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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says NATO allies are committed to doing more to ensure that Ukraine "prevails" in its battle to repel invading Russian forces, with the alliance having "significantly changed" its stance on providing more advanced weapons to Kyiv.

Speaking in an interview with RFE/RL to mark the second anniversary of Russia launching its full-scale invasion of its neighbor, the NATO chief said solidarity with Ukraine was not only correct, it's also "in our own security interests."

"We can expect that the NATO allies will do more to ensure that Ukraine prevails, because this has been so clearly stated by NATO allies," Stoltenberg said.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

"I always stress that this is not charity. This is an investment in our own security and and that our support makes a difference on the battlefield every day," he added.

Ukraine is in desperate need of financial and military assistance amid signs of political fatigue in the West as the war kicked off by Russia's unprovoked invasion nears the two-year mark on February 24.

In excerpts from the interview released earlier in the week, Stoltenberg said the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and the first Russian gains on the battlefield in months should help focus the attention of NATO and its allies on the urgent need to support Ukraine.

The death of Navalny in an Arctic prison on February 16 under suspicious circumstances -- authorities say it will be another two weeks before the body may be released to the family -- adds to the need to ensure Russian President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule does not go unchecked.

"I strongly believe that the best way to honor the memory of Aleksei Navalny is to ensure that President Putin doesn't win on the battlefield, but that Ukraine prevails," Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from the city of Avdiyivka last week after months of intense fighting demonstrated the need for more military aid, "to ensure that Russia doesn't make further gains."

"We don't believe that the fact that the Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from Avdiyivka in in itself will significantly change the strategic situation," he said.

"But it reminds us of that Russia is willing to sacrifice a lot of soldiers. It also just makes minor territorial gains and also that Russia has received significant military support supplies from Iran, from North Korea and have been able to ramp up their own production."

Ukraine's allies have been focused on a $61 billion U.S. military aid package, but while that remains stalled in the House of Representatives, other countries, including Sweden, Canada, and Japan, have stepped up their aid.

"Of course, we are focused on the United States, but we also see how other allies are really stepping up and delivering significant support to Ukraine," Stoltenberg said in the interview.

On the question of when Ukraine will be able to deploy F-16 fighter jets, Stoltenberg said it was not possible to say. He reiterated that Ukraine's allies all want them to be there as early as possible but said the effect of the F-16s will be stronger if pilots are well trained and maintenance crews and other support personnel are well-prepared.

"So, I think we have to listen to the military experts exactly when we will be ready to or when allies will be ready to start sending and to delivering the F-16s," he said. "The sooner the better."

Ukraine has actively sought U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to help it counter Russian air superiority. The United States in August approved sending F-16s to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands as soon as pilot training is completed.

It will be up to each ally to decide whether to deliver F-16s to Ukraine, and allies have different policies, Stoltenberg said. But at the same time the war in Ukraine is a war of aggression, and Ukraine has the right to self-defense, including striking legitimate Russian military targets outside Ukraine.

Asked about the prospect of former President Donald Trump returning to the White House, Stoltenberg said that regardless of the outcome of the U.S. elections this year, the United States will remain a committed NATO ally because it is in the security interest of the United States.

Trump, the current front-runner in the race to become the Republican Party's presidential nominee, drew sharp rebukes from President Joe Biden, European leaders, and NATO after suggesting at a campaign rally on February 10 that the United States might not defend alliance members from a potential Russian invasion if they don’t pay enough toward their own defense.

Stoltenberg said the United States was safer and stronger together with more than 30 allies -- something that neither China nor Russia has.

The criticism of NATO has been aimed at allies underspending on defense, he said.

But Stoltenberg said new data shows that more and more NATO allies are meeting the target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, and this demonstrates that the alliance has come a long way since it pledged in 2014 to meet the target.

At that time three members of NATO spent 2 percent of GDP on defense. Now it’s 18, he said.

"If you add together what all European allies do and compare that to the GDP in total in Europe, it's actually 2 percent today," he said. "That's good, but it's not enough because we want [each NATO member] to spend 2 percent. And we also make sure that 2 percent is a minimum."

This content originally appeared on News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and was authored by News - Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.


[1] Live Briefing: Russia Invades Ukraine ➤[2] Russia Invades Ukraine - RFE/RL ➤