Allied lawmakers’ visit to Romania shines spotlight on crucial importance of Black Sea security

13 April 2023

Russia’s illegal and unjustified renewed invasion of Ukraine has heightened the Black Sea’s strategic significance in a profoundly reshaped Euro-Atlantic security environment. In the face of Moscow’s aggressiveness and imperialistic ambitions, Allies have substantially strengthened their defence and deterrence capabilities and bolstered their national and collective resilience on the eastern flank, as well as supported Ukraine in its rightful struggle to fend off the invasion and preserve its independence. Romania plays a central role in these adaptation and assistance efforts and acts as a firm and stable anchor for the Alliance in the Black Sea region. 

These were the central messages heard repeatedly by the delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Democracy and Security that visited Bucharest and Constanţa from 4-6 April. The delegation, representing seven NATO member states, was led by Rodrigue Demeuse (Belgium). 

Romania’s contribution to Allied security: An anchor in the Black Sea region

Russia’s senseless decision to brutally attack its peaceful, independent and sovereign neighbour has shifted the centre of gravity of the Alliance towards its south-eastern flank, thereby elevating the strategic importance of both Romania and the Black Sea, said Ioan Mircea Pașcu, professor at the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration. Strikingly, Ukraine’s Snake Island, which Russia briefly seized control of at the start of its invasion, lies only some 45 km off Romania’s coast. Romanian government officials repeatedly expressed their satisfaction at the resulting recognition of the Black Sea as a “region of strategic importance for the Alliance” in the June 2022 NATO Strategic Concept and at the decision taken in Madrid to boost the Alliance’s military presence on its eastern flank.

“The full-fledged brutal war it launched against Ukraine confirmed that Russia is the main persistent threat to European, Euro-Atlantic and regional security. This war poses a significant challenge to NATO and constitutes an attack on the rules-based international order”, emphasized Simona Cojocaru, State Secretary and Head of the Department on Defence Policy, Planning and International Relations at the Ministry of National Defence. Officials hailed the measures taken at the Madrid Summit to bolster Allied defence and deterrence on the eastern flank. “Strengthening forward defence, enhancing our battle groups in the east up to the brigade level, and transforming the NATO Force Structure are decisions that protect Romania and the Black Sea region”, Ms Cojocaru added. 

Since it joined NATO in 2004, Romania has developed the capacity of its armed forces and bolstered their interoperability with other Allied forces. It raised its defence budget to 2.5% of the national GDP following Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine. “Today, Romania has a professional and experienced army which is fully interoperable with Allied forces and provides significant added value through participation in missions, trainings and exercises”, stated Vasile Dîncu, Head of the Romanian Delegation to the NATO PA.

Romania’s geostrategic position makes it a key strategic hub for Euro-Atlantic security. Around 5,000 Allied troops are currently deployed in the country at bases in Constanţa, Cincu, Deveselu and Câmpia Turzii and in command structures in Sibiu, Bucharest, Craiova. Romania also hosts a NATO-accredited Centre of Excellence on Human Intelligence in Oradea. The delegation visited the Mihail Kogălniceanu air base where Romanian, American, Italian and French troops contribute to the efforts to deter Russian aggression and defend Allied air space and territory. 

Romania also plays a key role in guaranteeing security and freedom of movement in the Black Sea. Russia has been undermining both in its unsuccessful efforts to force Ukraine into submission and bring its economy to a standstill, pointed out George Scutaru, CEO of the New Strategy Center. The Romanian navy is engaged in maritime patrolling and in sweeping sea mines, protecting transport and communication lines. These efforts are central to the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative - an agreement brokered by Türkiye and the United Nations that allows for the export of food and fertilizer from three Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea. Some of these shipments are processed and reexported through Romania’s ports. In a discussion between the delegation and students at the Carol I National Defence University, General Eugen Mavriș, rector of the university, urged other NATO nations to support the modernisation and bolstering of Romania’s naval capabilities. In a visit to the military port of Constanţa, Romanian navy officers told the delegation that the Black Sea security environment remains degraded more than 400 days after the start of the aggression against Ukraine with Russia frequently resorting to GPS jamming, warning against navigation through specific areas due to fake snap exercises, and imposing flight restrictions.

