Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania, Saulius Skvernelis
Prime Minister Skvernelis, welcome to NATO headquarters. It has been a great pleasure to receive you here today and to address all the different ways that Lithuania is contributing to our shared security, so I really appreciate this meeting and also this opportunity to congratulate you on your appointment as Prime Minister.
Lithuania makes important contributions to NATO. Your troops serve with distinction in Afghanistan and in Kosovo. You host assets for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing. And you host one of our new small headquarters.
Lithuania stands with NATO and NATO stands with Lithuania. In response to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine, NATO is deploying four robust multinational battle groups to Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Poland. German and Belgian troops are already arriving in Lithuania. Sending a clear message: NATO Allies stand united and an attack on any of us would be met by forces from across the Alliance. We discussed the progress of the deployment and I expect all four battalions to be fully operational by June.
Our plans are defensive in nature. They are proportionate to the scale of the challenge. And they are fully in line with our international commitments.
We also agreed on the importance of NATO’s two-track approach to Russia: strong defence combined with meaningful dialogue.
Finally, Prime Minister, I want to commend your government for your leadership on defence spending. And your plan to reach NATO’s 2% benchmark – 2% of GDP – by 2018. Fairer burden-sharing is essential to the long-term strength of our Alliance and the security of our people, and Lithuania is setting an example for other Allies to follow.
On Thursday, Lithuania will celebrate the 99th anniversary of its Act of Independence. With NATO, you will never lose that independence again.
Prime Minister, thank you for your strong support for our Alliance.
And welcome to NATO Headquarters.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Okay, BNS.
Q: Good afternoon, [inaudible] Baltic News Service. I will switch to Lithuanian for my Prime Minister. [Interpreted]. Good afternoon Prime Minister. I have a question with regard to defence funding. Could you please confirm that the parties are going to find an agreement and to allocate 2.5 % of GDP to defence? And also speaking about the calls from the new U.S. administration to fight more efficiently with terrorism, is Lithuania going to more efficiently engage in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq?
SAULIUS SKVERNELIS (Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania): [Interpreted]. Yes I can reaffirm that 2 % is going to be reached in 2018. Then there are no discussions neither among the political parties nor the society in Lithuania, all of us agree that we have to contribute 2 % of GDP to defence. This is not a declaration, this is a decision by the government to allocate as much as is needed for the national defence. Now with regards to participation in international operations even today Lithuanian military personal takes place and participates in various operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re going to allocate our resources including military resources in taking place in all the international missions as equal partners and there can no be any discussions, we don’t have any doubts whatsoever with regards to this. We understand our contributions in defending our security and fight against terrorism.
OANA LUNGESCU: Okay. Kiev Post.
Q: Brian Bonner from the Kiev Post in Ukraine. Mr. Secretary General do you think that Russia has compromising information on President Donald Trump? If yes what can be done about it? If no how do you explain his pro-Putin positions and his continued misunderstanding of Russia’s war against Ukraine?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): I am absolutely certain that the United States will stay committed to NATO, to the transatlantic bond but also to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of all European states including Ukraine. And I’m looking forward to welcoming the Secretary of Defense, Secretary Mattis, here tomorrow and the reason why NATO now is increasing its military presence in the eastern part of the alliance is the aggressive actions against Ukraine by Russia, illegally annexing Crimea and destabilizing eastern Ukraine. And also, I have also seen that in the United Nations the United States has expressed strong support for Ukraine and also support for the economic sanctions. I have spoken to President Trump twice and the message has been that he is very committed to NATO, that he would like to see more defence spending but also that he is supportive of the NATO dual track approach to Russia. Meaning that as long as we are strong, as long as we invest in our defence and our deterrence we can also engage in a political dialogue with Russia. So I don’t see any contradiction between being in favour of dialogue with Russia, having open channels with Russia, meeting Russians and exploring how we can avoid tensions to increase and exploring how we can strive for a more cooperative relationship and at the same time being committed to NATO and to our collective security. That’s the NATO position and that’s also the position that President Trump has conveyed to me in my conversations with him.
