The Soviet-Romanian Clash over History, Identity and Dominion

By
Larry Watts
Romanian leader Nicolae Ceauşescu (center left) & Leonid Brezhnev (center right)
Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu (center left) & Leonid Brezhnev (center right) on 1 August 1979. Photo courtesy of Fototeca online a comunismului românesc, Photo no. #L115, Digital ID 35276X8X56.
CWIHP e-Dossier No. 29
 

[Click here to jump down to the list of documents below]

The following document collection sheds new light on Moscow’s view of the variety and importance of Soviet-Romanian differences during 1977-1980.[1] Five of the documents are transcripts of briefings given by V. I. Potapov, the chief of the Romanian Sector in the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee Department for Liaison with Ruling Socialist and Workers’ Parties, to the Department for Information and Relations with Foreign Countries of the Moldavian Communist Party Central Committee. These briefings cover the Brezhnev-Ceauşescu discussions held in Crimea in August 1977 and August 1979; discussions between the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister and the Romanian Ambassador in Moscow held in February 1978; discussions between the Romanian Foreign Minister and the Soviet Ambassador held in Bucharest in May and June 1978; discussions between delegations led by the Soviet Foreign Minister with his Romanian counterpart in Bucharest in October 1978; and discussions between the Soviet Central Committee secretary for Liaison with Ruling Socialist and Workers’ Parties and the Romanian Ambassador held in Moscow in April 1979. The other two documents pertain to a discussion between the Soviet Ambassador in Bucharest and the Romanian Communist Party Central Committee Secretary for International Affairs in May 1980.

A central theme running throughout the documents is the often explicit conflict over Romania’s non-class approach to historical studies. Moscow insisted that Romania edit the historical record to remove any references to the fact that most of the territory then comprising the Moldavian SSR had once been part of Romania, that “Moldavians” had once been recognized as Romanians – even by Soviet authorities, and that the “Moldavian” and Romanian languages were one in the same (Document 1, Document 2, Document 3, Document 7)[2]. Soviet authorities maintained that the issue was more important politically than historically, and that failure to conform to the Soviet approach, which “corresponds to the objective conditions of a class approach to history as science,” was in fact an assertion of territorial claims against the USSR (Document 3, Document 7). As the Soviet CC deputy secretary for Liaison with Socialist Countries stated to his Romanian interlocutor:

You affirm that it is an issue of historical scientific study consecrated entirely to the past. We declare to you categorically that it is an issue that has a greater importance as political principle than as history. The Soviet side considers inadmissible the fact that territorial questions long resolved become, under any form – directly or obliquely – the object of discussion (Document 3).

The Romanian side adamantly maintained that it could “in no case accept the thesis which flagrantly contravenes historical truth, that the Romanians and the Moldavians are two different nations [peoples], that the Romanian and Moldavian languages are two different languages.” (Document 1, Document 2, Document 3, Document 4, Document 7). At one point an exasperated Brezhnev insisted that Ceauşescu himself had the opportunity to see that the Moldavians existed as a separate people with a separate language during his 1976 visit. “Yes,” Ceauşescu replied, “I did, but they spoke with me in Romanian.” (Document 1)[3]

Some the techniques by which Moscow employed countervailing Hungarian territorial claims against Romania as proxy in this conflict are also revealed. In 1977, for example:

Stressing the lack of rationale for Romanian insistence regarding the fact that Tsarist Russia illegitimately occupied Romanian lands, Cde. Potapov reminded Cde. N. Ceauşescu that they (the Romanian desires) could give birth to damaging consequences. They could generate desires from other European countries, neighbors of Romania, for the RCP to recognize their desires in similar fashion, as former conquerers had occupied in their time, illegitimately, foreign territories. Cde. Ceauşescu immediately asked: “Whom do you have in mind, the Hungarians?” Cde. Potapov responded that he had no one concrete in mind and that it was useless to stir up the past. (Document 1)

