by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of Defence Ministers - Secretary General's opening remarks
We have just finished the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
And we have done that in a time where Europe is facing many crises at the moment, but none is as complex as the crisis in Ukraine.
Ukraine is faced with heavily-armed separatists, supported and trained, and equipped by Russia.
At the same time, Ukraine is undertaking significant reforms.
All this, while facing an unprecedented economic crisis.
Ukraine is making progress against all these challenges – and this is remarkable.
Today, we welcomed Defence Minister Poltorak to his first NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting.
We discussed the security situation and the continued violations of the ceasefire.
Ukraine's progress in its defence reform efforts, and NATO's assistance to the reforms was the main issues we discussed during the meeting.
We welcome the clear commitment to conduct far-reaching reforms in the defence and security sector.
This is hard work.
It will take patience and determination to make progress. And to implement the reforms.
NATO is stepping up its practical support for Ukraine.
NATO supports Ukraine's reforms practically with funding and expert advice. The five NATO trust funds are up and running. And we are making real progress.
In recent days, we have launched projects on secure communications and regional airspace security.
These are key areas.
And when it comes to regional airspace security and secure communication we do that as part of our trust fund ready to command and control. And we also agreed in principle to establish a new trust fund. We are now working on the details.
But this new trust fund will aim at demining and also on countering improvised explosive devises. And this is vital for saving lives.
And we are also cooperating with the Government of Ukraine related to civil emergency planning and disaster management. And there will be an exercise later on this autumn. And that will be a practical example how we are stepping up the practical support for Ukraine.
We are also implementing the ambitious joint agenda we agreed last year.
And politically, we stand firm in our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We call on Russia to stop its aggressive actions in Ukraine.
NATO Allies have not, and will not recognize the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.
And we will continue to coordinate with other international actors and organizations in our support for Ukraine.
The people of Ukraine deserve our support.
And we are committed to our partnership with Ukraine.
With this I am ready to take your questions.
MODERATOR: We'll start with the lady over here, third row, and then we'll go just across.
Q: What should happen to Ukraine, NATO assisted not only with words and trust fund. What should happen to Ukraine, you know that NATO assisted not only with words and trust funds?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): So NATO provides both strong political support and strong practical support for Ukraine. The political support is of great importance because it is important that the whole Alliance so strongly call on Russia to respect the Minsk Agreements to implement the Minsk Agreements in full and we of course urge all parties to respect the ceasefire and to implement the Minsk Agreements. In addition we provide strong practical support, the trust funds are important but in addition to the trust funds we are working on other programs, like for instance the program we have on the building integrity which is part of our efforts to fight corruption in Ukraine. I think that's of great importance because the more we can modernize, the more we can reform the defence and the security sector and the more we can succeed in our joint efforts of fighting corruption the more stronger Ukraine will be to defend itself and to protect Ukraine against aggression from the Russian-backed separatists. And as I said we are now in the process of stepping up our practical support for Ukraine. Both with the efforts we are now launching on, on the secure communication but also when it comes to the important issue of regional air space security. And we will share with Ukraine air traffic data from other Allied countries, civilian air traffic data, which will enhance regional air space security. And in addition to this we are now, we have agreed in principle on establishing a new trust fund on demining and on countering improvised explosive devices. So both strong political and practical support and we are now stepping up the practical support. Let me add that in addition to what NATO does within the NATO structures of course NATO is also in a way the framework for a lot of bilateral support. So many Allies have a lot of bilateral cooperation with Ukraine, financial economic support but also many Allies provide training, equipment and support for Ukraine in different ways. And during the meeting for instance the UK announced that they will step up their bilateral support and training of Ukrainian soldiers.
