NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged allies to unwaveringly support Ukraine in its ongoing counteroffensive against Russia.
“No one ever said this was going to be easy. It was clearly stated this was going to be a bloody, difficult and hard offensive,” Stoltenberg told Members of the European Parliament on Thursday morning.
“Wars are by nature unpredictable,” he went on. “There will be bad days and good days. We need to be with Ukraine not only in good times but also in bad times.
“We support them when they win and if they lose. We are there with Ukraine because to support Ukraine is not an option, it’s a necessity to (ensure) that authoritarian regimes don’t achieve what they want by violating national law and using military force.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how brutal war is, but we need to never forget our responsibility,” he added.
Stoltenberg’s comments come in the midst of growing media reports that suggest US and European officials are frustrated by the evolution of the long-awaited counteroffensive, which is propped up by supplies of Western ammunition.
According to a recent report by the New York Times, the US has advised Ukraine to revise its tactics and make changes to how its forces are being deployed along the battle lines. The media scrutiny, coupled with the slow pace of the military operation, has piled pressure to deliver faster results.
Stoltenberg criticised the naysayers and said military decisions should not be taken by Brussels, a reference to the location of the NATO headquarters, but by the Ukrainian commanders fighting “on the ground.”
“We have to remember the starting point: the Russian army used to be the second strongest in the world and now the Russian army is the second strongest in Ukraine,” he told MEPs. “And that’s quite impressive.”
In the secretary general’s estimation, the Ukrainian army is retaking an estimated 100 metres per day of Russian-occupied land.
The Ukrainian armed forces “are making progress, not perhaps as much as we hoped for, but they’re gaining ground gradually,” he said. “Meaning that when the Ukrainians are gaining ground, the Russians are losing ground.”
Possible Russian drone in Romania
During the exchange of views with lawmakers, Stoltenberg also discussed a recent incident in Romania, a NATO member state, that has put the alliance on alert.
Following two days of emphatic denials, the Romanian authorities admitted on Wednesday that they had found debris on its territory that might possibly belong to a Russian drone launched against Ukraine. The admission prompted outrage inside the country and raised questions about a potential cover-up.
An investigation is currently underway to determine the drone’s origin.
“If it is confirmed that these elements belong to a Russian drone, such a situation would be completely inadmissible and a serious violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Romania, a NATO ally,” said Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Asked about the new development, Stoltenberg trod carefully and said the Romanian government had informed NATO allies about the preliminary findings collected on the Romanian-Ukrainian border.
“It demonstrates the risks of incidents and accidents. We don’t have any information indicating an intentional attack by Russia,” the secretary general told MEPs.
“We’re waiting (for) the outcome of the ongoing investigation. Regardless of that outcome, what we have seen is a lot of fighting and air attacks close to NATO borders,” he added. “We have increased our vigilance. We’re monitoring what’s going on close to our borders.”
This is not the first time that a Russian attack has fuelled fears that the war could spill beyond Ukraine’s territory. Last year, two farmers were accidentally killed in Przewodów, a village near the Polish-Ukrainian border, by what was later identified as an air defence missile that Ukraine had fired to diffuse a Russian attack.
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