by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the NATO-Russia Council meeting
I have just chaired a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. And we all agree that it is in all our interest to keep political channels for political dialogue open.
Political dialogue among nations that share the same Euro-Atlantic area is both necessary and useful, especially in times of tensions as we experience now.
However, this does not mean that we are back to business as usual.
We discussed three important topics during our meeting.
The crisis in and around Ukraine. Issues related to military activities; transparency and risk reduction;
And an assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan, including regional terrorist threats.
We had a frank and serious discussion.
NATO Allies and Russia hold very different views.
But we have listened to what each of us have to say.
Let me start with the situation in Ukraine. Because Russia’s actions against Ukraine led to the current state of our relations.
NATO Allies made clear that they stand firm in their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Allies do not recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
We stressed that the increase in ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine in recent days is deeply disturbing.
As are the recent incidents targeting OSCE monitors.
All 29 members of the NATO-Russia Council agreed today on the need for a full and rapid implementation of the Minsk agreements.
The signatories to the agreements must comply with their commitments.
And Russia has a significant responsibility in this regard.
The respect for the right for every nation to choose their own security arrangements is a fundamental principle on which the NATO-Russia Council rests. This must be observed both in words and in deeds.
We also discussed transparency and risk reduction.
We have a responsibility to ensure predictability, confidence and stability across our region. The armed forces of every nation and every military alliance have the right to exercise. But in recent years, Allies have seen a decrease in transparency in military activities. Combined with an increase in military activity and forces, and strong rhetoric. This is a dangerous combination.
NATO Allies expressed concern about last week’s incidents in the Baltic region involving Russian military aircraft. It is important to consider what steps we can all take to increase transparency and predictability.
In the OSCE, all NATO Allies and Russia have agreed on rules governing military activities in Europe, including the observation and notification of exercises. Those rules must be respected.
The NATO-Russia Founding Act recognised that strengthening the OSCE will prevent any possibility of returning to a Europe of division and confrontation.
A number of NATO nations have tabled concrete proposals on how to modernise the Vienna Document on military transparency.
It is important that everyone participates constructively in that work. More military transparency can contribute to more security in Europe. This is in both NATO’s and Russia’s interest.
We also addressed Afghanistan. The Afghan security forces are facing a challenging security environment, but they are capable and they are dedicated. NATO remains committed to supporting them. All nations should do their part to support Afghanistan in reaching its goal of stability and security.
NATO and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements. Today’s meeting did not change that.
NATO Allies remain firm that there can be no return to practical cooperation until Russia returns to the respect of international law.
But we will keep channels of communication open.
Especially when tensions are high, political dialogue is necessary to discuss our differences and to reduce the risk of military incidents.
And with that I’m ready to take your questions.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
QUESTION (Associated Press): Secretary General, judging by your last remark there, is it fair to say that today’s meeting did not lead to an improvement in relations between NATO and Russia? And in more detail, where there any agreements made as to further meetings of the NATO-Russia Council or the concrete steps that could be taken to reduce tensions?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The NATO-Russia Council was never suspended, so I expect that we are going to meet again. We didn’t decide on any schedule for next meeting, but since we never suspended the council I expect that we will meet again. I think we had a very frank, serious and actually good meeting. Not because we agreed, but because we were able to exchange views, to listen to each other, and thereby being able to contribute to better ability to talk to each other which I think is of particular importance when times are difficult as they are now. And in particular I think we had a very useful and frank exchange of views related to transparency, predictability and the importance of risk reductions and importance of keeping channels for military lines of communication open. And I think the relevance and importance of that has been highlighted by the incidents we have seen in the Baltic Region last week.
QUESTION (ITAR-TASS): Mr Secretary General, do you genuinely believe now it’s possible at the same time to deter Russia and to cooperate with it?
