By Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute
Written by John R. Haines
UNFREEZING ALL OF THE ‘FROZEN’ CONFLICTS INSIDE THE OLD BORDERS OF SOVIET MOLDOVA – A PANDORA’S BOX
A RUSSIAN commentary—substituting the intentionally provocative BESSARABIAN for “MOLDOVAN”—asked rhetorically:
“Are BESSARABIAN authorities seeking civil war [in GAGAUZIA] given the likelihood of escalating the conflict beyond the region—primarily in TRANSDNIESTRIA and the UKRAINIAN part of BUDZHAK, home to the second largest GAUGAUZIA community outside GAGAUZ YERI as well as twice the number of BULGARIANS living in MOLDOVA—and the inevitable involvement of external forces? The long-deferred formation of a GAGAUZ-BULGARIAN BUDZHAK republic could gain quite tangible contours in the event of BESSARABIA’S absorption into ROMANIA. Unfreezing all of the ‘frozen’ conflicts inside the old borders of SOVIET MOLDOVA may sweep away not only GAGAUZIA and TRANSDNIESTRIA, but also MOLDOVAN statehood along with NORTHERN BUKOVINA and UKRAINIAN SOUTH BESSARABIA.”
Novorossiya Imagined c. 1913
A 1913 map of an imagined NOVOROSSIYA shows a unified BESSARABIA—the demarcated region on the far left labeled Бессарабская (BESSARABSKAYA)—that incorporates both the modern-day MOLDOVA and ODESSA’S BUDZHAK region.
NOVOROSSIYA Imagined c. 1913
A century later, visions of NOVOROSSIYA redevises might, in TAAVI MINNIK’S memorable phrase, might well be “a grotesque world reflected in a contorted mirror.” However, its emotive strength lies in the term’s historical roots. So writes IEVA BĒRZIŅA in an insightful paper published by the LATVIAN National Defense Academy. The symbol—NOVOROSSIYA—and its historical referent combine c.2014 as a claim for territorial change, especially among the sootechestvenniki—literally, “compatriots”—persons who are linguistically and culturally RUSSIAN but who live within the boundaries of another state.
INSTRUMENTAL CLAIM FOR TERRITORIAL CHANGE
As the historical map makes clear, BUDZHAK was never part of NOVOROSSIYA. While this makes the notion of a “People’s Republic of BESSARABIA” seem absurd from an historical perspective, it is an instrumental claim for territorial change, not an historical one. In a much-cited January 2015 commentary, MARCIN KOSIENKOWSKI asked whether BUDZHAK is “next in line” for RUSSIA. Next in line for what, is perhaps a fair reply. RUSSIA will no doubt continue to interfere in the internal affairs of MOLDOVA and UKRAINE for the purpose of derailing their respective ambitions of EUROPEAN UNION and NATO accession. It unlikely either will be targeted for full-blown military action, however. The lone foreseeable exception is if the MOLDOVAN government moved formally to unify with ROMANIA, in which event RUSSIAN armed forces in TRANSDNIESTRIA would likely support PMR-TRANSDNIESTRIA’S and/or ATU-GAGAUZIA’S secession.
That being said, nothing precludes the possibility of a small conflict morphing unintentionally into a larger and hotter one. In May 2014, the ROMANIAN government barred RUSSIAN deputy Prime Minister DMITRY ROGOZON from using ROMANIAN airspace on a return flight from TRANSDNIESTRIA to MOSCOW. ROGOZIN tweeted in response,
“Upon a U.S. request, ROMANIA has closed its air space for my plane. UKRAINE doesn’t allow me to pass through again. Next time I’ll fly on board a TU-160.”
ROGOZIN’S reference of course is to RUSSIA’S largest strategic bomber. It must be added in fairness that RUSSIA has no monopoly on the use of symbols incongruent with their historical referent. Consider the language used by the post-TRIANON ROMANIAN government to bind new provinces to the Old Kingdom:
“BESSARABIA torn by RUSSIA more than hundreds of years ago from the body of the ancient MOLDOVA from now on and forever joins its mother, ROMANIA.”
