NATO: Defending Ukraine Is Defending Democracy

  • VOA News

    November 22, 2022 08:16

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg asked NATO members to step up military support to Ukraine to ensure the best outcome for the country as "a sovereign, independent, democratic nation in Europe."
    "We need to realize that this war most likely will end at some stage -- at the negotiating table. But we also know that the outcome of those negotiations is totally dependent on the strength on the battlefield," Stoltenberg told NATO's Parliamentary Assembly meeting Monday in Madrid.
    He said the alliance must invest more money in Ukraine's defense. "We have to remember that the price we pay is measured in money, and the price Ukraine is paying is measured in lives, in blood, every day, and it's our obligation to support them." 
    He noted that defending Ukraine is defending democracy. "If we allow [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to win," he said, "all of us will have to pay a much higher price. Authoritarian regimes around the world will learn that they can get what they want with brute force."
    Stoltenberg said that by the end of the year, NATO will have spent well over $350 billion extra on defense since 2014. NATO, he said, must bolster its military infrastructure in Europe and finalize Finland's and Sweden's entrance into the alliance. Stoltenberg hailed Ukraine's military advances against Moscow but cautioned it would be a mistake to underestimate the military might of the Russian Federation.
    "It retains significant military capabilities and a high number of troops. Russia is willing to suffer substantial casualties and is willing to inflict horrific suffering on Ukrainian people. We have seen drone and missiles striking Ukrainian cities, civilians and critical infrastructure," he said.
    Addressing the assembly by video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed the significance of NATO's military and financial support to Ukraine and urged the alliance to welcome Ukraine into the EU and NATO. "Joint action is what constitutes true peacemaking," he said. 
    The Ukrainian president urged NATO members to guarantee protection from "Russian sabotage" at nuclear facilities. Russia and Ukraine on Monday traded blame for at least a dozen explosions at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, which has been under Russian control since shortly after Moscow invaded the country on Feb. 24.
    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg (right) speaks while his image is shown on a large screen during the 68th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid, Spain on Nov. 21, 2022. /AP
    In a statement Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed there were no immediate nuclear safety or security concerns at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Key equipment remained intact despite heavy shelling on the facilities during the weekend that caused widespread damage, the UN atomic watchdog said after its experts toured the site. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi described the shelling as another "close call" for Europe's largest nuclear power plant.
    Radiation levels at the site remained normal and there were no reports of casualties. The plant's external power supplies, which have been knocked out several times during the conflict, were also not affected. "Even though there was no direct impact on key nuclear safety and security systems at the plant, the shelling came dangerously close to them. We are talking meters, not kilometers," Grossi said. "Whoever is shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is taking huge risks and gambling with many people's lives."
    ◆ Bitter Winter Tests Human Resolve
    Meanwhile, as bitter winter weather arrives in Ukraine, Russia has been attacking the Ukrainian power grid and other key infrastructure from the air, causing widespread blackouts for millions of Ukrainians. In the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, residents are braving the cold without heat or water.
    "Russian strikes are plunging Ukraine into the Stone Age," Anastasia Pyrozhenko said in an interview with The Associated Press. In a recent 24-hour spell, her 26-story high-rise had power for only half an hour. She says the "military living conditions" have driven her and her husband from their apartment.
    Ukrainian state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo reported that 40 percent of Ukrainians were experiencing difficulties, due to damage to at least 15 major energy hubs across the country, AP reports. In Kherson and the neighboring province of Mykolaiv, Ukrainian authorities have started evacuating civilians, fearing that damage to the infrastructure of the recently liberated areas is too severe for people to endure the coming winter, AP quoted officials saying on Monday.
    Residents of the two southern regions, regularly shelled in the past months by Russian forces, have been advised to move to safer areas in the central and western parts of the country, said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. The government will provide transportation, accommodation and medical care, she said.
    The evacuations come more than a week after Ukraine freed the city of Kherson and areas around it. The liberation of the area marked a major battlefield gain, while the evacuations now highlight the difficulties the country is facing following heavy Russian shelling of its power infrastructure.
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