Romania Strengthens its Defenses along the Danube due to the Approaching War
Romania is moving air defenses closer to its Danube border after Russian drones increased attacks on Ukrainian ports across the river.
The measures, along with the deployment of four additional US F-16 fighter jets and an expanded no-fly zone, are a sign of growing concern in Romania and NATO that the war in Ukraine could spill over into their territory.
In November last year, a missile struck southern Poland, killing two people and sparking insecurity, although it later emerged that it had been fired by Ukrainian air defenses. Romania is now in the spotlight.
Soon after pulling out of the Black Sea grain deal on July 17, Moscow began targeting Ukrainian ports and warehouses along the Danube in an apparent attempt to choke off the main alternative route for Ukrainian agricultural exports.
Among the targets were the Ukrainian ports of Izmail and Reni, which lie opposite Romania.
Isolated incidents of drone parts falling in Romania have highlighted the risk of accidents, prompting the Romanian armed forces to beef up security in the area to protect civilians.
The army has built two bomb shelters in the small village of Plauru, just a few hundred meters from Izmail, and nearby residents are sent messages on their cellphones when Russian drones are detected heading for them.
However, Tudor Cernega, mayor of Ceatalchioi municipality, which includes the village of Plauru, said poor mobile reception there limited the effectiveness of the warnings.
In a statement last Friday, Romania's defense ministry said about 100 US troops and four F-16 fighter jets had arrived at the Borcea military air base, about 150 km south of Izmail.
Since mid-September, the ministry has extended the no-fly zone along a stretch of the border with Ukraine up to 30 km inside Romania and up to an altitude of 4,000 meters as a deterrent against Russian drones entering Romania's airspace to reach enemy targets.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Kyiv on Thursday that there was no evidence that Russian strikes near the Ukrainian-Romanian border were a deliberate attack on Romania, but called them "reckless" and "destabilizing."
Romanian Defense Ministry spokesman Constantin Spinu also said there was no indication that Russia was targeting Romania, but that the nature of the attacks made it virtually impossible to prevent all breaches.
"They (Russian drones) fly at very low altitudes, sometimes less than 200 meters (above the ground) ... they are built in such a way that they least reflect radar waves," the spokesman explained.
"No country in the world can 100% protect its airspace from all means of attack," he added.
Defense sources said they were not aware of any cases of fully operational Russian drones entering Romanian airspace, and that the three known cases of drones or their debris falling on its territory did not have explosives.
According to them, the Russians have changed their tactics, which increases the likelihood of mistargeting.
In July, as the bombing campaign over the Danube intensified, the Russians achieved more targeted success because Ukraine had not established extensive air defense systems in the area.
Now that they are there, attack drones tend to fly lower, making it harder to hit targets. They often follow the Danube and arrive in swarms to try to wear down Ukraine's defenses, the sources said.
The mayor of Ceatalchioi is glad that his warnings about parts of drones falling in the area were heard.
"Two months ago, when I mentioned the suspicion that a drone might have fallen here, I was not taken seriously. Now things have changed," he told Reuters.
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