Russia’s interests in Romania are not necessarily economic. By investing here, Russia is simultaneously pursuing several directions: neutralizing competition (in 1989s, Romania was one of the most industrialized communist countries), entering the EU market, keeping several levers at hand that should act according to its interests.
The truth is that Romania has never escaped completely from Russia’s grip.
Since the 1990s, Russia has conducted a series of tricky businesses in Romania, all led by former intelligence officers. Most of the Russian investments materialized through buying certain plants and factories privatized by the governments of the time. Very few of them still operate today.
Let’s remember, in no peculiar order, of some of the most important cases in which companies or business people from Russia have been doing business with us.
After several scandals, in 2006, RAFO Oneşti lands in the Russian company Petrochemical Holding’s portfolio – it is currently bankrupt and trying to resell the refinery.
The Mechel Company began, since 2003, gathering in its portfolio the plants Mechel – Câmpia Turzii (INSI), Mechel – Târgovişte (COS), Ductil Steel – Oţelu Roşu, Ductil Steel – Buzău, Laminorul Brăila and Mechel – Târgovişte Repairs. In 2010, Mechel had about 7,000 employees in Romania. In 2013, after the company’s problems with Putin, Mechel had already ceded its assets in Romania to an “apartment firm” for 50 euros. The closure of the factories reduced by 15% the steel production of Romania, strongly affecting the construction sector, considering that in May 2010 the company provided 80% of the steel-concrete industry of the country. The interests of Romania in Mechel are represented and through a former Special Forces officer (Spetnatz) within GRU – the former Red Army espionage service, named Boris Golovin. Golovin also tried a Russian buses business at UCM Reşiţa.
In 2002, Marco Group (in 2007 changes its name to Vimetco) becomes a shareholder in Alro Slatina, the largest consumer of energy in Romania. In June 2018, Russian shareholders announced that Alro Slatina is for sale – currently the largest aluminum producer in mainland Europe.
Alor Oradea was a company producing alumina from Romania. It was the only alumina plant to use inland bauxite. It was bought at its liquidation value by Russki Aluminum, in 1998. In 2001, the Russians closed the plant on the grounds that it was no longer profitable. Alor was the only tubular alumina factory in Europe.
TMK owns in Romania two factories: the pipe maker TMK Artrom Slatina (bought in 2004) and the steel factory TMK Reşiţa. Where the Slatina deal appears to have been clean, the Reşiţa factory was sold several times to American companies that did not honor their commitments and then, in 2004, was to be bought by TMK for one euro. Interestingly, TMK Reşiţa supplies all the raw materials needed for the Artrom Satina plant. The chairman of TMK’s board of directors is known as a fervent supporter of Vladimir Putin.
Petrotel Ploieşti was purchased in 1998 by LukOil at the expense of the American concern ConocoPhilips. In 2011, Lukoil started, as a financier, the procedure for contracting services needed for the execution of the data center of the National Authority for Mineral Resources, which manages the natural resources in Romania, containing information with different degrees of secrecy. Although Petrotel faced significant financial losses, in 2012 Lukoil received in concession two blocks in the Romanian Black Sea territorial waters: EX-29 East Rapsodia and EX-30 Trident, a concession taken over later by Romgaz. The Lukoil disaster began in 2014, when the Prosecutor’s Office attached to the Ploieşti Court of Appeal initiated an investigation during which the Russian concern was accused of scaming the national budget for about 4.30 billion euros. After a few weeks, at Ponta’s intervention, the court decided to lift a part of the distraint, and the company resumed its activity. In the beginning of 2015, prosecutors seized the Russian company’s tax warehouse.
Led by two Putin trustees, Gazprom holds oil concessions in Romania through its Serbian subsidiary, NIS Petrol. It has the oil concessions at Jimbolia (Timiş County) and Tria (Bihor). NIS launched an aggressive offensive, also operating in Romania nearly 200 gas stations.
The state-owned company Gazprom is also the main foreign gas supplier of Romania, providing about one fifth of the country’s gas needs. In addition, in March 2013, Gazprom has announced acquiring Marine Bunker Balkan, which fuels ships in Constanţa Port.
Probably among the first Russian businessmen to come to Romania is Constantin Ivorski through the Unicom group of companies. Iavorski held the office of Secretary of Energy in the Republic Moldova in the early 1990s and had shady businesses under the protection of certain Romanian politicians close to Moscow, reselling electricity below the market price, intermediating gas deliveries through various Swiss tick companies, delivering coal for Romanian thermal power plants or in real estate.
However, one of the most spectacular businesses, or better said combinations, were made by Armen Goutchian. Armen Goutchian has fled to Romania because he has been involved in a major scam that targeted the fraud of a Russian pension fund through the Russian MMM investment group. The deal was, at the time, a big financial scandal recorded in Russia. In order to escape those he had escorted, Armen was declared dead and left the country to Romania. For protection reasons, he changed his name to Calin Armen after marrying the Romanian Georgeta Calin. After deceiving several companies of a few billion lei, one of Armen’s successful frauds on the scam market was the Popular Leasing Company (CPL) established in 1999, with registered office at the same address as the Romanian People’s Bank (BPR). Then he appears next to Emil Botea, chairman of the Romanian People’s Bank, as well as the president of the Board of Directors of Unirea Bank, which forced BPR to take over the bank in order to sell it later to a group of Russian businessmen. The move was made through Calin Armen, BPR’s External Relations Director. Negotiations with representatives of the Russian interest groups led by former KGB and GRU intelligence officers, as well as former Soviet dignitaries, were then held. Among them are Anatol Bakajef – residing in Germany, former KGB general and patron of one of the Russian companies (Eltana) with a correspondent in Romania, Vitali Kozliakov – son of a former KGB general, former minister in Ukraine and director of a rare metals institute, Alexei Voskoboy – former adviser to Russia’s Foreign Minister (Ivan Ivanov) and president of the Russian Industry Association, and Anatoly Patron – the president of the Russian Commercial Bank for Investments and Technologies, established in Singapore and headquartered in Moscow, president of Nova Bank (formerly Unirea Bank). Unirea Bank became Nova Bank, after being taken over by the Russians; it had the declared purpose of helping Russian businessmen. But it did not even grant a single credit and it seems to have been used for siphoning money, and subsequently closed in a short time. Meanwhile, things have changed a bit. Romania is a member of NATO and the EU, and Russia is even more interested for Romania to be an unstable country both economically and politically, as well as militarily.
The expansion of NATO to the east and the storage of defensive missiles on the territory of Romania give Russia the opportunity to act, even brutally, in the Black Sea area.
Russia can’t act directly in Romania, but encouraging corruption and enhancing spying is like a game for Putin. Thus, Russia uses all its means to destabilize Romania. And, unfortunately, given our current politicians they don’t need to be spending too much effort.
Another line of attack of Russia is through the Republic of Moldova. Romania’s efforts are well known, especially during Băsescu, to attract the neighboring country into our area of influence, and redirect it towards the EU. However, Moldova seems to have been traded off to Russia, sinking deeper and deeper under Moscow’s command. Currently, Moldova seems to have been handed over to Russia by the current government, the Russians making important millitary maneuvers for crossing the Dniester river. Economically, they don’t really have anything left to destabilize in Moldova.
Due to the fact that Russian businessmen control major companies in the Romanian and Moldovan markets, from key sectors of production, especially metal and hydrocarbon resources, we initiate a series of articles about Russia’s presence in the Romanian and Moldovan economies, and their effects.
You can read all articles here, selecting from the map or meniu.