A year later, a member of Romania’s Politburo (Political Executive Committee) responsible for foreign relations drew the attention of his Soviet interlocutor to:

…the university manual, recently edited in Leningrad, [in which] the Union of Transylvania with Romania is presented as the conquering of foreign territory or as recompense made to Romania by the imperialist powers. (Document 3)

At several points the Soviet briefings identify some of the Soviet/Pact conflicts with Romania during the late 1970s and early 1980s, e.g. regarding “halting the arms race and disarmament, European security, implementing the Final Act of the Helsinki Accord, Balkan cooperation, the situation in the Middle East, and in Africa.” (Document 5) Typically, Warsaw Pact meeting documents reference these differences only in summary fashion, noting Romanian opposition against “almost all agenda items” without specifying the precise nature of the items, motivations for the opposition, or argumentation employed by Bucharest in presenting its case.[4] Already by the mid 1960s, the “closely cooperating” socialist states were meeting separately without Romania immediately prior to formal Pact functions.[5] Not infrequently, in these meetings (and in circular communications not shared with Romania) the other non-Soviet members were instructed to avoid discussion or dissemination of Romanian proposals.[6]

As in other documents that have come to light since 1989, Soviet representatives express their conviction that the Romanians and Chinese together sought to create “‘a single international front’ in the struggle against the USSR.” (Document 3, Document 4, Document 5) Indeed, by 1965 Romanian leaders informed the Chinese of their intention to roll-back Soviet control from the other Warsaw Pact armies, in 1968 Beijing unambiguously promised assistance and weapons to Romania in case of a Soviet/Pact invasion, and the PRC extended Romania more than 200 million USD as part of an interest-free loan following devastating floods in 1970.[7] Soviet concern bespoke recognition of this pre-existing Romanian-Chinese partnership – a partnership that US intelligence would not perceive until the early 1970s.[8] Here we are given a glimpse at the sorts of Sino-Romanian military cooperation that had developed in the interim:

[Romania] furnished and continues to furnish China with arms and munitions, including those which it had earlier received from the USSR. In addition, Romania is now building, together with China, a large factory for the fabrication of tanks on the Soviet model, and China is to be furnished annually with three hundred combat vehicles. It has also become known that Romania re-exports to China, through a Japanese firm, pig iron received from the USSR. (Document 4)

More surprising is the Soviet conviction in 1979 and 1980 that Romania was actively “supporting, aligning and exploiting” the line of the US administration, “deviating” towards the US, and even evaluating favorably the activities of President Jimmy Carter. (Document 2, Document 3, Document 4)[9] Romania is further taken to task for refusing to condemn the US and NATO as responsible for international tensions, for treating NATO and the Pact on the same non-class basis, and for refusing to join in “the common project of the communist parties of Europe against the neutron bomb.” (Document 1, Document 2, Document 3, Document 4, Document 5)[10]

Indeed, by 1979 Moscow believed Romania to be America’s – and NATO’s – Trojan horse within the Bloc:

Of great importance here is the tendency of the USA and NATO to strengthen the SRR [Socialist Republic of Romania] in the role of “insubordinate ally” of the USSR, using it in order to undermine the unity of the fraternal countries from inside, for the “loosening” of the political-military union of the socialist states. (Document 4)[11]

According to these documents, Romania was considered a threat to Soviet interests that would only increase over time:

[T]he current Romanian leadership cannot be counted on as a reliable ally – not presently and not, even less so, in the case of a possible worsening of the international situation. We can anticipate that Romania will purposefully continue the line of “equalizing” its relationships with the principal powers that oppose us, in the contemporary world, not only in the political domain, but also in the economic, military, cultural, etc., diminishing, at the same time, real collaboration within the framework of the Warsaw Pact and the CMEA. (Document 4)[12]

In response, Moscow called for more serious pursuit of its policy for entangling Romania in the alliance and trying to limit the damage it caused to Soviet/Pact interests:

1977:   The CPSU CC considers that, at present, there is little probability of anticipating any change in the Romanian position on many problems. Given that, the policy elaborated earlier by the CPSU CC to stop the Romanian comrades from sliding down the slope of anti-Russianism and anti-Sovietism is justified and must be continued, but more insistently, with more calculation, more efficiently, through all means of communication. (Document 1)

1978:   … the USSR and the fraternal allied states seek ways of realizing measures for drawing in the SRR and neutralizing the damaging consequences of its separate foreign policy course for the entire socialist community. (Document 2)

1979:   … we have no basis for anticipating essential changes in the practical policy of the Romanian leadership. The CPSU will continue in the future as well, in perseverant and consequent fashion, to limit the maximum damage that results from the “separate course” of the Romanian leaders to the socialist community. (Document 5)[13]

Soviet concern was not prompted merely by Romania’s refusal to participate in the alliance or by its explicit opposition to Soviet/Pact proposals – even though its non-participation in military measures apparently had “prejudiced the defense efforts of the countries participating in the Pact during times of peace, as well as in case of an armed aggression” (Document 3).[14] Moscow was at least equally preoccupied by Romania’s active fostering of intra-alliance opposition, feeding Kremlin fears of its departure from the Warsaw Pact and its further efforts to create an anti-Soviet Balkan Pact (Document 1, Document 2). More than a decade after Moscow and the “closely cooperating” partners had first expressed fears that Bucharest was seeking to draw other Bloc members (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland) into an anti-Soviet coalition, the CPSU CC specialist stated that: “The Romanian leadership insistently tries to draw to its side, in anti-Soviet actions, the leaderships of Bulgaria, Poland, and the GDR.” (Document 4)[15]

Romania’s reputation as “bad example” evidently rested on these persistent efforts to turn other members of the socialist community against the Kremlin and its policies:

In unofficial discussions with the representatives of some socialist states, the representatives of Romania try to convince them to follow the example of the SRR and to combat together, through joint action, the actions and measures of the USSR within the framework of the CMEA [and] the Warsaw Pact, as well as in many other questions connected with the communist and workers movement and the resolution of a series of problems of international importance. (Document 2)

“Anti-Soviet” activism also characterized Romanian foreign policy outside of the bloc. Potapov repeatedly underscores Romania’s challenge to Soviet policy in the Middle East, principally through its persistent support of Sadat’s direct negotiations with Israel. (Document 2, Document 3, Document 4, Document 5) Also receiving emphasis is Bucharest’s “special policy” in the Horn of Africa, where Romanian authorities criticized Soviet policy and characterized the Soviet-sponsored Cuban military presence in Ethiopia “even as an act of aggression.” (Document 2, Document 3, Document 5)[16] Moscow likewise complained of Romanian policy in Latin America, where Bucharest refused to support Soviet-sponsored operations in Nicaragua, and in Southeast Asia, regarding Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia specifically. (Document 3, Document 4  and Document 5)

One of the more startling revelations here – apart from the explicit nature of the conflict over Moldovan/Moldavian identity – is Romania’s apparent effort to prevent the USSR from establishing a foothold in Iran shortly after the fall of the Shah. According to Potapov’s briefing in May 1979:

It is known that, after the fall of the Shah’s regime in Iran, the Romanian leadership quickly sent there a Moslem delegation from the SRR which, in their meeting with Khomeni, also expressed their approval with regard to the expulsion of American specialists from the country. Meanwhile, the delegation tried to warn Khomeni not to invite specialists of the USSR into Iran, underscoring, at the same time, that the interests of the great powers are all encompassing and do not coincide with the interests of the small and medium-sized countries ” (Document 4)[17]

Also striking is Moscow’s immediately following complaint that Romania had approached Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the USSR in the same sense, advocating policies of an “overtly anti-Soviet character” (Document 4). The timing is suggestive in that a few weeks later Soviet leaders would decide to send disguised commando teams to Kabul for “defense” of the Soviet embassy.[18] The same teams were used in the execution of the Afghan leader and the invasion of Afghanistan that December.

