This article will deal with the current status of relations between Romania and Russia. I will argue that although there are issues when cooperation can occur between the two states, the opportunities for conflict far outweigh them.
One thing that must be cleared from the beginning is that the relation between the two countries is and was asymmetrical. This relationship is and has been asymmetrical because it involves a great power or a medium power (depending on the timeline) and a small power. Today Russia can be catalogued as an aspiring great power while Romania remains a small power (with a good prospect of becoming a regional power).
After the fall of communism in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union Romania and Russia, took on different paths. Romania made a clear choice to align itself with the West, giving up its ties with the former ally, while Russia went through a period of reform and transition combined with great a weakness in its international status – from a great power whose equal was only the United States of America, Russia went to become in the 1990s the sick man of Europe. However towards the end of the decade Russia managed to reverse this trend and under the rule of Vladimir Putin started to become more assertive. Today Russia is an aspiring great power with a foreign policy tailored to this end while Romania is a member of NATO and EU.
The key to understanding the relation between these two states lies with their perception of each other. These perceptions are shaped by history as well as the political ends each state follows and the manner in which these ends are fulfilled. Romania’s perception of Russia from a historical point of view has been negative. The stereotype of the big old aggressive Russian bear holds in this case as Romania,as in the course of history has been invaded 13 times by Russia. The last time this happened Romania was forced to become an ally of the Soviet Union as well as the recipient of the political regime that ruled over the USSR, with results detrimental to the formers’ development. It is normal for Romania today, in the light of those events almost 60 years ago to find ways in which to protect itself from Russian influence and power. On the other hand Russia’s perception of Romania is structured around its need for security as well as pursuing its interests. Russia has always feared invasion from the west and Romania was one of the springboards for such an invasion during World War 2. After the war it was incorporated in the Soviet sphere of influence, designed to prevent such an event from occurring again. Romania also presents opportunities for Russian influence to spread south of the Danube in the Balkans and west in Central Europe. Furthermore Romania is bordering the Black Sea, a region which in modern times has been traditionally more or less a “Russian lake.”
What are then the points of conflict in this relation? From the Russian point of view these would be the fact that Romania is a member of NATO, the establishing of US bases in Romania which will serve to project power in areas in the vicinity of Russia as well as in regions important for Russian interests. Furthermore there is the issue of the “frozen conflict” in Moldova and the retreat of Russian forces from that area. Another dividing issue is represented by energy security, Romania competing with Russia for pipelines linking Europe to the oil and gas of the Caucasus. On the other hand Romania is interested in diminishing Russian influence in Eastern Europe and in solving to its favour the conflict in Moldova. Furthermore Romania has recently identified as a strategic opportunity for itself the Black Sea region and along with other countries and supported by the US, is trying to counter Russian influence there. Moreover in recent years and as a result of Russia’s policy regarding energy Romania has been promoting alternatives to Russian gas pipelines through the Nabucco project.
What are then the opportunities for cooperation? Until now I have identified only one. Both countries for various reasons oppose the independence of Kosovo. As such this is the only issue Romania and Russia can cooperate on. The rest of the issues listed here are actually dividing ones. It can therefore be concluded that in the near future the likelihood of cooperation between Romania and Russia is quite slim, and conflict will be the hallmark of their relation.