Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca said he expects Romania - after more than a decade of waiting - to enter the EU's Schengen area before the end of the year. This will eliminate the long wait at Romania's borders with other EU countries and increase its attractiveness for foreign investors. Brussels will abandon the regime, which monitors Romania's progress in reforming the judiciary and rooting out corruption after years of criticism from the EU executive, he said
"Everything we have done since the start of the conflict (in Ukraine) shows that we are ready to become a Schengen member," Ciuca said. "We really expect all the other EU leaders to recognize everything we've done."
It is "desirable" to expect relations between Russia and the West to return to their pre-war status soon after fighting in Ukraine stops, as the Kremlin appears to seek to create a buffer between itself and NATO, the prime minister of Romania.
Nicolae Ciuca, a retired general who once led combat forces in Iraq, said Russia's invasion had reopened a Cold War-like civilizational rift, and the North Atlantic pact would need to maintain an expanded troop presence on its eastern border for at least in the medium term.
While he has said he does not think Russia will attack a NATO country and spark open conflict, the current war confirms more than a decade of warnings from the alliance's eastern members that President Vladimir Putin is bent on reclaiming territory once controlled by the Soviet Union.
"Russia doesn't think like us. Russia doesn't behave like us," Ciuca, 55, said in an interview with Bloomberg. "The situation at the moment seems to be recreating that rift between Western and Eastern civilizations - between free, democratic states and autocratic regimes."
Romania, a former communist country of almost 19 million people that joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union three years later, has become a frontline supporter of Ukraine after Russia attacked it on February 24.
Its 624km border with Ukraine is the EU's longest, and the country has rushed to rebuild railways and repair ports to help Ukrainian exports circumvent Russia's occupation and blockade of Black Sea ports. It also helped more than 1 million refugees who fled across the border to escape the conflict.
Still, fears are mounting that the resolve of wealthier Western nations to keep up pressure on Russia through sanctions and a continued flow of arms and financial aid to Ukraine could weaken as winter approaches and curbs on Russian gas flows lead to rising of energy prices. According to Ciuca, the pressure should not let up.
If the Russians "don't want to stop as quickly as possible and negotiate, find a solution, recognize the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, they will do the same with other countries," he said.
The Ciuca government plans to raise Romania's defense spending target beyond the NATO-mandated lower limit to 2.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). About a third of that amount will go toward acquiring weapons, including fighter jets, submarines, corvettes, armored fighting vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.
Following NATO's decision to increase troop presence on its eastern flank, Romania now also hosts a multinational battle group made up of French, Belgian and Dutch troops, as well as a US contingent, which Ciuca said underscores the growing strategic importance of the Black Sea region.
"It's not just about defense, it's about food security globally", he said. "This is a region that is very close to the Balkan region as well, so all these decisions taken to increase deterrence and defense along the entire eastern flank are very welcome."
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