U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged more defense cooperation among Black Sea allies as he visited Romania on October 20 as part of a three-country tour of the region amid ongoing tensions with Russia.
During talks in Bucharest with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca, Austin said action was needed by littoral states of the Black Sea amid Russia's "militarization" of the region.
"The security and stability of the Black Sea are in the U.S.'s national interest and critical for the security of NATO's eastern flank," Austin told reporters.
"The region is vulnerable to Russian aggression and we've seen evidence of that by ongoing actions in eastern Ukraine, the occupations of parts of Georgia, and the militarization of the Black Sea and provocative actions in the air and at sea," he said.
Austin was in Bucharest on the third leg of a tour of the region to build confidence among allies, including Georgia and Ukraine, both of which are striving to join NATO, and to promote greater cooperation among military forces.
Austin also visited Romania's eastern Mihail Kogalniceanu air base and met with members of U.S. forces stationed there.
The Pentagon said Austin’s tour is a way to “reassure allies and partners of America’s commitment to their sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.”
Austin will join a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels in the coming days.