212. Telegram From the Embassy in Romania to the Department of State1

138. Subject: Romanian Vulnerabilities and Soviet Leverage.

1. Introduction. There has been considerable speculation in recent weeks since Ceausescu’s well-publicized policy differences with Romania’s Warsaw Pact allies as to the kind and extent of leverage the Soviet Union can exert on Romania to influence Romanian behavior and where Romania’s vulnerabilities lie. We have focused particularly on the middle range between totally ignoring Romanian “deviations” to outright Czechoslovakia-style military invasion. Following is an initial Country Team attempt to compile and assess areas, actual or potential, where Soviets could exert leverage on Romania. We would appreciate comments, particularly from Washington Intelligence Community.2

2. Political

A. Assassination of Ceausescu

As symbol of Romanian defiance of Soviet desires, one could argue that physical removal of Ceausescu could well serve Soviet interests. However, we consider such a move alone as unlikely since there is no clear indication of what leader or leaders would come to power under these circumstances and there is no guarantee that a post-Ceausescu leadership would be any more amenable to Soviet influence than he is. Nevertheless, assassination could be a viable option as part of an overall Soviet plan to invade Romania and/or to install a pro-Soviet faction in the Romanian leadership as was done in Czechoslovakia. We note that, while we may not take a possible assassination attempt against Ceausescu too seriously, apparently he does, since he is known to demand thorough and rigorous personal security at all times.

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B. Formation of a Pro-Soviet Faction

We must assume that one continuing goal of Soviet policy here is to identify and encourage Romanians in such key organizations as the Party, military, and security services to adopt pro-Soviet views and prepare for or engage in pro-Soviet activities, albeit clandestinely. Although neither we nor our Romanian sources can identify even incipient pro-Soviet individuals, factions, or cliques does not mean they do not exist: Case of General Serb a few years ago may have involved something of the sort and recent brouhaha in Western and Czechoslovakia media concerning Ambassador Hanak’s activities here suggest option is by no means dead in all scenarios. In a true crisis situation, we would expect such persons to surface, probably joined by the opportunists spawned by any society ready to sell themselves in return for money or power. There is some indication that Soviets would seek to exploit fertile ground among some “pragmatic” Romanians who see no material advantage in terms of rising internal standards of living stemming from Romania’s independent foreign policy and who point to countries like Hungary and even Bulgaria where foreign policy obedience to Soviets has brought a degree of material benefits in return. Still, we believe that anti-Sovietism is so deeply ingrained in Romanian populace and particularly those holding leadership positions that a pro-Soviet group would have little influence and could be sustained in power only at the point of a Soviet gun.

C. Internal Subversion

Soviets could seek to foment gross dissatisfaction with Ceausescu’s internal policies and its conversion into political action, resulting in internal chaos of type Iran is presently experiencing. Potentially, Romania is particularly vulnerable to economic disruption and to dissidence among the some two million ethnic Hungarians living mostly in Transylvania. Yet to date, while there is considerable complaining about shortages of goods and glacially rising living standards as well as audible grumbling among the Hungarians about perceived second-class status, there is no indication that this discontent has reached point where it will spill over into overt organized political action, or any real indication that Soviets are seeking to foment such discontent in spite of near-universal Romanian belief to the contrary. Engendering internal chaos or ethnic hatreds is dangerous strategy with unforeseen outcomes, especially in Communist countries with common land borders with Soviet Union, which has its own problems in just these problem areas, and we doubt Soviets would go very far down this road even though Romania could be torn apart on either count. We do not see how a Romania in shambles would serve Soviet interests, except as a prelude to invasion.

