The world is at cross-roads: in one direction lies fear, oppression and war, and in the other, there is hope, democracy and peace – and that is the path NATO will always choose, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a video address at the “Peace and Democracy versus War and Autocracy” session organized by President Stevo Pendarovski as part of the Prespa Forum Dialogue 2023 taking place in Struga.

Stoltenberg recalled that in 2020 Macedonia became the thirtieth member of the NATO Alliance thanks to the Prespa Agreement. He said it also contributed to good neighborly relations and a brighter future for Macedonia.

“Agreements like Prespa are an important part of the rules-based international order. Ensuring our freedom, our prosperity and our future. The alternative is disaster, as we see in Ukraine. Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe and fundamentally changed our shared security. Whenever the war ends, our relationship with Moscow has changed fundamentally. The security landscape in Europe will never be the same,” Stoltenberg said.

Noting that China and Russia were drawing closer together, he said this was “is challenging our security, our interests and our values.”

“As authoritarian regimes increase their cooperation, it is even more important that all those who believe in freedom and democracy stand together. To promote peace, protect our shared security, and defend the global rules. We demonstrate this most clearly through institutions like NATO and the European Union,” Stoltenberg said.

On Macedonia, the NATO Secretary General said it was a valued ally, contributing to the peace-keeping mission in Kosovo that was vital for the security of the Western Balkans, especially at a time of heightened tensions.

“In the past few days, we have bolstered our KFOR mission with hundreds of extra troops in a clear demonstration of NATO’s commitment to the region. Macedonia has increased defense spending. And it is supporting our partner, Ukraine, in its time of greatest need,  including with a commitment to send attack helicopters. NATO can count on Macedonia, just as you can count on NATO. The clearest example is the NATO jets that patrol your skies as part of our Air Policing,” he said.

In response to the PFD 2023 question, Stoltenberg said: “This event asks whether we will have a ‘widened European family by 2030’? Whether that is ‘Mission Impossible’ or ‘Mission Possible’? The answer is that it is more than possible. It is actually happening.”

He pointed out that Finland, following in Macedonia’s footsteps, has now joined the Alliance.

“This is a direct response to Russia’s war of aggression against a neighbor. And I am working hard to ensure that Sweden’s accession is completed as soon as possible.

“Ukraine also belongs in the Euro-Atlantic family. All Allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member of NATO. And that decision will be for Ukraine and NATO Allies alone. Russia does not have a veto,” Stiltenberg said.

Other speakers included President Pendarovski, Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, Montenegrin President Jakov Milatovic, and Albanian President Bajram Begaj.