Joint press conference
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Dear friend, Volodymyr,
It is really a pleasure to welcome you here to NATO Headquarters for the first time.
We spoke on the phone soon after you were elected. And I want to congratulate you in person on your victory. The election shows the strength of Ukraine’s democracy.
We’ve just had an excellent discussion on NATO’s continuing support for Ukraine.
Ukraine is a highly valued partner. You contribute to our missions in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, even while facing major threats at home. And our forces exercise regularly together. This shows Ukraine’s strong commitment to international security.
We also discussed the situation in eastern Ukraine, including Russia’s attempts to give Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens.
This is the latest example of Russian attempts to destabilise eastern Ukraine. And it is a step in the wrong direction. Today, the NATO-Ukraine Commission will meet to address the security situation in Ukraine. Allies look forward to hearing your assessment.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to claim lives. The fighting has killed 13,000 people. The people of Ukraine deserve peace. And I commend your commitment to end the conflict in a peaceful way.
NATO stands firm in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Allies do not, and will not, recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. And we condemn Russia’s aggressive actions in the Black Sea region.
We welcome the ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that Russia must release the Ukrainian sailors and ships it illegally detained last November. Allies will continue to make clear to Russia that it has to comply with international obligations and its international commitments.
In response to Russia’s illegal actions, NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea. With more ships and more planes. And we have stepped up our cooperation with our partners in the region, Ukraine and Georgia. So we are closely monitoring the situation.
In April, Foreign Ministers agreed to a package of additional measures. Including more training of your maritime forces and your coast guard. More naval presence with port visits and exercises. And sharing of information.
We have seen regular exercises and port visits by our Standing Naval Groups, as well as other NATO Allied ships. And in July, we will hold more exercises in the Black Sea, together with Ukraine.
We also continue to provide strong practical support in other areas.
Through ten Trust Funds, NATO Allies and partners have pledged more than forty million euros to support Ukraine. In areas such as command and control, cyber defence and medical rehabilitation.
NATO Allies also provide military training to the Ukrainian armed forces.
And every day, our NATO advisers support Ukraine’s security and defence reforms.
So Mr. President, you have a strong mandate to implement key reforms.
To fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law. These reforms are essential to ensure security and prosperity for all Ukrainians. And to bring Ukraine closer to NATO.
Allies have welcomed the adoption of Ukraine’s Law on National Security. And we encourage you to implement this important legislation.
NATO will continue to support you on this path.
So once again, welcome. It is a great honour to receive you here at NATO at your first international visit.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy [President of Ukraine]: I will begin in English. Dear Secretary General, Dear Media Representatives, I'm grateful for invitation to pay my first foreign visit to Brussels and especially to NATO Headquarters. The strategic course of Ukraine to achieve full-fledged membership in the EU and NATO, which is secured in the constitution of Ukraine, remains unchanged. This is the priority of our foreign policy. Ukraine's progress towards high European living and security standards is a demand of the Ukraine society. The goal of all our reforms is to improve living standards of Ukrainians, root out corruption and modernise the state. It's possible to accomplish only by providing our national security.
We are ready to negotiate with Russia. We are ready to implement the Minsk Agreements. However, we must first be able to protect ourselves and to become stronger in economic, political and military terms. I'm very grateful for political and practical support that Ukraine is receiving from the Alliance, as well as from individual Allies. I'm eager to give new impetus to our engagement with the Alliance.
The ongoing, armed Russian aggression remains a major challenge for Euro-Atlantic security. Our common task is to ensure stability and security in the Black Sea region that requires Alliance additional efforts. We welcome two decisions endorsed by the Alliance in April in Washington, to strengthen the Black Sea security and to support the Ukrainian navy.
Ukraine, dear friends, Ukraine is unique partner of the Alliance in terms of intensity and variety of our interaction. We hope to renew our regular dialogue within the framework of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of Heads of State and Government, Defence and Foreign Ministers.
We look forward to welcoming the North Atlantic Council in Ukraine. We will keep the best of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. We need all the existing mechanism that will help us on this path and any other that Allies will be ready to offer. But, at the moment, we have to focus on our primary goal: the implementation of internal reform that will bring our country closer to NATO standards. Proper implementation of the law on national security is among my first tasks. By that, I mean reform of Security Service, reform of intelligence agencies, reform of defence industry, democratic civilian control over security and defence sector. Ukraine, which is stable, democratic and capable to defend itself, is an integral part of the European security.
