Russia’s influence over Hungary recently manifested itself when Budapest opposed Romania’s admission to several Western European multilateral organizations. For example, this September Hungary opposed the integration of Romania in the European Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD). Obviously, Moscow knows how to divide Europe, while
Washington is confronted with a challenge keeping the old continent together and safeguarding America’s interests.
By Nicholas Dima l September 19, 2017
Hungarian demonstrator holding up images of Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin
After the decision of Great Britain to leave the European Union, Europe is struggling to maintain its purpose and unity. The North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) is confronted with new challenges, and America is faced with an increasingly aggressive Russia.
In that new climate, Eastern Europe is, once again, a bone of contention caught between East and West. The balance of power between the two camps is maintained by NATO with the United States as its chief guarantor. According to several analysts, Poland to the north and Romania to the south represent America’s strategic shield against Russia. However, Moscow is trying hard to destabilize the region, and Washington has few options opposing Moscow and maintaining local stability.
Unfortunately, Eastern Europe is a mosaic of countries and nationalities with contradictory and often hostile interests. Poland, for example, is ethnically a homogenous country and is less prone to Russian subversion. But Warsaw is worried about the prospect of international destabilization and Russia’s intentions. Consequently, Poland is consolidating its military power. Romania, on the other hand, is a nation divided with a large number of ethnic Romanians living across its eastern border and with a large Hungarian minority living inside its borders. That makes Romania easy prey to Russian subversion and instigation. Yet, because of its strategic location at the Black Sea and because of its natural resources, Romania is important to America and to the West.
With a long history of victimization, Romania mistrusts Russia and is strongly pro-Western. The country wrestles with ethnic and territorial issues which Moscow exploits. Romania’s eastern-most province, currently the Republic of Moldova and formerly Bessarabia, is still under Russian control. Moscow is using this republic to blackmail Bucharest and to destabilize the region. In 1944 the American diplomat Malborne Graham wrote that this region represents “the most critical territorial problem bequeathed to the present generation as a direct legacy of the age-old Eastern Question.” A bone of contention indeed!
When the USSR dismembered in 1991, Moscow offered to let the newly independent republic of Moldova reunite with Romania, if Bucharest would not join NATO. Nevertheless, Bucharest opted for the West and allied itself with the United States. Russia reacted bitterly with threats, with more political interference in Moldova, and with instigating Hungary to reopen its territorial claims on Transylvania.
Take Moldova for example. During the last several years, Moldova was pursuing a pro-Romanian and pro-NATO policy, but Moscow would not tolerate it. During this year’s elections, Moscow mobilized its local Russian minority and the pro-communist groups, rigged the polls, by electing a pro-Russian president.
The new president rushed to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow and after his return reversed Moldova’s pro-Western tilt. The new authorities also muzzled the press, stopped its cooperation with NATO, and began to harass the pro-Western Moldovan leaders. They also arrested Dorin Chirtoaca, the mayor of Chisinau, who is a strong pro-European advocate. That made the democratic opposition appeal to the European Union for remedial measures, but so far to no avail. Here is an excerpt from the letter sent to Brussels by the leaders of Moldova’s pro-Western parties, namely, the European People’s Party and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe:
“We are bringing to your attention a major problem concerning recent political events that have occurred in the Republic of Moldova. The legally elected mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, was arrested under false accusations and is currently detained… We are witnessing with increasing concern the deterioration of the rule of law and democratic standards in the Republic of Moldova… Instead of seeking to advance the country toward democracy the socialists have chosen to strengthen autocracy…”
Regarding the Republic of Moldova, and also Ukraine, in his book In the Shade of Europe published last year, Robert Kaplan claims that the two countries remain under the thumb of Russia and there is nothing America can do. A possible reunion of Moldova with Romania is not possible under the present conditions. As for Transylvania, located in western Romania, when interviewed by the newspaper Romania Libera on February 26, 2017, Kaplan answered that Moscow is instigating Budapest to revive the idea of Greater Hungary to the detriment of Romania and possibly of Serbia and Slovakia. Kaplan stressed that Russia is further determined to divide and control Eastern Europe.
In his view, Serbia, Bulgaria, and the other Slavic countries of the region have linguistic, cultural and historic links to Russia, while Romania is isolated and targeted. On the other hand, Hungary is under Russian influence and manipulation. Kaplan does not believe that Greater Hungary is a viable option, but he thinks that deep in their hearts the Hungarians still dream of recuperating their lost territories. Transylvania is their first target. Not surprisingly, President Putin’s recent visit to Budapest has increased Bucharest’s worries.
Russia’s influence over Hungary recently manifested itself when Budapest opposed Romania’s admission to several Western European multilateral organizations. For example, this September Hungary opposed the integration of Romania in the European Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD). Obviously, Moscow knows how to divide Europe, while Washington is confronted with a challenge keeping the old continent together and safeguarding America’s interests.
Nicholas Dima, Ph.D, is a former professor and author of numerous books and articles including the autobiographical memoir, Journey to Freedom, a description of the effects of communist dictatorship on a nation, a family and an individual. He currently lectures and is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the online-conservative-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.