How Russia and Romania defend their citizens abroad. IPN debate

Moldovan society, which is already fragmented, is also marked by the different attitude towards the war of aggression that has been waged by the Russian Federation against neighboring Ukraine, which also affects the Republic of Moldova considerably. In this regard, a part of Moldovan society has expressed great concern about what can happen to the Republic of Moldova in case of a major success of the Russian army in the Odessa and Nikolaev regions, which would open a direct way not only to the Transnistrian region, but also to the Republic of Moldova as a whole. A certain response to these concerns was glimpsed in recent days, when another neighboring country, Romania, announced its intention to examine a legal possibility to come to the aid of its citizens settled abroad, therefore, also in the Republic of Moldova, in case of “God forbid”! However, almost expectedly, another part of Moldovan society and political class became concerned, regarding this intention as a threat, as an alleged “military intervention”. And this happens when everyone in our country knows that particular states have practiced the “defense of citizens settled abroad” for decades, and the case of the Russian Federation is one of the best known. The legality of defending the citizens living abroad, the reasons, goals and effects of these policies, the affinities and differences existing between the two states in this field were among the issues discussed by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate “How Russia and Romania defend their citizens abroad”.

According to the permanent expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan, the notion of citizenship represents the legal relations established between an individual and the state, expressing affiliation with the state of which this person is a citizen. Both the citizen and the state mutually have obligations and rights.

“According to national and international legal norms, on the territory of another state, a citizen of a state benefits from the defense and protection of the state of which he/she is a citizen. Under normal conditions, protection when necessary is achieved through diplomatic missions. So, the citizens of a state abroad are persons who are under the jurisdiction and protection of the host state, but, if necessary, they also benefit from the support of the state whose citizens they are,” explained the expert.

Igor Boțan also referred to the procedure of publicly debating draft laws like the one that generated discussions in Moldova. “It is a document at an advanced stage of the process of decisional transparency, after it passed the initiation phase based on arguments regarding the need for such a bill to become law. The second phase is the drafting of the document by the specialized institution, with the participation of experts in the field. The third phase consists in public debates, when the bill is subject to analysis by all the interested and concerned subjects. At this stage, the bill is analyzed from all points of view, especially from the point of view of conflicting interests. After public debates and consideration of pros and cons, the draft law will be submitted to Parliament or Government for endorsement, in accordance with the legal procedures.

Foreign policy expert Mihai Isac said the public debates organized by the Ministry of Defense in Bucharest on the bill that enables Romania to protect its citizens abroad sparked uproar in the online space, including in the Republic of Moldova. And there is a lot of speculation, fake news about this bill. “First of all, this document that was proposed for public debate comes to respond to the new realities in which Romania finds itself. The legislation in the field was adopted in the 1990s. And this legislation, at this moment, doesn’t take into account Romania’s status as a member of the European Union, its NATO membership status or the new geopolitical realities. This legislation is not a threat to Moldova. No one in Bucharest will come to invade the Republic of Moldova and this must be understood by the citizens of the Republic of Moldova. Romania is a member of the EU and NATO and cannot have an aggressive policy towards the Republic of Moldova,” said the expert.

According to him, paragraph 4 of Article 4 of the bill caused an uproar. It goes to the provision by which theprime minister is empowered to ask the President of Romania, who is the commander of the army, to order the dispatch of troops to rescue the Romanian citizens abroad who are in danger. “We must understand that the language of this bill will change. It is discussed at public debates. There are national and international experts working alongside parliamentary groups in the bicameral Parliament in Bucharest to improve this legislative package,” noted Mihai Isac. He also said that this bill comes alongside other legislative initiatives to complement the doctrine of defense not only of citizens within Romania, but also of Romanian citizens abroad.

According to the expert, the Romanian authorities’ attempt to provide, inclusively, a definition of what “hybrid war: means is obvious. As, Romania, as well as the Republic of Moldova, is the target of this type of war launched by the Russian Federation against the West.

