by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Parliament of Ukraine
Members of the Verkhovna Rada.
I am deeply honoured to once again be able to address this House.
This is a time of renewal for Ukraine. A new President. A new Parliament. New opportunities for all Ukrainian citizens.
It holds opportunities for you too, their elected representatives. To take the difficult decisions needed to make a success of reforms. And to create the future your country deserves.
Many of you are newly elected. New to parliament, and new even to politics. This is your opportunity to be bold. To bring sweeping change. To advance ambitious reforms.
For many years, I was a parliamentarian myself. So I know how hard and demanding it can be to be a member of a parliament. So I understand very well how challenging your job is in a very important time for this country. And also how essential it is for the future of your country. Today, I am joined by the 29 members of the North Atlantic Council, and North Macedonia, soon to be our 30th member. So the whole of the Alliance, all the NATO Allies are represented her in Kyiv today. Each ambassador representing their home nation. Each nation standing with you. So whatever the future may hold, know this...
NATO will be on your side.
It is now more than five years since Russian soldiers illegally annexed Crimea. This single act dealt a cruel blow to Ukraine. And it undermined peace and stability in all of Europe.
NATO does not accept Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea. We call on Russia to return control of the peninsula to Ukraine. And to stop its destabilising actions in eastern Ukraine. All NATO Allies, from Europe and North America, are united in their condemnations of Russia’s behaviour.
Last month, Russia and Ukraine exchanged dozens of prisoners. It was the biggest exchange since the annexation of Crimea. This was a step in the right direction. Together with efforts in the Normandy format, this could contribute to the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Russia bears significant responsibility for the implementation of these agreements.
Russia must end its support for the militants and mercenaries in the east. It must withdraw its forces and equipment from Ukrainian territory. OSCE monitors must be given full and unhindered access to the whole of Ukraine. And there must be accountability for the downing of flight MH17 and the 298 people who died.
I very much welcome President Zelenskyy’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. For five long years, this conflict has been destroying lives. Over 13,000 Ukrainians have been killed, with more dying almost every week. Over a million people have been forced to flee their homes. Others are trapped with no hope of a normal life. This suffering must stop.
For many years, NATO has supported Ukraine’s institutions and armed forces.
Most recently through the Comprehensive Assistance Package.
Helping you to implement crucial reforms.
- To improve command and control within the military.
- Increase military education and training, and encourage the adoption of NATO standards.
- And to be more resilient against hybrid threats, cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns.
We have increased our support to the Ukrainian navy in the Black Sea, including cooperation with your navy. With greater information sharing, port visits and exercises. Individual NATO Allies also provide significant military training to Ukrainian forces, showing the importance of the transatlantic link also in our partnership with Ukraine.
But our partnership is not a one way street. Despite facing challenging circumstances at home, Ukraine has, over many years, proven to be a strong and effective partner to NATO. Taking part in NATO missions around the world. From our training mission in Afghanistan to deploying a heavy engineering unit to Kosovo. It also contributes to the NATO Response Force. And is preparing to contribute to NATO’s training mission in Iraq. Ukraine helps to improve Euro-Atlantic security. And I thank you for that.
So ladies and gentlemen,
This newly elected parliament has an historic opportunity to change Ukraine to the better. And you have already made a strong start. I look forward to the implementation of the Law of National Security, passed last year. With parliamentary oversight over the security agencies and defence institutions. And the reform of the Security Service.
NATO advisers will work with you. To implement Euro-Atlantic principles and best practices. To strengthen the rule of law. To ensure the rights of minorities. To fight corruption. And to make all aspects of public life open and transparent. So that the institutions of Ukraine better serve the interests of the people of Ukraine.
This will support Ukraine’s aspiration to one day join NATO. As a sovereign nation, Ukraine has the right to choose its own security arrangements. NATO’s door remains open. The road to NATO membership is not easy. For those who seek it, it requires dedication and substantial reform. But in the end, membership is a decision for the members of the NATO Alliance, and for those who wish to join it. And for them alone. No outside country has the right to veto. The time of spheres of influence is over.
Yesterday, the North Atlantic Council visited Odesa and the National Maritime Academy of Odesa. Which NATO has supported since the illegal annexation of Crimea. And by working together, the Academy has gone from strength to strength. With new Leadership courses. New equipment. And Cadets training on board of NATO vessels. And just the fact that Ukrainian cadets train on board of NATO vessels shows that our cooperation is very practical, very concrete, and helps you modernise your armed forces. And yesterday we also had 4 NATO ships in the harbour of Odesa, demonstrating the strong commitment of the NATO Allies to this country.
On our visit yesterday to Odesa, we didn’t just see buildings and ships. We saw the future. The future of this country rests with its young people, like the many cadets I had the pleasure to meet. Their intelligence, their passion and their professionalism shone through. Speaking with them, gave me tremendous hope for Ukraine’s future.
Ukraine has come a long way, and there is further to go. NATO stands with you because we share the same values. A love for freedom and democracy. Respect for human rights and the rule of law.
So ladies and gentlemen,
When I last had the honour of addressing this Parliament, the Rada, two years ago, I quoted a poem by Taras Shevchenko. I would like to quote him again.
It’s terrible to lie in chains,
To rot in dungeon deep,
But it’s still worse, when you are free
To sleep, and sleep, and sleep.
Freedom is not only a right, it is an obligation. An obligation to act not simply in our own self-interest, but in the best interests of all people. As elected members of this great Parliament, you have the opportunity to work together across party lines, for the benefit of all citizens of Ukraine. And to embrace the possibilities that come with a free, open and democratic society.
You are not sleeping. You stand up for your values. Ukraine stands up for the future. And NATO stands by your side.