WARSAW, Poland — Eastern European defense ministers said they hope the United States would deploy more troops on their soil, fearing the Pentagon could cut its military presence on NATO’s eastern flank.

Simona Cojocaru, the state secretary at the Romanian Ministry of National Defence, said that “the United States’ military presence in Romania is the best deterrence” against Russia’s potential aggression. More defense “consolidation in the Black Sea” would send “a message to Russia, and a more solid presence that we offer [to the U.S.] is also more strategic flexibility to perform missions in the area,” she added in remarks here at the Warsaw Security Forum, an event organized by the Casimir Pulaski Foundation think tank.

For Romania, one of NATO’s eastern members, Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and the Kremlin’s takeover of the Crimean peninsula put Black Sea security in the center of the country’s security agenda.

Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Laanet said he agreed with his Romanian counterpart, saying “more U.S. boots on the ground in Estonia” would serve as the best deterrence against Moscow’s posturing.

“Russia, of course, wants that the U.S. attention is somewhere away, in the Pacific, and not in our region,” Laanet said. “We have to talk about what kind of message we are sending [to Russia] and our message should be common and strong, united.”

The message conveyed by Montenegro’s Defence Minister Olivera Injac, who represents a country that joined NATO in 2017, was that there existed differences within the alliance on the approach to Moscow, but that the U.S. should “help us build our defense industry, and be more engaged in the defense industries in all countries” across the region.

Since Crimea’s annexation by Russia, the U.S. has bolstered its military presence in Eastern Europe through an increased rotational military presence, among others in Poland and Romania. NATO has responded to the invasion by enhancing its presence on the alliance’s eastern flank by setting up four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, on a rotational basis.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, said Washington’s relations with its European allies could be disturbed by the events of Afghanistan. “There is a specter here, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, that is going to haunt the U.S.-EU relationship and our other relationships around the world.”

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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