Romania, a NATO neighbor of Ukraine, lies all too close to Russia’s strikes on Danube ports.

His thatched-roof shack on the bank of the Danube River just 200 yards from Ukraine has no running water, and getting to it involves waiting for a ferry and a bumpy ride on dirt roads.

Last week, however, the farmyard home of Gheorge Puflea, 71, became a piece of attention-grabbing real estate thanks to its unwanted status as the first property in NATO territory damaged in a Russian attack aimed at Ukraine.

The drone missile assault, carried out before dawn on Aug. 2, hit a Ukrainian cargo port across the river, but it was so close that shock waves from the explosions shattered windows in Plauru, a tiny hamlet with just a dozen tumbledown homes on the Romanian side of the Danube.

The sound of the blasts and breaking glass woke Mr. Puflea from his sleep and sent him rushing outside in a panic.

“At first I thought it was a thunderstorm,” he said, recalling how he had taken shelter under a pear tree in his yard and then watched in horror as “what looked like a war movie played out right on my doorstep.”

The night sky crackled with Ukrainian antiaircraft fire, and huge fireballs rose from three Ukrainian port buildings blasted by Russian drones. A week earlier Russia had attacked Reni, another Ukrainian port across the Danube from Romania.

Ships in the port of Izmail, Ukraine, across the Danube River from Plauru. The Romanian defense ministry said it found no sign of any violations of the country’s airspace.Credit…Andreea Campeanu for The New York Times
The waterfront in Tulcea, Romania, the regional capital. With Ukraine’s seaports too dangerous for big grain-carrying vessels, its ports on the Danube have become crucial.Credit…Andreea Campeanu for The New York Times

The Russian attacks were aimed at severing what has been a shipping lifeline provided to Ukraine by river ports, ever since the collapse last month of a deal that had allowed Ukraine to export its grain through the Black Sea despite a naval blockade by Russia. With Ukraine’s seaports too dangerous for grain-carrying vessels bound for the Middle East and Africa, its ports on the Danube have become the last shipping outlet for millions of tons of grain.

Ukraine’s main Danube ports — Izmail and Reni — have also become a potentially perilous tripwire, as they lie so close to Romania, a member of NATO, and therefore to territory covered by the alliance’s commitment to collective security. A Russian drone or missile flying a few yards off course would risk dragging the United States and its allies into a direct military confrontation with Moscow.

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