Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Andris Bērziņš of Latvia
Moderator: [Interpreter] Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, now I would like to give the floor to the President of Latvia, Mr. Andris Berzins.
Andris Berzins (President of Latvia): [Interpreter] Dear ladies and gentlemen, distinguished Mr. Stoltenberg, first of all I would like to thank you for coming to Latvia. It's really important during this time that the Secretary General of NATO has chosen visiting all three Baltic States. We highly appreciate that.
I would like to congratulate you for your undertaking the position which concerns with significant challenges for safety policy not only in Europe but also in the world. This is really tense, intense time for NATO as the alliance must be ready not only to implement all the decisions made at the NATO Summit in Wales but also to prove clearly and unambiguously its timed strict position to protect peace and prevent any military threat to all the NATO member states, thus performing the main task of our organization to ensure collective defence.
We highly appreciate personal commitment of the Secretary General involvement in performing and implementing those decisions made at the NATO Summit in Wales. The Wales Summit proved the Readiness Action Plan of NATO, which is really important and significant document for protection of the Baltic States and implementation thereof, is a task and testimony of solidarity among the allies.
Several years ago [inaudible] called war or military aggression on the frontier of NATO were not even mentioned. Unfortunately currently we must talk about significant global and regional safety situation worsening caused by both of the aggressive action of Russia taking on in the east of the alliance as well as the dissemination and the spread of terrorism in the south of the allies. NATO is an alliance for protection and it provides security of its member states. NATO has proved its commitment with particular safety events and measures to be taken by expanding air policing as well as intensifying military training and exercises in Latvia and in the Baltic States.
Latvia has trustworthy allies and Latvia is a trustful ally for its allies in the organization. The national security council meeting that took place in Liepaja last week assessed the performance of Latvia in strengthening its safety and security. I can [inaudible] provide that we are fully committed to improve and strengthen our security and safety as well as defensibility by continuing commitment at development of our armed forces and the parliament of Latvia has unanimously decided on increasing their defence spending up to 2% of the gross domestic product of Latvia in the nearest years. This decision of the parliament of Latvia will be implemented for sure.
I would like to thank you Mr. Stoltenberg once again for visiting Latvia. This open and productive exchange of our opinions both at our tete-à tete talk as well as during the conversation of the delegation. This coordinated and united approach is the foundation for excellent work further on.
Jens Stoltenberg (Secretary General of NATO): …very much to be here in Riga, and Latvia is really a committed ally and we very much appreciate value, the strong contribution you are giving to NATO, and we commend you for your contribution to our mission in Afghanistan and that you have decided to participate in the initiative to create a joint expeditionary force and that you are going to host our, and that you are hosting our NATO Strategic Communication Centre of Excellence.
Latvia will also play an important leadership role when you assume the European Union's rotating presidency in January. You will help take forward vital work to improve the effectiveness and the capabilities of European defence and you will host an important eastern partnership summit.
In our meeting today we focused on the challenges from the east and on the crisis caused by Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine. Our Baltic air police mission has conducted over 100 intercepts this year. This is three times more than last year. In fact, Russian air activity has increased all over Europe. As a result, NATO jets have been scrambled over 400 times close to NATO air space and that is 50% more than last year. This pattern is risky and unjustified, so NATO remains vigilant. We are here and we are ready to defend all allies against any threat.
NATO's greatest responsibility is to protect and defend each and every ally. This is our commitment as set out in Article 5 and we stand resolute in that commitment. That commitment is clear for all to see. NATO aircraft are policing Baltic skies, NATO ships are patrolling the Baltic Sea and NATO forces are starting an exercise in Europe every two days.
The Adazi Training Centre has played an important role in exercising our forces and the presence of soldiers from across the alliance underscore the resolve of all the allies to stand behind the Baltic nations. We're working hard to turn the Readiness Action Plan that we agreed at the Wales Summit into reality so that we can deal with threats from any direction.
My top priority is that we implement the plan in full and on time. This will require investment. That is why it is vital that all allies reverse the trend of declining defence budgets and start increasing defence investments, so I really welcome Latvia's commitment to raise defence expenditure in line with the pledge that we made in Wales. That is what we need to do to keep NATO strong now and into the future.
Mr. President, thank you so much for your personal commitment to our alliance and thank you for the warm welcome.
Moderator: [Interpreter] Thank you and first question to Mr. Stoltenberg is provided by Agency Reuters.
Q (Reuters): I have a question to you Mr. Stoltenberg. Do you believe that Russian leadership is trying to intimidate the Baltics as we see these recent cases when Russia abducted an Estonian border guard and also seized a Lithuanian fishermen boat, and then of course we also see this increased activity in air and at sea. And also, you already mentioned about the high Readiness Action Plan, when do you see that it will actually be implemented? I mean in terms of timeline, specific terms maybe. Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg: I will not speculate so much on their intentions but I would just react on what I see they are doing on the ground, and we have seen aggressive actions taken by Russia in Ukraine, in Crimea, in Eastern Ukraine, and we have seen increased military activity around NATO borders, and all this just underlines the importance of keeping NATO strong, the importance of increasing our capabilities, military capabilities, and investing in our collective defence.
