15 August 2012, 22:31

Traian Basescu: exclusive interview with the Voice of Russia

Romania does not see Russia as a threat. President Traian Basescu in an interview to The Voice of Russia spoke about Russian-Romanian relations, commented on Romania’s NATO membership as well as the prospects of the European missile defense shield, and Romania’s economy.

Your Excellency, thank you for this opportunity to visit and talk to you.  

Thank you for coming to Bucharest.  

I am particularly grateful to the Romanian Embassy in Moscow for their help in organizing my trip to Romania.  

Your Excellency, one of the reasons we asked for an interview with you was your reaction to an article published by the Voice of Russia, when you said – let me quote you – “I am calling on the media for the last time to stop confusing people. I’ve seen many analysts, including professors, and many journalists who have been very consistent in adopting and following the instructions they received through the Voice of Russia radio station.” 

That’s right. Your radio station is engaged in a misinformation campaign, at least that’s true for your Romanian webpage. Moreover, you said you are a state-run news source that focuses on providing correct information. I think I was right in my evaluation and I’d like to give a couple of examples to maintain my position. On July 24, you said: The Voice of Russia must stress that the suspended president was supported by European governments as he was an advocate of anti-debt austerity measures imposed by Germany. On the same day, July 24, you also said that the Romanian president was lobbying American interests. That amounts to two lies in one day. And there were more. On July 31, your radio station claimed that a deal between the Romanian president and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban granted territorial autonomy to the regions with a predominance of Hungarian population. That’s yet another lie voiced by your radio station. You also alleged that the European People's Party (EPP) warranted the autonomy of the Szekler Land [territories inhabited mainly by the Székely, a subgroup of the Hungarian people living mostly on the Romanian territory]. Another untruthful report published on August 6 accused Romania of issuing passports for Moldavians on orders from the dismissed president to boost his electorate. I could name a number of other articles, and I believe it would be right to let me elaborate on those topics too.  

That’s what we had in mind. We wanted to learn your opinion on the issues mentioned in our materials.  

Thank you very much. I want to make it clear that I do differentiate between a radio station – even a state-run one – and the government subsidizing it. I don’t think that the aforementioned standpoints reflect the official stance. These are the opinions of certain journalists, even though they have been hired by the government. As for the allegation that I’m advocating the Germany-backed austerity measures I’ll point out the following simple truth: when we adopted austerity policies in 2010, we had no money to pay salaries to the public workers. There was an immense deficit of pension funds, which now amounts to €3.600 million. Another problem that we faced was the reluctance of global markets to lend us any money due to a profound macroeconomic imbalance in Romania. As a result, we were forced to take certain unilateral measures, which were never imposed on us by Germany or any other country. We had no other choice. I told the nation that these measures were temporary and we would return to the previous pensions and salaries as soon as possible.  

I can also break down for you the reasons behind an overly emotional reaction on the part of Europe, America and Canada. Romania has pledged to uphold democratic values, with the principle of law-abidance being an important platform for our cooperation with European and NATO countries. Europe showed such a strong reaction not because we refused to adopt austerity measures but rather because the parliamentary majority failed to adhere to the law. The second accusation concerned my lobbying of American interests. I want to make it clear that, though Romania has been stepping up national security, this policy has never been aimed at Russia. Today, we don’t believe that the Russian Federation could pose threat to the Romanian national security. However, there is a considerable risk posed by the nations who have been reluctant to adhere to international law and we are aware of their presence in the Middle East and close to Romania. We are also aware that some terrorist organizations are striving to lay their hands on military technologies, including missiles, which would threaten the territory of Romania. If you have a look at the map, you’ll see how close Romania is to the terror risk zone or the countries that have been advancing their nuclear programs and boosting their medium and long-range missile technologies beyond the allowed levels. We are focusing, first and foremost, on our own national security, not on that of the United States. I’d like to underline a positive trend: we always try to find common goals with our NATO and EU partners. Not all our goals coincide with those of our allies. But once a common goal appears we do our best to reach it. Take, for instance, our stand on Kosovo. You know, of course, that our stance on this matter is opposite to that of our allies – and, I would say, similar to that of Moscow. So, everyone is free to take their own decisions. But when we found a partner with similar security objectives – which is the United States – we agreed to deploy missile shield elements on the Romanian soil.  

