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Publicat în 12 august 2015, 18:20 / 164 elite & idei

Dan Dungaciu in Balkan Defense: If Moldova is federalized, we will have the Euro-Asian Union right on river Prut

Dan Dungaciu in Balkan Defense: If Moldova is federalized, we will have the Euro-Asian Union right on river Prut

Speaking to BalkanDefense, Dan Dungaciu, director of the Romanian Academy’s Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, says Russia will not deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea because this will be “an unprecedented escalation”. On the other hand, the Western countries’ red line should be supplying lethal weapons to the Ukrainian army, he says in the first part of the interview.


How do you view the overall Euro-Atlantic structures’ reaction in the wake of the illegal annexation of Crimea and the subsequent ongoing crisis in Ukraine?

I have the feeling there was a surprise element. At least on NATO’s level concerning Russia’s actions. I think the reasons are objective which relate to a certain intellectual comfort which the Alliance has in thinking the partnership relation with Russia. NATO was indeed in a partnership relation to Russia therefore no one ever thought Russia would ever give us this present. Secondly, let’s not forget we are talking about a change of guard, of generations. The former analysts NATO had during the Cold War are no longer in posts, there is a new generation which no longer sees Russia as the former Soviet Union, respectively aggressive and which dealt in geopolitical games in zero sum – we win what they lose and they lose what we win. Thirdly, NATO is no longer the Alliance it used to be from a military capacity point of view. Nor is Russia what the Soviet Union used to be. So NATO has grown into a structure which, for these three reason laid before you, looked in surprise at what Russia has done. And hence this whole reconsideration of its attitude towards the Russian Federation.

The second aspect to point out is that NATO’s got a serious problem now in evaluating which danger is stronger: the one coming from the East or from the South. Because these are two entirely different threats: Russia is one thing, Middle East and immigration is another thing. All these European southern flank countries that are now coping with waves of illegal immigration and the effects of the Arab Spring are NATO members. And of course NATO switches agenda based on this pressing reality, this so-called war in the Mediterranean Sea. And NATO has so far made no delimitation because there are countries which see the main danger coming from the East, others see it originating in the South. Many countries in Europe do not see Russia as a direct threat…

…as some polls have recently shown…

…of course! On the other hand, the Eastern countries do not perceive illegal immigration as a security threat. So NATO is now tackling these two types of threats, trying not to include them in a hierarchy.

“NATO has started this long-term process of re-calibrating and re-considering the enemy”

But, the bottom line, NATO was surprised by Russia’s actions, was forced to re-calibrate its attitude and change the Wales summit agenda. But NATO has been so far consistent with its own agenda which is everything which was politically decided in Wales is now being implemented: military drills, NATO commandments, armored vehicles and other capabilities redeployed in the East in a transparent manner. All these measures are on the one hand meant to reassure allies in the region NATO is there to protect them and, on the other hand, to dissuade Russia from moving on because we will react. So NATO has started this ample process of re-calibrating, re-settling, re-considering the enemies which is a real challenge for the Alliance.

..is it a long-term process?

…it is a long-term process because no one is making any illusions solutions to what Russia has done are short-term ones. So, realistically speaking, even though it depends on the international context and political changes in USA, we should expect a long term tensed relationship, which I wouldn’t really call a Cold War type, but some sort of a cold conflict with the Russian Federation. For instance, I don’t believe there will be any talk about Crimea soon. Crimea will be sort of…remember America never recognized the Baltic States being annexed by the Soviet Union. This is the very scenario we will see as concerns Crimea. So, we don’t recognize it, but we don’t intervene either to get Crimea out of Russia’s hands. In favorable circumstances, of course, Crimea will be easily recognized as coming back de jure and de facto in Ukraine’s territory. But at this point Crimea is a taboo topic. And as concerns the Minsk Agreements, which Crimea is not part of, we will probably witness some sort of a Cold War like permanent confrontation, in which each of the sides count on the enemy’s mistakes to gain terrain, but not anything else.

“We will see attempts to define the border between East and West”

So NATO is prepared there will be no war against Russia on that, but at the same time NATO is ready to prove its Eastern border has to be assumed according to the obligations the Alliance has and also hopes populations along it have in this institution. So we will be witnessing attempts to define the limes, as was the case during the Roman Empire which had no linear border, but a limes, a space, one way or another. Who will be part of this limes, whether Ukraine, Moldova or Belarus will be in it, these are the very developments we are now seeing. What is now going on in Moldova, as we speak, are all elements of positioning with a view to configure the future limes which will be the future border between the Euro-Atlantic space and Russia.

