The NATO umbrella does not protect from fear on the border with Ukraine | International

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In the small and remote Romanian village of Negostina, history seems to matter more than borders. It snows incessantly north and south of the dividing line with the now-invaded Ukraine, located just two kilometers away. Both parts belong to the same historical territory, Bukovina (Bukovina, in Ukrainian), which was divided during World War II, when the USSR forcibly integrated the northern part, which Romania later recovered thanks to the advance of its Nazi allies and returned to Soviet hands in 1944.

For this reason, for Clem Aglaia, 78, the possibility of Russian soldiers stationing themselves at a visible distance from the piece of land that he cultivates with his grandson in Negostina (about 800 inhabitants) weighs much more than all the speeches of men in ties that He listens on television about the importance of the Fifth Article of NATO, the one that establishes that an attack against a member country is against all. Unlike Ukraine, Romania has been in the Atlantic Alliance since 2004 (and in the EU since 2007).

Clem Aglaia, in the Romanian town of Negostina, on Thursday.Photo: alex onciu | Video: Saul Ruiz

"I'm scared, I can't even sleep at night. If I hear a car noise, I think: That's it, a plane is coming! ”, She assures as she wipes her tears with a colorful apron typical of the region. “I am worried because we are going to die, the worms will eat us if they bomb us. If Putin decides to bomb us, the whole village will disappear [...] We do not want war, we do not want to die or for our children, our grandchildren to die. It was fine without war, what does Putin want from these people?”, he launches as he looks towards the Ukrainian border.

He was born in 1943, so he doesn't remember World War II, but he does remember his parents' stories of the ailments they endured. In his words, however, the weight of Nicolae Ceausescu's dictatorship is noticeable, in which any neighbor could be an informer: he fears that journalists are spies sent by Putin.

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In Negostina, a word in Romanian usually comes up soon: africa (afraid). “The neighbors here are afraid of the Russians because the war is near. They are very afraid that they will come for us,” says Ionel Rosca, a 70-year-old retiree who prefers the plains of black earth and hillsides covered with pine trees to the apartment in the nearby city of Suceava where his wife and daughter live. Of course, he clarifies, "people are grateful that the NATO troops have come and we hope that they will defend us in case something happens", he points out in reference to the reinforcement of the Alliance's presence in the framework of the crisis. Last Tuesday, 500 French soldiers arrived in Romania.

Ionel Rosca, in the Romanian town of Negostina, on Thursday.Photo: alex onciu | Video: Saul Ruiz

Lucian Petrasuc, 51, still lives in the house where his grandparents grew up. He worked at a lumber company – a historically thriving industry in the area – that is about to close due to lack of orders. When talking about war, he applies a spatial logic: “NATO would defend us and it has modern technology, but it is useless to send 2,000 or 3,000 people because, in case of war, it is us who would be bombed. Wouldn't we die? They send us American and French troops... thousands of people, but in case of war, the Russians do not face the Germans, but Poland, Romania...”. People in the town, he says, have begun to think about where the women and children would escape to in the event of war. “How not to have emotions? We are close to the border”, he adds.

Lucian Petrasuc, in the Romanian town of Negostina, on Thursday.Photo: alex onciu | Video: Saul Ruiz

In any case, one thing is fear and another, panic. The only visible change in the village is that the school day has been shortened so that teachers can help Ukrainian refugees at the border crossing. "Nobody has left here, quite the opposite: people have come from outside because they want to help," clarifies the priest Daniel Petrisor in the Romanian Orthodox Church of Negostina where he presides over some masses in which he now includes "a request for special prayer for peace, in Ukraine and around the world.” He belongs to the tiny Ukrainian ethnic minority in Romania (just a few tens of thousands of the 20 million inhabitants) and uses his knowledge of both languages ​​to help as a translator for the refugees who cross through the nearby Siret post, one of the border crossings. by which a million Ukrainians have fled the war to neighboring countries, especially Poland. “We are all worried because, in the century we live in, we did not think about war. A week ago, there was peace around us. Now we are all affected, because we are the first State next to [de Ucrania] and I, personally, being of Ukrainian ethnicity, am worried and it hurts with all my soul, especially since I did religious studies in Kiev.”

The priest Daniel Petrisor, in the Romanian town of Negostina, on Thursday.Photo: alex onciu | Video: Saul Ruiz

West and East

Words like NATO, Washington or Moscow sound different in the west and east of the EU. In Romania, a country with a notable anti-Russian sentiment, the Atlantic Alliance is the country or international organization that generates the most trust (60.6%), followed by the EU (55.9%), Germany (51.8%) and the United States. United States (50%), according to a survey carried out last January by the Inscop demographic center. Russia obtains 18% (a percentage similar to that of previous surveys prior to the escalation of tension over Ukraine) and China, 17.2%. Another Inscop survey indicates that 70.3% of Romanians believe that NATO allies would come to the aid of their country if it were attacked by Russia, compared to 20.3% who believe that the guaranteed mutual defense clause would be ignored.

Romania was also, by far, the European country of the seven analyzed in a survey of the thinktank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), in which more people (31%) saw a Russian invasion of Ukraine this year as “very likely” at the end of January. The second was Poland, with 20%. Citizens of Italy (8%), Finland (9%) and France (11%) were the most optimistic.

“Before the war, Poles and Romanians were not taken seriously, they were seen as these Russia-obsessed warmongers. But they have a different perspective, due to their history and geographical proximity,” explains Jana Puglierin, an expert in European and transatlantic security and defense at ECFR, by phone. Puglierin admits, however, that “a Russian attack against NATO territory is very unlikely, because of Article Five and because of the credibility that it would be respected. maybe with [Donald] Trump [como presidente de Estados Unidos] it would have been different, but [su sucesor, Joe] Biden has been very clear about the red line that crossing it would mean. And so has been the EU's commitment."

Not everyone in the area lives the same situation. From the town of Mihaileni you can see a hill that is already Ukrainian territory without having to strain your eyes. Benone Levițchi has spent almost all 57 years of his life there. He says that the entry of his country into NATO almost two decades ago made him "very happy" because he was a "security umbrella" that he is grateful for these days. He understands that his neighbors see the refugees arrive and are afraid “it will end up like this too”, but he is relaxed. "I don't know what will be in Putin's head [...] but I have a certain peace of mind, because the Russians will think twice before attacking a NATO country [...] Even if they invaded Moldova, I would stay here. I would only leave the moment I saw that my life was in danger”, he sums up.

Benone Levitchi, at his bar in Mihaileni, on Thursday.
Benone Levitchi, at his bar in Mihaileni, on Thursday.alex onciu

Moldova is just the other country with which Romania borders to the north and does not belong to NATO either. This Thursday he presented his candidacy to enter the EU, within the framework of the rapprochement with the West that has promoted the war. “He has not considered joining the Atlantic Alliance at the moment, but he needs some kind of security guarantee. His former Defense Minister Viorel Cibotaru is calling for a joint defense agreement with Romania”, explains Liliana Smiech, an expert at the thinktank Polish Warsaw Institute.

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