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D. Discrediting and Isolating Ceausescu

We see this “containment strategy” as most likely Soviet course of political action, first signs of which began appearing after Hua Kuo-feng visit here in August and intensified in wake of Warsaw Pact summit imbroglio in late November. Ceausescu is vulnerable to attacks from “orthodox” Communists on his leadership style, cult of personality, his pretensions to world leadership, widespread corruption among his underlings, foreign policy “deviations,” defections of key personnel, and a variety of other real and imagined items. Soviets and their friends have already expended some effort in this direction, both in bilateral whispering campaigns attacking Ceausescu’s “demagoguery” and his “erratic” personality and in such multilateral fora as recent Sofia ideological meeting on “real socialism” where Romanians and a few others from Eurocommunist parties were isolated from “mainstream” of the over 70 parties represented there. This effort could easily increase and could go so far as to include intensive pressure in interparty fora to condemn Ceausescu as an ideological deviationist as well as to rally pro-Soviet friends in Third World to discredit Romanian efforts in this arena. Further, since every political leader undoubtedly has some skeletons in his personal closet, it is reasonable to assume that Soviets know or could find out what some of them are and publicly air them, to Ceausescu’s severe personal and professional embarrassment. A concerted campaign of disinformation and ridicule could fill in any missing links. Net result, however, could well make Ceausescu even more stubborn and tenacious on policy level without seriously threatening his hold on power. At level of ideology and dogma, Romanian defensive positions are already well prepared by years of dogged insistence on confirming and reconfirming common foreign policy “principles” with all and sundry “Socialists.” On another level, given centuries of experience in Balkan politics, we have full confidence in Romanians to hold their own in any back-alley in-fighting, aided and abetted by such parties as Chinese, Spanish, and Japanese. In short, while such a campaign would be extremely unpleasant, Ceausescu and company could live with it, and probably win an even greater measure of Western and Third World sympathy to boot. Nor do we believe that it would be in Soviet interest to carry campaign to point that Ceausescu is painted as either an unredeemable pariah or a hopeless buffoon since he does, after all, rule a country which is of some strategic importance to Soviet Union and some influence and reputation with variety of countries and parties, including ruling parties, across face of globe.

3. Economic

The various steps that the Soviet Union might consider, supposing it were interested in bringing pressure to bear on Romania, are:

1. Reducing imports and exports, either overall or selectively;

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2. Launching a propaganda campaign designed to undermine confidence in Romania’s financial and economic reputation. Such a campaign could be focused on the international community and/or on the Romanian population itself;

3. Undertaking to encourage, solicit or force allied or friendly countries to join in economic actions against Romania.

A. Trade

Two-way trade between the Soviet Union and Romania constitutes some 17 percent of Romania’s total trade activity. Although this figure is large, reflecting the fact that the Soviet Union is Romania’s largest single trading partner, it is not so large that complete disruption of two-way trade would necessarily result in anything other than short-term, if dramatic, dislocations. It is generally agreed that the global figures mask special situations and sensitivities: Romania imports no Soviet petroleum but is dependent to a large extent on the USSR for coking coal and iron ore. The trend, however, has been one of decreasing dependency in general and specific declines in percentage terms of these two raw materials. Since this is a key point, a bit of elaboration is probably useful.

The effect of a complete cutoff of trade between the two countries would force Romania to undertake a crash program, supplementing its existing policy of diversification of sources for imports of raw materials. Existing commodity markets are such that coal and iron ore, for instance, could be picked up quite quickly, although most probably at a premium price if deliveries had to be made urgently. Over the longer run, it is doubtful that the prices Romania would have to pay for these raw materials would be substantially higher than those paid now to the Soviet Union since they are pegged to Western market prices. The placing of Romanian exports would probably be somewhat more problematic. Something like a billion and a half dollars worth of goods are involved. In the short run, that loss could be swallowed. In the longer run, it could have, among other effects, that of inducing the production of goods more acceptable in other markets.

A real possibility is selective cuts in trade such as simply holding up shipments of replacement parts for Romanian factories which use predominantly Russian-manufactured machinery. This kind of thing could be done without much fuss and give rise to a whole set of important, if temporary, dislocations.