…which is against Russia’s interests.  

Russia has been given guarantees that these missiles are not holding it in the crosshairs. And let me stress one thing: there will be 24 interceptor missiles deployed in Romania. And how many does the Russian Federation have? 

Russia has more missiles but…  

So, what’s the matter? It’s clear that we are protecting ourselves against terror attacks from the state with a more modest missile stockpile, not against Russia, which has thousands of missiles. What use are 24 missiles against the Russian arsenal? What politician would think that 24 missiles are enough to protect his or her country from Russia? It’s all baby talk. Your suspicion has no ground even from the technical point of view.  

Romania is a NATO member state, hosting elements of the American anti-missile shield. In this sense, Romania is a link in this complex missile defense system, and Russia is viewing it as a whole, including the ABM elements in Romania, Poland, Turkey, Spain etc.  

Just to make it clear, are you speaking on behalf of the Russian Federation?  

No, I’m speaking on my own behalf. As a journalist. I’m not in the position to speak on behalf of the Russian Federation.  

I see. I can speak on behalf of Romania.  

That’s why the Russian government has multiple times demanded written guarantees that none of the anti-missile shield elements are targeting it. Russia has requested written guarantees but only got oral assurances instead. Russia believes that the ABM system is fundamentally an American system. Frankly speaking, its deployment serves American interests, which means that the countries hosting elements of its missile shield are probably doing it in their own interests but it still plays into the hands of the United States. 

You know very well that I am not an opponent of the United States. On the contrary, I am the United States’ friend. And even if you did not know this, now you should know that I have never been an opponent of the Russian Federation. And I would very much like to set aside the issues which we cannot cooperate on, and find some other matters, cooperation on which is possible. There are a lot of such matters. I believe that there are a lot of areas for interaction. I’ve been the President for eight years now. And Russian firms own almost all steel production in Romania. At least, the special steels production is in the hands of Russian investors. Russian investors own all aluminum production. Russian investors own oil-refining plants in Romania. And Russian investors also own areas of the Black sea, where natural gas and oil are being produced. It seems to me that you as a journalist will agree that we have been an honest partner of the Russian Federation for a long time, and that our interests do not suffer. Now let me return to your answer about a comprehensive missile defense system. No matter how hard I’ve tried to judge these matters from your point of view, it is very difficult for me to agree that missile defense constitutes a threat to the Russian Federation. You may have one approach to the Americans, we have another. Being the head of the Romanian state, I must first of all take care of Romania’s security. And these 24 anti-missile missiles are essential for protecting Romania from any terrorist attack, or from any state that wants to attack the NATO countries. Why is this important? Romania possesses nuclear reactors, there are chemical enterprises in Romania and a lot of other objects; and a missile attack on these objects on the part of a country or a terrorist organization would lead to a catastrophe. But once again, I repeat, we have never believed that 24 missiles could protect us against Russia. And there is one more argument. NATO maintains a constant dialogue with the Russian Federation. NATO-Russian Federation summits are held in the course of almost every NATO summit.

 With the exception of the Chicago summit...  

President Putin did not come to Chicago, but he was present in Bucharest. And it was a successful summit. And President Medvedev took part in the summit in Lisbon, when it was decided to create the ABM system. President Medvedev was sitting next to me, because both our countries’ names start with the letter "R" - Russia, Romania. He was on my left, and I was on his right, and we discussed it together. Of course, we did not have the same point of view. But I can say that there was little difference. And Russia is NATO’s partner, not an enemy. 

That's why, I think, the Russian Federation is surprised by the fact that NATO and Romania are deploying the missile defense system on this territory. 