Leading by example: Cultivating resilience by countering hybrid threats and strengthening societal cohesion

The need to strengthen national and collective resilience to Russia’s hybrid tactics was also a key theme of the visit. NATO countries must further develop their ability to absorb external shocks, recover as quickly as possible and respond appropriately to their source, urged General Constantin Spînu, head of the Information and Public Relations Directorate at the Ministry of National Defence. Romania is all too familiar with the use by Russia of hybrid warfare strategies and tools, such as disinformation, energy and food weaponisation, and cyber-attacks. In the face of these complex and diverse threats, officials continuously integrate lessons learnt in strategic documents and plans to bolster the nation’s resilience, said General Remus Bondor, head of the Strategic Planning Directorate in the General Defence Staff. 

Romania’s advancement and implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda is a further way to cultivate societal resilience. Ana Cătăuță, member of the Romanian delegation to the NATO PA and Chairperson of the Joint Committee of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies on the relation with UNESCO, told the delegation that Romania has achieved major progress in increasing women’s participation in decision-making bodies and integrating gender perspectives across the security sector. Nicoleta Pauliuc, the first-ever female Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Defence, Public Order and National Security, underlined the importance for both women and men working in politics and defence to raise awareness about the strong link between societal resilience and equal gender participation.

Romania’s unwavering and multidimensional support to Ukraine

Romanian interlocutors reaffirmed Bucharest’s unwavering political support for Kyiv throughout the visit. Iulian Chifu, Security and Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister of Romania, was clear that “Ukraine must win this war. Diplomatic negotiations cannot begin before it does. Otherwise, Russia will use the opportunity to rebuild its military capacity and strike again.” The Romanian authorities have continuously condemned the Kremlin’s criminal actions, called for the toughening of sanctions against Russia and expressed their support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

From the onset of Russia’s renewed invasion, Romania has been extending all the support it could to assist Ukraine and its population, stressed Marcel Ciolacu, President of the Chamber of Deputies. Romania, which shares the longest land and maritime border with Ukraine among all EU and NATO member states, is a major transit country for Ukrainian refugees. Romanians have showed great generosity by assisting around 3.7 million Ukrainians who transited through the country on their way to other European states. Romania continues to host about 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, mainly women and children. They are offered access to education, simplified legal employment procedures, free public transport, medical services and other forms of assistance.

Romania has also mobilised its Black Sea ports as well as its rail and road networks to facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain. The Romanian government has invested tens of millions of euros into infrastructural improvements to enhance the country’s capacity to handle and ease Ukrainian exports. This significant and laudable contribution, which has come at a cost for Romanian farmers and the country’s economy, has helped shore up the Ukrainian economy and prevent a further aggravation of the ongoing global food insecurity crisis. As the largest port on the Black Sea, the Port of Constanţa is at the centre of these efforts. Visiting the port, the delegation learnt that shipment volumes had reached a six-year high in 2022, with about half of that volume made up of agricultural products such as grain, fertilizer and oil. Ukrainian cargoes, primarily grain and seeds, accounted for about a third of the total agricultural shipments. 

In addition, Bucharest sends regular shipments of humanitarian aid to its neighbour to help civilians cope with the suffering caused by Russia’s war of choice.  Romania has also provided critical support to the Republic of Moldova as it grapples with the consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, fends off Moscow’s hybrid attacks aimed at destabilising the country and advances on its European path. In particular, Romania assisted Moldova in strengthening its independence from Russian gas and in coping with the arrival of millions of Ukrainian refugees. Interlocutors were united in calling on other Allies to provide additional assistance to Chișinău. 

Photos of the visit.

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