Q: Here Secretary General, Irina Somer, News Agency UNIAN, Ukraine. Actually two questions for you. Facing an aggressive Russia information campaign against Ukraine and NATO, do you see a possibility for Ukraine and NATO to work together in this sphere? And second one, hearing voices that it will be better for everybody if Ukraine will remain, to keep its neutral status, do you see any mood within Allies to change general policy of NATO regarding possible future membership for Ukraine? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: So first on communications, I think we all agree that NATO and Ukraine, we will not counter Russian propaganda with more propaganda but with facts because in the long run the truth will prevail. So the best way of countering propaganda is to provide the facts. We are working with Ukraine to strengthen Ukraine's capability, ability to do communications and that's part of the increased practical support we are providing for Ukraine. In addition we are doing communications every day when we are providing facts about what's going on in Ukraine and just the meeting we had today with the Minister Poltorak is also part of both cooperation but also the communication we are doing to highlight what is really going on in Ukraine. I think it is a very fundamental principle that each and every country has the fundamental right to decide its own path, so I respect if a country wants to be neutral and I respect if it wants to be part of a military alliance, that's up to each and every individual country to decide itself what kind of path it would like to pursue. Then of course it is a decision which has to be taken by the applicant country and the 28 Allies in NATO, whether NATO is going to enlarge and the important message is that this is a decision which has to be taken by the 28 Allies and the applicant country, no one else has the right to intervene or to try to veto such a process. Ukraine is now focused on reform, Ukraine is now focused on modernizing its defence and security sector, we are helping them with that. And then we will assess an application from Ukraine on joining NATO in exactly the same way as we would assess any other application but that's something we have to address when and if an application from Ukraine is, is something they would like to provide us with.
MODERATOR: We have two questions in the centre. Gentleman first, yeah.
Q: Thank you so much, I'm coming from Montenegro from Daily Newspaper Dan. My name is Marco. Secretary General I have a couple of questions for you, let me turn your attention to Montenegro. You've recently been there, what do you think about the chances of getting an invitation for membership in December or does it … Summit in Warsaw …, [inaudible] more real now to you? And the second question, you were faced with questioning Montenegro about the victims of the bombing in 1999, you said that you regret the victims but do you think that in order to close this question down a formal apology from Alliance and the material compensation to victim's family would close this issue once and for good? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: First on the question of enlargement. NATO's position is unchanged. We have decided that we will decide on whether we are going to invite Montenegro to join NATO by the end of the year. And we have also decided that we will have intensified and focused talks with Montenegro and that has taken place and we are still in the process of having these intensified talks, my visit to Montenegro was part of this and also the North Atlantic Council will visit Montenegro later on. So we are now really conducting these intensified talks, dialogue with Montenegro. And we will assess the progress, Montenegro is making progress both in the defence sector and intelligence sector and in the rule of law but of course progress in all these areas and others are of great importance and we will assess the progress and then make our assessment by the end of the year at the Foreign Ministerial Meeting. So I, I expect that the Ministers will take a decision in December, that's the plan and there is no reason to believe that we will not be able to do so but we will make the decision by the end of the year and not now. When it comes to the victims of the bombing I will just restate that I regret that very much because the purpose of the, the military operations we conducted back in 1999 was to protect civilian lives and this was something that shouldn't have happened and I will once again convey my condolences to all those who lost their loved ones, their family, their close friends and I regret what happened back in 1999.
MODERATOR: Lady in the second row.
Q: Kate Cochkina [sp?], Current Time TV Radio Free Europe. Mr. Secretary General how would you evaluate the quality of the reform process in Ukraine that NATO has been assisting? And also have there been any recommendations that Ukraine has refused or has been unwilling to follow?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Ukraine is making progress and we are working with Ukraine on many different levels and we are also as I said stepping up our presence, our efforts in Ukraine. We are expanding the NATO liaison office in Kiev and we discussed the different reforms in the defence and security sector during our meeting today. We have seen some practical obstacles but we have addressed them together with the Defence Ministry of Ukraine and we see that we are moving forward. At the same time I think we have to understand that partly there is a long way to go and for instance related to corruption I think both our Ukrainian counterparts and NATO really understand that that is a big and difficult challenge and that's the reason why we have this building integrity programme. An important part of the reform agenda is to do military education and that's partly about training the trainers to build the military education institutions in Ukraine and there we are really making progress, that's perhaps the biggest part of our programme. So NATO does not do training as such but we help the Ukrainians to develop their own institutions for, do training of their own soldiers. So in general I can say that we are making progress, there's a long way, much remains but of course it is also challenge that we are doing these reform efforts at the same time as Ukraine is conducting military operations in the eastern part of the country, in Eastern Ukraine, to counter the aggressive actions of the Russian- backed separatists and that just underlines how challenging this situation is.