Gauging the reality and seriousness of Romania’s conflict with the Soviet Union – the degree and significance of its “maverick” status within the bloc – was a matter of some debate among Western analysts both before and after 1968. These documents will not resolve that debate. However, Potapov was presumably among the handful of Soviet officials best-informed on Romanian activity within and beyond the Warsaw Pact as head of the Romania sector within the CPSU CC. He consistently describes Romania as seriously threatening significant Soviet and Pact interests, and as likely to do so to an even greater degree in the future.  Taken as a group, these documents indicate that Romania’s defiance of the USSR was rather more consequential and steadfast than the West understood at the time.

Larry L. Watts is Visiting Professor in the Security Studies Masters Program at the University of Bucharest, Romania. He served as security sector reform advisor to Romania’s Presidential Counselor for National Security and to the Romanian Defense Ministry during 1991-2004. He is the author of With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania (2010), which was published in Romanian translation in 2011.

Footnotes
 

[1] These documents were published in Romanian translation by Dr. Gheorghe Negru in “Disputa dintre URSS şi RSR privînd tratarea istoriei relaţiilor ruso- şi soviet-române” [The Dispute Between the USSR and SRR Regarding the Treatment of the History of Russo- and Soviet-Romanian Relations], Destin românesc [Romanian Destiny] (Chişinău), vol. 16, no. 3-4 (2010), pp. 171-207. The previously unpublished Russian-language originals were provided to the author by Dr. Negru, the editor-in-chief of Destin românesc.

[2] The Romanians cited the post-war Great Soviet Encyclopedia to this end. The Comintern’s “Romanian-Bessarabian Initiative Group,” which initiated the creation of a Moldavian republic, at various times acknowledged the Moldavians as “ethnographically” but “not politically” Romanian, and the Moldavian language as “an ancient branch of Romanian.” See the Comintern documents in Gheorghe E. Cojocaru, Cominternul şi originile “moldovenismului” [The Comintern And The Origins of Moldavianism], Chişinău, Editura Civitas, 2009. Russian writers uniformly recognized the Moldavians/Moldovans as Romanian prior to the Bolshevk Revolution.

[3] In June 1976 Bucharest underscored to President Ford that, while it harbored no territorial claims and recognized “the Moldavian Socialist Republic as an integral part of the USSR,” it “cannot accept the idea that Moldavians are not Romanians.” Foreign Relations of the United States, Memorandum of Conversation, Tuesday, June 22, 1976, 3:35-4:05 pm, The White House. The CIA (and most Western analysts) adopted the Soviet perspective, consistently citing “Romanian irredentism over Bessarabia” as an important source of “Soviet-Romanian friction.” See e.g. Anti-Communist Resistance Potential In The USSR And Eastern Europe (NIE 11-66), 27 January 1966, pp. 10-11, www.foia.cia.gov. This did not change after Romania’s official and public assertions to the contrary.

[4] See for example, the documents cited in Anna Locher, “Shaping the Policies of the Alliance: The Committee of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Warsaw Pact, 1976-1990” May 2002, in Records of the Committee of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Parallel History Project, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP), by permission of the Center for Security Studies at ETH Zurich and the National Security Archive at the George Washington.

[5] These exclusionary tactics are noted, for example, in Minutes of the Romanian Party Politburo Meeting, Report on the PCC Meeting by the General Secretary of the PCR (Nicolae Ceauseşcu), 12 July 1966, www.isn.ethz.ch/php (PHP). At that time Romania blocked a Soviet-proposed wartime statute with a counterproposal to reform the Pact in a manner that would diminish Soviet control over the alliance. In an exception to the rule, these proposals are described in Hungarian report on meetings of deputy Foreign Ministers in Berlin and deputy Defense Ministers in Moscow, 12 February 1966, and Hungarian Minutes of Politburo Meeting on Summit [PCC] in Bucharest, 12 July 1966, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP).

