President Klaus Iohannis of Romania has pleaded for a greater U.S. military presence "from the Baltic to the Black Sea" to protect the countries of Eastern Europe from Vladimir Putin's Russia.
He told President Joe Biden on Monday that more NATO troops are needed on Europe's eastern flank after a recent military build-up by Russia on its border with Ukraine.
His comments came at a conference of the Bucharest Nine - Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - which were all either part of the Soviet Union or controlled by Moscow during the Cold War. Now, all nine are members of the EU and NATO.
Iohannis told Biden, who attended the conference via video link, warned of increased Russian activity including in the Black Sea region where Romania is located.
“NATO must continue to strengthen its position of deterrence and defense, especially on the eastern flank, in a unified and coherent manner, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea,” he said.
"I pleaded — including in the discussion with President Biden — for an increase in the allied military presence, including of the U.S., in Romania and in the south of the eastern flank.”
Speaking about the recent build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine - including in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 - Polish President Andrzej Duda said he was relieved Russia had pulled back many of the forces. Duda said he believed that reduced the risk of another Russian invasion.
“But there is no doubt that the situation there is very difficult, that Ukrainian territory is occupied,” Duda said. “Neither Europe nor the world can take their eyes off this part of our continent.”
The Bucharest Nine initiative was launched by Romania and Poland in 2015 to give the Eastern alliance members a way to discuss regional issues and forge a united voice in the larger NATO forum.
Monday's meeting came ahead of a full NATO summit on June 14 in Brussels, where the alliance has its headquarters.
At the June summit, Biden and other leaders plan to discuss tense ties with Russia and China, the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the future of the 30-nation alliance.