Joint press point
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas of Estonia
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): Thank you so much, Prime Minister. And thank you so much for welcoming me here. And I appreciate it very much to meet with you. And it's great to be back in Estonia and this time, as Secretary General of NATO.
And Estonia is really a strong and committed NATO Ally. And you have contributed so much to different NATO operations in Afghanistan and in Kosovo. And we're also very impressed by the fact that you are actually achieving the goal and reaching the guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
That is important for Estonia. And it's important for the whole NATO Alliance. And I use Estonia as an example; because you are leading by example. Because when Estonia is able to spend or invest 2% of GDP on defence, then, of course, it should also be possible for all other NATO Allies to do the same.
Today, we have discussed the security and challenges we face in our Eastern neighbourhood, due to Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine. And at times like this, it is more important than ever to keep our Alliance strong.
NATO's greatest responsibility is to protect and defend all Allies. And NATO is here to protect and defend Estonia. And the Allied fighters and troops, we have seen, are a strong sign of the Allied solidarity. And they are protecting your airspace every day. In fact, the number of NATO jets in our Eastern skies has increased five times since the start of the year. We have deployed more ships in the Baltic and the Black Sea. This year, we are conducting over 200 NATO and national exercises in Europe. And we will continue with this assurance measures as long as it's necessary.
The presence of soldiers from across the Alliance shows the resolve of all Allies to stand with the Baltic nations: All for one and one for all. That's the main idea of the NATO solidarity and the backbone of our Alliance.
We are working hard to turn the Readiness Action Plan we agreed at the Wales Summit into reality. This is the biggest reinforcements of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. And it is my top priority to implement this plan in full, on time. We are setting up a rapid reaction force, Spearhead Force, which will be able to deploy within days.
At the Wales Summit, we also decided to establish a command and control presence on the territory of our Eastern Allied countries; and to enhance our ability to quickly and effectively reinforce them if needed.
We are now working on the best way to do that and to implement the Readiness Action Plan. These measures will keep Estonia safe and keep NATO safe.
It is also a key that we keep the pledge we made at the Wales Summit to stop the cuts in our defence budgets; and to increase them when our economy grows. And that's where Estonia is really leading by example; by the fact that you have already reached the 2% goal.
So I'm very grateful to be here together with you. And it's great to see how strong you are...how strongly you are committed to the NATO Alliance. And I thank you for the meeting and for the talks and look forward to continue the excellent cooperation with you. Thank you.
TAAVI RÕIVAS (Prime Minister of Estonia): Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Now, we have some time for a couple of questions. Please introduce yourself. Yes, Sir.
Q: Yan Victor(?), Associated Press. I have a question to Mr. Secretary General. During this year, we've seen a very increased activity by Russian military aircrafts on the Baltic Sea region, not only Baltics... but also in Finland and Sweden. And we have seen direct airspace violations. And I wonder how worried are you... and how worried is NATO on this situation?
I think you said earlier that this is not a step back to the Cold War. But what is your message to Russia? And what is possibly their motivation? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: So what you have seen is increased Russian air activity... military air activity around NATO airspace. We have seen it in the Baltic area. In the Baltic area, there has been more than one hundred intercepts so far this year. That's three times as much as last year. And we have today also published new figures showing that if you look at the numbers of intercepts around NATO airspace in Europe in total, then we speak about more than 400 intercepts. And that's an increase of around 50%. So in the Baltic Sea and the Norwegian Sea and the Black Sea in the airspace surrounding NATO we have seen increased Russian military air activity.
And the challenge is partly the numbers; but it is also the way they are conducting the flights. They are not filing their air flight plans. They are not turning on the transponders. And they are not communicating with the civilian air traffic... traffic control. And therefore these flights pose a risk to civilian air traffic. The flights are unjustified. And they are posing a risk on normal air traffic.
And that's also the reason why NATO is staying vigilant. We are doing what we are supposed to do. We are intercepting the flights. We have increased our air policing. And we are ready to react when needed.
Most of these flights are taking place in international air space. There are a very limited number of violations of NATO airspace. But they are close to our airspace. They are conducting the flights in ways which are posing a risk on civilian air traffic. And some of them are also very close to... for instance NATO vessels. So we are calling on Russia to conduct their military air activities in a responsible way and respecting international norms for this kind of air activity.
