by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): Good afternoon. I’ve just finished a working meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and it’s clear that we assess the situation in Ukraine in very different ways. I reiterated and restated NATO’s position and that is to, I expressed extremely high concerns about the very critical and serious situation in Ukraine. And I repeated NATO’s strong support for a sovereign independent Ukraine and I also underscored Russia’s responsibility for the situation, the critical situation because Russia is supporting the separatists and because Russia do not respect the rules and because they have violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And I also explained the measures that NATO is implementing related to the reassurance measures, the increased military presence in the eastern part of our Alliance because that’s a direct response to what we have seen in Ukraine and it’s proportionate, it’s defensive and it’s fully in line with our international commitments. And then I also underlined the importance of finding a political solution to the conflict in Ukraine. The importance of support of the talks and the dialogue which is now taking place and which was initiated by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande. And the importance of that, any agreement has to be respected. We have the Minsk Agreements but the problem is that the Minsk Agreements have not been respected and a ceasefire has not been respected. So it’s extremely important that a new agreement is implemented and respected.
MODERATOR: We have time for a few questions. Please say which outlet you’re from and give your names. Adrian.
Q: Adrian Croft from Reuters. Did you agree to anything with Mr. Lavrov, like a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, anything like that?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We haven’t agreed on any specific meetings but we agreed, or to, continue to keep channels of political contact open. And that’s in line with what NATO decided after the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, then we decided to suspend practical co-operation but to keep channels for political contact open and that’s the reason why I have met the Russian Ambassador at NATO and that’s the reason why I met with Lavrov today and I also underlined that we will maintain military-to-military lines of communication open. I think that especially in times like this that are difficult that it’s even more important to communicate and to meet and to keep the channels for political contact open.
Q: In a speech Mr. Lavrov talked very aggressively about the United States and the United States are responsible for what happened, did he say anything like this to you or did you talk about this with him?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think that Foreign Minister Lavrov has to in a way say what he said in the meeting but I can say that he restated some of the well-known Russian positions and that just confirms that we have very different assessments about what’s, what has happened and what’s the situation in Ukraine and what caused the conflict in Ukraine and also the increased tensions between Russia and NATO. Again for me this is about two very fundamental principles, it’s about respecting borders, not using force, not supporting violent separatists and respecting the sovereignty of a country and their sovereignty and the borders of Ukraine are violated and that’s because Russia has annexed Crimea, illegally annexed Crimea and continues to support the separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Q: Secretary General, Lawrence [inaudible]. It sounds like it was a pretty frosty meeting in which not very much moved, and people were talking past each other, is that, is that a fair way to describe it and if not how? It would be interesting to know how long the meeting lasted and did either you or Mr. Lavrov put, actually make any suggestions in terms of enhancing military-to-military cooperation?
JENS STOLTENBERG: It was a working meeting and I have met Lavrov for many, many years in my earlier capacity as Norwegian Prime Minister since back to 2000. And so this was a working meeting. As I said I think it is important to meet to exchange views, to exchange our assessments and to exchange analysis of the situation even though it doesn’t lead to any concrete outcome of that specific meeting or because it is important to have these channels open because the more difficult the situation we have the more important it is that we are able to talk to each other. The meeting, I think it lasted for 40 minutes or something and, and yes, we agreed that we should maintain the channels for military-to-military communication open, maintain them open. And that’s something we need to reduce the risks of misunderstanding. I would like to underline that this is also very much about contact and lines of communication between the individual Allies, the different nations, that we also have some lines of communication between NATO and the chief of the army in Russia.
Q: David Bison with the Associated Press. I, the, now that you’ve had your meeting with Mr. Lavrov are you more or less optimistic about the possibility of a ceasefire?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it’s very hard to in a way give you percentages when it comes to whether I’m more or less optimistic. But I’m 100 % supportive of the efforts to try to find a political solution. And that was very much underlined in my meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And there are talks going on and we have to support them and that’s the important message today.
Q: Jim Neuger of Bloomberg. The military-to-military communication, can you give us examples of what this entails, for example try to get the Russians to turn their transponders on or to [inaudible] of their exercises. And then secondly do you have any sense in continuing to allow to military solution that this [inaudible] has seen Russia as effectively the west giving it the green light to impose its own military solution?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The lines of military communication is something we’ll have for many, for a long time and as I’ve said we have suspended practical co-operation but we will maintain the lines of communication both political contact but also the lines of communication will be maintained open and that’s between the headquarters, from NATO headquarters to the Chief of Defence, the CHOD, in Russia. In addition there are different lines of communication between nations and their counterparts in Russia on different levels. What NATO has done is three things. We have provided strong political support for Ukraine. I met with President Poroshenko earlier today and I reiterated my very strong support for an independent sovereign Ukraine and the importance of respecting its sovereignty, then we have, then we are working on, we have political support, we have practical support and the practical support is that we work with Ukraine to reform, to modernize their security sector, their armed forces and this is important because it is key for Ukraine to be able to modernize and to improve the efficiency in the way their armed forces defences is working. We have established trust funds to also promote the co-operation we have. And the third thing we have done is to increase our own collective defence and the establishment of the Enhanced NATO Response Force which is now around about 30,000, the previous size was 13,000. And then as part of this Enhanced NATO Response Force we have the Spearhead Force and of course this is in answer to what we have seen in Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Colleagues we have time for one last question from the international media. If there is any? If not we have some time for our Norwegian colleagues.