NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg round table with media at the Munich Security Conference
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I just had a useful meeting with Minister Lavrov. That's part of my regular contacts with him and part of the political dialogue between NATO and Russia. I think it’s useful to meet Minister Lavrov; I meet him regularly on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, on the margins of the UN General Assembly and also on other occasions.
We discussed mainly Ukraine and risk reduction, transparency and the future of the political dialogue between NATO and Russia. For two years from the summer of 2014 to the summer of 2016 there were no meetings in the NATO-Russia Council, but since then we have had six meetings and this is not an easy dialogue, but that’s exactly why it is important; because I believe that political contacts, political dialogue is especially important when the situation is difficult as it is now. During the meeting today we addressed Ukraine and I underlined the importance of the implementation of the Minsk agreements. I also said that the situation in Ukraine is the main reason for the deterioration of the relationship between NATO and Russia and also the main reason why NATO has adopted its defensive posture in the eastern part of the Alliance.
We also touched upon the proposals to have UN forces in Ukraine to make sure that the Minsk agreements are fully implemented; this is an issue I also expect to discuss with President Poroshenko when I meet him later on. I also discussed it with the Secretary General António Guterres yesterday.
So far I haven’t seen much movement on that, or much progress on that proposal, but at least it is a proposal which I think it is important that we all look into, because we need some more progress on implementing the Minsk agreements.
Then we addressed risk reduction and transparency and I welcome the fact that we in the NATO Russia Council have been able to have reciprocal briefings on military posture, on military exercises. And we are ready to continue with that, to brief, for instance, on the NATO exercise Trident Juncture which will take place in Norway this fall. And to continue to have reciprocal briefings on exercises and military posture.
I also underlined the importance of military lines of communications and contacts between our commanders, General Gerassimov and SACEUR, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe.
So I think that were anyway the main issues we touched upon; and we agreed to continue to work for a new meeting of the NATO Russia Council. No date is fixed and we had to work on the date and the agenda. At least there is support for new meetings on the NATO Russia Council.
QUESTION: Secretary General, since I am sitting next to you I’m going to jump straight in. On the UN peacekeeper idea, did you get any sense from Minister Lavrov that he might be open to what the west is proposing which actually is a proper full-blown force? I think what President Putin initially proposed was just a UN force to protect the OSCE. And I wondered also if a quick reaction on Prime Minister May’s suggestion for a security treaty between Britain and the EU with NATO at its heart, and I wondered if you thought that sounded like a good idea?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I haven’t been able to see the text or what she proposed. But I think the idea of having a close cooperation between the UK and the EU after Brexit, also on defence and security issues, is important and something I welcome, especially since she underlined so clearly that NATO is, should I say the main, or is responsible for collective defence in Europe and has to be built around and support the efforts of NATO.
This is the same message as I have on European defence efforts or EU defence efforts - that we welcome those efforts, but as the European leaders themselves have underlined, this is not an alternative to NATO, this is something that must compliment NATO.
I met with Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, earlier this morning and that also exactly was his message; he welcomes of course EU efforts on defence, but not as an alternative but something that can strengthen the European pillar within NATO. Having a close relationship between the UK and EU after Brexit will just add to that.
Then on Ukraine, well I think it’s too early to say what kind of possible solution can be agreed or reached when it comes to UN presence in Ukraine. Since I discussed this, or since this proposal was put on the table many months ago, not much progress has been achieved; so it remains to be seen whether it’s possible. But I think it’s important to continue to work on different proposals to make sure that we try to have some progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
QUESTION: Mr Secretary General, two things, one very importantly when we started this the Norwegian women’s team was four seconds before the Russians, did you discuss that with the Foreign Minister? And secondly, if I could burrow down in Ukraine a little bit more: the United States had put on this table this idea of phased approach and maybe that the compromise between the two visions of peacekeeping could be bridged a little bit by implementing the peacekeepers over time and then maybe making some of the political measures that the Russians have been demanding the Ukraine’s do. Is there, I don’t know how detailed you got with Minister Lavrov on this but is there sort of, do you see a compromise here within this sort of idea of phased approach in the peacekeeping?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So I met with Kurt Volker a couple of weeks ago and we discussed of course his efforts to try to make progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements and then also different proposals including these proposals to have UN forces there.