Poland and the Baltic States are preparing a joint diplomatic offensive to talk NATO into putting the topic of permanent bases in Eastern Europe on the agenda of the next summit in Warsaw, in July 2016. Are such bases a solution?

Permanent military bases are a complicated solution first because the host country has to assume the jurisdiction of such a base no longer belongs to it. So it is a complicated matter, both technically and politically. I don’t necessarily see this as a solution because I don’t think there will be a military conflict. If this will be a dissuasive decision, that remains to be seen, but I for one see some gestures coming from Russia which are sending out the message it is not trying to go beyond some red lines. I see this stage of adjustment on the part of Russia for the very simple reason Russia has got what it was after. because, in the end, however affected Russia is by the sanctions, no matter what a 19th century type leader Russia may have, we are now concluding this type of leader is pretty effective for this 19th century type. What was it Russia wanted? That NATO’s borders will not extend eastwards. This is the very stake Russia is after. Because Russians make no distinction between EU and NATO because are clever enough to realize EU will never expand to the East leaving these flanks unprotected. How could EU imagine integrating Moldova or Ukraine without these countries to have a security solution? Russian know that this is why they reacted to an EU threat, not a NATO one since they knew it all the same. So they reacted and rendered Ukraine impracticable, so to say. At this point, Russians have gains on the ground, Crimea is theirs, a very important strategic point, also powerful as a signal, especially on an internal level, and secondly there is this separatist regime resembling Transnistria is now being invented in Ukraine and which will always block Kiev’s negotiation process.

So we have this triangle Donbas, Transnistria and Crimea…

So we have this triangle by means of which Russia is holding the Euro-Atlantic border in check. Speaking of this, you have probably recently heard scenarios that Russia may be preparing Moldova a Ukraine-like scenario…these are scenarios coming from people who do not know this region at all. He who says Russia is seeking to wrench Transnistria out of Moldova doesn’t understand what has been going on in this space over the past 25 years. First of all, Russia has Transnistria, it controls it entirely. What’s going on in Ukraine now will not happen in Moldova and vice-versa. The difference between the Russian and the Western diplomats is that the Russian diplomats have been studying these files for 25 years now and know them by heart while Western diplomats came and then went back after a four year posting. None of them have the memory of those files. For Russians, this territory is way more important to them than it is for the West. Crimea is also strategically very important, it cannot afford to lose it. So they made those gains on the ground they had been looking for and have no reason to push it and cross some red lines. Now, they have all the reasons to bring the Big Ones to the negotiating table. This is the Russian leader’s dream – sitting at the same table with world’s leaders. And this why they were so gleeful when Kerry or Nuland traveled to Sochi and Moscow.

But where this complex of inferiority is coming from? Does it date back to Soviet times?

Soviet times, too. Russia is got this morphological excess which finds its source in the ontological deficit. All these ontological deficits lead to someone wanting larger forms, to be recognized accordingly. You know you are a not a world leader and you will probably not be one in the foreseeable time, but you need these forms somehow anticipating the recognition. And they know it and this can save them, especially in the eyes of the population. And hence Moscow’s waiting for negotiations with the Americans. It’s not sufficient to talk to Germany solely because this is an area Germans don’t have any access, beyond the economic file. Germans cannot be part of the nuclear file because they don’t have this type of weapon, Americans do. And this why Russian await talks with the Americans. This is why the conflict in Ukraine is not about Kiev and the separatists, Ukraine and Russia, is about America and Russia. And this is why I don’t see at this point any reason for them to keep pushing the red lines so NATO sets up those permanent bases, to return to you question.

You mentioned the red lines. Is storing nuclear weapons in Crimea one of these lines?

Undoubtedly. This is a mere threat for now because Russians are compelled to answer both for external, but especially for internal use. Let’s not forget they have to account before a public which doesn’t want to see their leaders’ weakness and which is willing to make some concessions so their leaders feed their imperial grandeur feeling. Because if the leaders ask them for sacrifices and do not give them this grandeur in return, then the leaders become unbearable. Imagine Crimea storing nuclear weapons, this means a steep change in regional equation. And if you negotiate Crimea’s return, what do you do? Return it with nuclear weapons on its soil? The negotiations will then take a whole different turn and this is why this will be an unprecedented escalation. And I doubt they will that to this point because this will means all measure have been lost. Crimea now troubles Romania very much strategically and, secondly, in terms of delimitation of the continental shelf. Romania negotiated this line, but did it starting from the premise Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Of course, Romania doesn’t de jure recognize Crimea as belonging to Russia, but de facto…imagine a foreign company going there to drill for oil and the Russian start running their military ships around. What foreign company is willing to this? So we have a big de facto problem with Crimea. But for now, Russia is not raising this issue nor is Romania, because the latter has no reason to do so.