 But it is not directed against Russia, it is too weak to be targeted at the Russian territory. I'm talking about the components located on the territory of Romania.  

You’ve mentioned terrorist states and organizations. Can you name any terrorist organization or state that threatens NATO and Romania?  

No, I will not do that. But you know perfectly well that there are states that develop nuclear programs and refuse to abide by the Vienna Agency. And in addition, I will tell you as a friend: it will be hard for you, a journalist from the Russian Federation, to convince me that you are not aware of what a terrorist risk means. There were terrorist acts on the territory of the Russian Federation, and on the territory of the United States, I don't even want to recall them, but there were serious terrorist acts there. Terrorist organizations act on the territory of Europe, too. And we, politicians, assume that there is a risk that sooner or later terrorist organizations will have nuclear weapons at their disposal. Who can guarantee us, Russia, the USA, or Europe that it will never happen? Can you? 

Are you suggesting that terrorist states and organizations are going to deliver a missile attack on Romania or other countries?  

No, not at Romania. Such an organization can deliver a strike at the Cernavodă nuclear reactor, or at a chemical plant, or both. Yes, a missile attack. And are we as politicians not obliged to be ready for such a risk? Who thought that the events of September 11th in the United States were possible? But it happened. Who thought that terrorists could seize the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow?  

Excuse me; I will correct you - the Dubrovka Theater Center.  

I'm sorry. Who thought it was possible? When acts of terrorism took place in our country, we did not think that it was possible, but they have occurred. I believe that we should all feel our responsibility. I want you to know, as far as our relations with the Russian Federation are concerned, our conscience is clear regarding those 24 anti-missile missiles. Moscow has never asked us: why? We could give a more complete and more technically correct explanation than I am giving you now.  

That is, could Romania give an explanation?  

Yes, we could explain our point of view, the point of view of Bucharest. 

And how would you explain to Russia, why does Romania need these anti-missile missiles?  

Just the way I have explained it to you now. But, if you wish, I can repeat from the beginning.  

I would like to ask another question.  

Please.  

South Stream.  

No, you know, there is one more thing that I should answer. According to your statements, there is an agreement between the President of Romania and Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary. I’ll put it very simply. How can you believe that the President-elect is able to sell his country? How can you believe in it? This is the most offensive of your assertions. The Romanians would not have elected a President, who would have betrayed them. How can you believe that the Romanian President would give autonomy to a part of the territory bypassing the Constitution? What do you think is happening in Transnistria now? It is impossible. And I think that the Voice of Russia owes me an apology at least for this statement. I believe that it will be honest. This is too much even for an independent newspaper, or independent radio station.  

I would like to ask you in the open: Did Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban really support you during the referendum?  

His appeal was in my favor; traditionally Viktor Orban and I support each other during elections. I also recommended that the Romanians in Hungary - the Hungarian citizens of Romanian origin - should vote for the Fidesz at the last elections. Besides, my relationship with Viktor Orban is not confined to politics only: both our countries have encountered problems while preparing to enter NATO, and while preparing to enter the European Union. And we helped each other. And there is something more to this. Regardless of the party, which stays at the helm of the government in Budapest, we as the former Communist countries have similar problems. So, it is natural that we support each other. Both Viktor Orban and I belong to the same European political family. But the problem between me and the Voice of Russia remains. Despite these relations, there is one fact. How dare you suppose that the President-elect carries out some transactions contradicting the interests of Romania for the sake of votes? You stand heavily in my debt. That is life. 

Well, as soon as we have touched upon the territorial issue, I would like to ask you about the fact that you have already mentioned - the passports. I mean Romanian passports, which are distributed in Ukraine and Moldova. Do such things really happen? Are those passports handed to persons of Romanian nationality in Moldova and in Ukraine?  

