A new friend of Ukraine

Olexandra Zasmorzhuk
15:42, 16 April 2015
1989 0

Ukrainian-Romanian diplomatic relations have always been strained and unstable. Romania entered the modern history of Ukraine with a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice - on the maritime delimitation of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Black Sea near the Island Zmiinyi, as well as with the claims of the Danube-Black Sea navigable channel. But things are improving fast.

Over a decade, diplomatic communications between the two countries dropped to a minimum and did not have any prospects for development. It was no use in counting on Romania’s active participation in deciding the European fate of Ukraine and, especially, on its support in the conflict with the Russian Federation.

This fact has been repeatedly pointed out by the Kremlin. Not mincing words, they described Romania’s possible territorial claims to Ukraine and predicted active intervention by the Romanian authorities in the issue of Romanians living in the territory of Ukraine’s Northern Bukovina and Southern Besarabia. But even during the rule of Viktor Yanukovych, some comments in Romanian media have been more than categorical: “The pro-Russian President is pushing Ukraine into Russia’s arms, and thus the Russian bear is coming to the Romanian border.”

But later assessments of the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict by Romania’s president and foreign minister have shown their readiness to establish good neighborly relations and to begin a fresh dialogue with the new authorities in Kyiv. For a long time the Romanian authorities did not comment on the events in Ukraine. This pause was quite predictable. The first sign of a recovering dialogue between the two countries was the signing of an agreement on local border traffic. In October 2014, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and his Romanian counterpart Victor Ponta signed an agreement that provides for a simplified procedure for border crossings for the residents of border regions. The next stage of development of bilateral relations was a joint Ukrainian-Romanian press conference of foreign ministers in February this year. Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu reiterated Romania's support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. “Romania is deeply interested in seeing a strong, united, democratic and sovereign Ukraine across the border. We support Ukraine in these difficult times - you can count on Romania,” said Aurescu.

The first official visit of a Romanian resident to Ukraine in seven years was a decisive step toward resuscitation of relations between the two states. The visit of Klaus Iohannis to Kyiv this March resulted in Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announcing the beginning of a new stage in Ukrainian-Romanian relations. This meeting, as well as the joint statement of the presidents, can be viewed as a historic event. In the past, Romania could hardly be called a partner of Ukraine in the international arena. However, as time passed and new threats emerged, old misunderstandings have gone by the wayside, to be replaced by a mutual desire to stand together against Russian aggression - a real one for Ukraine and a potential one Romania – and to develop a new strategic policy of partnership. “Today we show that we are able to find mutually beneficial solutions to common problems that have not been solved for many years,” said Poroshenko. Iohannis also stressed that Romania “supports the preservation of sanctions against Russia to the complete fulfillment of the Minsk agreements.”

It should also be noted that Romania was the first EU state to ratify the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement.

Today both Ukraine and Romania share a desire to minimize Russia’s regional influence, and this can be achieved to a large extent due to the reduction of gas imports from Russia and finding alternative energy sources. European countries have come to understand that Russia perceives energy resources not only as an element of market relations, but also as the opportunity to blackmail its potential customers.

Now Romania is one of the first countries in Europe to completely abandon Russian energy supplies: the needs of the population will be covered by internal resources. What is the secret of a country, which for decades has been receiving about 30% of its energy from Russia, and still was able over the past three years to reduce purchases down to only 400 million cubic meters (which is only 2% of annual gas consumption)? The refusal to import Russian gas was made possible by reducing specific consumption by industries as well as by investments in energy efficiency. Thus, Romania was the first country that has managed to completely get rid of the Russian energy dependence, and its experience is worth learning from.

The meeting of the presidents was followed by the visit of the delegation of Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz to Bucharest on April, 9, where long-awaited negotiations on energy cooperation were held.

More evidence of the beginning of a new stage in Ukrainian-Romanian relations was the joint discussion on the issue of using the Danube-Black Sea navigable channel, and the possible establishment of uniform rates for its usage, which will undoubtedly have a positive impact on trade between the countries. Further talks on cooperation will continue in May, during an official visit to Bucharest by Poroshenko.

Thus, the twenty-year stagnation period in the relationship between the two countries has ended. Romania joined the countries that condemned Russian aggression against Ukraine and expressed its support. The dialogue and the opinions exchange has begun. Hopefully, it's only going to develop.

Olexandra Zasmorzhuk

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