Thursday, April 29, 2010

A wee little thought

In 1806 the armies of Imperial Russia entered the Principality of Moldova (with capital at Iasi) on their way south to retake Constantinople (Istanbul) in the name of Christendom.  They moved on through the Tara Romaneasca (with capital at Bucuresti) and ended up parking themselves on the banks of the Danube.  For six years there was basically a stalemate, with the Russians on the north side of the Danube eyeballing the Ottoman Turks on the other side and intermittent battles & skirmishes between the two empires.

Eventually, in 1812, the Russians were forced to retreat, not by the Turks, but by the threat being presented to Russia itself by Napoleon's Grande Armee.  Having spent six years and considerable resource on their southern campaign, the Russians were keen not to return home empty handed.  And so they signed a treaty (the Treaty of Bucharest) with the Turks under which the eastern part (Basarabia) of the Principality of Moldova (the part between the Prut and the Nistru) was annexed to the Russian empire, forming the governorship of Basarabia.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Or is it?  At the time of the Treaty's signing, the principality of Moldova was in a relationship of "suzerainty" with the Ottoman Empire.  In return for (a) paying 10% of its internal revenue to Istanbul, and (b) not conducting foreign policy 'to the detriment of the Ottoman Empire', the Principality was allowed to maintain most other attributes of a sovereign state.  The most notable of these attributes is sovereignty over the territory of the Prinicipality.

What it boils down to is that the Ottoman Empire gave away something that wasn't theirs to give.  The territory of Basarabia was part of the Principality of Moldova, not part of the Ottoman Empire.

This fact opens a curious possibility.  What if Romania or Moldova were to take a case to the International Court of Justice (which has jurisdiction over all UN member states in such matters) seeking a ruling on the legitimacy of the Treaty of Bucharest?  Were the Court to find that the treaty was invalid, it would have far-reaching implications:
  • Historic sovereignty over Basarabia would return, de jure, to the Principality of Moldova
  • The Russian Empire's claim to the territory would be null and void
  • The Soviet Union's claim to the territory, as the successor state to the Russian Empire, would also be null and void.
  • Modern-day sovereignty would, de-jure, vest in the successor state(s) of the Principality of Moldova.
  • Much of the constitutional history of Basarabia over the last 200 years or so would become redundant, at least in international law.
Such a finding would be of tremendous symbolic importance.  It would demonstrate that Russia has no business trying to incorporate Basarabia in its sphere of influence and that the Russian / Soviet occupations of 1812, 1940 and 1944 were unjust, potentially providing a legal basis for damages claims.

Following a ruling on the Treaty, the next question to be posed to the International Court would be "Who is/are the successor state(s) to the Principality of Moldova?".  Romania obviously has a strong case, having been formed from the union of Tara Romaneasca and the Principality of Moldova.  The Republic of Moldova would also have a case, due to its occupation of most of Basarabia's territory and its role as representative of the people who live there.

Should the Court rule that Romania is the successor, then Romania and Moldova will be instantaneously reunified, at least de jure.  Should the Court rule that Moldova is the successor, her independence would be consolidated.  A ruling that both countries are successor states would probably force the two states to negotiate a federation so that the rights of both can be respected.

So, has my wee little thought got you thinking?


  1. I love the logic, but just how far do you think it might fly before the Russian bear threatened to cut off the International Court's oil supplies in order to influence the case?

  2. or maybe you want to watch (and not only) "Georgia reloaded". the Russians are able to do it.