A phased approach is one way of trying to reach an agreement. I have an open mind, I think we all should have an open mind to different ways to overcome the obstacles and then start to make progress. So that’s one way of trying to achieve that.
QUESTION: The Finnish Broadcasting Company, YLE, there had been this new report by [inaudible] about peacekeeping operation and he emphasised these countries which are not members of NATO like Finland and Sweden who take a big roles in these operations. Was this proposal discussed with Mr Lavrov and how do think Russia could be more open to peacekeepers from non NATO countries?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We discussed the proposal to have UN peacekeepers in Ukraine. My message has been over long period of time that I think that peacekeepers must have the responsibility to not only be responsible for the OSCE monitors but be responsible for the whole region, including making the border between Russia and Ukraine a border which is accessible and which is part of what they then have the responsibility for.
We didn’t discuss which nations could participate in such UN force but it goes in a way without saying that UN force can include of course may other countries than NATO countries. And therefore I think to have UN force may be a way to see some progress on the implementation.
QUESTION: [inaudible] (10:42) that Russia wouldn’t accept any NATO...
JENS STOLTENBERG: First of all, I will not go into the details exactly what we discussed but the UN is much more than NATO. NATO is 29 Allies, the UN is the whole world and of course the UN force can be much broader than only NATO countries. But first I think we have to make more progress of a whole concept of a UN force before we start to discuss exactly which nations are going to be part of a potential UN force.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask, I am sure you saw yesterday the developments in the Special Council’a investigation with the new indictments against Russia, did that come up in terms of the propaganda war, you know the alleged hybrid war that Russia is waging allegedly against the US and other NATO Allies and did you bring that up with Minister Lavrov and what are his responses to those kinds of messages?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The indictment is part of a US domestic legal process and I think it is important that this is something which is handled as a domestic legal process in the United States.
What I can say in general is that we have seen reports from many countries about interference in democratic processes and that’s something that NATO Allies are very much aware of, we have to be able to counter misinformation, we have to be able to counter attempts to interference in domestic political processes and just by raising awareness of the risks of that kind of interference. I think we are responding; we need also to be aware of how social media can be used. And we need to protect our cyber networks and this is something that NATO is working on now, including with more exercises. We are stepping up the efforts to protect our own cyber networks but also to help allies to protect their cyber networks.
We just conducted a big exercise, one of the biggest in the world on cyber, and we also provide facts when we see disinformation against NATO Allies or our forces and NATO operations.
Let me also highlight the importance of free an independent media to be able to check facts, to ask the difficult questions, to check resources, free and independent media has always been an important part of our democratic open societies but perhaps even more important now because as many forces try to misuse and to undermine the open and transparent societies by different kinds of disinformation and interference activities.
QUESTION: But that doesn’t come up in bilateral meetings with Lavrov, for example, it is not on the agenda?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Again, I will be careful being too specific so I will not say more about that.
QUESTION: Secretary General, it’s about your meeting with President Poroshenko, you already mentioned that you will discuss peacekeeping operation, what else is the agenda, do we attempt to discuss Hungarian blocking NATO Ukraine Commission on a ministerial level and how it will project to, for example, on NATO summit? Can we expect at least a NAC level NATO Ukraine Commission?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, I think it is a bit too early to say exactly what we are going to discuss. I meet President Poroshenko very often, we speak on the phone, we meet at different occasions. I have already spoken with him recently, also addressing this issue of the language law but I guess that will be also an issue we will address during our meeting later on today.