B. Disinformation

The functioning of any economy is based on a set of relationships imbued with a certain level of credibility. This fact of economic life is particularly evident in the financial world, where rumors of currency devaluation or looming bankruptcy can have a positively self-fulfilling [Page 668] effect. The same thing applies to less sensitive areas of economic life, particularly in a country devoted to the suppression of economic facts, and thus to the creation of myth, rumor and unhealthy ignorance. The effects of a policy effectively denying the general populace much hard information on economic reality is at least two sided: Untutored pessimism concerning the future is chronic in the Romanian masses; on the other hand, and illustrative of a general advantage of manipulation of news, the GOR, through clever publicity of the Pitesti refinery accident, has induced savings in consumption well beyond those merited by the magnitude of the accident. This raises a general point about the ability of anyone to engage in effective disinformation activities: Overuse and abuse, the effect of any increase in the level of any campaign would be hard to predict. Romanian’s since [sense?] of truth and language has been brutalized to such a degree that the utility of further brutalization of fact or language might well be triflingly marginal.

This observation also would bear on any disinformation campaign launched by other Socialist states: having criticized Romania’s system of economic development and management so severely (albeit privately) and for so long, credibility is low. The vast and even hopeless mismanagement of their own economic affairs also tends to make listeners rather skeptical.

C. Joint Action

The possibility of inducing other COMECON members to join in economic sanctions, whether so labelled or not, does not seem very real at this point. It should be noted, however, that the effect of serious cuts in trade between all members of COMECON and Romania would be positively devastating. The notion that it is not a realistic possibility is based in logic, not information. There is no doubt that the lack of symmetry in relations between members of COMECON, particularly between the USSR and all other members, collectively or individually, is gross, increasing and constitutes a most difficult and sensitive issue. Illustration: Poland’s reaction to a suggestion or directive that it cut coal supplies to Romania is highly unpredictable. It would run into political imponderables, such as are involved in all relations between super and small powers, as well as bump up against one of the inherent weaknesses of the non-market economy system, i.e., the system is turgid, slow to react and in general inflexible. Poland could certainly place the coal elsewhere, but how well could it get along without the Romanian imports it currently receives in return? While Bulgaria might go along with trade cuts, total or selective, the reaction of all other states, who may frequently have been “silent partners” in Romanian dissenting positions within COMECON and WP conferences, might be nastier than generally imagined and begin a process of unravelling of intra-COMECON bilateral trade arrangements and balances that [Page 669] would be difficult to control. The Romanian disease might spread—even dangerously—as an effect of measures to quarantine it. Less hypothetically, there has been no indication of EE reluctance to continue, or even to expand economic exchanges with Romania in post-Warsaw Pact summit period of negotiations of trade protocols.

The other (non-EE) client states of the Soviet Union typically have only token economic relations with Romania. Other states with considerable Soviet influence most probably would not agree to cutting back on mutually beneficial economic relations.

In economic terms, trade is the single area in which potentially effective levels exist. Financial arrangements between Socialist countries appear to provide little room for leverage. This is so because financial accounts are typically settled over a medium-term period of not more than [five] years, and there is a good deal of attention to balancing as one goes along. This is certainly so in Romania’s case. The remaining area, economic cooperation, has been one of particular sensitivity to Romanians for the last 20 years. For all practical purposes, Romania has refused to undertake joint manufacturing ventures which would make any part of their economy permanently dependent on inputs from any other Socialist country. In some cases, they have entered into such ventures, but only with agreement that the arrangement be temporary, pending the development of Romania’s ability to produce the item independently (articulated busses from Hungary, etc.). If there is a single weakness in the Romanian economic scene which is truly remarkable, it is this urge to autarchy. Romania’s true enemies would egg them on in their mania of producing everything from widgets to BAC 1–11s, RR motors, and kitchen utensils.

