“Borderlands: First Movements in Romania” - George Friedman
6 May 2014 of the year on the information resource of the American think tank Stratfor published an article by American political scientist George Friedman "Borderlands: a new strategic landscape", dedicated to the geopolitical background of the current crisis in Ukraine. REGNUM news agency published a full translation of this article for REGNUM.
This publication is devoted to the problem of a strategic buffer between Europe and Russia and the interests of the United States to this border area. In connection with the crisis in Ukraine, Friedman proposes to repeat for the "containment of Russia" the US strategy for gaining dominance on the mainland Eurasia, tested in the 20th century. The American strategy of the twentieth century was built in several stages on maintaining the balance of powers through military and economic assistance from the United States and military intervention at a crucial moment, but not earlier, in the context of the United States-led "reliable alliance."
Friedman’s idea is noteworthy that the current crisis in Ukraine serves to consolidate the military alliance under the auspices of the United States in the border buffer between Europe and Russia. This strategy aims to perpetuate US domination over Eurasia by blocking the possibility of the emergence of a local hegemon here. From this point of view, it is noteworthy that the US policy in the geopolitical buffer on the borders of Europe is directed not only against Russia, but also Germany.
Friedman believes that geopolitical processes are objective. He admits that in the geopolitical crisis in Ukraine, Russia defends the interests of its own security. It is not yet clear to an American political scientist how far Russia is ready to go in re-creating its own security buffer on its border with Europe. However, Friedman believes that Russia is threatening to upset the balance, and therefore the Americans should fight for this buffer. The United States needs to counter a potential threat by stifling a deterrent strategy through a new military alliance under the auspices of the United States.
To study the potential of the strategic buffer, Friedman decided to visit the “borderlands”. He made the first stop at the key, from the point of view of the Americans, point - Azerbaijan. 12 of May 2014 of the year on the information resource Stratfor published an article by Friedman concerning Azerbaijan in the context of American geopolitics of "border lands". REGNUM news agency published a full translation of this article by REGNUM.
Budapest, Hungary became the second stop of Friedman in his geopolitical voyage. 20 May 2014 of the information resource Stratfor published the third article of the American political scientist George Friedman from the series "Borderlands", dedicated to Hungary. REGNUM published a full translation of this article.
The third point in the journey of the American political scientist was Bucharest, Romania. On May 26, 2014, Friedman published another essay on the Stratfor information resource on the American anti-Russian strategy in the context of Romania and the Black Sea. (1) Romania has become, thanks to the visit of US Vice President Joe Biden, the first point of American consolidation of forces during the crisis Ukraine. According to Friedman, the United States is experiencing a certain lack of time, fueling the distrust of Romanians. The fluctuations of Romania and the famous historical the complex of this country in the face of Russia. Friedman tried to convince the Romanians that Russia was not strong enough to establish direct control over Romania. The shortage of time, Americans must compensate Romania with clear guarantees. The crisis in Ukraine creates a convenient context for the American temptation of Romania.
We publish a full translation of this article in Russian.
George Friedman. Borderlands: First Movements in Romania
I arrived in Bucharest in Romania the day after US Vice President Joe Biden arrived here. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be here in a few weeks. Discussions in Bucharest on events in Ukraine are not only among the leadership, but also among the public. Fears are palpable, and they affect not only Russians. We are talking about NATO, the European Union, the United States of America and whether they will all support Romania if it resists Russia. The other side of the equation, of course, is whether Romania will do what it needs to do in order to make external support effective. Biden left Romania with the feeling that the United States is in the game. But this is not a region that should be trusted easily. The first step was easy. The rest are getting harder.
If this little cold war becomes significant, there are two European countries that matter most: Poland and Romania. Poland, which I will visit next, is located between Germany and Russia on a long flat North European Plain. Its population is about 38 million people. Located to the south, Romania stands behind the Prut River and is cut in half by the Carpathians. Its population is about 20 million. Of the approximately 82 million people living along the eastern border (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria), approximately 58 million live in Poland and Romania. Biden's visit to Romania and the planned visit of US President Barack Obama to Poland provide insight into how Washington views the region, at least at the moment, and the world as a whole. How it all works, of course, depends on the Russians and the course of the Ukrainian crisis.
All Soviet satellites experienced difficulties after the collapse of the old order in 1989 year. But few have experienced such difficulties as Romania. In many ways, the damage was caused to Nicolae Ceausescu himself. Ceausescu followed the anti-Soviet line. Staying in the Warsaw Pact, he showed particular hostility towards the Soviet Union. I remember how Romania Ceausescu worried Americans, because, being anti-Soviet, by definition, it was assumed that he had to be pro-American. But, to the surprise of America, he was not. He was not even pro-Romanian when he created a scheme to pay off all the external debts of Romania, thereby destroying the life of a whole generation of Romanians. On his instructions, the vast majority of the country's agricultural and industrial production was directed to foreign exchange exports. In addition, he created a nightmarish security system, making it both corrupt and vicious. The world barely noticed it all. When the end came, he also came for Ceausescu and his wife - the only leaders in Eastern Europe who were executed against fierce fighting between the factions.
