"Joke" suggesting Romanian-Ukrainian war: What stands behind it

Mykola Kobyliuk
15:40, 05 June 2019
Politics
1366 0

A Facebook posting by Anatoly Matios, Chief Military Prosecutor of Ukraine, telling about an outrageous video where Romania is shown occupying part of Ukraine's Chernivtsi and Odesa regions during a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, provoked a wave of information panic and, also, irony due to the unpredictability of Ukrainian officials' moves.

While top security officials were mulling a meeting to address the provocation, Chernivtsi journalists reached out to the man who created the clip.

As it turned out, Dan Ionescu, a Bucharest-based science fiction writer, in an interview via Skype called his amateur video part of his new book on "alternative times". He says he doesn't support any territorial claims to Ukraine, instead backing Ukraine's independence and inviolability of its borders.

However, it is no secret that in Romania, there is a part of politicians and public figures who profess the ideology of "Romania Mare" ("Great Romania"), which envisages the return of Romania to the borders of 1940 (then the Soviet Union, under the secret protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact , annexed Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, which had been part of Romania after the First World War). These forces do raise this issue from time to time. However, neither the leading political parties in Romania nor the Romanian authorities share this position.

As it turned out, Dan Ionescu, a Bucharest-based science fiction writer, in an interview via Skype called his amateur video part of his new book on "alternative times"

In Chernivtsi region, the statements of the "Great Romania" supporters are carefully monitored and subjected to sharp criticism. Here, in turn, part of political forces not mind earning political dividends on the issue of "protecting the Ukrainian land from Romania's attacks." However, the very issue ends with the argument: "Romania is a NATO member, and therefore it cannot put forward territorial claims to neighbors." And, moreover, "Romania is now an ally of Ukraine, which during the period of the political and military crisis of 2014-2015, was perhaps the first to provide diplomatic and political support to us."

Nevertheless, the Romanian authorities also sometimes make moves suggesting Bucharest's actual interest in said territories. In the fall of last year, the National Bank of Romania introduced new numismatic commemorative coins on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the accession to Romania of Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. The coins depict the image of the central building of Chernivtsi National University.

However, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that "there are currently no territorial claims to Ukraine" in Romania, and at present, none of the influential Romanian political forces has the objective of reviewing the existing borders with our state.

The position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in the region raised some eyebrows – in fact, our government sought justification for Romania's actions.

"These days, the confrontation between the states less often involves a military component while more and more often envisaging what is called 'soft power,' which implies influence through such means as: culture or education. In the case of Romania, this is also about dual citizenship," said Maksym Kyiak, a Chernivtsi-based political analyst.

Regarding the provocative video, Ukrainian security forces should act more carefully, professionally, while keeping a low profile. After all, the "joke", as the author called his amateur video, is far from being funny. What followed the said provocation was rather traditional for Ukraine. The military prosecutor raised the alarm via Facebook, calling for an urgent meeting of security officials, also on social networks. The de-facto new chief of the SBU, the security agency set to deal with such issues, responded through the media he would definitely attend such meeting. Meanwhile, the whole story boiled down to informational hysteria and PR attempts by certain Ukrainian officials on the issue of protecting Ukraine's national interests. It is good though that the officials in Romania, whose diplomatic school is deemed one of the strongest and most professional ones in Eastern Europe, had enough wisdom and tactfulness not to raise any hype around the issue.

However, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that "there are currently no territorial claims to Ukraine" in Romania, and at present, none of the influential Romanian political forces has the objective of reviewing the existing borders with our state

As for the "joke", it could have remained a "joke" had the problem not really exist. And it's not so much the problem of a certain number of followers of "Great Romania" in Bucharest and their opponents in Chernivtsi region but as a somewhat different one. This problem is more serious. It's deeper, older, and more systemic. Namely, it's the efforts Russian intelligence and diplomats toward escalating Ukrainian-Romanian relations, especially in the context of the Romania's consistent support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and anti-Russian sanctions over the illegal annexation of Crimea and the Donbas war. Attempts to undermine Romania's clear position and to provoke confrontation with Ukraine have been made on a number of occasions. Therefore, this "joke" episode, most likely, is far from being the last one in the series. The arsenal of Russian intelligence services has not proved to be too impressive in terms of diversity. It includes informational provocations, statements by certain individuals about alleged "harassment of the Romanian community of Ukraine", fake videos showing some obscure meetings discussing Romanian "autonomy" requirements, statements of marginal figures in Romania on the need to return to the borders of 1940, etc.

Russian intelligence services do not lack performers for their tasks both in Romania and in Ukraine. And coordinating their activities is relatively easy and simple either through the so-called "KGB of the unrecognized Transnistrian Republic", or through its half-criminal structures affiliated with it on the same territory. That's for the "Russian ears" not to stick out too much.

However, it is worth noting that it wasn't yesterday when Russians started this work. In fact, it was launched far before the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2014.

Russian intelligence services have been conducting a lengthy and systematic work on the destruction and exacerbation of Ukrainian-Romanian relations since the late 1990s. And judging by the more than restrained reaction of the Romanian side to the situation with the "language law", neighbors have a clear understanding of who is interested in fueling the Ukrainian-Romanian confrontation.

The same can't be said about the Ukrainian side, unfortunately. In 2000-2010, the response to these developments remained at the level of amateur efforts by individual representatives of the Ukrainian intelligence services, who mere more inclined to the believe that Romania, even if it's not interested in reviewing borders, has been dreaming of achieving the national-cultural autonomy of certain territories of Ukraine to ultimately strengthen their influence there. These conclusions (with a certain "evidence" base - mainly derived from newspapers and social networks) were reported to the government in Kyiv. Accordingly, intelligence chiefs and the top political leadership of Ukraine harbored a stereotype that Romania was either encroaching on our lands or trying hard to ignite ethnic conflicts in these areas.

Russian intelligence services have been conducting a lengthy and systematic work on the destruction and exacerbation of Ukrainian-Romanian relations since the late 1990s

It's the effect of this very stereotype, multiplied by the local origin, that we saw in the reaction of military prosecutor Matios. This is the stereotype, created by Russian intelligence agencies and Ukrainian "fighters" with encroachment on our lands, that we've been observing after the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, when it has already clearly become clear where the real enemy is, not the conditional military-political one.

In this situation, provided that both sides, Ukrainians and Romanians, see the real threat, there should be some coordination of efforts and development of mechanisms and measures to confront it. However, we haven't yet heard, and it is unlikely that in the near future we will, that Ukrainian and Romanian security officials have warned or exposed the actions of Russian agents, or simply "useful idiots," aimed at the deterioration of relations between the two states and the incitement of the Ukrainian-Romanian confrontation.

Instead, the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine initiated criminal proceedings into the so-called "joke". That is, Yuriy Lutsenko has joined the hype, hoping to earn some political dividends. How could he resist, really? Is he worse than Matios or what?

Mykola Kobyliuk

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