The ambivalent effect of economic boycotts are well known. In the case of economic boycott of Romania, selective or total, there surely would be strange political effects, too. In the short term, for instance, the FRG would probably fill a large part of any economic gap. It is close, it is highly responsive economically, and might harbor some sort of sympathy. Would the Soviets favor renewal of greater German economic/political influence in this part of the world? The Chinese would feel compelled to put up more than posters on liberty wall. China trade is big now, and presumably could be swelled, at least temporarily, to fill unanticipated gaps in deliveries of, for example, coal.

4. Science and Technology

A. Training

The Romanians and the Soviets have a history of cooperation in S&T area dating from end of WWII. Many thousands of Romanian scientists and technicians were trained in the USSR and indeed, Romanian industrial development owes much to Soviets in this regard. However, since the mid-60’s the Romanians have moved towards the West [Page 670] for the technology they need and for a number of years (five or six) were sending a considerable number of Romanians to the U.S. and other Western nations for education and training. This has now tapered off, though there is a steady flow of Romanians who go to U.S. and elsewhere on short visits in a number of technological rather than scientific areas. In short, the Romanians no longer rely on the Soviets for training or technology and in some areas are their peers.

B. New Technology

There is no P&T area (except military weaponry) where the Romanians have not protected themselves from Soviet leverage by developing ties with other non-CEMA countries. In nuclear area, Romanians have opted for Canadian type reactor (CANDU) which uses natural uranium for fuel. Romania does have some uranium. Deal with Canadians provides for fuel and heavy water. Thus, Romanians have effectively insulated and isolated themselves from USSR and other CEMA nations which are building the Soviet light water reactor. This is not to say that Romanians do not benefit from their S&T agreement with Soviets, only that it is not critical enough for the latter to use as an effective lever.

5. Military

A. On the extreme end of the spectrum, the Soviet Union has the military capability to intervene in Romania, depose Ceausescu, and install a regime subservient to Soviet interests. However, we consider such a course of action as highly unlikely except under the gravest of circumstances. Ceausescu has shown himself to be a master of judging limits of Soviet tolerance and not exceeding them, and we have no reason to expect that in the future he will either so grossly violate these limits or so lose control of internal events as to trigger a Soviet military takeover. Further, for years Romanians have diligently been seeking to up the CTT to Soviets of any blatant misbehavior toward Romania—hyperactivity in UN and other international fora, courtship of Third World, close and increasing ties with the West, excellent relations with all shades of Communist and other “progressive” forces, doctrine of a people’s war against “any” foreign aggressor. How much of this is bluff is impossible to gauge, and how effective all of this would be in deterring Soviets in a real crunch is open to question. Nevertheless, Romanian message is quite clear—there would be no free ride for Red (or any other) Army into Bucharest, and costs of such action in terms of wider interest would outweigh any limited benefits attained thereby.

B. In a Yugoslav-Bulgarian agitation or Yugoslav invasion scenario, Soviet units could move rapidly via the Odessa-Varna ferry route. However, first commitments would probably be airborne and air transportable units which can move on short order to any point in Balkans. Important point in this scenario is that while Soviets have more open capability to avoid transitting Romania, they probably would not. If [Page 671] moving to aid Bulgarians against Yugoslavs, why not kill two birds with one stone and roll the tanks over Romania? In this case, logistics support troops must be stationed in Romania which would amount to occupation force.

C. While Romanian military pledges undying allegiance to Ceausescu, and while he has a good track record in capturing and keeping military support in internal politics, possibility that Soviets can establish faction in military favorable to their interest should not be excluded. It may be harder to find pro-Soviets in military than in party, but, on other hand, decades of close cooperation have left their mark, and Romanian military weakness in any confrontation scenario will presumably incline some officers to join where they cannot resist. The emergence of a pro-Soviet faction is of course most likely in case of military intervention, but could also take place as result of severe discreditation campaign against Ceausescu.

D. In military/economic sphere, Ceausescu would not hesitate to throw most of the military into an economic endeavor such as mining if shortages and strikes emerged. He has a sizable labor force potential in the military.

