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Interview: Romanian Foreign Minister Says Russian Troops In Moldova An 'Anachronism'

Romania's Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi (file photo)
Romania's Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi (file photo)
Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi says he hopes Moldova will maintain its course toward closer EU integration after the November 28 parliamentary elections and he promoted greater European involvement in negotiations to settle the Transdniester dispute.

Speaking with RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc, Baconschi also welcomed the "new psychological and political atmosphere" between Russia and NATO after the Lisbon summit. He also called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova, whose presence he termed an "anachronism."

RFE/RL: After many years of bickering, Romania and Moldova recently signed a border treaty. Some say that the treaty is a welcome boost for Moldova's pro-Western ruling coalition ahead of the parliamentary elections, showing the government was able to obtain from Romania something the communists could not get in almost 10 years. Others say it has limited technical value. But preparations for the treaty were conducted very discreetly on both sides. If it's just a technical document, why all the secrecy?

Teodor Baconschi:
We signed the treaty now because this is when we managed to finalize the negotiations with Moldovan experts. We clarified all the unclear questions and obtained all the needed approvals. There had been 12 rounds of negotiations from 2006 until now. We only took advantage of the presence in Bucharest of Prime Minister Vlad Filat, who was here for the Danube summit. We knew he would come and agreed it would be a good occasion to conclude the process.

RFE/RL: In general, Moldovan elections were carefully watched abroad only in Bucharest, Moscow, and of course, Tiraspol. The stakes are much higher now though: a victory of the ruling coalition would open the way to the West and to a deeper Western involvement in the Transdniester dispute. A communist comeback would mean further stagnation and more of the same in relations with Moscow and Tiraspol. What is Romania expecting from this election?

We want Moldova, which is already engaged in reforms aimed at consolidating a state based on the rule of law and a structured dialogue with the European Union, to maintain its direction, because this will help reduce more quickly the economic disparities between Moldova and its EU neighbors.

On the other hand, we have noticed an increasing EU interest toward a solution to the Transdniestrian dispute, because Moldova is an essential element in the construction of a safe neighborhood for the EU. Therefore, an increased EU involvement in negotiations is necessary.

EU Role In Transdniester

RFE/RL: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mentioned Romania in October in relation to a possible resumption of talks on the Transdniester dispute. The current international framework of the negotiations (the 5+2 format) involves Moldova, Tiraspol, Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE and -- with observer status -- the EU and the United States. Romania has so far said it only participates in the process as an EU member. Should the EU have a more visible role in the talks?

We want the upcoming OSCE summit in Astana to mark a turning point in this direction. For this, negotiations in the 5+2 format need to continue, not only informally, but at an official level. Currently, the EU is just an observer under the current negotiation format, but I believe it is justified for the EU to assume a clearer role, not only that of an observer. In this respect, Romania participates in the process only as an EU member.

RFE/RL: Only days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mentioned Romania in relation to a possible resumption of talks on the Transdniester dispute, you called in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. Does Romania believe that the dispute can only be resolved if Russia withdraws its troops? Isn't their presence still needed?

It is an anachronism and a contradiction. We welcome this new openness between Russia and NATO. Mr. Medvedev was received [at the NATO summit] in Lisbon with full honors. There is the political will to bring all the consequences of the Cold War to an end, among them these frozen conflicts, which have been freezing a substantial political relationship between NATO and Russia.

RFE/RL: Who would replace the Russians then, and under what conditions?

Let's say a calendar for a gradual withdrawal is agreed. Then [Russian troops] should be replaced by a predominantly civilian peacekeeping contingent and under the EU umbrella. Of course, Russians can also be included in such a force. Romania has no business being there as a participant in the eventuality of such a change.

RFE/RL: The Transdniester dispute is also a barometer of the relations between the neighboring states. Romania's relations with Ukraine were never very cordial. Now that Kyiv has apparently turned its face toward Moscow once again, has Romania reevaluated its position toward Ukraine -- a country with which you share not only a common border, but also several sensitive issues?

I'll be very clear. We have no territorial disputes with Ukraine, although there were some innuendos about such disputes in the Russian and Ukrainian media. We are interested in a good neighborly relationship, in a constant dialogue, honest and substantial, and we want to solve practical bilateral issues such as the rights of the Ukrainian minority in Romania and the Romanian minority in Ukraine, and the development of stronger cultural links, by opening a Romanian cultural institute in Kyiv with a branch in Cernauti [Chernivtsi].

NATO-Russia Dialogue

RFE/RL: President Medvedev pledged in Lisbon to cooperate with NATO on an antimissile shield, but only if Moscow is an "absolutely equal" partner in it. He even mentioned a "sectoral" defense shield, without elaborating on the term. Romania is already cooperating with the United States to find locations for the shield. How does Bucharest regard the possible involvement of Russia in the project?

There will be no single missile shield, but rather two systems that could become interoperational. What does count though, is the new psychological and political atmosphere that has taken root in the NATO-Russia dialogue. I believe that is a premise that can justify our optimism. As a NATO member, we support the development of a long-term partnership with Russia.

RFE/RL: Some say Russia is trying to weaken U.S. influence in Europe through such initiatives. How does NATO-member and U.S. ally Romania regard Russia's moves in the Black Sea region?

Personally, I do not see a contradiction between the United States' relationship with Europe and the development of a European-Russian partnership, all the more since we are experiencing a reset of the U.S.-Russian relationship.

But for the system to work both sides need to upload the same software, so to speak, to assume the same values and principles. Romania is naturally interested in the actions or projects of the Russian side in relation to our common neighborhood. That's why we are paying great attention to all discussions about European security.

RFE/RL: Romania has been experiencing bilateral frictions with Paris lately, caused by the expulsion of Romanian Roma from France. Finland, the Netherlands, and of course France -- where you were formerly Romania's ambassador -- have signaled they do not favor Romania's admission into the passport-free Schengen zone as scheduled in March 2011 because of the issue of uncontrolled Romany migration. Is the situation of the Roma from Romania a European problem, or a national one?

It is obvious that each EU member state must protect its minorities and come up with workable policies of social inclusion. At the same time, we cannot restrict Romanian citizens' freedom of movement regardless of their ethnicity.

We need cooperation both with the countries where the migrants are going and the EU. We all must do our homework, but we must also seek political coordination because it is hard to socially include a fragile minority, marginalized and used as a political tool. We need dialogue, without passing the responsibility on to France or other member states.

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