“Saakashvili’s presence in Odessa is a very radical gesture against Russia”

But I have the feeling things could be changed by a factor neither Romania nor Russia foresee – Saakashvili’s presence in Odessa – which is a very radical gesture against Russia. It’s not good news for us because, with Saakashvili there, Crimea is the sole place left for Russia to bug the Euro-Atlantic space. So Saakashvili’s presence there could indirectly create enormous difficulties for Romania because Russia may be compelled to use Crimea as some sort of reaction to Saakashvili’s presence. We should anticipate such a scenario which would trigger further complications for Romania which we don’t need.

Again, sticking to the issue at debate now, do you think that, as far as the West is concerned, providing defensive weaponry to Ukraine is also a red line?

I think so. Because NATO’s decision is a collective decision. And this issue raises serious political problems, beyond the technical issues. When you give professional weapons to the Ukrainian army which has shown how it moves on the battle front, because the Russian subdued the Ukrainian army with a handful of soldiers. So where’s 80,000 strong Ukrainian army? This means it has loyalty problems, so who do you give these sophisticated weapons to then? The Army should be loyal and send these weapons to the Russian the very next day. Secondly, it has to be capable of using them. So that calls for serious training. So, loyalty, training and only then you can consider supplying these weapons. And then comes the political decision which is hard to get on NATO’s level. So I see this is an issue which is being kept on the agenda as a means of pressure on Russia, especially by that consistent part of the American decision makers. Because Russia rings a bell in America, there’s this consciousness Russia poses a problem. But if NATO decides to supply these weapons, from the Russians’ perspective, but also from some member states’ view, unfortunately or fortunately, an escalation.

In the second part of the interview, Dan Dungaciu, director of the Romanian Academy’s Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, touches upon the Russian propaganda apparatus and potential means to counter it in the West and former Soviet countries, and the recent turmoil in Transnistria, the message it sends and why Moldovan pro-European politicians have failed to gain people’s trust.

There’s a real mobilization against Russia’s hybrid war, with enormous funds and strategies being put in place to counter Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe.

We should not exaggerate as concerns this hybrid war, but look at it realistically. Theoretically, if we look at the Ukrainian scenario, it could be carried out in the Baltic Countries where the Russian community can be penetrated by such techniques. But this in the end up to that respective country. Because hybrid wars are like sum fungi which set upon sick bodies, hybrid war is the maximum fructification of a deep weakness. Ukraine was a corruption-torn state because otherwise we cannot explain why a Ukrainian navy officer didn’t scupper his ship rather than turn it in to the Russians. Moreover, Poroshenko himself said it – 80 per cent of the secret services were loyal to Russia. This is not a hybrid war anymore, Russia just waited for the apple to rot and fall into its hands, as Lenin used to put it. So this obsession about Russia coming and doing whatever should first of all be an obsession concerning ourselves, our own body which is the Euro-Atlantic community, Europe as a whole in terms of values. It’s not Russia that breaks up the Euro-Atlantic community, it is already working on an already existent rupture. It is not Russia breaking up the European Union….the French electorate doesn’t vote Madame La Pen because she is paid by Putin, but Putin is paying her because she is voted for. The same with Podemos, Jobbik. It’s not because of Putin that Hungarians are voting this little Putin which Orban is seeking to become. But not because Putin paid him to do so, but because the malfunction was already there. Because it serves his interests to have a Schweitzer-like Europe. But that doesn’t mean the problem lies with Putin. He is only stressing some flaws, deficiencies, he is digging into an already existent wound. Russia Today, Sputnik penetrate some already existent cavities, let’s fool ourselves Russia has so much power so to have created these by herself. Let’s be realistic! They are merely inducing the alternative into a Euro-Atlantic space which is already critical to the weakened Euro-Atlantic values.

“The Russian society now resembles its leaders”

So how do we respond to this? Running a counter-propaganda program, what EU is now trying to do, is in my opinion a waste of money and is a complete wrong evaluation of the reality. Because it starts from the premise we were good, but Putin spoiled us so we will use a counter-Russia Today to balance things which is wrong. You don’t answer Russia Today with another Russia Today. The second false premise the West is acting on is treating Russia as if it were one of the regimes before ’89 when you had a dictator controlling anything and you tried to inject an alternative media to create fissures into his system. And people were desperate to get their dose of Voice of America and Free Europe. But this is not the case with the Russian society nowadays. The idea is that it awaits the American/Western message to rise and topple Putin is such a crass naivety. The Russian society now resembles its leaders. The hypothesis the society is one thing and the leaders are another thing is another sociological naivety which spark such strategic errors. This what the Russian society wants to hear, Putin’s messages, it is not decoupled from the Western space, let’s be serious.