OANA LUNGESCU: Okay. Wall Street Journal.
Q: First to the Prime Minister, do you think that Mr. Trump’s promise of a more cooperative relationship with Russia could bolster security in your country or are you … do you want to hear more explanation from the United States, worried that the new attitude could embolden Russia? And to the Secretary General, to expand upon your last answer, do you anticipate discussing how to either rebalance deterrence and dialogue or how do tweak the strategy in your conversations with Mr. Mattis here this week?
SAULIUS SKVERNELIS: [Interpreted]. Yes first of all with regard to United States, we trust United States and we don’t see any basis for having doubts on that. Now with regards to dialogue with Russia, yes every dialogue is needed, it improves cooperation, it encourages cooperation but again the forms of dialogues and the positions of the start of this dialogue, what conditions are there for this dialogue, if we are engaging in this dialogue on the basis of international standards, international freedoms and rights, yes then yes this dialogue is possible. But speaking about the form of this dialogue I believe that this dialogue has to be of equal partners. I hope that there would never be a case where interests of one state would be sacrificed for the benefit of other states. Lithuania has always trusted the United States and we don’t have any grounds for having doubts with this long term standing cooperation and trust.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Russia is not on the agenda for this meeting but of course NATO’s approach to Russia is always part of the dialogue, ongoing dialogue between NATO allies. And we always have to assess how can we find the right way to pursue this dual track approach. We are now delivering on important elements regarding the strength part of it with the enhanced forward presence and then we are constantly looking into how can we then strive for a more constructive relationship with Russia but without compromising on fundamental principles for the alliance which includes of course the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of all nations in Europe including Ukraine. And I think that for instance now we have some attention on military exercises including the ZAPAD exercise and for me that illustrates the importance of the dialogue with Russia and to keep the channels open and also try to develop the military lines of communications. To have more transparency, more predictability related to for instance military exercises like the ZAPAD exercise and one of the issues we have discussed in the NATO Russia Council is how can we improve and how can we use the council to have briefings on exercises on a reciprocal basis, for instance on exercises like ZAPAD. So exactly what I’m going to discuss with Secretary Mattis is a bit too early to say but these issues, military transparency, predictability, adherence to the Vienna Document regarding observation, notification of exercises is constantly on our agenda and is part of our dual track approach to Russia.
OANA LUNGESCU: Very quick question please.
Q: Aivars Ozolins, Weekly “lr” Latvia. I have question to the Prime Minister dwelling on what Secretary General right now said about the ZAPAD exercises. Your country’s security department has recently warned that these exercises will be threat, major threat to your country’s security. What are the worse scenarios your and the other Baltic countries should be prepared in this case? And probably a follow up to Mr. Stoltenberg, is NATO ready to deter any provocations or whatever would come after these exercises?
SAULIUS SKVERNELIS: [Interpreted]. I believe that we don’t discuss the worst case scenarios. Our presence here today and our meeting today in the NATO headquarters and actions that were taken speaking about the deployment of the Enhanced Forward Presence and cooperation within the alliance enable us to state and expect that the worst case scenario would never occur. That’s why the alliance is for, that’s why we have our commitments for and Lithuania and all the Baltic states and the entire alliance is getting ready for that. So let us speak about as to how we will maintain the balance and our priority and let us not discuss the worst case scenarios. I believe that we are doing everything we can so that we prevented that.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally and NATO of course always stands ready to defend all allies against any threat. And that’s the reason why we are also adapting our military posture, increasing the readiness and preparedness of our forces and also increasing the forward presence of our troops to respond to a more dangerous and demanding security environment. We have seen more military activity close to our borders and it is important to avoid incidents, accidents and again that’s the reason why we are working for transparency, predictability and why we also expect Russia to adhere to the Vienna Document which is regulating how to conduct military exercises in a transparent and predictable way avoiding incidents and accidents. And all nations have the right to exercise their forces but of course this should be done in a responsible way and in full compliance with international agreements like for instance the OSCE Vienna Document which requires notification and international observation according to a specific set of requirements.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much that’s all we have time for.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you.