Russia’s war on Ukraine has ‘shattered peace in Europe,’ NATO leader says

Click to play video: 'Mass exodus from Ukraine continues'
Mass exodus from Ukraine continues
WATCH: Mass exodus from Ukraine continues – Mar 8, 2022

Russia’s war on Ukraine has “shattered peace in Europe,” NATO’s leader said, as millions of refugees have fled the nation.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the military alliance, made the comments Tuesday alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Latvia while Moscow continued to bomb Ukrainian cities on day 13 of the war.

“President (Vladimir) Putin’s war on Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe,” Stoltenberg said.

“It has shaken the international order and it continues to take a devastating toll on the Ukrainian people.”

A member of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces looks at destructions following a shelling in Ukraine’s second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 8. On day 13 of the war, the UN said the number of refugees flooding across Ukraine’s borders had passed two million. Sergey Bobok/AFP via Getty Images

Stoltenberg was in Latvia meeting with Trudeau, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

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Trudeau is in Europe meeting with Canadian allies to discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, civilian evacuations continued in Ukraine with the total number of people feeling the country surpassing two million since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, UN officials said. Moscow’s forces have besieged Ukrainian cities and cut off food, water, heat and medicine in a growing humanitarian crisis.

Demands for ways to safely evacuate civilians have surged along with shelling by Russian forces. Efforts to put in place ceasefires along humanitarian corridors have repeatedly failed throughout the conflict.

The UN’s human rights office said it had verified 1,335 civilian casualties so far in Ukraine, including 474 killed and 861 injured. The true toll is likely higher, it added.

Since the invasion began, Western allies including Canada have punished Russia and its collaborators with severe sanctions, and have threatened to impose more if Moscow continues its aggression in Ukraine.

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The measures have dealt a blow to the Russian economy, as companies pull out of or sharply curtail their businesses there. U.S. President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports on Tuesday, a significant step in the West’s response to the Russian invasion.

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Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: Trudeau announces renewal of Canada’s NATO ‘Operation Reassurance’'
Russia-Ukraine conflict: Trudeau announces renewal of Canada’s NATO ‘Operation Reassurance’

In Latvia, Stoltenberg said Putin “seriously underestimated” Ukraine and the NATO alliance. Canada, which is leading a NATO deterrence mission in the country, announced it has approved a “multi-year” extension of the mission in light of the war.

“We have imposed unprecedented costs on Russia. We have stepped up our support for Ukraine, helping to uphold its right to self defence, and we have implemented historic reinforcements on NATO’s collective defence, with thousands more troops reinforcing the eastern part of our alliance, including here in Latvia,” he said.

“Our presence here in Latvia sends an unmistakable message of unity and resolve.”

A Ukrainian soldier helps an elderly woman to cross a destroyed bridge as she evacuates the city of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on March 8. Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Before the invasion, Ukrainian officials called on allies to supply it with weapons to deter Russia from starting a widespread conflict. Recently, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over the nation, but allies are against the idea as enforcing it could involve shooting down Russian jets.

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Stoltenberg dismissed the idea last week, and reinforced NATO is a defensive alliance that does not want conflict with Russia.

“Our ultimate responsibility is to keep our one billion citizens safe,” he said.

“This means we must do everything possible to prevent the conflict from spreading beyond Ukraine.”

Click to play video: 'Ukraine invasion: Russian attacks intensify, talks over refugees stall'
Ukraine invasion: Russian attacks intensify, talks over refugees stall

However, he added the alliance is committed to NATO’s Article 5 — an attack on one is an attack on all — and that member nations will protect each other if attacked.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory, but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said Russia aims to capture Kyiv and topple the government, which Putin regards as a puppet of the United States.

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Civilians continue to flee from Irpin due to ongoing Russian attacks as snow falls in Irpin, Ukraine on March 8. Emin Sansar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In the weeks leading up to the war, Moscow built up roughly 150,000 troops near the border, and continuously denied Western accusations it was planning an invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday, Moscow again announced a series of demands to stop the invasion, including that Ukraine recognizes Crimea as part of Russia and recognizes the eastern regions controlled by Moscow-supported separatist fighters as independent.

It also insisted that Ukraine change its constitution to guarantee it won’t join international bodies like NATO and the EU. Ukraine has already rejected those demands.

Talks to bring an end to the conflict have yet to produce any breakthroughs.

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On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba are scheduled to meet at a forum in southern Turkey, which could be the first potential talks between the top diplomats since the war began.

— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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