Several differences are present between Poland and Romania when their relation and issues with Ukraine are compared.
I’ll try to highlight those which can be considered to carry a reasonable low level of subjectivity.
Firstly, a few facts.
Poland has roughly 2 times the population of Romania and a larger territory, less defendable though.
Romania is richer when resources are considered, it especially has a large diversity of underground resources, sometimes not enough to make her a significant exporter, but with almost all of them just enough to provide a large autonomy resources-wise.
Both have relatively homogenous populations, ethnically and religious, with probably a plus for Poland.
Both have neighbors they are nervous about with animosities going way back in history.
Poland has a much stronger and influential diaspora.
Today they are friendly countries. Ever since Poland resurfaced as a modern state the relations were generally good, any disputes from medieval times are long forgotten, both countries had bigger fish to fry (or serve as fish to be fried) facing the 19th and 20th centuries empires, turmoil and structural (sometimes existential) changes.
Poland’s army is significantly stronger, larger and in many respects more modern than Romania’s (though Romania already integrated HIMARS and Patriot systems for some time, earlier than Poland).
Romania faces a serious demographic problem and is plagued by a higher economic motivated emigration than Poland. Romania also took a heavier deindustrialization hit than Poland after the communist regimes fell in Eastern Europe.
Both countries’ political regimes, regardless of the political parties in charge with forming the government, are 100% pro-US in all matters concerning strategic and defense issues.
Both regimes are manifestly anti-Russia, yet Poland’s one is clearly more ‘dedicated’ than Romania’s. The nature of the bilateral relations with Russia (beginning with WW1’s outcome onward – to have a starting point allowing comparable references) explains some of the more bitter attitude towards Russia we find in Poland, albeit the intensity is not entirely justifiable).
A better explanation, which also counts for discernable different nuances between Poland and Romania, should mention the quasi-imperial aspirations of Poland (the Intermarium project) which involves parts of Ukraine and the Baltic states – especially Lithuania), aspirations which unavoidably conflict with the Russian strategic projections over the area.
Romania, by comparison, has only a quarrel level dispute with Russia. The only major strategic interest where they could conflict regards Russia’s possible access to the Danube (or denying Russia’s access there, from a Western point of view, where Romania takes back the Southern Bessarabia area from Ukraine establishing a future border with Russia on the Nistru river, not the Danube). The strategic conflict of interest mentioned presupposes that Ukraine will disappear as a state, being mostly swallowed by Russia.
Claims on Ukraine
The territorial claims the two countries have on Ukraine (as the state who now incorporates former Polish and Romanian territories that were taken by USSR at the end of world war two) differ in several aspects.
For Romania, the extent of the claims is pretty clear and the (new) boundaries should be well delimited by mostly natural frontiers, like the Nistru/Dniestr river.
For Poland, the extent of the possible territorial claims remains unclear. With the exception of Lvov city and adjacent region, the rest is quite nebulous. I’d link this ‘relativity’ to the Intermarium project mentioned before – Poland deliberately entertains a degree of ambiguity about the geographical extent of its claims so it can keep more options open.
Neither countries can rely on solid ethnic majorities in the areas they set their eyes upon. Military occupations, deportations, massacres, various methods of cultural uprooting and forced assimilation happened/were employed through the decades or even centuries, so the ethnic composition changed constantly.
Historically, when we go back centuries, the claims are solid for both countries, but again, with certain variations.
There are particularities even among the same country, for various reasons. For instance, the Northern Bukovina (I’m using the most commonly known name) Romania has claims upon (which includes the Cernăuți/Chernowitz regional capitol) is considered one of the most symbolically laden provinces of Romania, part of the core, heart and crown jewel of Moldova principality (the historical one, which also comprised today’s Republic of Moldova – who is usurping the name) and a center of Romanian orthodoxy, arguably the most important one. For the Romanian psyche it bears similarities with Kosovo’s region importance for the Serbian nation.
Methods & Strategies
Undeniably, both Poland and Romania are integral part of the Western (read mostly US directed) strategy regarding Eastern Europe and Russia.
Poland and Romania took a visible distinct role inside NATO in the last decade or so, setting themselves apart from the rest of European NATO members, both as the significant NATO ‘front line’ countries, but also as an American controlled safety ‘barrier’ between Russia and Germany-led EU, preventing the two to waltz more tightly embraced. This US concocted strategy was bluntly described, years ago, by George Friedman.
After 2014’s Kiev coup, Ukraine was also integrated in the strategy, with the intention to fully incorporate her inside NATO, at some later stage. This part didn’t completely succeed, the war started and we are where we are.