[6] To counter this Romania sometimes “leaked” its proposals to the media. See e.g., its 1966 Pact reform proposals in The New York Times, 14-18, 22 May 1966. As late as June 1988, Moscow forbade discussion of Romanian proposals aimed “at changing the existing order by providing for collective decisions on military development and the common use of the armed forces in wartime,” and “weakening the now existing system of the alliance’s military organization.” Romanian Proposal for Warsaw Pact Reform: Information regarding the Romanian Proposal, 8 July 1988 and Resolution of the Bulgarian Party Politburo Concerning the Romanian Proposal for Reform of the Warsaw Pact, 11 July 1988, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP). 

[7] For 1965 see Transcript of Discussions Held with Chinese Communist Party Delegation to the 9th Congress of the Romanian Communist Party, 26 July 1965, ANIC, CC al PCR/Cancelarie, dos. Nr. 105/1965, ff. 2-15; Stenographic Transcript of Ceauşescu-Deng Conversation, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP).  For 1968 see Romulus Burdura, Relaţiile româno-chineze 1880-1974 [Romanian-Chinese Relations: 1880-1974], Bucharest, Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and The National Archives, 2005, Documents 314-316, pp. 901-905; and James Hershberg, Sergey Radchenko, Péter Vámos, and David Wolff, “The Interkit Story: A Window into the Final Decades of the Sino-Soviet Relationship,” CWIHP Working Paper #63, February 2011, pp. 56-61.

[8] As late as 1971 the CIA’s sinologists were convinced that Chinese-Romanian relations “were only moderately better than with other East European Communists.” Intelligence Report: The International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party, December 1971, POLO XLIV, pp. v, 14-17, 20, CIA. This conclusion was adopted in post-Cold War studies as well. For example, the Sino-Romanian relationship is described as “not particularly warm” in Mircea Munteanu, "The Beginning of the End of Détente: The Warsaw Pact Political Consultative Committee meeting in Moscow, November 22-23, 1978," CWIHP e-Dossier No. 24.

[9] Bucharest was involved in a clandestine operation whereby Romania provided the United States with Soviet military technology during the same period in which Moscow complained of Sino-Romanian military cooperation. The first delivery arrived at a US Naval facility in July 1979, and the operation continued to run until December 1989. Benjamin Weiser, “Ceausescu Family Sold Soviet Military Secrets to U.S.,” The Washington Post, 6 May 1990; Michael Wines, “U.S. Used Romania To Get Soviet Arms,” The New York Times, 7 May 1990.

[10] Earlier, in 1964-1965, the Romanian leadership used a variety of arguments to prevent the Pact’s public condemnation of US plans for the Multilateral Nuclear Force in Europe. Speech by the Romanian Head of State (Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej), 19 January 1965, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP). Bucharest likewise refused to condemn the placement of US Pershing missiles during the “Euromissile” crisis of the 1980s.

[12] Romania was regularly accused of “treason” by Moscow and loyalist allies from 1968. See e.g., Record of the Meeting Between Leonid Brezhnev and East European Party Leaders in the Crimea, 2 August 1971, pp. 40-43, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP); Vojtech Mastny, “The Warsaw Pact As History” in Vojtech Mastny and Malcom Byrne, editors, A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991, Budapest, Central European Press, 2005, p. 42. Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski notes that Moscow instructed the Polish military leadership not to provide sensitive Warsaw Pact data to Romania because it was sharing it with the West. Benjamin Weiser, A Secret Life: The Polish Colonel, His Covert Mission, And The Price He Paid To Save His Country, New York, Public Affairs, 2005, pp. 151-152, 178.

[13] The same policy was described in identical terms by the GDR’s Embassy in Bucharest five years earlier.  See Analysis of Romanian-Chinese Relations by the East German Embassy in Bucharest, 18 December 1972, p. 2, www.php.isn.ethz.ch (PHP).  