Ok, but what about countries like Moldova, Georgia…

And the third observation: the message has credibility when the source is credible. In the media it works the same way as in politics: it doesn’t matter what is said, but who says it! Or at this point neither EU nor America is credible in Russia. So you lack the source credibility to render the message credible. This is why I am saying it is a waste of money even though they are right. So all these three reasons make this strategy to be total nonoperational. When you hear Sarkozy say Crimea belongs to Russia, what sort of counter-propaganda could be done under these circumstances? Because people will believe it when they hear it.

What’s to be done then?

You asked about Moldova. People tend to believe so, but it doesn’t all come down to the media space in Moldova, but to some sort of slyness of the local elite who thought they were intelligent just as those in Ukraine thought when seeking to make friends with both sides, but then the blocks crashed them. And these elite allowed TV stations to air in Moldova. Remember, the Romanian state television was taken off the grid by Voronin (Vladimir Voronin, former Moldovan President 2001-2009). Pro-Europeans who came to power in 2009 didn’t call off this decision, but decided to include it only in cable subscriptions. It is only now they are thinking about banning Russian TV stations. Which is obviously too late because effects will be seen in time. And secondly, people’s opinions have already been clearly made: pro-Europeans are not credible in Chisinau and this is not Putin’s fault. Because 7 April 2009 when the youth took to the streets and changed the regime, the Russian TV stations were out there. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the same, the Russian TV stations were banned after it. So how was it possible with all those Russian TV stations? The answer is simple: because the population believed in both the EU and the European leaders. But now, in Moldova, when the population doesn’t believe in the leaders and the European project anymore they decide to ban Russian TV stations. But nothing will happen! Of course I agree with this decision, but it is too late because they don’t have credible leaders to mobilize the population.

“Moldova’s pro-European leaders lack credibility because they are corrupt”

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The Moldovan leaders are so corrupt, they have stolen billions, they sold the airport to the Russians. The population sees that and this is why voters sanctioned them (pro-European leaders) at the polling stations. So people’s opinions are clearly shaped now, they don’t believe in the European project as being imminent, they don’t believe in their pro-European leaders because they see they are corrupted. So it’s not all about Russian TV stations. That would be simple: banning them and then people will have different views. No, these are long term solutions. And then you need credible people on the ground who are very few in Moldova. The same in Georgia, the same in Ukraine. This is actually what the big battle is about in this limes, border between East and West.

We have witnessed recent turmoil in Transnistria? What does that tell us?

That tells us the Russians’ front line is set along the Dniester. It is not Prut (the natural border between Romania and Moldova). The war that erupted in 1992 started to prevent a possible union with Romania with Transnistria as part of the Republic of Moldova. It was then clear for everyone the union will take place after the Moldovans voted the Romanian anthem, the Romanian currency, the Latin alphabet, passed Romanian laws. When the Soviets saw this they started the Transnistrian war to keep the breakaway territory from joining a possible union with Romania. Well, we are dealing with the same logic now. Dniester is a war line, no one can control Transnistria, not the EU, OSCE or the Americans and this is what the Russians are telling us now. Even the EU ambassador in Chisinau called the Russians to intervene if he had any problem concerning Transnistria. So where these recent tensions from? First of all, an economic crisis. Secondly, because statements like the one made by Poroshenko in the presence of the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, the head of an EU and NATO member state, and then they discussed about thawing the Transnistrian conflict. Thawing has different connotations in Kremlin which started wondering: what’s going on? Is the 5+2 format being shunned, moving Saakashvili to Odessa, the laws in Ukraine than ban transfer of Russian soldiers to Transnistria, all these things alerted the Russians. They started these military drills signaling we don’t know what you are up to but whatever that is it’s not going to be easy. These sow Russian are afraid because Transnistria is a far away territory, it is not Abkhazia, Ossetia. Russians know Poroshenko can be unpredictable. Ukrainians may say let’s do in Transnistria what the Russians did in Crimea. Of course, this is a phantasmagorical scenario. So the Russians launched these signals.

