Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 152

The Ukrainian ambassador in Bucharest was “called home for consultations” December 9 in protest against Romania’s claim to Ukraine’s Serpents’ Island. Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma said he hoped “the international community would not admit a redrawing of borders.” Defense minister Valery Shmarov said that the Black Sea island is important to Ukraine not only because of probable oil and gas deposits but also for its air defense and radar installations; and he warned that acceptance of Romania’s claim could “trigger a large-scale process of border revisions.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Serheev said a Romanian appeal to the International Court of Justice to obtain the island would be viewed by Kiev as an official territorial claim. Romanian foreign minister Teodor Melescanu had announced December 8 in parliament that Romania would take its case to the ICJ in The Hague if Ukraine refuses to give up the island. Romania owned the island from 1878 to 1948. (13)

Even with due account of oil and gas deposits and the substantial continental shelf portion accruing to the island’s owner, the stakes far transcend the island itself. Both Bucharest and Kiev know that the claim to the island is a trial balloon which would, if successful, probably be followed by claims to northern Bukovina and southern Bessarabia. The Romanian government seeks Ukrainian admission in a bilateral treaty that those two territories were seized from Romania unfairly under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The Romanian parliament is on record as demanding reversal of the pact through retrocession of the two territories. This in turn could snowball into nationalist disputes among several other countries if the principle of reversing the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact is accepted as legitimate. Romania has since 1991 been the only country to take that position, and it also the only country other than Russia (whose reasons are different) to openly question Ukraine’s borders.

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