Joint press point
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So, Prime Minster Heger, Eduard,
Welcome to NATO headquarters. It’s great to see you here.
And congratulations on your recent appointment as Prime Minister.
Slovakia is a highly valued Ally, contributing to our collective security in many different ways.
You are part of NATO’s multinational battlegroup in Latvia, helping to deter any aggression.
Slovak troops serve in NATO’s training missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
And throughout the pandemic, you have shown solidarity by providing medical supplies to Allies and partners.
You also promote security and stability in the Western Balkans.
And I welcome Slovakia’s efforts to increase defence spending and invest more in key capabilities.
All of these contributions make our Alliance stronger and safer.
Today, we discussed a range of security challenges.
Allies are deeply concerned by Russia’s destabilising actions across the Euro-Atlantic area, including on NATO territory.
We stand in full solidarity with the Czech Republic following the fatal explosion at an ammunition storage depot.
This is part of a pattern of Russian aggressive actions which raise very serious concerns.
Russia also continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. And attempts to restrict access to parts of the Black Sea and Kerch Strait.
NATO stands in solidarity with Ukraine.
We also call for the immediate and unconditional release of Alexy Navalny. As well as those arrested for peacefully expressing their views.
So Prime Minister, we also addressed our preparations for the NATO Summit in June.
We are working on an ambitious NATO agenda.
The NATO 2030 initiative will help our Alliance meet tomorrow’s challenges.
We must reinforce our defence and deterrence, broaden our approach to security and work with partners to protect the rules-based international order.
I welcome Slovakia’s support in this process.
So, Prime Minister, once again welcome to NATO. Welcome to the NATO headquarters.
I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
So please you have the floor.
Prime Minister of Slovakia, Eduard Heger:
Thank you, Secretary General.
Ladies and gentlemen.
My visit to Brussels today is very important. It is my second foreign trip.
As you know, it is our tradition that the first visit is paid to Prague, our closest neighbour. And this was also in my case. And I'm pleased that my second foreign trip is here in Brussels. I visited the [EU] Commission, the [EU] Parliament, and also the NATO Headquarters, because for us this is an important partner.
For us, it is a clear prove that our government is pro-European and pro-Atlantic, and that we really care about our membership in NATO. It is our main pillar of our security and defence. And everyone who observes these issues knows that the collective defense is the most effective and the most cost efficient way of defense.
We spoke about our commitments that we honor and deliver on. We reached 2% GDP defense expenditure, as one from among 11 states, and up to 30% of the budget goes to the modernization of our army.
Our troops are deployed in Latvia, in Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course, it is very important to watch the recent developments in Ukraine, and its neighbourhood. For us, it is vital that the Ukraine is stable, prosperous and secure.
It is not in our Slovak interest, it is also in the Ukrainian interest of course, therefore, we support its Euro-Atlantic ambitions and direction as we agreed in 2008.
At the same time, we recall the importance of reforms. We know how important they are. We have the experience in Slovakia.
We are deeply concerned about Russia's aggressive behaviour. And the recent investigation and findings in the Czech Republic could not leave us just impartial.
Therefore, we decided to expel three Russian diplomats, as a proof of our support and solidarity with the Czech Republic.
At the same time, we want to build constructive relations with Russia. However, they have to be based on mutual respect and adherence to the rules. We want a dialogue. But I regret that Russia does not.
I told Secretary General that we support the preparation of the new NATO agenda, reflecting our current and changed security environment. We also support the very ambitious agenda of Secretary General.
As I said it is our common priority to have a very strong collective defense and capability to face new challenges. Be it cyber-attacks, misuse of modern technology, or artificial intelligence. And we also have to pay attention to other challenges that come from Asia and mainly from China.
For Slovakia, resilience is very important and the COVID pandemic showed how important it is to have capable armed forces when they can help in the crisis its citizens.
And therefore it is in our interest, that the Alliance strengthens its role in this area as well. And also we have to fight against the spread of disinformation and hostile foreign influence.
I'm standing here and that's a proof of the open door policy of the Alliance. It is important to continue in this policy, and help aspiring countries in our relations.
