The shadow of war in Europe hit the high-impact networking of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday, as leaders criticized Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
The NATO chief called the attack a “game changer” for both European security and larger international order, saying it “disrupted peace in Europe.”
Offensively, as a result of the war, Putin is now getting “more NATO and alliance members on his border,” Stoltenberg said, citing the growing possibility of Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, which currently has 30 members.
As Norway’s former prime minister, Stoltenberg welcomed his decision to join the organization, calling it “historic” and saying that any concerns raised by NATO member Turkey would be addressed. If Sweden and Finland join, about 96 percent of Europeans will be protected by NATO, he added.
Economic uncertainty and the ongoing war have cast a cloud over Davos
Stoltenberg told business leaders that “freedom is more important than free trade,” and called for the protection of common values rather than profit. He warned that dealing with authoritarian regimes was “undermining our security”, citing Russia and China as examples.
Three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Stoltenberg said NATO’s job was to “ensure that this brutal, heinous war does not turn into a full-blown war between NATO and Russia in Europe.” The coalition must prevent any “miscalculations” that could trigger a paragraph 5 joint defense system, he said.
Speaking at the forum just before Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the war in Ukraine had “questioned the whole international system”. Instead of finding solutions to climate change and shaping globalization, “instead, we must address the costs and consequences of Putin’s preferred war,” he told the audience.
“The playbook of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine goes straight beyond another century: treating millions of people as faceless people, not as human beings. That tank is trying to trample on the aspirations of the whole nation. “
Von der Leyen, who visited Ukraine in April, punished Russia for disrupting the global supply chain, disrupting grain exports from Ukraine and “disarming” its energy supply. He lamented Putin’s “destructive rage” but said Russia could one day regain its place in Europe if it “regained respect for democracy, the rule of law and international law … because Russia is our neighbor.” He acknowledged that the idea was currently a “distant dream and hope”.
Stoltenberg said it was important for NATO and the European Union not to duplicate defense efforts. And von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, insisted that the EU “would never have a military alliance.” However, “freedom must be fought,” he said in his speech. “Ukraine must win this war.”
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The EU is providing unprecedented military assistance to Ukraine, as well as billions of dollars in financial assistance for reconstruction and hosting about 6 million refugees in its member states, he said. “This is an economic-relief operation that has no precedent in recent history.”
Sanctions on Russia are “dismantling the Kremlin’s war machine,” Von der Leyen added, as he pledged to help Ukraine follow “its European path” to become an EU member state. “Ukraine belongs to our European family,” he said. “We stand with them, and I think this is a defining moment for all democracies in the world.”
Stoltenberg and Von der Leyen spoke a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the forum via video link, urging the world’s economic elites to set a “new precedent” for punishing Russia for its attack. No Russian government or business representative was invited to Davos, which reopened at a Swiss ski resort after a coronavirus-induced break.
Emily Rauhala contributed to this report.