In general, at the meetings I have with President Poroshenko we discuss the political and practical support NATO and NATO Allies are providing to Ukraine. We will continue to do so, we will discuss efforts to find ways to implement the Minsk agreements, including the UN forces. And then, as I said, I also expect that the language law will be addressed.
QUESTION: Secretary General, I have a quick question on the NATO Russia Council, do you see any chance to convene the next meeting before the elections in Russia and second question, If I may, did Mr Lavrov announce you name who will be the next Russian ambassador to NATO and when will he arrive in Brussels?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We didn’t discuss any dates and that’s not, dates have not been something we have discussed between me and Minister Lavrov before either. So that’s something for our staff to look into and find exact date for the NATO Russia Council meeting. But I expressed willingness to convene a new meeting; then we have to find a date and we need to agree on which items we will address. So therefore I am not able to say anything about the dates.
Then about the next ambassador, well it’s a normal thing that after some years there is a change of ambassadors. I think Alexander Grushko has been there for several years already and so it’s not very strange that he is going to be replaced. But sometimes it takes some time before one ambassador leaves and then the other ambassador is appointed, and that’s the case now. So they didn’t get any dates about when a new ambassador will be appointed.
In the meantime, we do as we always do when there is no ambassador and that is that we work with a ministry in Brussels, there is one in charge there and we also work directly with Moscow. For instance, Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller engages also directly with the people in the ministry in Moscow.
QUESTION: Phoenix TV from Hong Kong and my question will be is there any meeting planned with NATO and from the Chinese delegation here and also can you shed some lights on the current situation with NATO and bilateral relations with NATO and China?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I haven’t done any meetings with the Chinese representatives here at the Munich Security Conference, I am not aware whether other people in my delegation will meet someone from China. But I met recently with a new Chinese ambassador to NATO at the NATO headquarters. That was a very useful meeting. I recognise the growing and important role China is playing in world politics and also the importance of working with China in addressing some regional challenges like, for instance, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a neighbour, China is a neighbour of Afghanistan and NATO have our military, our biggest military operation takes place in Afghanistan. And I know that President Ghani and the Afghan government are reaching out to China, also to try to build regional support for a political solution.
So there are different issues where China and NATO, as I say, are addressing the same challenges, Afghanistan is one as well as the nuclear weapons of North Korea. I welcome that China has supported stronger economic sanctions in the UN Security Council to put pressure on North Korea to stop violating UN Security Council resolutions.
So in different areas NATO and China are addressing the same challenges and I welcome the close contact between China and NATO.
QUESTION: Secretary General, yesterday you mentioned that US is convinced that Russia is violating the INF Treaty and you demand transparency. Are you convinced too of the violation and what about Europe and NATO partners?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The INF Treaty is a treaty that was signed between the United States and at that time the Soviet Union, so NATO is not part of the treaty. But of course it is a treaty which is of great importance for all NATO Allies, because the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Russia and deployment of intermediate range nuclear missiles in NATO countries in Europe in the 80s was of great concern for both publics and politicians and it was a really big issue, not least in Germany.
Therefore, we very much support the INF Treaty which abolished a whole category of weapons - intermediate land-based weapons were abolished by that treaty and therefore it is of great concern for all allies the reports about violations of the INF Treaty. All allies called on Russia to, in a transparent and verifiable way, comply with the treaty. But it is the US which is party, so it’s the US that has the terms. We call on Russia to be transparent on the compliance with the treaty; and what US has reported is that Russia has developed and flight tested a new intermediate range cruise missile which is then in violation of the INF Treaty.
QUESTION: In the speech you talk about the INF Treaty and how the nuclear issue is part of the agenda, is this you discussed with Lavrov today?
JENS STOLTENBERG: That was not among the main issues in my discussion, we have clearly conveyed to the Russians at several occasions the importance of respecting existing agreements, both nuclear agreements but also a conventional agreement respecting the INF Treaty but also respecting agreements on conventional weapons, like for instance, the Vienna document on transparency and risk reduction, and the Open Sky.
NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much, this concludes this round table.