Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The first batch of U.S.-made HIMARS multi-launch missile systems arrived in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanța and is now a part of the national army. The first to receive the new missile system is the 81st Tactical Operational Missile Battalion, deployed in Focșani, about 70 kilometers from the border with Moldova.
HIMARS artillery missile systems are designed to attack areas with a concentration of artillery systems, air defenses, transport nodes and other major targets that are within a 300-kilometer range. Considering Romania borders Ukraine, Moldova, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia, the country has no enemies within the scope of HIMARS, bringing to question why it purchased such systems. It is difficult to explain why such a powerful weapon is deployed in eastern Romania, 220 kilometers from the Moldovan city of Tiraspol and 270 kilometers from the ammunition depot in Cobasna in the separatist region of Transnistria - which is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova.
It must be noted that the U.S. approved the sale of 20 HIMARS launchers, worth $655 million, to Poland. Romania received 54 launchers, more than double the amount of Poland, showing that the U.S. is prioritizing the Black Sea as a point of pressure against Russia - more so than the Baltics. Whereas the German Navy are present in the Baltics and the British can reach the area with relative ease, the Black Sea is effectively a “Russian lake,” particularly after Russia’s 2014 reunification with Crimea. NATO member states Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania do not have the capabilities to challenge the Russian Navy in the Black Sea, hence why Washington is also cooperating with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.
But the question still remains - why would Bucharest need 54 HIMARS launchers, more than the American artillery brigade has, and more than 10% of all such systems in the Pentagon's arsenal?
It is excessive fire power for an army that has only 70,000, personnel and does not have the means to redeploy heavy weapons at a great distance. According to Firepower, Romania is ranked only 41 globally for their military power.
Hypothetically, in a war situation, the 41st U.S. Artillery Brigade could borrow the Romanian HIMARS systems and transport them to Georgia or Ukraine. At the end of 2020, U.S. ground forces conducted exercises to prepare for a “hi-tech war” in Romania. In a few hours they managed to transport by air two HIMARS systems from Germany to the Kogâlniceanu Air Base and launch several rockets towards the Black Sea – there is little doubt that the imagined target was Russian forces when we consider that it is only 400 kilometers between the Romanian coast and Russia. Although this is 100 kilometers less than the range of the HIMARS system, according to Forbes, the exercises were “a message for Moscow” and a “rocket surprise” for Russian forces in Crimea.
The political-military situation in the region is becoming increasingly tense, with Moldova coming within range of American weapons and soldiers based in Romania. According to the Constitution, the Republic of Moldova is a neutral state, but decisionmakers in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau and their Romanian counterparts in Bucharest concluded a military cooperation agreement in 2013, which de facto subordinates Moldovan troops to the Romanian General Staff and allows Romanian gendarmes to maintain “public order” in the country. With Romania effectively controlling Moldova’s security and President Maia Sandu pivoting her country towards NATO and the European Union, Chisinau could be a willing participant in the West’s sustained campaign to pressure Moscow.
Analysts at the Pentagon-affiliated RAND Corporation are examining how U.S. troops could enter Moldova to participate in military exercises and not leave, using the pretext of the so-called Russian threat. American maneuvers and armament in Eastern Europe not only threatens Russia, but serves to ensure that Romania and Baltic States stay loyal to Washington and against Moscow.
If the U.S. is successful in stationing troops in Moldova, they would effectively have new access to the Black Sea via the Port of Giurgiulești on the Danube River. In addition, U.S. troops would be within touching distance of the 1,500-strong Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria, whose responsibilities include maintaining peace and guarding several tons of military equipment and ammunition in Cobasna.
Although the HIMARS system cannot reach Russia from Romania, it is likely that these missiles are aimed against Russian forces maintaining peace in Transnistria. 54 HIMARS in Romania’s arsenal demonstrates an escalation by Bucharest as it is clear that the excessive number of units is not for defensive purposes, especially considering the country’s cordial relations with its neighbors.
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