Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović
President Djukanović, dear Milo,
Welcome to NATO Headquarters. It’s really a great honour and pleasure to meet you again and you are the first Head of State from a NATO Allies country which I receive here at the NATO Headquarters in the new building.
Congratulations on your election as president.
And as we all know tomorrow we will mark one year since Montenegro joined NATO.
A sovereign country in a strong Alliance.
With a seat at our table, and an equal voice in shaping our decisions. This is an important day for Montenegro and an important day for the whole Alliance.
Montenegro’s accession has helped promote stability in the Western Balkans because security promotes prosperity. And it has contributed to Euro-Atlantic security.
Thank you for committing to increase the number of troops in our training mission in Afghanistan.
I also welcome that you are increasing defence spending, with a clear plan to invest 2% of GDP in defence by 2024. So Montenegro is proving to be a very solid and very reliable member of the Alliance.
And just as Montenegro is stepping up for NATO, NATO is stepping up for Montenegro. NATO is a defensive Alliance.
We protect all Allies against any threat.
So tomorrow, NATO will begin air policing patrols over Montenegro, with jets from Italy and Greece. This peacetime mission will ensure the safety of your skies. Whether from civilian or military aircraft in distress, or any other threat.
NATO provides this support to Allies without their own air forces – a strong sign of NATO solidarity.
We just had an excellent meeting where we discussed our preparations for the NATO Summit in July here in Brussels.
NATO will continue to adapt to a challenging world, to enhance the security of all our citizens. And we will continue to boost the readiness of our forces, to ensure we have the right forces in the right place at the right time.
We will also continue to project stability in our neighbourhood and step up in the fight against terrorism. One of our best tools in the fight against terrorism is to train local forces.
And that is exactly what NATO is doing – from the Western Balkans to Afghanistan.
And as a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
At the Summit in July we will launch a new training mission in Iraq. To ensure that the Iraqi forces can defend their own country and prevent ISIS from ever coming back.
We also discussed Russia. We agreed that our dual-track policy of deterrence and dialogue is the right one.
I chaired a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council just last week and our dialogue with Russia is even more important when tensions are high.
So once again President Djukanović, it's a great honour and pleasure to receive you here at the NATO HQ and I look forward to seeing you once again at our Summit in July. Welcome.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: To the lady over there, from Montenegrin TV. Thanks.
Question [Montenegro TV]: So, how Montenegro has shown as a… or behaved as a member state a year after membership in NATO?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: What we have seen is that during the year that Montenegro has been a member of NATO, Montenegro has proven that Montenegro is a net contributor of security to our Transatlantic Alliance. And Montenegro is contributing to our shared security in many different ways. Montenegro contributes to stability in the Western Balkans - the accession of Montenegro into NATO promotes stability in the Western Balkans because security promotes prosperity and this has contributed to the security of the whole Euro-Atlantic region.
Then we have also the very concrete contributions Montenegro is making both to our mission in Kosovo, KFOR, but also the fact that Montenegro is now stepping up their contributions to our mission in Afghanistan, which is about fighting terrorism, preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism. Then Montenegro has participated in different NATO exercises, showing that the forces of Montenegro can work together with the forces of other NATO Allies, contributing to our collective defence.
And then I would also highlight the fact that Montenegro has started to invest more in defence, in modern capabilities, in strengthening the armed forces of Montenegro and has a clear plan for how to reach the goal of spending 2% GDP on defence by 2024. So, Montenegro contributes in many different ways and Montenegro is a highly valued Ally and I also welcome the strong commitment of President Đukanović to NATO and the leadership he is showing in leading Montenegro as a member of the Alliance.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Lady over there, from Pob TV?
Question [Daily Newspaper Pobjeda]: I have questions for Mr Stoltenberg and Montenegrin President. Do you think, a year after Montenegro entered NATO, that we in Southern Eastern Europe live in a safer region? Do you think that we are safer?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I think that the fact that Montenegro has become a member has made Montenegro safer in a more demanding security environment. The reality is that we see around Europe more challenges, more unpredictability, we see all the turmoil and the violence to the south, in North Africa, Middle East, but not least in Iraq and Syria. But we also see a more assertive Russia being willing to use military force against a neighbour, as we have seen in Ukraine. But in this more demanding security environment, NATO has become stronger, NATO has responded to the unpredictability and to the uncertainty we see surrounding us. And NATO has become bigger with a new member, Montenegro. And all of that has helped to strengthen NATO, helped to strengthen Montenegro, because we are stronger together than alone, based on the idea that… the core idea of NATO is that if one Ally is attacked, it is regarded as an attack against all of us.
So, the accession of Montenegro to NATO has made Montenegro safer and also NATO stronger.
Milo Đukanović [Montenegro President]: [Interpreted] - Well, my response, my answer would be similar to what Mr Stoltenberg said. So, there is no doubt that the membership of Montenegro in NATO and the progress of every Western Balkans country towards the membership in NATO is a contribution to stability and better prospects of the region.
I believe that the price that we are paying today in the Western Balkans, and that is related to the insufficiently high quality of life, this is the price that we are paying for the roots and causes that we have been aware of for a long time and that is the wish to live according to the rules that are not European rules. What we are doing now in the Balkans I see as an attempt to take the Balkans back to its natural Euro-Atlantic haven. We do recognise the resistance of course, but I would say that they are generated from two reasons: first is the fact that there is still strong resistance towards this U-turn of the Balkans towards the West and Europe, the forces that actually advocate the traditional way of thinking that would like to keep the situation of chaos and lack of perspective, they show resistance that are getting stronger the closer we are to our goals. Those are the last resistance… signs of resistance. They find it difficult to accept that we will, in the future, live according to the European standards. I'm not talking about the membership in NATO or European Union here, but about the Europisation.
