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In Romania, French, Dutch FMs sign agreement to boost ties

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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The foreign ministers of France and the Netherlands visited a NATO battlegroup at a base in Romania Friday and later agreed to bolster their ties amid Russia’s war in 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. France and the Netherlands both have troops in the battlegroup, which was strengthened in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, Romania's neighbor.

Hoekstra told troops 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.

In the afternoon, the three ministers held talks in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, where they signed an agreement to strengthen ties between the three NATO member nations.

Hoekstra, who also held talks with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on Friday, called for “heavier sanctions on those responsible for facilitating the Russian war effort.”

Colonna said France will support Ukraine for “as long as needed” and slammed Moscow for striking civilian targets “with the stated criminal aim of turning winter into a weapon of war.”

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.

The ministers also discussed 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, and developments in Moldova, which has been impacted in a multitude of ways since Moscow launched its war against Ukraine, Moldova’s neighbor.

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.

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