by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the joint press point with the Prime of the Czech Republic, Bohuslav Sobotka
Prime Minister, it is a great pleasure to be back in Prague. A city which knows the importance of standing up for freedom, resisting illegal aggression, and living in truth.
It is now fifteen years since the Czech Republic has joined NATO, and you have proven a staunch and committed Ally.
Your troops have made a valuable contribution to our missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. You are fully involved in our Smart Defence efforts to develop modern military capabilities together.
In particular, I thank you for leading our projects to train helicopter air and ground crews, and to coordinate transport and logistics. These will keep our forces agile, flexible, and ready to deal with any threat.
We have just discussed Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine. For the first time since countries like the Czech Republic won their freedom, and the Cold War ended, we see one state trying to grab part of another’s territory at gunpoint.
It is a dangerous attempt to turn back time, using the methods and the rhetoric of the past we tried so hard to overcome.
We need to see a genuine political dialogue - and a genuine de-escalation on the ground.
That is why I urge Russia to pull back the troops it has massed on Ukraine's borders. And to engage in a genuine dialogue with the Ukrainian Government.It is important that Russia should take the right steps to rebuild trust, end the destabilisation of Ukraine and come back into line with its international commitments.
NATO considers this aggression illegal and illegitimate. And our commitment to collective defence is unwavering. We are taking legitimate steps to deal with the instability that Russia’s illegitimate actions have created.
Russia is trying to justify its actions by accusing the Ukrainian authorities of oppressing Russian speakers. And by accusing NATO of a Cold War mentality.
This is nothing but propaganda. Designed to subvert the Ukrainian government, pervert the truth, and divert attention from Russia’s own illegal and illegitimate actions.
As I speak, some 40,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s borders. Not training, but ready for combat. We have seen the satellite images, day after day.
Russia is stirring up ethnic tensions in eastern Ukraine and provoking unrest. And Russia is using its military might to dictate that Ukraine should become a federal, neutral state.
That is a decision which only Ukraine, as a sovereign state, can make. Nobody else. So from Prague, I have this message to Russia. You have a choice. To stop blaming others for your own actions. To stop massing your troops. To stop escalating this crisis and start engaging in a genuine dialogue. If Russia is serious about a dialogue, the first step should be to pull back its troops.
As we prepare for our Wales Summit in September, we need to keep our capabilities strong. And to enhance training for our forces.
Above all, we must stop the decline of our defence budgets. And start reinvesting in our security.
Investing in defence has a cost. But we see that insecurity has a much higher price.
And Prime Minister, I know that I can continue to count on the support of the Czech Republic.