Q: Is this a step back to the Cold War would you say?
JENS STOLTENBERG: It is a pattern which we haven't seen for many years. And it's a pattern which reminds us of the way they conducted these kinds of military air activities back in the time of the Cold War.
MODERATOR: Daily Postimees, please.
Q: Postimees. As we already talked about the increased Russian actions around NATO borders, then my question is directed to Mr. Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas. And it has a lot to do with this place where we are at the moment. So information that is available so far indicates that you might actually not have had the proper permission to enter this territory were it not for your election campaign. So I'm asking, straightforward, is it true? And don't you think that by dragging our defence partisans, Allies, to convey in part actually compromise that? Thank you.
TAAVI RÕIVAS: As prime minister, as party chairman, as a father and as Estonian patriot, I'm proud of Ämari air base... I'm proud of our military. And I'd do anything in my possibilities to help them to protect the city even more. So I understand your interest intriguing this question. But I think Ämari has become a magnificent symbol of Estonian security. And as Prime Minister... as party chairman, my focus will always be that we should do everything we can in order to protect Estonia even more. And this is the topic that we discussed here today. This is the topic that I will cherish very hard as Prime Minister, as party chairman, as a father, as an Estonian patriot, thank you.
Q: Do you have the permission (inaudible)...?
TAAVI RÕIVAS: Of course, we have all the permissions to come here. We have permissions to come here today. And I will always come here as a proud Estonian, thank you.
Q: Reuters: What is... my question is for the Secretary General, regarding France's Mistrals, should France sell Mistrals to Russia? And if not, maybe NATO should buy them?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO doesn't possess... or NATO doesn't sell military equipment. That's something the nations are doing or not doing. And I very much trust that all Allies are responsible when it comes to the way they are conducting their policies related to selling... providing military equipment to other countries. And I will just leave it by saying that's also related to the Mistral and the question of France selling the Mistral....we... or ships to Russia.
MODERATOR: Sir, over there.
Q: Ron Laskajan(?), German Television. General Secretary, the public German opinion seems more comprehensive, let me say, towards the Russians, that has historical reasons, for sure you know. So do you think that it's still perhaps a critical point your view on it that Germans are hesitating to follow your heart you are demanding nowadays.
JENS STOLTENBERG: So Germany is a staunch and strong Ally within the NATO Alliance. Germany is contributing to our collective defence. Germany is contributing to NATO operations. And Germany is providing capabilities forces which are of great importance for the NATO Alliance. And we have seen German soldiers here at this Ämari Air Force base. We have seen German planes in the air. And we have seen German troops on the ground. And we have seen German vessels at the sea. So Germany is really contributing to the collective defence. I welcome that. And I'm grateful for the German contribution to our collective defence, also in this area.
Then I would like to add that there is no contradiction between being in favour of a strong defence predictability firm policy from NATO and at the same time aspiring for a more constructive relationship with Russia. Actually, we stated that, the 28 Allies at Wales, that we're still striving and aspiring for a more constructive relationship with Russia. But the pre-condition is that we have a strong united NATO. And that we continue to keep NATO strong by investing in our collective defence.
MODERATOR: And the last question, please. Lady in the second row.
Q: (Inaudible) Newspaper (inaudible). How difficult do you think it's to defend Estonia and other Baltic States without the support of Finnish and Swedish territories?
JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO is able to defend all Allies against any threats. NATO have a strong collective defence. And NATO have the ability to act together. And NATO is based on the fundamental idea of "All for one; one for all". So NATO is able to protect and defend all Allies and of course, also including Estonia. And Estonia is contributing to other collective defence by providing capabilities and by investing more than 2% of GDP in defence.
I appreciate that we have a partnership with Finland. And we have developed that partnership. We are exercising together. Finland is contributing to different NATO missions, operations. We are increasing our interoperability, meaning that we are becoming better to work together.
But NATO is always able to defend all NATO Allies as an Alliance. And we don't depend on others for doing that, except for our own solidarity and our own resolve.
MODERATOR: Unfortunately, our time is over. Thank you very much for coming.
TAAVI RÕIVAS: Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.