SECRETARY GENERAL: We have suspended practical cooperation between NATO and Russia, but we decided that we will keep channels for political dialogue open. And that’s exactly what we have proven today, that we were able to sit down and talk, exchange views. And because we disagree, and because there are difficulties I find it even more important that we sit down in meeting like the meeting we had today in the NATO-Russia Council. Deterrence is not about fighting a war but it is about preventing conflict. The reason why NATO has always been focused on importance of strong deterrence is not because we want to fight the war, but it is because we want to prevent war, and prevent conflict. And I also very strongly believe that there is no contradiction between strong defence and political dialogue. I will state again and again that the foundation for political dialogue is strength and predictability and that’s the message also from NATO today.
QUESTION (Reuters): Secretary General, how do you believe the Minsk process could move forward when there are such disagreements? What steps would you like to see be taken?
SECRETARY GENERAL: During the meeting it was reconfirmed that we disagree both when it comes to the facts, the narratives, and the responsibilities for the crisis in and around Ukraine. And many Allies also conveyed a very strong message that we disagree when Russia try to portray this as a civil war. This is Russia destabilizing Eastern Ukraine, providing support for separatists, ammunition, funding equipment and also command and control. So there were profound disagreements related to the crisis in Ukraine, but we agreed on the importance of full and rapid implementations of the Minsk agreements, meaning respecting the ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, and also, of course, full access for the international monitors to monitor the situation on the ground. And I think it is important that this is a clear message and is something which we agree on. And then of course we have to be able to see that this is not only something which is stated in meetings, but also then implemented on the ground and Russia has a special responsibility because Russia continues to support separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION (Channel 1 Russia): Mr Secretary General, could you please comment, this meeting was much longer than you planned before. Why was it so? And the second question, could you please comment if NATO considers Russia to be an opposing side, and if doesn’t so then why NATO has increased military presence in Western Union?
SECRETARY GENERAL: The meeting was longer than planned; that reflects that the meeting was a meeting where we had a frank, serious discussion about several important topics, topics which are of importance to all NATO Allies and for Russia. The crisis in and around Ukraine is of course something which is important for all of us. Military activity, transparency, predictability is important. We have seen that after the incidents in the Baltic Sea last week and of course the situation in Afghanistan is also related to our efforts to fight terrorism and increase security of all our nations. Everything NATO does and also of course in the Baltic Region is proportionate, it’s defensive, and it’s fully in line with our international commitments. And what we are doing is that we are responding to substantial military build-up in Russia. And we have to remember that what NATO has done in the Baltic Region with some increased military presence is in response to illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s destabilizing behavior in Eastern Ukraine. So, NATO’s increased military presence in the Baltic Region happened six months after the illegal annexation of Crimea. So there can be no doubt that the facts and the order of when different things happened confirms that what NATO has done is a response to the actions of Russia in Ukraine.
QUESTION (Dominika Cosic, Polish TV): I have one questions about Baltic Region and the transparency. What can be answer of NATO is there were more incidents like recently?
SECRETARY GENERAL: Our focus now is to prevent that kind of incidents. And we are doing that partly by stressing the importance of using existing channels of military to military communications. We would like to see that they are used much more. Second, we are now working with all the European nations within the framework of OSCE in Vienna to try to modernize the different documents, the different agreements, which facilitate different kinds of confidence building measures, transparency, predictability, related to military activity. So, what we are doing now is that we are calling on all members of the OSCE to be constructive and to modernize these documents, including the Vienna Document. And I hope that we can make progress during this year. So, we can have better, more efficient agreements related to how we can reduce the risks of that kind of incidents we have seen in the Baltic Sea. If that kind of incidents happen again, then we need even more transparency and predictability and lines of communications, political and military lines of communications to prevent that it spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations.
QUESTION: (NPR): I am going to pick up on your last comment. You said that you think even more lines of communication would be the answer if you see more incidents like this. There are these existing mechanisms, there are these existing lines of communication. What insurances do you have from Russia that they are going to respect that because this has been going on since long before Syria now?
SECRETARY GENERAL: That is one of the reasons why these kind of meetings are important. Because we stressed very much and underlined strongly in the meeting the importance of both using existing lines of communication, existing mechanisms for risk reductions, that are not used to the extent we would like them to be used today. But in addition I think there is a need of improving different agreements, different mechanisms, for instance the Vienna Document. Because many things have changed. We have increased military presence, we have all the kinds of military capabilities now.