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  • With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc's Clandestine War against Romania
  • Symeon Giannakos (bio)
Larry L. Watts: With Friends Like These: The Soviet Bloc's Clandestine War against Romania. Bucharest, Romania: Editura Militara, 2010. 736 pages. ISBN 978-9733208365 (hardcover).

Graduate students taking courses on the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s may recall classroom debates on Romania's relationship with the Soviet Union. Was Romania a state defiant of its oversized neighbor, or was it simply playing the role of maverick afforded to it because its ideological commitment to socialism could not be questioned?

In With Friends Like These, Larry Watts argues convincingly that Romania was indeed a defiant state, and it was actually the Soviet propaganda machinery that cultivated the notion that Romania was a loyal fraternal socialist state indulging in demonstrative politics for public and international consumption. Soviet propaganda aside, Romania's secret services became convinced that those of the Soviets — the KGB — considered Romania "a target as hostile as any Western country." In 1968, [End Page 115] Romania braced itself for an anticipated a Soviet Bloc invasion similar to the invasion of Czechoslovakia. As Warsaw bloc forces gathered and began exercise maneuvers along Romania's borders with the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Bulgaria, the Romanian armed forces prepared for a long fight.

Watts appears convinced that it was mainly Romania's determination to carry out a prolonged fight that deterred a planned invasion. Romania sought the cooperation of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito in securing a safe corridor through that country for the Romanian army as well as in securing China's active support. Although Tito did not object to Romania's army using Yugoslav territory in case it needed to retreat, he insisted on the surrendering of all its heavy weapons to Yugoslavia's army. China, on the other hand, appeared to have promised support, presumably by being willing to provide supplies in the same way that it was supplying the Vietcong. It is not clear in the book how China would have been able to supply Romania during a Soviet bloc invasion, unless it also relied on Yugoslav territory. Another factor that seems to have deterred an invasion is the stand the US government took in conveying to the Soviet Union that the world would not tolerate another invasion in Eastern Europe. Also, the Romanian secret services worked hard to make sure they prevented the Soviet Union from keeping the Romanian army under its control or from undermining the Romanian government from within to create the impression it was being invited to intervene.

What are also not clear are the exact motives behind the Soviet Union's contemplation of an invasion of Romania. While it can be argued that the invasion of Czechoslovakia was precipitated by the notion that Czechoslovakia was distancing itself ideologically from the Soviet Union, this was not the case with Romania. The Romanian regime was not contemplating political or economic reforms. On the contrary, it could be argued that the Romanian political system was still a Stalinist one at a time when the Soviet Union was moving away from Stalinism.

A careful reading of With Friends Like These reveals a geopolitical pattern that transcends ideological sources of foreign policy making. It reveals a persistent pattern of international relations in the region that is based on territorial aspirations motivated by security concerns and justified by nationalism. For example, Watts makes it clear that there was no substantive change between Russian and Soviet foreign policy toward Romania. Both foreign policies aimed to expand into Bessarabia to retain it under their control. Both Russia and the Soviet Union relied on Romania's neighbors to put pressure on Romania to reduce its will to resist or defend its own policy toward Moldova. As the book notes, "While Russian and Austro-Hungarian aims conflicted elsewhere in the Balkans, they converged against a united and independent Romania, and against its further unification with the contiguous and largely Romanian inhabitants of Bessarabia and Transylvania." During World War II, "Moscow treated its Romanian 'ally' as enemy, while demonstrating friendly coordination with the Hungarians against it." In [End Page 116] 1940, "Moscow pressed Bulgaria to...


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