By Luiza Ilie and Jason Hovet
(Reuters) -Parts of what could be a Russian drone fell on Romanian territory, Defence Minister Angel Tilvar said on Wednesday, two days after Ukraine said Russian drones had detonated on the NATO member’s land.
Romanian officials had earlier denied reports of drones crashing on Romanian soil and said Russian attacks in neighbouring Ukraine did not pose a direct threat.
On Wednesday, President Klaus Iohannis said confirmation of the discovered parts belonging to a Russian drone would be a serious violation.
“I confirm that pieces which might be the elements of a drone were found,” Tilvar told Antenna 3 CNN broadcaster.
He said the area had not been evacuated because there was nothing to suggest that the parts posed a threat, and that the pieces would be analysed to confirm their origin.
NATO allies on Wednesday expressed “strong solidarity” with Romania after the country briefed them about the incident. “We continue to monitor the situation closely, and we remain in close contact with our ally Romania,” NATO said in a statement.
Ukraine had said on Monday that drones detonated in Romania during an overnight Russian air strike on a Ukrainian port across the Danube River, where attacks have increased since July when Moscow abandoned a deal that lifted a de facto Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
A social media video and still photograph showed a blast on the Romanian side of the Danube river, across from Izmail. Reuters was able to confirm the location but not the cause of the explosion or the date the images were taken.
ROMANIA ON ALERT
Speaking in Bucharest on Wednesday at the start of a summit of the presidents of Three Seas Initiative countries, Iohannis described the attacks as war crimes happening a “small distance” from Romania’s border.
“If it is confirmed that the components (found) belong to a Russian drone, such a situation would be inadmissible and a serious violation of Romania’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. “We are on alert and in constant contact with our NATO allies.”
Tilvar reiterated there was no direct threat and told Agerpres it was possible the drone did not explode on impact but rather simply fell, or pieces landed on Romanian territory.
“(That) does not make us happy, (…) but I don’t think that we can talk about an attack and, as I said before, I think we need to know how to distinguish between an act of aggression and an incident,” Agerpres quoted him as saying.
A ministry spokesperson said search teams had been in the area for several days while the minister and other defence officials spoke with residents.
Russia has conducted long-range air strikes on targets in Ukraine since it invaded its neighbour last year, and Kyiv has reported suspected Russian weapons flying over or crashing into neighbouring countries several times.
In the most serious incident, two people were killed in Poland by a missile that fell near the frontier last November; Poland and NATO allies later said it was a misfired Ukrainian air defence missile.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Luiza Ilie and Jason Hovet; editing by Alexandra Hudson, Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)