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French, Dutch ministers visit NATO battlegroup in Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The foreign ministers of France and the Netherlands paid an official visit on Friday to a military base in Romania where both nations station troops as a part of a NATO battlegroup that was bolstered in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

Catherine Colonna of France and Wopke Hoekstra of the Netherlands visited the military base in Cincu, central Romania, along with their Romanian counterpart, Bogdan Aurescu.

Hoekstra told troops from the multinational battlegroup stationed there that they demonstrate “precisely what our alliance stands for,” and said they play a key role in “keeping this continent and our territory safe.”

“Russia is waging war in a way we haven’t seen in decades, and therefore we cannot let our guard down — we need to step up our efforts,” Hoekstra said, adding: “There is only one way forward: Ukraine must win this war, for its own sake but also for ours.”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, NATO bolstered its presence on Europe’s eastern flank, including by sending additional multinational battlegroups to alliance members Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.

Earlier this week, around 600 French soldiers held a combat exercise in the eastern Romanian town of Smardan to test the 30-nation military alliance’s readiness on its eastern flank. The drill involved some 200 military vehicles, including four French Leclerc battle tanks that practiced firing live ammunition.

Romania’s defense ministry said the main purpose of that exercise was to train the battlegroup “on the rapid deployment capability and execution of a combat mission” within a collective NATO defense operation.

Later on Friday, the three foreign ministers will head to Romania’s capital, Bucharest, for trilateral talks on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine; cooperation within NATO; and Romania’s ongoing efforts to join the so-called Schengen Area, Europe’s ID-check-free travel zone, after being blocked from joining last month.

They will also discuss developments in Moldova, which has been impacted in a multitude of ways since Moscow launched its war against Ukraine, Moldova’s neighbor.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine