Five hundred US troops have arrived in Romania to allegedly beef up defense in the East European member country of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a move likely to further escalate Russia-NATO tensions.
The US embassy in Bucharest said on Tuesday that the troops had arrived in a Romanian Black Sea port with tanks and military hardware as part of a move to help bolster NATO’s eastern flank in the face of what the West considers "Russian aggression."
US Ambassador Hans G. Klemm said the troops would be stationed in an airbase in the country’s east on a rotating basis.
Klemm added that the deployment underscores "the strong US-Romania strategic partnership exists in both word and deed,” and the presence of American soldiers "expands our capacity… in maintaining peace and security in southeastern Europe and the Black Sea region."
Reports said that the troops would take part in different multinational exercises and conduct shooting exercises with live ammunition when at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base.
NATO suspended all ties with Moscow in April 2014, after the then-Ukrainian Crimea Peninsula voted in a referendum to join Russian territory.
Shortly afterwards, an armed conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine, areas inhabited by an ethnically-Russian population. The Ukrainian government, which militarized the originally peaceful unrest in the region — known as the Donbass — has ever since been accusing Russia of having a hand in the conflict there. Moscow denies the claim.
The conflict has so far claimed the lives of more than 9,200 people and left over 21,000 others injured.
NATO has increased its military presence in Eastern Europe since then. US and NATO officials say the move aims to protect Europe from dangers posed by Russia. Moscow, however, has slammed the military buildup as a threat to its security.
Senior officials in Moscow have repeatedly accused NATO of seeking confrontation, describing its military build-up as a threat to security in Europe.
Russia does not look favorably upon the increased presence of NATO troops close to its borders and has pledged to respond accordingly to any threats posed by the alliance.
Meanwhile, the White House announced early on Tuesday that US President Donald Trump had called on Russia to "return Crimea" to Ukraine.
He further accused former President Barack Obama of conniving Russia’s seizure of Crimea.