And that's exactly what we are now doing. Latvia is increasing its defence budgets. I welcome that very much. NATO has made strong pledges to increase the defence budgets all over the alliance and in addition we are implementing the Readiness Action Plan.
That plan covers a wide range of different measures. One of them is of course, is for example to continue with the Assurance Measures which has already been implemented and which we have been able to see also in the Baltic countries with more military presence by NATO aircraft in the air, ships, and also land troops.
Part of the Readiness Action Plan is to establish the very high-readiness force, or the spearhead force. We are working full time on that. We are going to have an update on the implementation in our Foreign Ministers Meeting in December, and then we expect to take decisions when it comes to implementation on the Defence Ministers Meeting in February in NATO next year.
But in the meantime we are implementing both the Assurance Measures which already provides more troops, more military presence in this part of the alliance, and in addition we are also establishing an interim solution for a spearhead force based on the existing NATO Response Force. So we are making part of the existing NATO Response Force more ready, more prepared, as an interim solution, and this is going to, I expect, be announced at the Foreign Ministers Meeting in the beginning of December, in two weeks. So we are already implementing the Readiness Action Plan.
Moderator: [Interpreter] Another question to Mr. Stoltenberg.
Q: [Interpreter] So the question to the Secretary General. A few days ago we heard that Russia requested a 100% warranty or guarantee that Ukraine would not become a NATO ally ever. How would you comment such issues or such propaganda? How do you assist further cooperation between NATO and Ukraine?
Jens Stoltenberg: …for such a guarantee is in violation of the fundamental principles we have agreed on in Europe because one of those principles, which for instance is stated in the final act, the Helsinki Final Act, is that each and every country has the right to decide its own security arrangements. That's one of the fundamental rights an independent sovereign state has and that is to decide what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.
So just to ask for or to call for or to require or that Ukraine shall give some kind of guarantee related to that it never shall become a member of NATO is actually something which is violating the idea of respecting the independence, the sovereignty of Ukraine, which is something which is fundamental for rule-based cooperation among independent countries in Europe.
Ukraine is not asking for membership. Ukraine has adopted a policy of a non-bloc policy. I respect that. I respect the decision of Ukraine as I also expect Russia to respect decisions taken by an independent nation, Ukraine, if they later on would like to apply for membership in NATO.
Moderator: [Interpreter] So the third question.
Q: Speaking about the increased Russian activity around borders, if Russia continues to build up its military strength in border areas close to NATO's eastern border, I'm thinking of things like the large attack helicopter base at Pskov, will NATO be forced to respond in kind and could this lead to a heavily militarized border?
Jens Stoltenberg: We will always adapt our armed forces, our military capabilities and capacities to the security environment which is surrounding us. So when we now are for instance adapting our forces to the fact that we have seen a more aggressive Russia which is conducting aggressive actions in Ukraine, that's an example of how NATO is adapting to changing challenges. We will also do that in the future.
But just to implement the Readiness Action Plan, just to continue with the Assurance Measures with more military presence in the air, on the ground and at sea as we have already done and will continue to do, and to establish the spearhead force to have more intelligence, more situation awareness, and to invest more in defence, that's in itself a strong united and firm response to the increased military presence we see from Russia along NATO's borders.
If needed, we will do more, we will do what it takes to defend and protect all allies against any threats, and that's also of course the case for Latvia and for all the Baltic countries.
Moderator: [Interpreter] And now the last question from Baltic Times.
Q (Baltic Times): …with the Baltic Times. In the past, the United States of America has played an important role and a heavy role in NATO organization. However, in the last six years of the current administration, the United States has gone down into downsizing the military and their global commitments.
I'd like to know what effect all of this has on the NATO leadership, the NATO resolve, NATO direction, which way they're going, and also what affect does all of this also have on plans with Ukraine, the plans for the missile defence in Poland or Czech Republic? How does all of this affect it? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: I think we have to remember that the United States is the allied country within the NATO alliance which by far is contributing the most to our collective defence. The US is providing around two-thirds of total NATO expenditures on defence and they are providing capabilities, capacities, which are key to our collective defence and I welcome the very strong leadership and the strong contribution of the United States to the alliance.
So I think the perception that the US is in a way not contributing is wrong. The United States is really the key ally and we have US troops in the Baltic region now and that's a strong example of that the United States is a strong committed ally which is key for the collective defence of all NATO allies.
Moderator: [Interpreter] Thank you.