- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Five days ahead of crucial elections in Ukraine, Vice President Joseph R. Biden traveled to neighboring Romania Tuesday to reassure the NATO ally of the U.S. commitment to fend off Russian aggression in eastern Europe.

Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine, less than 250 miles from Romania, “reminds us why we need NATO and why Romania belongs to NATO,” Mr. Biden said at an air base in the Romanian capital of Bucharest. He pledged that the Obama administration is committed to the common defense of all NATO-member nations.

“I’m here to say on behalf of the president what I hope you already know: You can count on us — period,” Mr. Biden said. “We do what we say, and we mean what we say.”

As Ukraine gears up for national elections on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will begin to withdraw troops from the border. But U.S. officials say they haven’t seen evidence of a Russian withdrawal.

The U.S. and European allies have imposed limited sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea, and have threatened deeper sanctions if pro-Russian militants disrupt Sunday’s elections.

Mr. Biden, who reviewed a joint U.S.-Romanian military exercise, said Russia’s actions have demonstrated the need to bolster NATO.

“So long as Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine continues we must remain resolute in imposing greater costs on Russia, imposing those costs together,” he said. “But our strategy is about more than just imposing cost. It’s fundamentally about investing in a revitalized NATO that emerges from this crisis … stronger and more united.”

He said NATO has “urgently stepped up” its military presence in eastern Europe during the crisis, with a show of naval power in the Black Sea and an F-16 fighter jet exercise.

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