Evaluate a possible Moldova-Romania unification
Moldovan President Maia Sandu was interviewed in the Moldovan television program In PROfunzime about a possible unification between Moldova and neighboring Romania. Unification is an idea that has been discussed since Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991; it has been used to advance various political agendas in Chisinau, Bucharest, as well as Moscow and even Tiraspol, the de facto capital of Moldova’s breakaway region, Transnistria. The exact likelihood of unification happening in the foreseeable future is debatable, but the very idea itself elicits strong feelings and emotions, and serves different purposes as well.
The unification of two or more countries into a single entity is not an event that occurs often nowadays – separatism is more common – so even a theoretical scenario in which Moldova and Romania unify merits discussion. appropriate, taking into account local and regional factors.
A brief reminder of a complex history
The peoples of Moldova and Romania have extensive cultural and historical ties, dating back to the 14e century, via historical figures such as Dragoș Vodă or Dragoș the Founder. He was a Romanian landowner who represented a Hungarian monarch and became the first ruler of the territory where modern Moldova is located. The territory was eventually annexed by the Ottoman Empire, becoming a vassal state from 1538 until the Bucharest Treaty of 1812, by which the Russian Empire took control of the region. The Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 sparked a desire for independence among the inhabitants of modern Moldova. In 1918, the territory, then known as Bessarabia, declared its independence from Russia and joined the Kingdom of Romania.
Although Romania allied with the Axis during World War II, the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 defined spheres of influence in Eastern Europe between Berlin and Moscow. In 1940, a year before Operation Barbarossa, following an ultimatum given to Romanian King Carol II, Russia occupied Moldova. The Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (Moldovan SSR) was established on August 2, 1940.
This story is vital to keep in mind as it provides historical justifications for this potential unification since, barely a century ago, the territories of Romania and Moldova (then Bessarabia) were indeed one country.
What did President Sandu say?
According to an iData poll, up to 44% of Moldovans could support unification with Romania. Asked about these results during her interview for In PROfunzime, President Sandu admitted that many of her citizens support a union between the two countries, while others fear it. However, regarding the likelihood of unification, the Moldovan Head of State noted that “a project of such magnitude can only be done with sufficient majority support in society”.
Moldovan journalist Lorena Bogza insisted on the subject, asking: “Would 50% plus 1 be enough?” To which President Sandu replied: “More likely because such a project must be supported, however, by an overwhelming majority of citizens.”
We have already mentioned the historical justifications for this unification; however, cultural arguments must be made. After all, Romanians and Moldovans share a common language. In addition, due to Moldova’s many internal problems, especially economic ones, many Moldovans emigrated to Romania, among other countries, in search of a better life. As a result, up to a quarter of Moldovans now have dual citizenship, Moldovan and Romanian.
However, it is also true that many Moldovans do not want their country to create a unified entity with Romania. A sense of patriotism is at stake here, as well as cultural (including linguistic) ties with Russia; after all, Moldova has been a member of the USSR for decades, and many Moldovans speak Russian fluently. Moreover, aside from Transnistria, another Moldovan region that is unlikely to support unification is Gagauzia, which voted in 2014 in an illegal referendum to reject the closer ties between Chisinau and the European Union. The Gagauz region has a certain degree of autonomy within Moldova, which makes the situation very different from that of Transnistria, but anti-unification sentiments should not be overlooked.
Unification is supported, but it is unlikely
At this point it is necessary to make a distinction. While a significant portion of the population of the two countries favors unification, a substantial amount also believe that it will not happen or that it is unnecessary. While support for unification is around 44% in Moldova, a 2018 poll by the Romanian Social Research Bureau showed that up to 74% of Romanians would vote for unification in a hypothetical referendum about this question. In contrast, 15% would vote against, while 11% would not vote at all.
Polls also show that Romanians are skeptical about achieving such a union, due to issues such as Transnistria, the lack of plans by politicians in Bucharest and Chisinau to achieve this goal, and international considerations, among others. . The 2018 Romanian BSR poll showed that only 27% of Romanians “considered union necessary or very necessary”. Moldovan citizens interviewed by the author of this analysis also noted that while they support unification with Romania, they do not think this should be the priority of the Moldovan government. Other issues, such as tackling the country’s endemic corruption, must be priorities.
The complicated geopolitics of unification
As far as Moldova is concerned, a possible unification with Romania has wide regional and internal ramifications. The two names to remember here are Transnistria and Romania. Since 1992, Transnistria has been a de facto separatist entity across the Dniester River. The region is not recognized as independent by any country, including Russia, its key benefactor and supporter. Nonetheless, the breakaway territory is a crucial region from which Moscow can follow developments in Southeast Europe, especially Moldova and neighboring Ukraine. As a result, Russian troops continue to be stationed in Transnistria.
While Chisinau has attempted to approach Tiraspol’s separatist leaders to convince them to strengthen their ties, it is clear that Transnistria has no significant interest in returning to Chisinau’s orbit, and Moscow is not interested in allow Transnistria to do so. The separatist region held “elections” in December, with the re-election of pro-Russian President Vadim Krasnoselsky.
The issue of Moldovan-Romanian unification is thus used by Tiraspol and Moscow to support the separatist ambitions of Transnistria. They argue that Transnistrian culture and identity must be protected because unification between Moldova and Romania would mean Transnistria would be dominated by Romanian speakers and its culture would be erased. For example, Konstantin Zatulin, the first vice-chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Committee on Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, argued at the end of 2021 that Moldova “was trying to seize Transnistria”, justifying thus the Russian military presence in the separatist region under the banner of “peacekeepers”.
As mentioned earlier, Gagauzia, another Moldovan region, also displayed rebel tendencies, and it is unclear how the Gagauz would react if Chisinau’s interest in unification advanced. President Sandu was probably referring to the Gagauz and Moldovan patriots and friends of Russia when she said that many Moldovans would reject the idea.
On the other hand, there is the question to what extent the Romanian government and people are willing and eager to unite with Moldova. Romanian authorities regularly applaud the close bilateral relations. In 2018, to commemorate the 100e anniversary of unification, the Romanian parliament adopted a resolution aimed at unifying the two countries in the future. For Romania, unification would mean an expansion of its territory and resources and an influx of new citizens as the country’s population shrinks (19 million in 2020, compared to 23 million in 1990). Likewise, as mentioned earlier, most Romanians support this idea, but they do not see unification as a priority.
The unification of two or more states is a problem that does not often arise in modern history. In fact, since the end of the Cold War, in the world there have only been two such cases: the unification of Yemen (Yemen Arab Republic / North Yemen and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen / Yemen from South) ; and the reunification of Germany (East and West). The two unifications took place in 1990.
More often than not, countries separate by peaceful or violent means, such as the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. The newer nations of the world are relatively young: East Timor in 2002, Kosovo in 2008 and South Sudan in 2011. Thus, if Romania and Moldova were to unite into one state for the foreseeable future, this would be a milestone in modern history as a norm is that countries prefer to separate rather than unite.
That said, unification between Romania and Moldova is unlikely to happen anytime soon. There is certainly interest from both countries. However, segments of both populations are also against this idea. Then there is the eternal thorn of Moldova, namely the Russian-backed Transnistria, which Chisinau must be considered. Uniting with Romania and bringing Transnistria back to its orbit are two essentially contradictory objectives. Therefore, a unification process would be a long, legally complex and complicated process that cannot be rushed.
As Moldovans continue their quest for a national identity, with ties to both Romania and Russia, with a breakaway region and many problems at home, unification with Romania may prove to be a utopia or dystopia.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geophysicalmonitor.com or any institution with which the author is associated.