UKRAINE AND ROMANIA
The position of UKRAINE’S ethnic ROMANIANS today is an interesting one. A June 2014 forum held by a regional ROMANIAN cultural association known as “BESSARABIA” called for UKRAINE to disintegrate IZMAIL from ODESSA and reestablish its pre-1954 status as a standalone region. The attendees balanced this demand by protesting “KREMLIN plans to create a ‘BUDZHAK REPUBLIC’ behind the leadership of pro-RUSSIA politicians in GAGAUZIA.” The forum was conducted entirely in ROMANIAN with no UKRAINIAN translation, and was attended by ROMANIA’S consul general in ODESSA and the ROMANIAN parliamentary deputy. It is all the more interesting since ODESSA’S ethnic ROMANIAN population is reliably estimated at around 700 persons, far fewer than the number of ethnic ROMANIANS in UKRAINE’S CHERNIVTSI and TRANSCARPATHIAN regions. The ROMANIAN government, however, betrays its regional ambitions by counting all BUDZHAK MOLDOVANS as “ROMANIANS” which raises the count to 130,000 people. RUSSIA for its part plays the ROMANIAN question both ways, criticizing the ROMANIAN government’s alleged territorial ambitions in MOLDOVA and BUDZHAK while at the same time analogizing the aggrieved state of UKRAINE’S ethnic ROMANIANS and TRANSCARPATHIAN HUNGARIANS for the purpose of fomenting ethnic dissent inside the ODESSA region.
IS NATIONALISM, ORTHODOXY ON THE RISE IN RUSSIA?
In an insightful March 2014 commentary published on Polit.ru, ALEKSEY MURAV’YEV wrote that TRANSDNIESTRIA and GAGAUZIA today dwell within a “mono-ethnic state”—a ROMANIZED MOLDOVA—and BUDZHAK within “a pseudo empire”—UKRAINE. As a result, “these orphan lands…these no man’s lands,” he wrote, cling “to a pseudo-SOVIET identity which freezes them in the last century.” He concludes with this observation:
“These lands can only be preserved and their instability can only be quelled by a large empire in which the idea of ‘the nation’ is strongly grounded in the state and in the culture. Of course, an imperial structure is no panacea, but it can allow these ‘no man’s lands’ to exist without having to define themselves by a single ethnic or a religious identity. The problem of modern RUSSIA is that it has moved in the opposite direction—from a SOVIET empire to a nation-state. The rise of nationalism, ORTHODOXY, and other phenomena testify to just such a direction. Making these no man’s lands part of RUSSIA will not solve their problems, and pulls RUSSIA backward instead of allowing it to move forward.
“Modern RUSSIA, being neither the SOVIET UNION nor IMPERIAL RUSSIA, tries nevertheless to think of itself as both. In reality, however, RUSSIA has nearly returned to its early borders—CENTRAL RUSSIA, coupled to the URALS, SIBERIA, and the FAR EAST. The continued existence of the old federal infrastructure only complicates the situation, along with persons who refuse to accept there no longer is—and never again will be—a Soviet Union.”
BUCHAREST AND PRO ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT IN CHIȘINĂU ALSO CONTRIBUTE TO THE GENERAL DISCORDANCE
Will BUDZHAK join what is piquantly described as PMR-TRANSDNIESTRIA and ATU-GAGAUZIA’S “theatrical and performativity form of sovereignty”? That remains to be seen. It is unfair to blame RUSSIA alone for the territories’ problems, for BUCHAREST and the pro-ROMANIAN government in CHIȘINĂU undeniably contribute each in its own way to the general discordance. That being said, there is no moral equivalence between the status of a RUSSIAN legacy bridgehead located 1300 kilometers from MOSCOW (RUSSIA’S constant references to NATO actions in KOSOVO notwithstanding) and ROMANIA’S interest in countering the threat to regional peace and stability posed by its contentious borderlands—and neither has moral equivalence to UKRAINIAN territorial sovereignty. RUSSIAN-fomented discord in BUDZHAK and neighboring PMR-TRANSDNIESTRIA and ATU-GAGAUZIA has one goal and only one goal:
“For those in the breakaway regions, occupation without formally occupying and annexation through carefully orchestrated, mass participatory endeavors like referenda open new domains where values, fears, and norms are reconstituted into a daily experience of threat and there is only one entity capable of restoring “order”: the RUSSIAN FEDERATION…”
The first line of the title is from NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN’S statement during the 1938 CZECHOSLOVAKIA crisis, which reads in full: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”