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The spy in the sky – Romania in Ukrainian airspace

April 24, 2016

The 23rd April saw the 25th anniversary of Hobart Earle as conductor of the Odessa Philharmonic and also Prokofiev’s 125th birthday.  Ergo the evening of 22nd April saw a passionate performance of Rachmaninoff’s 3rd by the fabulous Vazgen Vartanian, followed by the Odessa Philharmonic paying due homage to Prokofiev by way of the Scythian Suite in all its pagan glory.

Such events always draw an erudite and educated audience, among which happened to be the Romanian Consular General.  Such occasions are hardly conducive to a private chat regarding Black Sea security issues, but they are conducive to arranging such things.

Clearly security in and around the Black Sea is a matter that concerns both Ukraine and Romania as well as many others – and naturally Odessa features prominently.

Indeed the Ukrainian President has just returned from an official visit to Bucharest – one of far too few visits.

Undeniably Ukrainian and Romanian relations could and should be far better than they currently are across every sphere of life.  That said the meeting of the two national leaders in Bucharest was not without results – for why meet otherwise?

Long has this blog, albeit occasionally, mentioned the continued espionage activities of Ukraine in Romania and Romania in Ukraine.  There are occasional jailings, such as those in 2010 of two alleged Ukrainian spooks in Romania, but generally such business is carried out as it should be – discreetly.

The Moldavian SIS, Romanian SIE and Ukrainian SBU do what all neighbours do – engage in espionage against each other.  They also do so over common interests, or perhaps better stated, common ground – that of Transnestria – which holds within concerns for them all.

Events after EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity in 2014, and the appearance of Potemkin “Bessarabian” groups in Odessa Oblast hostile to the authorities in Kyiv, Ukrainian unity, and enjoying clear support from the Kremlin and swivel-eyed political loons from Bulgaria and Moldova, are not just a Ukrainian concern.

Both Moldova and Romania will want to poke around within and without such entities and the local communities they seek to influence, as well as remain aware of local Kremlin subterfuge, espionage. This notwithstanding  any military and spook activity within the Transnistrain enclave.

That is the nature of things.  It is to be, and is, expected – particularly so when the SBU as of the time of writing admits to still having only re-vetted about 50% of its staff since Kremlin shenanigans were taken to an entirely new kinetic level in 2013/14 and beyond.

That there remains a significant degree of Kremlin infiltration should be taken for granted.  Indeed after numerous vetting sweeps through all Ukrainian institutions, let alone a half completed sweep of the SBU, it should still be taken for granted that Kremlin infiltration remains.  Infiltration should always be taken for granted.

No doubt the CI people in Romania, Moldova, and all the post-Warsaw Pact nations (and beyond) would admit that they too remain infiltrated by the Kremlin some 25 years after the collapse of the Communist collective space.  Indeed, just because a spook or a spook network may have been identified by CI, it doesn’t mean they will do anything overt or covert about it immediately – if ever.

drone

All of which brings about the recent events surrounding a Romanian Diamond 42 aircraft operating out of Lasi airport carrying out overflights over Transnistria on 4th, 17th and 22nd April, and straying/entering into Ukrainian airspace in doing so.

17th April

17th April

22nd April

22nd April

Ukraine will be aware of the Romanian SIE being particularly active in the south of Odessa Oblast.  The Romanian SIE will know that Ukraine knows too.  This is not an incident as far as either Romania or Ukraine is concerned that will put a strain upon relations.  There will not be major huffing and puffing, nor testosterone induced chest thumping within the Ukrainian intelligence community demanding some form of robust response.

Ukraine has made no public comment regarding these latest incidents, and it is unclear if the Ukrainian air force reacted to such incursions of Ukrainian airspace.

Whether or not diplomatic noises have been made privately who knows?

It may or may not be that Romania will now share any gathered intelligence with Ukraine having seemingly entered Ukrainian airspace uninvited.  Then again, perhaps it was subject to a tacit approval, or an officially blind Ukrainian eye in the expectation of shared intelligence material.  Again, who knows?

More than a year ago the blog, both in writing and at “closed door” round table gatherings began to make reference toward creating a far more robust triangular relationship between Warsaw, Bucharest and Kyiv – for to be blunt, those 3 capitals (with the exception of the Baltic states) hold a particularly sharp view of Kremlin action in Ukraine (and beyond).  Both Bucharest and Warsaw perceive a strong Ukraine as part of a solid defence of their own nations.

Naturally The Kremlin and the quasi-authorities of Transnistria will proclaim “concern”, or perhaps even “alarm” over this incident.

In order to put on a display of displeasure – or not – The Kremlin may decide to recommence the flights of the (officially unarmed) “peacekeeping” helicopter squadron based in Tiraspol, (under Protocol 1 of the July 1992 agreement), the flights of which have long been suspended.

A wandering Russian MiG helicopter from the Transnestrian “peacekeeping squadron” into Ukrainian airspace could have many different consequences, but would have to be met with some sort of official response from Ukraine be it publicly or in private.  Moldova too would have little choice but to react in some official manner should a “peacekeeping” helicopter wander over its territory uninvited.

As yet, not differently to Ukraine, there seems to be no public response from the Kremlin over the incident despite the undoubted lamenting and wailing by those quasi-officials in Tiraspol.

The incident nevertheless perhaps provides yet more weight for the argument that Kyiv and Bucharest should aim to continue to strengthen bilateral communication and cooperation far beyond that envisaged in any current regional or bilateral agreements.  It is surely in the interests of both nations to do so.

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