I am confident that our distinctive partnership with the Alliance will advance effectively. I hope that, in the long run, we will be able to transform our partnership into a full-fledged Alliance. Thank you very much for your attention.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Ukrinform.
Question [Ukrinform]: Recently, the military leadership in Ukraine was changed, so that… how that could impact the military-to-military cooperation and military policy of Ukraine as such? Thanks.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy [Interpreted]: You mean that our Chief of General Staff has changed. He is going to work in accordance with the Ukrainian doctrine and, at the moment, we have got the first meeting tomorrow actually within the Minsk format and the new Chief of General Staff will be there. There'll be certain proposals at that meeting concerning the return to Minsk and first of all, we are talking about the ceasefire. We have to talk about the ceasefire. We have to exchange prisoners of war and discuss other issues. Please, over to you.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: In our meeting we just finished now, President Zelenskyy clearly stated that Ukraine will continue to work with NATO. And NATO Allies are ready to continue to work with Ukraine. We have political cooperation, but we also work together within different military areas. As I said, command and control. NATO Allies provide training and support and advice, we help to reform and modernise the Ukrainian security institutions, intelligence services. We also strongly support the efforts to fight corruption. So, we will continue to work together and we'll also continue our military cooperation. And NATO Allies also made it very clear that they will continue to provide also training support and we have just announced that we will step up our support when it comes to maritime capabilities. elp also the Ukrainian Coastguard and also the naval academy in Odessa. So, we will continue our military support and cooperation with Ukraine, and that’s a strong political commitment from NATO Allies and it was welcomed very much by the Ukrainian President and I appreciate that.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Last question, from VRT, at the back.
Question [VRT]: Mr President, you said that the ceasefire is one of the priorities, ceasefire in Donbass. What concrete steps are you considering to achieve such a ceasefire? And Mr Secretary General, more than a decade ago at the Bucharest Summit, NATO stated that Ukraine would become member of NATO. How far is Ukraine from that achievement?
Volodymyr Zelenskyy [Interpreted]: Thank you very much for this question. I think I'll start with the second part of the question, I will allow the second part to be answered by Secretary General, how far are we from reaching the goal of the fully-fledged membership. But of course for us NATO is first of all the security of our country and of course, when we talk about the level of training of our army, of our troops, assistance of NATO is key.
Now let's move to the first part of the question. I will not go into the very concrete steps now about the ceasefire and the exchange of prisoners of war. But, in accordance with our agreement with Mr Kuchma, the Second President of Ukraine, who is going to lead the Minsk group, we are going to work quite actively in the humanitarian assistance and we are going to build a bridge in Stanitsa Luganska. So that we could may be help the people there. So that we could send the ambulances there. We could give economic support and social support. I am sure you will hear about this in details and we will publish our agreements and our discussions in the nearest future.
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO enlargement has been a great success. It has helped to spread democracy, the rule of law, peace and stability across Europe. And together, NATO and EU have, over the last decades, fundamentally strengthened democracy and peace and stability in Europe, through enlargement of both the European Union and of NATO.
And NATO stands by its open-door policy. That has been reiterated again and again by NATO leaders. And we also stand by the very important and fundamental principle that every nation has its sovereign right to decide its own path, and that of course also includes Ukraine.
We respect when a country decides not to strive for membership. We have close and good partners, like Sweden, Finland, Austria and other countries, which have decided not to strive for NATO membership, and we totally respect that. But we also respect when countries decide that they want to strive for membership, then we sit down and talk and see when and how we can help them to become ready for membership and to meet the NATO standards.
The important message is that it's only for the country which decides to strive for membership and the 29 Allies to decide when that country is ready to join the Alliance. No other country has the right to try to interfere or to veto such a process, because this is a sovereign decision by a sovereign nation to choose its own path. And we respect that decision.
NATO leaders reiterated, or have reiterated several times, the last time at our Summit last year, that we stand by our decision, the decision we took at the Bucharest Summit, and we have reiterated that several times since then. Our focus now is on the reforms and, as the President also highlighted, or underlined, it is important to be able to meet the NATO standards and that’s the reason why we support, help Ukraine with implementing reforms, modernising their defence and security institutions, meet the NATO standards, fight corruption. That is our focus now. That’s good for the people of Ukraine, that’s good for their security institutions and that is also the only way towards future NATO membership.
Oana Lungescu [NATO Spokesperson]: Thank you very much. This concludes this press point.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy [President of Ukraine]: Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you so much.