NATO members from Eastern Europe have pushed for a larger allied military presence on the bloc's eastern flank, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on May 10 after a virtual summit of those states that was also joined by U.S. President Joe Biden.
"The worrying situation in the Black Sea, which we discussed in detail, proved that we have to keep being vigilant," Iohannis said in Bucharest.
The summit of the Bucharest Nine (B9), a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO, was jointly hosted by Iohannis and Polish President Andrzej Duda, who traveled to Bucharest in person.
It came after Russia last month amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine's borders as well as in Crimea, the biggest mobilization since Moscow seized the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014 and war broke out in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is backing separatists.
"NATO must continue to beef up its defense and deterrence posture especially on the eastern flank from the Baltic to the Black Sea. That's why, including during our discussion with President Biden, I advocated a bigger presence of the alliance and the United States in Romania and in the south of the eastern flank," Iohannis said.
"The talks were very substantive, a fact reflected in the Joint Statement adopted at the end of this meeting," Iohannis added.
"I've also highlighted during the talks with my counterparts that Russia's destabilizing actions in the region have sparked concern and contributed to maintaining a climate of insecurity."
Ahead of the summit, the White House said Biden would “convey his desire for closer cooperation with our Allies in Central Europe and the Baltic and Black Sea regions on the full range of global challenges."
The members of the B9 are Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Most share concerns about Moscow's attempts to reassert its influence over their region since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its military, political, and economic support behind separatists in parts of eastern Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who also attended via video link, told the conference that Biden's attendance proved Washington's determination to rebuild and strengthen NATO.
Duda said at a news briefing before the meeting that the political situation in Belarus was a matter of concern for the B9 countries and Ukraine was also on the agenda.
He said he was relieved that Russia had pulled back many of the forces it had recently built up near the Ukrainian border, saying he believed it 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 at the briefing alongside Iohannis.
"Neither Europe nor the world can take their eyes off this part of our continent," Duda said. "We must all absolutely support Ukraine on the one hand, but on the other hand, we must also guard our security because this is our eastern flank, both for Romania and for Poland."
Iohannis and Duda will attend a military exercise on May 11 involving Polish and Romanian troops called Justice Sword 21. It is to take place in Smardan, a village in eastern Romania.