By Justin Sink - 05/20/14 10:38 AM EDT
Vice President Biden on Tuesday sought to reassure Romania that the United States would defend its borders amid concerns that Russia's incursion into Ukraine could spread into other parts of Eastern Europe.
"I’m here to say on behalf of the president what I hope you already know: You can count on us. Period," Biden said while touring a Romanian air base. "We do what we say, and we mean what we say."
Leaders there have voiced concern for both their own territorial integrity and that of neighboring Moldova, a Romanian-speaking country with a sizable Russian minority that borders the southern regions of Ukraine where separatists have taken hold. Unlike Romania, Moldova is not a member of NATO or subject to its collective defense protections.
Biden said that Russia's aggression in Ukraine underscored the importance of the NATO alliance, and pledged to uphold the "sacred obligation" of the NATO charter.
"What Russia has done violates not just Ukraine’s sovereignty, but a fundamental principle we fought for in the 20th century and thought we had clearly established," Biden said. "Europe’s borders should never again be changed at the point of a gun, which is why we continue to condemn Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea."
Biden said the U.S. would continue to demonstrate that commitment with a stepped-up military presence in Romania, including joint air exercises and visits by U.S. naval vessels to Romanian ports.
Biden also called on Europe to "remain resolute in imposing greater costs on Russia" over the incursion into Ukraine.
On Monday, the Kremlin announced it had ordered the drawdown of tens of thousands of Russian troops that had amassed in recent months across the border from Ukraine in a bid to deescalate tensions in the region. But the Obama administration said it had not yet seen evidence that troops had returned back to their bases.