The US Air Force has announced the deployment of MQ-9 Reaper drones and approximately 90 airmen in Romania amid NATO concerns that Russia is flexing its military muscle in the region.
An unspecified number of aircraft will be based at the Eastern European country’s Campia Turzii Air Base, establishing an “enduring presence” for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in support of NATO operations, the USAF said in a statement.
Until the squadron is fully operational, the statement added, the aircraft will operate under the 31st Expeditionary Operations Group, Detachment 1, which is subordinate to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy.
“The forward and ready positioning of our MQ-9s at this key strategic location reassures our allies and partners, while also sending a message to our adversaries, that we can quickly respond to any emergent threat,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, the United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander.
Tension With Russia
The move comes on the heels of heightening NATO tension with Russia, which is widely considered to be attempting to destabilize former Soviet countries in a long-simmering stand-off with the West.
Romania, like Russia, borders the Black Sea. Moscow has reportedly been arming Romanian neighbor Serbia, utilizing Bulgarian airspace. This is an alarming development for NATO, which considers this another attempt by Russia to undermine its security.
In June last year, Romania, in its national defense strategy proposed to parliament, termed Russia’s aggressive behavior and “violations of the rules of international law” as a security concern.
In a response harshly critical of this new policy, Russia accused Romania of subservience, parroting the West, and “betraying its own interests.”
This ratcheting up of tensions is a source of concern. Bucharest shares a difficult history with Moscow, as the latter imposed a communist regime in Romania after the Second World War.
Since 1989, when the USSR fell, Romania has been a close US ally. It joined NATO in 2004.