosovo precedent’. This is the theory that any European region fostering hopes of independence could use Kosovo as an example for the realisation of its aims.
Recent international news reports have hyped up Romanian fears of partition north of the Carpathian mountains. But there is no Transylvanian Liberation Army or People’s Front of Targu Mures preparing to kick out Romanians from the Hungarian-speaking territories.
Instead members of the Union of Democratic of Hungarians in Romania are in Strasbourg to learn about the best EU forms of federal Government. Romania’s future may be federalist, with regional powers granted to Iasi, Cluj-Napoca or the Hungarian speaking counties. But this will be decided by law-makers and bureaucrats, not gunfire.
More pertinent is the issue of the breakaway Moldovan state of Transnistria. Kosovo’s independence may embolden the state to call for international recognition. The parallels are vague. This district is a melting pot of Russians, Ukrainians and Moldovans, unlike the clear Kosovan Albanian majority in the ex-Yugoslavian territory. Transnistria is a rogue nation which regularly declares its independence or unification with Russia in statements which gain no official support, not even from the Kremlin.
This could change with Kosovo. But any major country choosing this moment to grant sovereign status to Transnistria, Abkhazia, Ossetia or even Nagorno-Karabakh would be acting on political opportunism designed only to anger the west and destabilise the region.