As for the rest, in Romania it was done remarkably well. The unemployment rate in Romania is only about 7%, which is very low by European standards. The annual economic growth in Romania is more than 3%, which is, on the contrary, a high result. When talking to Romanians, we see more intense psychological damage than in other former communist countries. Although it is difficult to look into their hearts, they seem to be kind and friendly people with a measure of distrust and taste for conspiracies not higher than is the norm for this region. What is remarkable in Romanians is that they are unremarkable. They came out of a nightmare created by one of them and regained their balance.
Ceausescu was part of a nightmare initiated by the Soviets, which were attracted by the Germans. This created a strong national trait: when Russians act, it strikes fear deep in the Romanian heart. When the Russians act, and the Germans make their hand, the worst nightmare for the Romanians is realized. Their reaction does not manifest itself, as in the case of the Poles, who are always direct in a decisive confrontation. Instead, the nightmarish scenario triggers a more cautious and robust response to finding a way to resist and, if necessary, how to gather strength. First of all, it causes a search for allies, preferably far enough away not to occupy them and strong enough to offer substantial support. Obviously, Americans are specifically created for this role, until they cross their limits and give rise to fears of their domination.
The Ukrainian factor
Events in Ukraine, of course, launched this process. It is noteworthy that the United States, which remained a bystander at other times, quickly and significantly got involved this time. There, in Romania, there is no doubt about the importance of Ukraine for Russia, and there is no belief that the Russians will let her go. In my opinion, Russia will not let go, but will allow what is happening to calm down a bit. Russian gambling is based on the fact that regardless of what the elections in Ukraine end up, Ukrainians will not be able to form a coordinated government. If so, the Russians will be able to divide the Ukrainians for some time, returning to the status quo that existed before the crisis (status quo ante). So the Russians will wait. Time, if this view is correct, is on the Russian side. Russians do not want to be overly aggressive for another reason, namely Germany. The Germans do not want to go beyond the rhetoric in the fight against Russia. In fact, they do not want to oppose Russia at all. They want to do business with Russia. I heard several times that the Germans had already decided to side with Russia for commercial reasons. In my opinion, German policy is moving in this direction, but the deal has not yet been resolved. In the same way, Russian President Vladimir Putin went to China to get at least strategic options. Similarly, Putin wants such deep relations with Germany as he can get. He will never step out of measure and be openly aggressive until and unless he should be. The Germans should not look as if they are simply abandoning their European allies, and Putin cannot refuse them in this position. Russians want to reassure Ukraine for another reason. Crises encourage Americans to act quickly and often effectively. The crises that are subsiding, make Americans stop and think about the direction of events. As Biden’s visit to Romania shows, Washington is moving fast in a crisis mode. Russians can control the pace of American actions by cooling down the process in Ukraine, or so they at least think. And this is exactly what worries the Romanians. They see themselves as part of a long-term Russian problem. At the moment, they are making a big bet on the fact that the Americans will follow their obligations and interests even if the Russians reduce the immediate crisis.
Fair or not, the Romanians believe that the Obama administration is not sufficiently engaged and does not pay attention to the danger posed by the Russians. They also observe how the administration (US) intensely criticizes the culture of corruption in Romania. Romanians acknowledge the problem, but are strongly interested in military and political coordination. They understand the US, which is what worries them. On the one hand, they will be looked after intensively by the vice-president only in order to be criticized by the State Department and the response of Russia. I tried to explain the complexity of being American. The sympathy of the Romanians was restrained. They believe that they have heard about the real commitment of the American side, but they simply do not know how genuine this is.
During various conversations, I tried to explain my vision of the situation. The United States has a pattern of interaction in Europe. They imply intervention at the last moment, build allied structures, support allies with economic and military assistance. Then the United States waits until they intervene at the end of the game, always hoping that this will not have to be done. The visits of Biden and Hagel are part of the process of creating a regional bloc in order to deter the Russians and create the basis for military assistance. Intervention will come much later, if ever. Romanians feel more comfortable with all of this than the Poles, who asked 10 thousands of NATO troops on their territory. Romanians do not have such expectations. They are also ready to increase their defense budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product, which is essential for Europe these days. But they expect the United States to help fund weaponwhich they are going to purchase. Expecting a loan when facing the Russians, however, is no more sensible than criticizing the state department at a time when the US Department of Defense calls for risks. Romanians ultimately believe that the US’s intentions are not clear.
