Last week, I watched live as a commercial airliner heading from Moscow to Chisinau flew in circles inside Hungarian airspace before making an emergency landing in Belarus because an unidentified Romanian official spontaneously decided to ban the flight from crossing Romanian airspace.
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, only Russian-language media has written about all the pieces to this strange puzzle, so today I’m going to do that for you.
25 Years of PMR
The origin and history of Transnistria (PMR) is too complicated to get into here, but this weekend was the 25th anniversary of the events that led to their (quasi) independence.
Earlier last week, 50 Russian-speaking artists and other celebrities landed in Chisinau to take part in the PMR festivities, but the Moldovan authorities at the airport refused to admit them.
Dmitri Rogozin, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, had already announced that he too would be attending the festivities. After this announcement, some political factions in Moldova were pushing to have him declared “persona non grata”, meaning he would be banned from entering Moldova.
What is essential to remember, however, is that ultimately the Moldovan government did not ban him from coming to Chisinau.
Therefore, by the time Dmitri Rogozin had boarded a commercial airliner on Friday from Moscow to Chisinau, it had already been decided that he could enter Moldova AND cross over the river to attend the PMR events.
The plane, an S7 Airlines flight to Chisinau, had hundreds of Moldovans on board along with a few Russians, including Deputy PM Rogozin. The plane took off about 50 minutes late and had reached Debrecen, Hungary, when Bucharest flight control contacted the plane to find out if Rogozin was on board.
At that point, some as yet unidentified Romanian official decided to unilaterally forbid the plane to cross Romanian airspace on its way to Moldova. I watched live as the plane flew a few loops in Hungary before heading to Minsk (Belarus) where it landed. Considering how long that plane flew in circles, it’s pretty obvious that some kind of negotiations or discussions were going on.
Sanctions, Sanctions, Bo-Bankshuns
According to the S7 airlines spokesperson, the “reason” for blocking the flight from entering Romanian airspace was because Rogozin is on the EU sanctions list.
Is Rogozin on the EU sanctions list? Why, yes he is. But what those sanctions are is something else. Without getting into lawyer talk, the sanctions (against individuals) basically involve freezing any assets or bank accounts that the person owns.
In other words, the sanctions don’t say jack shit about that person not being able to either a) visit your country or b) fly aboard a non-military plane in the air above your country. Indeed, this very flight flew over Polish airspace without any problems, and nobody hates the Russians more than Poland.
And, just for the record, Rogozin flew commercial from Russia to Chisinau and crossed over Romanian airspace in December 2016 with no problems.
Even weirder, the Romanian Foreign Ministry issued a bizarro statement:
Romania did not agree that the aircraft with Russian Deputy Prime Minister aboard should be allowed to enter Romanian airspace, unnamed Foreign Ministry officials told AGERPRESS, adding that the reasons for this decision could not be divulged at this time.
AGERPRESS, for the record, is the official press office of the Romanian government. So we’ve got unnamed ministry officials saying that the plane was banned, but can’t say why.
Rogozin, to put it mildly, was not happy once the plane landed in Minsk:
If your Russian is a little rusty, here’s what he said:
The Romanian authorities put the passengers of the S7 flight in danger, including women and children. We only had enough fuel to make it to Minsk. Expect a response, assholes!
Frankly, Rogozin is a bit of a mad dog, but he’s right. There’s no logical explanation for why a civilian flight was not allowed to transit Romanian airspace OR why the decision to ban the flight wasn’t taken before it left Moscow.
Remember, Rogozin is a very high-ranking Russian official and literally everyone knew he was coming this weekend on that flight.
Furthermore, it cannot be forgotten that Romania interfered with Moldova’s internal affairs by blocking this flight. If Moldova didn’t want Rogozin to enter the country, they could’ve easily stopped him without any help just like they did last week with the Russian artists.
Moldovan President Igor Dodon was justifiably not happy.
Do you in the [Moldovan] Democratic Party think this little stunt is going to win you brownie points with the Americans? Chisinau and the Democratic Party are just pawns in a much bigger game.
Look, Romania made its decision. That’s their business, but there were hundreds of Moldovans on board that plane, including young children, who just wanted to go home. If you wanted to come to an understanding with a single individual, you should’ve let the plane land in Chisinau.
Frankly, I personally don’t like Dodon or Rogozin. I disagree with their politics about 99% of the time. But Romania interfering in the business of two sovereign nations is just fucking dumb.
PMR was celebrating 25 years since the war came to an end. Yes, I realize that the Chisinau side “lost”, but I for one am always on the side of peace. Say what you will about PMR, but there hasn’t been a single conflict death since that date 25 years ago.
And what exactly did Romania gain by banning Rogozin from its airspace? Romania has no idea what it’s even doing in Moldova. After all, President Klaus doesn’t even have a single Moldovan expert on his staff!
And forget Russia for a moment. You know who does know what they’re doing in Moldova? Turkey. Yep. Their foreign aid agency TIKA has spent 33 million dollars across 350 projects in recent years in Moldova. Although a lot of that is concentrated in Gagauzia, I’ve seen a few TIKA ambulances even here in Chisinau. And I recently met an American working in Comrat who speaks fluent Gagauz, and he was telling me all about TIKA’s many projects in this country.
Frankly, Romania’s foreign policy strategy is a joke. Clearly, someone in Chisinau (*cough* Plahotniuc *cough*) made a phone call to Bucharest last Friday and this put the safety of hundreds of civilians on a commercial airliner in jeopardy. And once again, Romania decided that it knew better than Moldova what was “good” for Moldova.
That’s because Romania already thinks it owns Moldova. And Romanians wonder why Moldovans aren’t enthusiastic about officially ceding their independence to a bunch of corrupt thieves in the name of a patriotic dream that lasted a whopping 20 years.
Games and stupid politics aside, my heart goes out to the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. After all, it’s been a really difficult couple of weeks for Moldovans trying to fly somewhere in peace.