Yes, that is really so. And I must tell you that I’ve come forward with an initiative of amending the law on citizenship. And I’ll tell you, why. I believe that the citizens of Romania and the citizens of the Republic of Moldova are one and the same nation. But we live in two independent states. The citizens of the Republic of Moldova had a problem. The matter was that nobody had asked them whether they wanted to abandon the Romanian citizenship after the Second World War. Members of our families live on the different banks of the Prut River. And now, after we entered the European Union, citizens of Moldova need a visa to come to Romania. You should remember that at the time, when both we and the Russian Federation were in the Communist bloc, citizens of the Republic of Moldova visited Romania without a visa. And it would have been very difficult for us not to find a solution. So we changed the law on citizenship, and announced that all those who have lost the Romanian citizenship against their own free will, had the right to get it back on request. Of course, there are two different situations: the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova allows dual citizenship, but in Ukraine it is not allowed. For this reason, there are almost no requests from Ukraine, and there are more requests from the Republic of Moldova. But we were thinking, first of all, not about the citizens of Moldova in general, but about the youth of the Republic of Moldova. For example, tuition fee for Romanian citizens at any University on the territory of the European Union is lower. And then we said to ourselves: Why cannot the younger generation of the Republic of Moldova use this privilege? Therefore, we have also increased the number of scholarships from 200 to 5000, aiming at creating conditions for the young generation’s faster integration with Europe. They only need to decide what they are going to do next. And we, as the motherland of these children, have a moral obligation to create these conditions. Thus, we don't use them in order to increase the electorate, but we give them a chance.

Do you believe that Romania and Moldavia should become one state? 

No, we are two independent states. But I believe that the Republic of Moldova should become EU member. And then the borders between our countries will be history, because the citizens of the European Union have the freedom of movement between the EU countries. Thus our goal supported by all of the EU is for the Republic of Moldova to become a member of the European Union, if it wants to.

We do not force the issue, because we cannot. 

You've mentioned the Prut River. Previously you have talked about this, last year you explained that if you had to make a decision whether the Romanian troops should cross the Prut, you would have supported that decision if it had been in 1941 when the Romanian troops were on the German side. 

If we were in 1941, but we are not in 1941. We are in 2012 and it is impossible now. 

But you think that back then such a decision would have been correct? 

History will be the judge for all the decisions. And everybody has his own opinion about the history. I personally as somebody who has studied the history of my country can say that Marshal Antonescu was wrong not to stop at the Dniester River. I know very well that the fact that we crossed the Dniester was Romania's biggest mistake during World War II. I also know that when reality proved them wrong, our leaders united with your leaders and went together all the way to Berlin. It means that Romania tried to protect its territorial integrity during both stages of WWII. And perhaps to get a better understanding one has to look at out history. Our country has developed between three super powers: to the East it was mother Russia, to the South was the Ottoman Empire and to the West – the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And all our history is marked by the fight to preserve our national territory. And in that sense, you have to better understand Romania's point of view like we try to understand Russia's approach. Perhaps neither side quite understands their own goals. But since we are trying to divide up the Black Sea, would not it be better if everybody stayed in their own home – one side in Moscow, and the other in Bucharest? 

Your Excellency, can I ask you a few questions about Romania’s internal situation? Do you believe that you will get back to the Presidential Palace? 

Only the Constitutional Court can make that decision. I cannot comment on that until the Constitutional Court makes a decision. Despite all the talks that I want to influence that decision. 

If you remain president, what would happen to your political opponents? Let's take Prime Minister Victor Ponta who is acting president instead of Crin Antonescu? 

There is a mechanism of joint co-existence in the state of Romania. I can tell you, and perhaps you already know, that there has been an impeachment initiated by the same socialist parties… 

In 2007, right.

Back then it was perhaps too early to learn how to co-exist together. But now one cannot fail to apply it. In the end, let's take the constitutional order that we have with the president being elected for a 5-year term while the parliament for 4-year term. It is hard to make sure that the president always has the majority. The state of Romania as well as its politicians must learn how to manage the interests of the country also in such circumstances of joint co-existence. In other words, there can be a president with centre-right views co-existing with a centre-left government.