E. Romania is vulnerable in its military supply relationship with Soviet Union. Romania’s weapons and equipment inventory are all Soviet except for some Shanghai class patrol boats. If the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact country suppliers closed the valve, Romanian military capability to conduct and sustain any type of operation would be sorely limited. For example, MiG aircraft (and the Romanians reportedly have the latest MiG–23’s) require huge inventories of spares [garble—across board?] the entire system (aircraft plus control radars plus weapons). The Soviets can effectively control utilization through their supply systems. The Romanians now seek to overcome this dependency. Hence come efforts to produce ground support aircraft (Jurom), tanks (improved version of Soviet T–55’s), artillery, small arms and ammunition with Yugoslavia. At best, however, Romanian efforts amount to “improved obsolesence.”

6. Conclusion

A. Although Romania and Ceausescu are vulnerable on such questions as ethnic Hungarian discontent and internal economic disruption, we currently see no indications that the Soviets are using these vulnerabilities to try to influence Romanian behavior. Likewise we do not believe other Romanian vulnerabilities such as military supply dependence on Soviet Union and relative isolation within that portion of world Communist movement controlled by Soviets, can be translated into effective leverage for the Soviets to influence Romanian behavior. Consequently, Soviet expressions of displeasure and anger over Romanian bearbaiting probably ring rather hollow to Ceausescu. He must realize [Page 672] that, with a few exceptions, there is relatively little that Soviets can do to exert the kind of intolerable pressure to which Romanians must bend.

B. Finally, not even the most hard-line Soviet ideologist can claim that Ceausescu is other than an orthodox Communist who is in no way “soft on capitalism,” and that he and his Communist Party are not in total control of all aspects of Romanian life, as Dubcek and his colleagues were not. Kinds of things Ceausescu espouses in his foreign policy “deviations”—disarmament, a more equitable distribution of world resources, Third World causes—are items which Soviets can hardly disavow and in fact do vow. Ceausescu’s genius is in exploiting gap between Soviet rhetoric and actual behavior.

C. While this is clearly uncomfortable and annoying to Soviets, it is not yet dangerous enough to them that they have begun—at least as far as we can see—to take steps (plotting assassination or a military invasion, forming a pro-Soviet faction, fomenting unrest among the Hungarian minority or intentionally severely disrupting Romania’s economy) that could lead to Ceausescu’s downfall. The reason for this, we believe, is that Ceausescu has been careful not to confront Soviets on a question they would see as vital to their national security (e.g. leaving the Warsaw Pact). It could be, however, that Ceausescu’s recent further tilt toward China (a country about which the Soviets are paranoid) and his advocacy of no increase in Warsaw Pact defense expenditures have moved him perilously close to areas which the Soviets do see as vital to their national security.

D. Also it should not be forgotten that Ceausescu also needs the Soviets, both as ultimate military guarantor for maintaining a Communist system in Romania and as an object to bait in international arena to increase his domestic political position as a Romanian nationalist leader.

E. Consequently, we forsee no basic change in this relationship, even given periods of rather intense strain such as the present, barring a gross and unlikely miscalculation by either side.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790010–0944. Secret. Sent for information to DIA, Belgrade, East Berlin, Bonn, Brussels, Budapest, London, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Beijing, Prague, Rome, Sofia, USNATO, and Warsaw.
  2. In telegram 10206 to multiple posts, January 13, the Department informed the Embassy that it found the telegram stimulating and will be discussing it with members of the Intelligence Community. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790018–0920) In telegram 23994 to Bucharest, January 29, the Department reported that following the January 18 meeting chaired by the NIO for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the judgment of the Intelligence Community was that “barring radical new external events that could change the Soviet calculus of cost and benefit, it is unlikely the Soviets would accept the costs entailed by measures drastic enough to bring Ceausescu to heel.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790045–0130)