Q: Terry Schultz with NPR and CBS. You said earlier this morning that heavy, its possible heavy fighting will continue and nobody has been able to verify that Russia has implemented anything about the Minsk Agreement. So do you think it's useful to continue calling, saying that the Minsk Ceasefire is basically holding when it, fighting is on the increase? Would it be more useful to declare the, the ceasefire dead and readdress the situation as it stands now? Increased fighting, no pull back of heavy weaponry, continued support for the separatists as you yourself have mentioned today. Thanks.
JENS STOLTENBERG: It will not be useful to declare the Minsk Agreements for dead because the Minsk Agreements is the best possible foundation for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine. There are many violations of the ceasefire, we see that not all their weapons are withdrawn and there are big problems related to the access of international monitors to the area to be able to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire and the withdrawal of the heavy weapons. So yes there are many problems and yes there are many violations but I can see no alternative to continue to support the efforts by Ukraine, by several NATO Allies and by others to try to support the peace efforts and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Because without the Minsk Agreements I am really afraid that the situation can deteriorate even more and that's something which we have to try to avoid because the situation is demanding enough as it is. So we have to build on the Minsk Agreements, that's the best possible foundation we have for a peaceful solution.
Q: Yes Adrian Croft from Reuters. I just wanted to ask what the motivation was for the measure that you mentioned about sharing information on air traffic? Is that connected with the MH17 disaster?
JENS STOLTENBERG: It's something we have decided as part of the cooperation that we have with Ukraine related to the command and control trust fund and increased regional air security is of course important, especially in the area which is unstable and where we see fighting going on on the ground. And that's the reason why we have decided to share more air traffic data with Ukraine. This is going to be shared from traffic controllers in Poland, Norway and there was one other country, Turkey and they will provide this data and that will contribute to the air security in this region. I think it goes without saying that this is important, especially in this region.
MODERATOR: Gentleman in the second row.
Q: Good afternoon. [Inaudible], Baltic News Service Lithuania. Mr. General Secretary, two questions. For the first one is, as you know the Baltic States has asked for a military brigade last month, do you know maybe SACEUR has given, has responded to that request? And if yes what's in that request? What's in that respond? Thank you. The second question is Lithuania has, is the only NATO country to publicly announce that they had supported the Ukraine with military equipment, it was last autumn. Don't you think it will be dangerous according to reactions of Russia in the long term? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: So first I've seen the request and I think that of we will assess all requests, all proposals from all Allies. At the same time I think that what we have seen is that NATO and NATO Allies have already increased their military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance including of course in the Baltic countries and Lithuania. We have done so partly by the assurance measures, air policing and more ships in the Baltic Sea and also in the Black Sea. But also partly by having more troops on the ground on rotational basis doing more exercises and it was a very strong message from our meeting yesterday that we will continue with the assurance measures and we are also going to both continue with having more exercises, we just exercised a new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force or the Spearhead Force in Poland last week. And we are going to establish in Lithuania and the other Baltic countries the small headquarters. Add to this that we are increasing our ability to reinforce if needed by both establishing the Spearhead Force but in addition more than doubling the size of the NATO Response Force from the previous level of 13,000 to about or close to 40,000. So all of this is very relevant for Lithuania, for the Baltic countries, so we have increased our presence but in addition to that we have increased our capability, capacity, ability to reinforce if needed. And then we will continue to assess the situation and we will do what it takes to defend and protect all our Allies against any threat.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much this concludes this press conference. The Secretary General will come back and talk to you after the next and final meeting of the Defence Ministers. Thank you.