Bucharest: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg paid an official visit to Romania on Friday, where he joined the country’s president at a military air base that will host some of the 1,000 U.S. troops deployed to the country as the alliance bolsters its forces on the eastern flank amid soaring tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Stoltenberg, who met with Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis and other officials at the southeast Mihail Kogalniceanu air base near the Black Sea, said that there is a risk of armed conflict in Europe.

We have no certainty about what will happen. That is why we call on Russia to de-escalate, Stoltenberg told the media. That is why we are vigilant and prepared, that is why the presence of NATO troops in Romania is so important.

The NATO chief’s visit came on the same day that the first U.S. military convoys carrying armored personnel vehicles rolled into the Romanian base, after traversing the country since arriving Wednesday night. It is part of a U.S. move relocating 1,000 U.S. troops from Vilseck, Germany, to Romania as U.S. officials fear Russia will soon invade Ukraine. NATO troops have also been deployed to Poland.

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders and performed military maneuvers in the region but says it has no plans to invade. Stoltenberg and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis held official talks Friday and will meet with troops deployed at the base.

Iohannis on Friday expressed his gratitude to U.S. President Joe Biden for sending the troops to his country and said it is proof of the allied solidarity. He called the current situation a crucial moment for Euro-Atlantic security.

We are just 200 miles away from the illegally annexed Crimea,” Iohannis said. We also share part of our northern and eastern borders with Ukraine we perceive the current security threat in a clear manner.

The troops will add to around 900 U.S. service members that were already stationed in Romania, a NATO member since 2004. Romania shares more than 600 kilometers of border with Ukraine, to the north. France has also pledged to send troops to Romania.

Romania hosts a NATO missile defense system at the Deveselu military base, in the south, that Moscow has long considered a threat, arguing that the site could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors. Washington has denied these claims.

Stoltenberg’s official visit to Romania comes ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels next week. Stoltenberg, whose tenure at NATO ends later this year after serving in the post since 2014, said Friday that NATO ministers will discuss strengthening the presence of NATO in southeast Europe.

NATO’s troop movements are aimed at defending members of the military alliance. NATO will not send troops into Ukraine should Russia invade. (AP)

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