Romanian President Klaus Iohannis used a national holiday to deliver a message that the Black Sea is of strategic importance for NATO and the European Union amid rising tensions with Russia over the redeployment of U.S. troops to the area.
Speaking to sailors on Navy Day at the Black Sea port of Constanta on Saturday, the president said Romania had grown in its role as a NATO ally and regional provider of international security.
As he spoke, Romanian, EU and NATO flags fluttered against a backdrop of the Black Sea, underscoring his message.
“The Black Sea region is an area of strategic interest not only for Romania, but for NATO and the European Union,” Iohannis said, dressed in a light blue suit and matching tie, which were the same color as the Black Sea behind him.
“For this reason, we have to be a safe and predictable space…. essential aspects for national, European and trans-Atlantic security,” the president said.
Tensions in the Black Sea have been building ever since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. NATO has promised a more “robust presence” in the region.
The president said “developments in the eastern neighborhood,” a reference to developments in Russia and Ukraine and other former Soviet republics “ and the positioning of NATO and the European Union’s external borders mean our country takes on a more active profile from a political, diplomatic and economic point of view.”
The American Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, announced on July 29 that the U.S. will increase its military presence in the Black Sea, a development that irritated Moscow.
Reacting to U.S. plans, Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday said that Washington’s decision to deploy additional troops in Romania showed that the Trump administration and NATO wanted to form an „arc of tension along the line of contact with Russia.”
Every year, Romania puts on a grand ceremony to mark both Navy Day and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary at the Black Sea. This year it was scaled down this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Romania’s statute as a vector of stability and supplier of regional security, already a reality, will continue to be of value by consistently applying the foreign policy of recent years,” he said.
“We will continue moves to develop….. defense and increase the presence of the NATO allies in Romania,” to strengthen national security, he said.
Romania’s goals remain unchanged in the region, he said. “A stable, democratic and prosperous region by linking the Black Sea space to… European and Euro-Atlantic cooperation.”
But as Iohannis spoke about cooperation with Western partners, Maria Zakharova warned about redeploying troops in Eastern Europe. „Such provocative inclinations will not remain without a proper response from Russia,” urging the United States to „carefully weigh all the risks and seriously think about the consequences” of its acts.
Zakharova claimed the move would limit the „interests of European security,” and rebuked East European countries lean toward what she called Russophobia by inviting US troops.
Regional politics aside, Iohannis ended his speech by thanking the Navy for their patriotism and professionalism.
“May the Holy Virgin Mary, the protector of the Romanian Navy, shield you wherever you sail with the Romanian flag at full mast.”