“The legislative package that the Romanian Parliament will adopt will meet all the international standards in this field. This legislative package is designed to optimize the command and response structure of the Romanian authorities when crisis situations happen, because this legislative package exhaustively enumerates all the categories of forces that can be involved in such operations. We are also talking about firefighters and the forces of the Ministry of Interior, the forces of the intelligence services. Also, there are certain provisions that oblige economic agents to support the actions of the Romanian state in this regard. For the first time after 30 years, attempts are being made to implement a mechanism to respond as quickly as possible to save the Romanian citizens,” stated Mihai Isac.

In his opinion, the propaganda and falsehoods spread by Russia try to present the bill as an intention by the Romanian army to invade the Republic of Moldova. “That’s not the case. Of course, Romania will respond in different forms to any attempts by the Russian Federation to attack the Republic of Moldova and, implicitly, the hundreds of thousands of Romanian citizens in the Republic of Moldova. This legislative package is not something unique for Romania. If we look attentively, the United States, France, Italy have different legislative packages and their interpretation provides an internal legal basis for the use of armed forces or internal security forces in external theaters of operations. France, for example, carried out practically every few years massive operations to evacuate its own citizens in different theaters of operations, such as Lebanon,” said the foreign policy expert.

Radu Burduja, director of the Euro-Atlantic Institute for Building Resilience, a former state secretary of the Ministry of Defense, believes that amidst the current division in Moldovan society – pro-East versus pro-West, pro-Russian versus pro-European – these camps are trying to exploit such topics as the legislative initiative discussed in Bucharest. Namely the pro-Russian side is trying to misinform, cause fuss and continue to spread fear, while the pro-European side looks more calmly at these things. “Even the reaction of the Moldovan authorities, which said that this package of laws is welcome, but they will calmly follow the developments. As Romania has been consistent in helping the Republic of Moldova in this crisis that started as a result of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine, but also in other crises,” noted Radu Burduja.

In his opinion, the legislative package proposed by the Romanian authorities is based on several reasons, including the fact invoked by the minister of defense of Romania, who said that he doesn’t have the necessary levers and tools to counter possible threats. However, this initiative has considerably stirred up spirits inside the pro-Russian segment, which always supports the narratives propagated by Russia. “I think they look in the mirror and see the consistency of the actions of the Russian Federation in such cases, which militarized this notion of “compatriots” used with regard to particular citizens who settled abroad. And it used it to pursue its foreign policy. But it eventually established full influence over regions in a number of countries and generated separatist spirits and, ultimately, separatism and conflict. It even went as far as annexing those territories,” noted the former state secretary.

“If we return to the use of this concept that was created on the basis of that federal law on compatriots, which was approved in the Russian Federation in 1999, this concept describes these mechanisms, how the citizens of the Russian Federation integrate into Western societies. But the law doesn’t stipulate the very ultimate goal of this integration, influences that are agreed at the political level, under the pretext of defending the rights of Russian citizens. And here we have seen how these mechanisms work in different countries – in Georgia, in Ukraine, earlier also in the Republic of Moldova – in the Transnistrian region,” said Radu Burduja.

In his view, the legislative package proposed in Romania is part of the phenomenon of awakening of the European Union, following the aggression of the Russian Federation in Ukraine. “For example, French President Macron’s assertions that France is willing to send its troops to the territory of Ukraine to defend its interests, to defend the citizens of Ukraine. And he also mentioned the Republic of Moldova. We see here particular actions on the part of Romania, which was also affected by this shock,” said the director of the Euro-Atlantic Institute for Building Resilience.

According to him, these things are welcome and for the Republic of Moldova they do not represent a danger. “Romania has always acted within the legal framework and within the existing agreements – bilateral and international. It has always been a good and strategic friend of the Republic of Moldova. Romania is part of NATO and the EU. In this connection, it is part of particular arrangements at multilateral level. And I thus believe that for the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, there is no reason for concern,” noted Radu Burduja.

The public debate entitled “How Russia and Romania defend their citizens abroad” was the 304th installment of IPN’s project “Developing political culture through public debates”, which is implemented with the support of the German Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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