Both Poland and Romania involved themselves into the war in Ukraine. Poland sort of vociferously, Romania in a low key.
Certain levels of involvement are provable, other can only be speculated upon. Certain unverifiable information, certain logical assumptions, certain suspicions can be taken as quite plausible.
Poland apparently got deeper involved, on a larger scale, with boastful declarations, with certain legislative measures one can’t find a correspondent in Romania, with large deliveries of Soviet times compatible military hardware.
As a former Warsaw Pact country, Romania could have been a significant purveyor of Soviet style equipment, but it is very possible that many limitations derived from the different path Romania took after 1968’s invasion of Czechoslovakia kicked in. Romania developed its own military industry and many military imports from USSR were drastically reduced, the suspicion from both sides resulted in Romania finding itself out of the loop, almost without Soviet tanks, fighter jets or air defenses imports in the last years of the communist regime. Thus is logical it couldn’t provide certain old-stock equipment like other former Warsaw pact countries, because it didn’t have them.
Anyhow, Romania chose not to advertise any lethal contribution to the war effort in Ukraine.
Regarding the manpower sent in Ukraine. Again, the Poles are first, probably far ahead Romanians. One of the reasons is, obviously, the size of military competent pools both countries can draw from.
The main difference though consists in the very probable large scale ‘shifted’ military from Poland regular army compared with the much smaller alleged Romanian one.
Why the ‘alleged’ for Romania ? Because there is no strong evidence we are talking about ‘shifted’ troops. For sure Romanian ‘contracted’ personal was present from the start. These are former military and almost certainly with strong connections and coordination with the official military. There are Romanian contractor companies apparently, one was mentioned – from a Russian source, true – early in the war, located near Odessa and undertaking electronic surveillance of the Black Sea approach. I wouldn’t be surprised if certain western equipment Romania knows how to operate is manned by Romanians also or if some special forces – few in number – action there. Regular combat units though, ‘shifted’, I have my doubts.
From national perspectives, Poland regaining its lost lands places the country in a complicated position, the country is far more exposed than Romania. Some of the mobilization – not only military – we witness there is a precautionary measure because the potential task ahead is very hard to accomplish.
Romania would be faced with far less complicated issues if it annexes the former Romanian territories now in Ukraine: fewer population, larger ethnic Romanian percentage, less bad blood between Romanians and Ukrainians.
As for a possible ‘crusade’ inside Ukraine against the ‘evil’ Russia, I very much doubt it. Romania doesn’t even have a clear direction of attack, logistics would be worse than a nightmare and numbers would be too low to allow any independent action. Poland could do better but would have to face a much stronger Russian army. The only significant risk remains a possible accidental clash which would escalate, this could happen in the midst of a chaotic situation emerging when we’ll get closer to the Ukrainian’s state demise.
Poland has a dual strategy which allows it to keep open the possibility to extend farther into Ukraine if an opportunity arises. It also needs to allocate larger resources in anticipation of that opportunity.
Romania’s strategic interests are more limited and well known, it has no expansionist project up the sleeve.
Both countries will follow the US lead, but only up to a point.
If there is going to be a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia I venture to guess it is US who’s going to initiate it, involving US personnel, not Poland or Romania.
What radically differentiates Romania from Poland is the existence of the Republic of Moldova. Former Romanian territory, lost (last time) at the end of the second world war alongside with the above mentioned Northern Bukovina and Southern Bessarabia, which are now in Ukraine. The exception is the Transnistria region, which wasn’t part of pre-war Romania and which is controlled since 1992 by a separatist regime, backed by Russia.
Rep. of Moldova, as a second Romanian state, represents Romania’s main concern and top priority strategic interest. It holds the largest Romanian population outside Romania’s current borders, 2/3 of the whole Rep. of Moldova’s population (excluding Transnistria) is made of ethnic Romanians.
It is in Moldova and around what happens to Moldova where Romania will focus its main attention.
Transnistria and the presence of Russian forces there is a very risky possible focal point outside but right at the border of Ukraine, a place where many potentially explosive factors can lead to a dangerous mess. A mess which most likely would fall into Romania’s task to deal with (hopefully has enough maturity not to trigger it in the first place).
While the raging war in the background could suggest another military confrontation is the probable evolution, it is not necessarily so. A clean break between Moldova and Transnistria is not impossible at all and would be in Romania’s interest to make this happen peacefully. After that, reabsorbing Rep. of Moldova into Romania becomes a distinct possibility which would solve more problems than would generate new ones.
One way or another, the same period of chaos which will emerge near the end of the Ukrainian state is going to precipitate events in Rep. of Moldova too. And the corresponding reactions.