The American intention at the moment is to preserve an independent pro-Western Ukraine. This, perhaps, is simply not possible. But the problem is that by pursuing this goal, and acting with some effect, the United States convinced the Russians that they were going to crush the Russian Federation, denying the substantial sphere of its influence. The Russians have now come to the conclusion that everything that happens in this tour in Ukraine will not end with this process.
Whatever the American idea at the initial stage, they [the Romanians] understand that the Russian threat to Ukraine is constant, and whatever happens in Ukraine, this will apply to countries like Romania. And Romania is especially important for Russians for two reasons. First, Romania is located on the Black Sea coast, and the Black Sea is Russia's southern maritime access to the world. That is why they have to keep Sevastopol, and that is why Odessa means so much. The Russians know that they must have access to the Bosphorus, controlled by the Turks. However, American aircraft in Romania and Romanian ships in the Black Sea can make life difficult for Russians, including creating threats to their power in the Caucasus, since Georgia is also on the Black Sea coast. It should be noted that an increase in naval power is on the Romanian-American agenda, and both countries understand the challenge that Russia is creating.
The second challenge is that Romania has the potential to produce significant hydrocarbons, including oil. The only real Russian card in their game is their energy sales to Europe. If they keep them, it will create tremendous pressure, and economic pressure can be transformed into political power. Several things affect the German attitude, but energy dependence is certainly one of the main ones.
There is simply no alternative energy sources for Russia. But one alternative can be blinded from several sources, and if it does not replace Russian energy, it will soften the power of Russia. Romania, with energy and other resources, can contribute to this, and public statements from the US and Romania include Romania’s commitment to focus on energy production as an essential element of the partnership. This is not as easy as it sounds. Romania has a bad reputation abroad for its enormous complexity and unreliability in the process of issuing permits. This is another moment when the new strategy of Romania intersects with Russian interests. In Romania, there is an opinion that Russians are expanding their influence throughout the region, but especially in Romania. They do this using traditional means, using their intelligence services in an attempt to manipulate the political process in Romania. What is important, they can use commercial relations to weave influence networks that are intended to make it costly for Romania to resist Russians. Russians are particularly adept at using Gazprom and its subsidiaries and other Russian energy companies in acquiring and investing in Romania and in regional companies. Transactions are not unattractive for any parties in business concepts, but they also serve Russians in shaping both energy policy and political dynamics. This is what I call commercial imperialism: the use of transactions, especially in the energy sector, to create blocking points within the political system when Russian interests are threatened. This is not limited to Romania. Russians use this tool to shape the behavior of other countries. Although, of course, it is much less unpleasant than the Soviet occupation, nevertheless, it challenges American influence.
Moldova, energy and Russian secrecy
There is another aspect of all this, namely, Moldova. Moldova is ethnically Romanian, but was under the authority of the Soviet Union, and before that, the Russian Empire. This is a place that survives due to its resourcefulness and the deployment of Russian influence. This is an important place in the sense that if Moldova were occupied by the Russians, Moscow would get access to the Prut River with only one plain between the river and Bucharest. If Moldova were to join Romania, then NATO would have risen on the Dniester River, less than a hundred miles from Odessa. But such calculations matter only in wartime, and the Russians are by their nature weak. Their only advantage is energy exports, and this advantage, where they make up their real profits, depends on world oil prices. They do not control this price, and in the future it is possible that the United States, a mass producer of oil, will suddenly push this price down. If this happens, there is little left for the Russians.
But this will not happen in the next few years, if it happens at all. And the full power of the United States will not be claimed by Romania for several years, if it is at all. And Romania’s commitment to producing energy will not manifest itself for several years. So in southeastern Europe, Russians have a window of opportunity to create a structure that can withstand the winter that comes.
They can not live without Ukraine. They cannot capture Romania. With or without Americans, Russians are not strong enough for this. All they can do is manipulate, undermine, confuse and distract. They need to undermine the Romanian Entente with the United States, and they are skilled in the political maneuvers necessary for this. For many in Romania, Russia is near, and it is strong, America is far and indecisive. This was indicated to me at one of the meetings. I replied: "In the twentieth century, the United States won three wars in Europe. How many wars did the Romanians win?" The most remarkable thing for Romania and even Europe in general is that, despite the historical realities, the United States wins European wars, there is a point of view that the United States is naive, not focused and clumsy. This goes beyond the current administration and, as I can recall, applies to every administration. And yet, it is the United States that consistently decides the fate of Europe.
Romanians know this, but they still feel that Russians are smarter and more capable than the United States. I think: the reason is that the Russians are moving with great subtlety and complexity. They do this to compensate for their weaknesses. The United States is more simple. They can afford. They play like that from their strength. At the moment, the Romanians agreed with this, but their agreement is fragile. It depends on the political coherence of the United States. But from a long distance, there are options and opportunities to change one’s point of view. Romania is here and cannot go anywhere else. Only unions can change the situation and the hope for the best is what both parties should count on.