[14] Romania’s obstruction of an anti-aircraft defense system, an integrated communication system, and a coordinated naval defense were criticized in the Kuklinski reports of the late 1970s-early 1980s. See the CIA’s Wartime Statute – Instrument of Soviet Control collection, at http://www.foia.cia.gov/wartime-statutes.asp.

[15] These coalition-building efforts are discussed in Larry L. Watts, With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc’s Clandestine War Against Romania, Bucharest, Military Publishing House, 2010, pp. 300-1 and 499-500.

[16] Romania also supported the US (and Chinese) client against the Soviet client in Angola, and criticized Cuban “assistance” in identical terms, since 1974. Raymond L. Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, New York, Transaction, 1994, p. 558. This support included military advisers, a rarity for Romania. Odd Arne Westad, “Moscow and the Angolan Crisis, 1974-1976: A New Pattern of Intervention,” CWIHP Bulletin, nos. 8-9 (Winter 1996), pp. 25, 31 [pdf]. See also Watts (2010), pp. 650-651.

[17] The hardball nature of the Soviet-Romanian conflict in the developing world had been described by Romanian Deputy Prime Minister Emil Bodnaraş to the US Ambassador several years earlier: “the Soviets had gone so far as to dog the steps of Romanian commercial representatives in Arab countries (and in Latin America) and deliberately underbid them, even to the point of giving away free goods and services.” US State Department Memorandum of Conversation between Emil Bodnaras, Vice President Romanian Council of State, and Harry G. Barnes, American Ambassador to Romania, US Embassy, Bucharest, 17 May 1974, CWIHP Digital Archive, www.cwihp.org.

[18] In this regard, the characterization of former KGB foreign intelligence chief Leonid Sherbashin that the decision to invade Afghanistan was motivated by Kremlin fears that its leader might “pull a Sadat on us” is, at least, interesting. Romania had encouraged/advised the Egyptian leader to reducing Soviet military influence over his country, and Sherbashin was the KGB resident in Tehran at the time of Romania’s “anti-Soviet” approaches to Ayatollah Khomeni and the Afghan ambassador in 1979. Odd Arne Westad, “Concerning the Situation in ‘A’: New Russian Evidence on the Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, no. 8/9, (Winter 1996),  p. 130, [pdf]. For Ceausescu-Sadat discussions see Mircea Munteanu, “CWIHP Launches New Middle East Initiative,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, no. 16, (2008) pp. 541-543 [pdf].

 
 

[Click here to return to the introduction by Larry Watts]

Documents originally published in Romanian translation in Destin românesc (Chişinău), 2010. The previously unpublished Russian-language originals were provided to Larry Watts by Dr. Gheorghe Negru, the editor-in-chief of Destin românesc.

Document 1

"Summary of the Meeting and Negotiations held by L. I. Brezhnev with N. Ceausescu in Crimeea," 5 August 1977

 

Document 2:

"Exposition of the Conversations with Cde. V. I. Potapov, Chief of the Romanian Sector of the CPSU CC," 27 June 1978

 

Document 3:

"Conspect of Conversations with V. I. Potapov, Chief of Romanian Sector of CPSU CC Section," 27 October 1978

 

Document 4:

"Conspect of Conversations with Cde. V. I. Potapov, Head of the Romania Sector of the CPSU CC Section," 16 May 1979

 

Document 5:

"Information Regarding the Meeting and Conversation in the Crimea of L. I. Brezhnev with N. Ceausescu," 1 August 1979

 

Document 6:

"CC of Communist Party of Moldavia Information and Relations with Foreign Countries Section," 14 April 1980

 

Document 7:

"Record of Conversation with V. Cazacu, Member of the RCP CC Political Executive Committee," 12 March 1980

 

Upcoming Events

From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee in the Cold War

September 05, 2014 // 9:00amSeptember 06, 2014 // 6:00pm

Experts & Staff