The shadow of war in Europe continued to cast a pall over 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 termed the invasion a “game changer” both for European security and the wider international order and said it has “shattered peace in Europe.”
Paradoxically, as a result of the war, Putin is now getting “more NATO on his border, and more members” of the alliance, Stoltenberg said, referring to the increasing likelihood that Sweden and Finland will be admitted to the alliance, which currently has 30 members.
As a former prime minister of Norway, Stoltenberg welcomed their decision to apply to join the body, calling it “historic,” and said any concerns from NATO member Turkey would be addressed and resolved. Some 96 percent of Europeans would be protected by NATO when Sweden and Finland join, he added.
Stoltenberg told business leaders that “freedom is more important than free trade,” and he called for the protection of common values over profit. He warned that dealing with authoritarian regimes is “undermining our security,” citing Russia and China as examples.
Three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Stoltenberg said the task of NATO is to ensure that “this brutal, heinous war doesn’t escalate to a full-fledged war in Europe between NATO and Russia.” The alliance must prevent any “miscalculations” that could trigger its core Article 5 collective self-defense mechanism, he said.
Addressing the forum just before Stoltenberg, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the war in Ukraine has thrown the “whole international order into question.” Rather than finding solutions to climate change and shaping globalization, “instead, we must address the costs and consequences of Putin’s war of choice,” she told the audience.
“The playbook of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine comes straight out of another century: Treating millions of people not as human beings but as faceless populations. … Trying to trample the aspirations of an entire nation with tanks.”
Von der Leyen, who visited Ukraine in April, chastised Russia for disrupting global supply chains, impeding grain exports from Ukraine and “weaponizing” its energy supplies. She lamented Putin’s “destructive fury” but said Russia could one day recover its place in Europe if it “finds its way back to democracy, the rule of law and respect for the international rules-based order … because Russia is our neighbor.” She acknowledged that this idea is a “distant dream and hope” at present.
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, underscored that the E.U. would “never be a military alliance.” However, “freedom must be fought for,” she said during her speech. “Ukraine must win this war.”
The E.U. is providing unprecedented military aid to Ukraine, as well as billions of dollars in financial support for reconstruction, and is hosting about 6 million refugees in its member states, she said. “It is an economic-relief operation with no precedent in recent history.”
Sanctions on Russia are “draining the Kremlin’s war machine,” von der Leyen added, as she pledged to continue to help Ukraine pursue “its European path” to becoming an E.U. member state. “Ukraine belongs in our European family,” she said. “We stand with them, and I think this is a defining moment for all the democracies of the world.”
Stoltenberg and von der Leyen spoke a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the forum by video link, urging the world’s economic elite to set “new precedents” for punishment of Russia over its invasion. No Russian representatives from government or business were invited to Davos, which resumed at the Swiss ski resort after a coronavirus-induced hiatus.
Emily Rauhala contributed to this report.