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BUCHAREST, Feb 8 2008 (IPS) - With new Cold War rhetoric emerging all around, Romania and Bulgaria are more uncertain than ever about their foreign policy.
A common line of argument in both is that they must follow the cue of more influential political actors.
"Historically, Bulgaria has always been in someone's sphere of influence, and that made it far easier – just stick to the Big Brother's decision," writes Ivan Dikov from Sofia News Agency. "Today, Bulgaria is economically part of the EU, relies on the U.S. for its security, and is energy dependent on Russia. What are we to do?"
This dilemma is often expressed in ambivalence over important regional issues such as energy, or the status of Kosovo.
For instance, as a result of a visit to Sofia by Russian President Vladimir Putin Jan. 18, Bulgaria agreed to participate in the gas pipeline project South Stream, although it was already a member of the competing Nabucco scheme. Bulgaria gets most of its oil and gas from Russia.
South Stream is a 10 billion euro project, jointly financed, owned and operated by Russian Gazprom and Italian ENI. It is intended to carry roughly 30 billion cubic metres of gas annually from the Russian Black Sea coast to Bulgaria, and then onwards to Southern and Central Europe.
Nabucco is an EU projected pipeline planned at an estimated cost of 5 billion euro, with a similar capacity as South Stream, and meant to bring gas from Central Asia to Europe avoiding Russian infrastructure and territory.
Nabucco is a part of an EU strategy to become more energy independent from Russia, and a pet project of Romanian President Traian Basescu, who campaigned in 2004 with a promise to make his country a part of the "Washington-London axis".
But Basescu's plan is easier declared than realised. On Feb. 6 Romanian finance minister Varujan Vosganian accused Basescu of bringing about a cooling of relations between Bucharest and Moscow. This, he said, was having a negative impact on the Romanian economy.
Vosganian, a political rival of the President, pointed out that Romania, which imports about 40 percent of its gas needs from Russia, would do better to improve its relations with Moscow.
A contradiction in the Romanian President's vision of foreign policy is the status of Kosovo. The U.S., Britain and most European Union (EU) members have declared themselves in favour of the province's independence from Serbia, but Basescu has remained a staunch opponent of such a step.
"My country will not be able to recognise an independence proclamation by Kosovo at any level, whether coordinated or unilaterally proclaimed," Basescu declared Dec. 31 after a meeting in Brussels with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
"What kind of message is that…to countries faced with ethnic problems or frozen conflicts," Basescu said, indirectly referring to the consequences of a 'Kosovo precedent' on the stability of Romania and Moldova.
Commentators have speculated that independence for Kosovo could strengthen similar claims from the self-proclaimed pro-Russian republic Transdniester, officially still a part of Moldova. Moldova is a country of four million people, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, where the majority of the population is ethnically Romanian.
Another fear is that Hungarians in Romania could be encouraged to ask for increased autonomy. Hungarians represent about 7 percent of the population of Romania (22 million), and close to 20 percent in the western region of Transylvania.
In the summer of 2007, Basescu did not have the support of his prime minister in opposing Kosovo independence. At the time, Calin Popescu Tariceanu declared that Romania's position on Kosovo would not differ from that of the EU.
The Romanian press speculates that Basescu now enjoys greater support because he is negotiating with Washington and Moscow to allow Romania to unite with a Moldova without Transdniester in exchange for Bucharest reversing its stance on Kosovo.
However, many doubt Basescu's ability to negotiate such a deal with the U.S. and Russia. "Until now, Romanian claims to play an important part in solving these regional conflicts have not proven successful," Igor Botan, political analyst with the Association for Participative Democracy (ADEPT) in Moldovan capital Chisinau told IPS. "With Romania having to coordinate its actions with NATO and the EU, and Russia on a continuous rise, the best option for Bucharest is to try to exercise influence through the EU."
Romania is seemingly playing a tough game on Kosovo, although it is unclear what it can get out of it. On the other hand, Bulgaria, usually considered more pro-Russian, has kept a neutral stance on the same issue.
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