German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Romania on Monday to underscore Western support for a key NATO ally that borders Ukraine and also for neighbouring Moldova, which has looked especially vulnerable since Russia’s invasion last year.
Moldovan President Maia Sandu, who has accused Moscow of fomenting unrest in her tiny former Soviet republic, was due to join Scholz and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest later in the day.
Russia denies causing trouble in Moldova, which is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, and aspires to join the European Union.
Scholz’s visit to Bucharest comes a day after German armsmaker Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE) announced it was setting up a maintenance and logistics hub in northern Romania to service weapons used in Ukraine.
Scholz praised Romania’s willingness to take in refugees spilling over the border from the war in Ukraine, adding: “Germany stands firmly by Romania’s side.”
Asked why Romania specifically had been chosen to host Rheinmetall’s servicing hub, Scholz said other European countries would also open maintenance centres to repair weapons such as tanks and Howitzers deployed against Russian forces.
Iohannis, who accompanied Scholz and the leaders of France and Italy on a visit to Kyiv last year, urged NATO to increase its presence in the Black Sea. Russia and Ukraine both share a coastline on the Black Sea, along with NATO members Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, as well as Georgia.
Iohannis also stressed the importance of supporting Moldova’s “stability and resilience”.
“Moldova’s situation is very much complicated by hybrid attacks from Russia. A major complication is the large number of Ukrainian refugees and the impact of the war in Ukraine on the Moldovan economy,” said Iohannis.
A breakaway, mainly Russian-speaking region of Moldova, known as Transdniestria, is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists and is also home to a garrison of Russian troops.
Its allegiance to Moscow and location on Ukraine’s western border have been a constant cause of concern since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year that the war could spread to the region.
Scholz on Monday also backed Romania’s efforts to join the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone this year, saying Bucharest fulfilled all the criteria. Romania and its southern neighbour Bulgaria have been kept out of the Schengen area due to concerns about unauthorised immigration.
Scholz’s visit to Romania came as his Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck paid a surprise visit to Ukraine.