Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg; the President of Latvia, Raimonds Vējonis; the Minister of Defence of Canada, Harjit Sajjan and the Minister of Defence, Mr. Raimonds Bergmanis (Camp Ādaži, Latvia)

  • 19 Jun. 2017 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 19 Jun. 2017 15:59

(As delivered)

President, Ministers, it is a great pleasure to be here together with you today.

We have just welcomed the arrival of Canadian forces which will lead the multinational battlegroup here in Latvia. So thank you, Minister Sajjan, for Canada’s leading role in this deployment. And thank you, President Vejonis and Minister Bergmanis, for Latvia hosting this battlegroup. Thank you. These forces send a very clear message: NATO stands as one. Troops from Canada, Albania and Italy, Spain, Poland and Slovenia alongside Latvian troops. And these forces are just one part of a bigger picture. NATO has also deployed battlegroups in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland. All together more than 4.000 troops, well trained and well equipped. These battlegroups serve a common purpose: to defend our Alliance and deter aggression. They are proof of the enduring strength of the transatlantic bond; soldiers from North America and Europe serving together to keep our Alliance safe. More Canadian troops are on the ground in Europe than at any time since the early 1990s. I’m happy to see this strong Canadian presence here today.

Our forces are here to prevent conflict and protect the peace. We have deployed these forces in response to the changed security environment, including Russia’s military build-up in the Baltic region and beyond. At the same time, NATO continues to seek meaningful dialogue with Russia. Especially when tensions are high, dialogue is important.  To increase transparency, predictability, and to reduce risks.

I am very proud of what I see here today.  It is only a year since Allied leaders decided to enhance our defence and deterrence in the eastern part of the Alliance. Today we see the results.  NATO is delivering on defence and deterrence; and it will continue to deliver peace and security. Solidarity is our strength. All for one and one for all.

Thank you.

Q: Probably a question to Mr. Stoltenberg. So, as we know the United States are sending 600 more troops to Latvia prior to ZAPAD military drills in Russia this September. Should we expect additional troops from NATO countries in the near future, let’s say in a couple of months or in a half year? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): What we have seen today is that for the first time NATO has decided to have a persistent presence of troops in Latvia with a multi-national battle group led by Canada and then many other NATO allies contributing forces. The size of this battle group is around 1,000. Then of course there will be times with exercises and with NATO allied forces where we can see more troops but we don’t plan to increase the numbers of troops as part of the battle group. We think we have measurable defensive but also sufficient presence through the battle group and I think the battle group sends a very clear message about NATO solidarity, NATO presence and that an attack on all will be … that an attack on one ally will be regarded as an attack on the whole Alliance.

Q: Hello, my name is Anna (inaudible) from Latvian Public Television. Question for Mr. Stoltenberg I guess. We know that this is a peacekeeping operation but in case if during this time there is some kind of aggression from Russia will these soldiers actually defend Latvia?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, but let me underline that. We don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally including Latvia. And it is important to understand that the battle group in Latvia is only a part of a bigger picture. We have in total four battle groups, then of course we have the national home defense forces.  Then we have also increased the readiness and the preparedness of our forces so we can easily reinforce, we can reinforce Latvia and other countries quickly because we have tripled the size of the NATO response force to 40,000 troops and we have established a spearhead force, a brigade which can move within a few days. So, if there is a need for reinforcement NATO is able to reinforce very quickly. We have also the air policing presence. We have increased our naval presence in the Baltic Sea and we have established the NATO force integration units, the NFIUs which are small headquarters in the three Baltic countries and in Poland that are key to strengthen that link between national home defense forces and NATO forces and also NATO reinforcements preparing for exercises, improving planning and improving the coordination between home defense forces and NATO forces. So, the battle group is important, the battle group sends a very strong message of NATO solidarity, NATO unity and multi-national presence, but it’s only one part of a bigger picture where we are able to reinforce if needed.

MODERATOR: One more question.

Q: Hello my name is (inaudible) from Reuters News Agency. I have a question to Mr. Stoltenberg.  We know that there’s going to be huge military exercise held by Russia in September, ZAPAD. What do you think, what are Russia’s plans when it comes to the Baltic States? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG: Again, we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO allied country, but what we have seen is a more assertive Russia, we have seen a significant military buildup also in the Baltic region and we have seen Russia being willing to use military force against neighbours as we have seen in Georgia and in Ukraine. And that’s the reason why NATO is responding with the biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the end of the Cold War with the deployment of the four battle groups but also the increased readiness and preparedness of our forces as I just mentioned. We’ll of course follow and monitor closely the Russian exercise ZAPAD. We call on Russia to be transparent related to the ZAPAD exercise because that’s part of what we seek in our dialogue with Russia:  transparency, predictability and measures to achieve risk reduction. And of course, it is important to misunderstand [sic] … or to avoid any misunderstanding, to avoid any miscalculations and therefore we are now looking into the possibility of holding a meeting of the NATO Russia Council where we’ll ask or call on Russia to brief on the ZAPAD exercise and at the same time we are calling on Russia to be transparent on the ZAPAD exercise in line with the Vienna Document which requires transparency, international observation of these kinds of exercises. So, we will follow and monitor closely but at the same time we have NATO presence in this region which enables us to also send a very clear message.

MODERATOR: Thank you that concludes our press conference.