Do you think Mr. Putin has made the decision to stop cooperating with the West?
I think he counted on the weaknesses of the Western world and we have to prove a firm attitude and solidarity among the Europeans and our Euro-Atlantic allies.
What is the reaction from countries in the region?
We have concluded a strategic partnership with Poland. We are maintaining close contact with Poland, with the Baltic states, with Bulgaria, which is also directly concerned about having access to the Black Sea region.
The Baltic states are under threat from Putin, aren’t they?
They were the subject of political threats, even very recently, yes, indeed.
Do you think he will invade them?
They are members of the alliance, so they have the assurance of the security of the alliance. I hope not.
Latvia has a large Russian minority, and Putin has stated he would protect Russian minorities, like, for example, in Moldova.
You can imagine what sort of pressure the Russians are putting on those who are not members of the EU or of NATO, as is case with the Republic of Moldova. They have Russian troops in the Transnistria region of Moldova. The current Romanian government started last year a very ambitious project of advancing with interconnecting gas pipelines between Romania and the Republic of Moldova, offering a connection to the European network of energy.
So you are trying to liberate them from energy dependence on Russia?
Yes, because they want to be part of the European Union, they want to have very strong cooperation with Romania.
The gas situation is a huge problem for Europeans. And of course it comes from Russia through Ukraine.
Absolutely. Romania is less dependent on Russian gas because we have our own national resources. Romania can be a regional hub, but the problem is that Russia—in controlling Crimea and that part of southern Ukraine—is limiting the access of Ukraine to the Black Sea and its own natural resources. This is a very serious risk for Ukraine.
So this is part of Putin’s strategy?
It might be a strategy, yes. It controls their access to the hydrocarbon resources of the Ukraine.
You are in a difficult position—you have Moldova on one side and Ukraine on the other.
We have the largest border among the EU member states with Ukraine.
Do you think Ukraine will make it?
It will be extremely important to support the current Ukrainian government to organize presidential elections on May 25 because having ensured the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian leadership is extremely important. We hope the legitimate sovereign will of the Ukrainian government will be successful. The former Soviet Union remains a complicated region. But when you see political will to put in place reforms and advance according to a European path, then of course we have great sympathy and expressed great support for this.
And that is what you did in your country?
Yes, but many years ago. We chose our direction freely. We chose to be members of both the European Union and NATO. And Romania today is fundamentally different than it was 20 years ago. Last year we had the highest economic growth in the European Union. Romania is the second-biggest market in southeast Europe, after Poland.
Do you think Russia will stay on the border of Ukraine? Or will they send troops in?
I don’t want to speculate. One of the most important things is to maintain a firm, coordinated attitude among our European family.
Do you really see that coordinated attitude today?
We can do even more. Unfortunately, the actions taken by Russia are not helpful and are going in the wrong direction. I think we will continue to adopt a different level of sanctions. Coming from history, every time the Russians perceived the weakness of the Western world, they profited because of these weaknesses. We don’t have the right to be weak during this period.
Do you think the U.S. is weak?
The fact is that the U.S. has rediscovered the geostrategic importance of Eastern Europe. Previously the Asia-Pacific region was extremely important for the U.S. We encourage the United States to be more present in our region. On our side, Romania favors increasing our share in the burden of our alliance and our share in terms of the budget for [defense] expenditures. The Romanian government increased the budget for defense expenditures. Our target is to reach 2 percent of GDP allocated to the defense budget by 2016. We encourage other European allies to do the same.
What are you seeking from the U.S.?
We are interested in having a more substantial U.S. military presence in Romania. We are the first country in which the missile defense system will be deployed. In 2015 the system will be operational [in Romania]. We are interested in having a strong political, military, and economic presence of the United States in Romania.
Do you think the officials here are interested?
I think we increased the level of interest in Washington. We are in favor of a more substantial American presence in Romania, and this is my message.
Is it being well-received?
The Russian threat is a reality. Romania represents the eastern flank of NATO. So we need support. Our expectation is for a more substantial American military presence in Romania and maybe a permanent military base of NATO.
Do you think people here understand the threat posed by Mr. Putin?
I think in Washington it is better understood—the potential threat of Russia putting challenges on different countries.
Will Russia stop with Crimea?
They remain very active in our region, and that is why we have to be very firm.
Are you worried about your country?
Not for my country but for the region—for Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova and for Georgia, yes.
The Russians are going into Georgia again?
Already 30 percent of Georgia is under Russian [control]. They are willing to stop any European or Euro-Atlantic process of enlargement in the region of the Black Sea. It is our task to support those countries to become members of both the EU and NATO. This is the wish of Georgia, Ukraine, and the Republic of Moldova.