“If Moldova is federalized, we will have the Euro-Asian Union right on river Prut”

Russia’s basic strategy in Transnistria is the control of the part over the whole. The goal is to create a federation in the Republic of Moldova in which the part will have the right to vote on certain issues, such as foreign policy and security matters. You control that small part and you can kiss NATO and EU goodbye. This is why Poroshenko doesn’t accept the federalization solution for Donbas because he fears this scenario will help Russia legalize its military intervention in Ukraine. The problem is that the Republic of Moldova is not aware it will never get away with Transnistria because the two banks or river Dniester are like two magnets which broke and can never be joined again. The difference between the two banks is radical. Transnistrians live in a totally different environment, ideologically and economically and, should the two sides unite, that means the Republic of Moldova will assimilate about 10 per cent of pro-Russian votes. And then you will have a pro-Russian government who will the very next day vote in favor of joining the Customs Union and then Putin’s Euro-Asian Union. This is the main danger for Romania because we fear we will border on Russia through Ukraine, we fear Russia will reach Danube’s flowing mouth. But if the Republic of Moldova is federalized, we will have the Euro-Asian Union right on river Prut. This is why Romania should be concerned Russian presence in Moldova is not thus legalized to have it right next to our borders.

In the third part of the exclusive interview to BalkanDefense, Dan Dungaciu, director of the Romanian Academy’s Institute of Political Sciences and International Relations, warns the EU against neglecting the Balkans or else the region will become even harder to manage in the years to come.

What about the Balkans? Balkans are still coping with a lot of problems, see recent unrest in Macedonia, illegal immigration, lingering ethnic tensions etc, but they are off the agenda at the moment.

I think that a big failure of the Romanian diplomacy is the Balkans failure. Of course, in the beginning it was hard to assume, because there were mighty forces there – Germany, the US-led coalition, Russia, but at the moment Romania’s got the largest GDP in the area, it even exceeded Greece, it has become the state most consistent strategically – a functional democracy, a strategic consistence which allows it to be an EU, NATO member state, have a strategic partnership with USA regardless of the political elite in power. We are not like the Bulgarians…

So are we truly an oasis of stability in this region?

We are indeed! Because we have this strategic consistence which makes rise beyond Bulgaria which whether it has a socialist government or not it runs more towards Russia or America. We are not Hungary’s goulash-putinism…we are not either Serbia or Ukraine. So, having this most consistent GDP in the region, not taking care of the Balkans’ issue…we’ve only done that stupid trilateral Romania-Serbia-Bulgaria which is totally dysfunctional and which shows there is no policy behind, but a bureaucratic one. We’ve had no policy concerning the Balkans, no strategy, especially since we had a good starting point – the fact we didn’t recognize Kosovo. What is our relation with Serbia now, for instance? None! Serbians are simply making up, Soviet-style, an alphabet for the Vlachs down there, allegedly since it is a different language, they are still not allowed to pray in churches in their own language, those are purely aberrant issues. So what is your vision about the Balkans? There is no such vision in my opinion. Romania as a very consistent Romanian/Aromanian minority in the Balkans, you have many historic relations with countries in the region, so find a starting point, project a vision. Those are weak economies, compared to them the Romanian economy is performing, we have this relation with Bulgaria, Romania is probably its second largest trade partner. So there are these things that have to be put down on paper to discuss, as you correctly put it, no one is discussing it anymore. I have the feeling no one is talking about the Balkans unless crimes or the immediate integration are involved, see the Croatian case. There is this risk of looking at the Balkans based on a Middle East like scenario which Romania should warn about – seeking only stability, democracy doesn’t matter anymore if it’s peace down there – a peace which will not produce anything, but on the contrary, will erupt, see the recent turmoil in Macedonia. Or Turkey scenario – indefinite negotiations. But these things have to be avoided.

“Neglected, the Balkans will be even harder to manage in a few years”

We understand EU has blocked its eastward extension, as Junker announced, which is a bad signal. But the Balkans, whose most countries have a very clearly set objective – joining the EU – should not be neglected. Something has to happen, EU has to embark upon a more stressed dynamic as concerns the Balkans because, if it doesn’t do so, and this one thing Romania has to warn about, Turkey or Russia will. We will in a few years wake up seeing the Balkans, if ignored, even harder to manage. And this is what Romania has to point out, because this is its neighborhood. The Western Balkans and the eastern project (Eastern Partnership) have to be put on the same level because, at least from the perspective of Russia’s interests, the two projects intersect. So Romania has to assume this leadership in the Balkans because, if we wait more, the Balkans will become a Turkish-Russian condominium impossible to dismantle and this is what Romania has to warn EU and USA about.

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