Would Victor Ponta remain prime minister in the event of your return to the office? 

President can only appoint the prime minister, but not fire him. Only the parliament can do that. And since Victor Ponta is supported by the parliamentary majority, I believe that the parliament would not fire him.

But people say that what happened to the former Prime Minister Adrian Năstase was a political reprisal, a public execution…

I will ask you this; do you think that in Romania the head of the state would damage his reputation by demanding this or that verdict from the courts of Justice? I can assure you that he would not. It was a judicial decision. And I believe that any final decision of Justice should be accepted. I am sure that in the Russian Federation prominent politicians or the president cannot give orders to courts. Thus, one cannot talk about political reprisal in Romania.

In the course of this conversation we also discussed that you and your colleagues, the heads of East-European countries, are a product of Communist past. And in Romanian press in the English language editions (unfortunately, I do not speak the Romanian and have to read the English language versions) you are compared to Nicolae Ceauşescu. How do you like that comparison?

Yes, I am aware of that. A few journalists have done that. But I think they were not honest. Let me give you this argument. Ceauşescu built and enforced communism. And I absolutely condemned communism and denounced it as being a criminal and illegal regime. I did that in my report that I signed and read in front of the parliament. That’s what makes me different from Ceauşescu. He was true to communism. And I declared communism to be criminal and illegal.

There have been some publications by an American writer called Podesta, (White House deputy chief of staff under President Bill Clinton - Editor), who made a statement that you had been connected to the secret service of the Ceauşescu’s regime.

 

No, I was not. I had no ties to the secret service. And who is that American Podesto?

I will show you his publications.

As a rule, lots of people in Romania say a lot, express their opinions, but have no proof. I am the head of the state who made public all of the archives of the Securitate, all of the two million two hundred thousand cases that on my orders were handed over to the organizations that study them now. But in December 2004 I became president. If there were a dossier for me, it would have been made public in 1990. It means that about us, leaders who were born before the revolution, one can say whatever he wants. For example, one of the arguments brought up by those who said that I had been with the Securitate was the fact that when I was a very young man I ran the largest ship in Romania. It was a 157,000 DWT tanker ship.

Do you mean that story about the French port?

It does not matter. I would gladly recall how I ran into two Russian vessels of the same size in the Bosporus. Those were Kuzbass and Krymbass. They were a bit smaller. My tanker was 306 m in length, while the Russian ships were 300 meters each. And my ship was faster because it had a diesel engine, while the Russian ships had steam turbine engines. And I had a friendly relationship with the two Russian captains, because we ran into each other very often. For us it was the largest tanker, and for the Soviet Union those were its largest ships. They were always loaded in Novorossiysk. And that story spread around – people said that I could have never been captain of such a ship if I weren’t with the Securitate. It is stupid to make such statements. Because nobody would let a person run such a ship only because the Securitate was behind. I was very young. And those ships as well as airplanes during communism nobody received as a favor.

Having talked about the oil, I want to ask you about the gas as well, about the "South Stream".

Is this the last question?

Yes, this is the last question. What is your position, Romania's position regarding the South Stream project?

We support the version of the South Stream project that is supported by the EU. And we are a part of the EU. Thus, for us the Nabucco project is a priority. We are taking part in that project; Romania owns 16% of the project. But we will never be against the South Stream project. And when we received an offer from Russia to make the first exploration tests in Romania’s economic zone, our answer was positive. But we are a part of the European energy policy. For how long the Russian Federation sell its natural gas to us – directly or via intermediaries – taking into account that there is a Gazprom pipeline going through the territory of our country. Of course, the Russian Federation is our partner, and we offered Gazprom an opportunity to set up its underground gas storage facility on the Romanian territory. The issue became especially acute when there were problems with Ukraine. We preserve our wish to remain Gazprom’s partner. And when you want to find out something about Romania, please contact me directly, and not the Romanian press.

Agreed.

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