Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of the Republic of Bulgaria, Rumen Radev
President Rumen Radev,
Welcome so much to NATO Headquarters. And congratulations on your appointment as President. And I’d also like to say “welcome back” to NATO Headquarters because you told me that you have been working here many years ago, and that just underlines your personal commitment and understanding of the importance of NATO. And in your previous role as commander of the Bulgarian Air Force, you helped to keep our airspace safe. And I know that you will remain committed to NATO and to our shared security now in your new role as President.
For almost 13 years, Bulgaria has been a valued Ally, making many important contributions to our collective defence. You provide ships to NATO patrols in the Black Sea. And you play a key role in the security of your region, through your contributions to NATO presence in Kosovo, your support for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans, and your assistance to Ukraine where you lead the NATO Trust Fund on medical rehabilitation.
I am also very grateful for your strong commitment to NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, helping to fight terrorism and to prevent that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism. I met Bulgarian troops in Afghanistan and it’s great to be able to tell you that they were very professional, very committed and we are proud to have Bulgarian troops as part of our presence in Afghanistan.
The security environment which surrounds us is changing. We see a more assertive Russia. We see the turmoil and the violence to the South - terrorism. And we see cyber-attacks and hybrid warfare.
NATO is responding. We are responding by increasing our presence both in the south east of the Alliance, and in the Baltic countries and in Poland. We are strengthening our presence in the Black Sea region, with a package of measures on land, at sea and in the air. And we will finalise this work at our meeting of defence ministers in February. And several Allies have already indicated they will contribute to this presence. A strong sign of NATO solidarity.
But security does not come for free. Therefore we have to increase defence spending and I welcome that Bulgaria has now started to increase its investments in defence. I think this just underscores the commitment of Bulgaria to NATO and to NATO decisions to strengthen our collective defence and to increase defence spending.
NATO does not want confrontation with Russia. We don’t seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t want a new Cold War so our response is measured. It is transparent and it is defensive. But it sends a clear signal that we stand together. That all Allies are ready to protect each other. Defending one another.
So President, welcome once again to NATO Headquarters. It’s great to see you and I look forward to working with you. Welcome once again.
OANA LUNGESCU [NATO Spokesperson]: Okay, any questions? BTV there.
Q: [Interpreted] Hi, hello dear Secretary General and Mr. President, my question is related to the policy concerning Russia that will be led by the new President of the United State Donald Trump and how do you think, what aspect do you think this policy will affect the most strength … the biggest reinforcement along the eastern flank of NATO which is the biggest reinforcement that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War? How will Donald Trump’s policies affect us?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): I spoke with then President-elect Donald Trump after he was elected in November and I’ve also spoken with Secretary of Defense Mattis recently and they have all conveyed the same message that United States will remain committed to NATO to the Trans-Atlantic bond and that it’s not only something that they say but we also see now that the United States is actually increasing its presence in Europe. There is a strong bi-partisan support in the Congress and the Congress has quadrupled funding for the European Reassurance Initiative which is funding increased military presence of the United States in Europe with a new brigade, with more training, with more exercises and with more pre-positioned equipment and supplies. So this is a strong political commitment but it’s also followed with more presence in Europe. And when it comes to the relationship to Russia I would like to underline that our increased presence in Europe is a measured and proportionate response to the behaviour of Russia and a more assertive Russia which has implemented a significant military buildup over many years and which has used military force against a neighbour, against Ukraine. NATO is responding but we are responding in a defensive way, in a measured way. We don’t want confrontation, we don’t want a new Cold War so we are keeping the channels for political dialogue open with Russia and the message from the incoming administration is that, the new U.S. Administration, is that they also want dialogue with Russia but it’s based on strength and I think that’s exactly the same message that we are conveying from the whole Alliance and we agreed in Warsaw at our Summit that we need strong defense but also political dialogue with Russia and I look forward to work together with the new President and his security team on exactly … on how to implement and how to follow up that message.
OANA LUNGESCU: Bulgarian National Radio just behind right there.
Q: [Interpreted]: Will Bulgaria this year take part in more large scale operations or trainings with the Allies? And what do you think will be the greatest challenge to NATO in the coming months?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Bulgaria is participating in many different kinds of training and exercises in NATO and with NATO Allies. Actually tomorrow there will be a new multi-national exercise that will start in the Black Sea - a Maritime exercise with the participation of Bulgaria but also with ships from Canada, from the United States, from Turkey and from other NATO Allied countries. So it just illustrates that there are several exercises, different kinds of training activities where Bulgaria participate. And this is a part of the increased presence in the southeast of Europe with more patrols in the Black Sea and also with more exercises and Bulgaria is part of that.
RUMEN RADEV (President of Bulgaria): [Interpreted]: If I can just add our participation in NATO is very important for us not only because it increases the security in our region; it’s extremely important because it enhances the military capability of our armed forces because in each such exercise we acquire new tactics, new techniques and new procedures.
OANA LUNGESCU: Okay, one very last quick question, Wall Street Journal.
Q: JULIAN BARNES [Wall Street Journal]: Maybe not quick. To the President I wonder if you think it’s time for sanctions against Russia to be eased and whether you think more broadly NATO should pursue improved relationship with Russia given Mr. Trump’s desires for cooperation on counter-terrorism? To the Secretary General I wonder if you could comment on the sanctions issue but also the Iranian’s test fired a ballistic missile, I wonder if this, what do you think this says about relevance of NATO missile defense and whether missile defense systems should be on the table in discussions with Russia?
RUMEN RADEV: [Interpreted]: First of all the increase of the defense and deterrence posture of NATO should be hand in hand as Secretary General said with deepening the political dialogue with Russia in order to avoid confrontation and misunderstandings and to lower the risks. And as President Trump also shared the main challenges and threats today come from international terrorism, countering the Islamic State - these are all threats that cannot be tackled unless NATO and Russia have common efforts on this, both in the Middle East and in the global fight against terrorism.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We are looking into the nature of what happened and the details surrounding the ballistic missile launch. So I cannot comment on the details of that incident. But what I can say is that NATO continues to develop its ballistic missile defense system because we see that several nations including Iran are developing different kinds of ballistic missiles and are testing and strengthening their systems. And that just underlines that NATO has to continue to develop a ballistic missile defense system. Our BMD, or ballistic missile defense, is not directed against Russia, it’s directed against threats coming from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. We have previously offered Russia to work together with them on this, then Russia rejected and NATO has continued to develop our system which is a defensive system and it’s a way to protect Europe against missile threats.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. This concludes this press point.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Oh, sorry sanctions. Sanctions is part of the response from many countries to the aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine. The sanctions are decided by the European Union, the United States and other countries, it’s not a NATO decision but I have supported and welcomed the sanctions. What NATO has done is that we have responded by increasing our military presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance and we are continuing to do exactly that by implementing the decisions on enhanced and tailored forward presence. Thank you.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much.