And the other problem is what is happening in the European and the global scene. Today, we can see that Europe has more problems than it had ten years ago and that the relations in the global scenes are more tensed than we who live today could remember. I mean we can't remember that they were more tensed any time in the past. So, the fact is that we have problems, but they can't drive us away from our main path and that is that the Balkans should go along the path of Euro and Euro-Atlantic integration because, when it comes to our region, it is the condition of our stability and democratic development.
Question: To Mr Stoltenberg, did you talk about state of democracy in Montenegro, especially freedom of the media? Do you think that calling leading media in Montenegro fascists and equalising them with mafia gangs helps creating safe or hostile environment for media freedom? Another question, you mentioned Russia. Mr Đukanović and Mr Putin expressed publically that they want to improve relations. You also mentioned dual track approach. Does that go together with the dual track approach and do you think it's good or bad for NATO that Montenegro has better relations with NATO? With Russia, sorry? And to Mr Đukanović… to Mr Đukanović, do you think that easing sanctions or abolishing sanctions at all against Russia is the way to go to improve the relations with Russia? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: First on the relations with Russia, both President Đukanović and I highlighted the importance of what we call the dual track approach to Russia, which is about that we have to be strong, we have to united, we have to be firm and we have to react when Russia is violating international rules, for instance violating the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of a neighbour, like Ukraine, or when Russia is responsible for cyber-attacks, or attempts to meddle in our domestic democratic processes, as we have seen in several NATO Allied countries. Then we have to be strong, we have to be clear and we have to be united in our response, and that’s also the reason why all NATO Allies have supported the economic sanctions.
Having said that, Russia is our neighbour, Russia is there to stay and we are not aiming at isolating Russia. We will continue to strive for a better relationship with Russia and especially when the tensions are high, as they are now, it is important to have a dialogue with Russia to at least avoid miscalculations, incidents and accidents, and if they happen make sure that they don’t spiral out of control. So, even if we don’t… or also when the relations are difficult, it is of particular importance to have a dialogue with Russia. And that’s exactly the same as such as I heard from Montenegro, that they are striving for a better relationship with Russia, that they are not aiming at isolating Russia and that’s also the same message as NATO as an Alliance is sending out; dialogue, striving for a better relationship, but at the same time being clear that we protect each other and that we don’t accept the behaviour of Russia when they violate international rules or use military force against their neighbours.
When it comes to the freedom of press, first of all, the freedom of the media is an important part of any democracy and a rule of law, democracy and individual liberty are core values for NATO and one of the issues we focused very much on during the accession period was of course the importance of these values also for Montenegro and I think that for all NATO Allies these are extremely important. But at the same time I think we have to accept that, as part of an open and vibrant democracy, there are different views and sometimes also strong opinions which we can disagree with, but that’s part of a democratic debate, to also have disagreements and different views.
Milo Đukanović [Montenegro President]: [Interpreted] - I saw that part of the people who have different political opinions and some of analysts, commentators and independent and professional media tried to interpret my assessment as turning of Montenegro away from NATO and turning towards Russia. There's nothing of that in my statement. It is a kind of speculation about the politics of my country and my own. So, our position towards Russia is absolutely clear and Mr Stoltenberg helped me to clarify this and to understand very precisely by everyone… to be understood by everyone very precisely.
Support to NATO is not expressed only by words, but supporting all the time the values of the system that we are a part of. So, there is no dilemma in our country whether we should comply with the foreign and security policy. I mean if we have come so far in our process of negotiation with the European Union, it goes without saying that we will share the foreign and security policy of European Union. And if we are member to NATO, we of course share our political opinions with NATO. And actions in the territory of Ukraine or some other activities of Russia that we saw, for example in Montenegro in 2016 during our elections, we will condemn those things.
That’s why we had to unfortunately accept the sanctions towards Russia because we want to divert them from the activities that they do and lead Russia back to the zone where we will be able to cooperate as we did earlier. We think that it is the question of determination and persistence to keep and preserve the system that you belong to. We belong to the European system of values and we think that such activities as Russia's activities that I described are attempts to destroy the system of values and there is no doubt that we will defend the system of values that we belong to. And my invitation is aimed at leaving the area where we are punishing each other. It is just the voice of responsibility to accept the reality.
Russia is our neighbour, we are not identical, we are different. There are no two countries in the world that are identical. There are no two neighbours that are identical. We have to learn to live with the differences that will not jeopardise us but help us to cooperate and to harmonise as much as possible, and I believe in such a process. It is the evolution process and that’s why I said that it is not our decision to remain in the situation of constant punishing and sanctioning. No, our wish is to go back to the time from just a couple of years ago where we had very constructive cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council. We believe in such an approach and that is why there is no hidden meaning or intention in my statement related to our relations with Russia.
Montenegro is firmly and decisively committed to work on the further affirmation of the system of values of NATO and to confirm those values in the region that we live in. But with the responsibility of a NATO member, we have to think about the global issues and we have to propose certain initiatives and the solutions that may lead to sorting out the situation outside of our region as well, on the global scene as well. Because, you know, I just recently mentioned how dangerous the reflections of the bad situation and instability from our region can be.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: This concludes this press point.