In the end, I also emphasized the importance of strategic relations between NATO and the EU. We have to work on them.
NATO Deputy Spokesperson: We have time for two questions, we'll have a question from Andrej Matisak from Pravda Slovakia, Andrej good ahead.
Andrej Matisak: Thank you very much, okay, thank you. One question for Mr. Secretary General. Mr Secretary General, are you worried, somehow, that some NATO member states are using Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, namely Hungary but also Montenegro and North Macedonia, and also Slovakia has purchased some Sputnik V, and to quote the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, Mr Korčok, he said that Sputnik V is also a tool of hybrid warfare. So do you think that using Sputnik gives Russia some advantage, or you're not worried at all?
And if I may, question for Prime Minister Heger, you mentioned Russia – Secretary General did as well -Bratislava, was a seat for a summit, there should be another summit between Russia and the US. Do you believe that also Bratislava could host such a summit as we did in the past, or would you take any steps [inaudible]
NATO Secretary General: First of all, I’m glad that more and more NATO allies are now able to increase the number of people that have been vaccinated and then also see, on the global scale, that COVID-19 vaccinations across the world are actually taking place, but we also see the great need to step up and draw out the vaccines for more people.
It is not for NATO to recommend on what kinds of vaccines different NATO allies should use. This is ultimately decisions that have to be taken by individual allies.
What I think is important is that, we have seen that across the Alliance our military forces, our armed forces have provided support to the civilian efforts to combat the pandemic, to help to set up everything from military field hospitals, to transport of different kinds of medical equipment, helping to control borders and then now also, we see that across the Alliance, our armed forces, also supported by a NATO, are helping to roll out the vaccine across NATO countries.
So that's what's on my mind that we should do, whatever we can, to support the rollout of vaccines.
Prime Minister of Slovakia: If I may respond to your question, you probably will agree with me that the Prime Minister of any country cannot respond to rumours, he or she has to act on confirmed information, and I myself, I can say that we are a sovereign country and we want to be, and we are, a reliable partner for our allies. Because good agreements make good friends and adherence to rules and commitments, is the prerequisite for good relations, of course for us, it is important in the case of Ukraine, but also in other cases to be a partner that will contribute to the stability and security of the whole continent, and the region, and this is what will lead my steps.
NATO Deputy Spokesperson: Next question, we'll go to Rikard Jozwiak from Radio Free Europe. Rikard, go ahead.
Rikard Jozwiak: Thank you. Okay, perfect. So two questions for Mr Stoltenberg, if I may. Firstly, can I have your reaction on the news that Russia's troops seem to withdraw from the Ukrainian borders and are you worried that they might come back again in big numbers, for example exercises such as Zapad in the autumn.
And secondly, if I may. Last week, the Czech Republic were briefing at NATO asking for solidarity, we saw solidarity also from Slovakia, they expelled three Russian diplomats. Is NATO, are you ready, to kick out Russian diplomats from NATO as well, and lower the ceiling of the number of accredited Russian diplomats and other staff to NATO? I will recall that you did something similar after Salisbury, where you kicked out seven Russian diplomats and lowered the ceiling of accreditation to 20. So are you willing to consider doing something similar now?
NATO Secretary General: First, on Ukraine. We have seen that there has been a reduction in the tensions and of course we welcome that. At the same time, we will now monitor the situation and the developments very closely, and we expect Russia to end all their military build up in and around Ukraine. And we also expect Russia to engage in good faith in the political process because it is only through negotiations and through a political process that we can find a political, lasting, solution.
I spoke with President Zelensky recently, who also had the Foreign Minister Kuleba coming here to NATO and briefed the North Atlantic Council. And NATO allies reiterated their strong political support, their strong practical support to Ukraine, and NATO allies will continue to help Ukraine with implementing reforms, modernising their defence and security institutions, and also NATO allies provide all the types of practical support and training support for Ukraine.
And we are, of course concerned, about what we have seen over the last weeks, not least because this is a pattern of Russian behaviour which we have seen over many years, and the lack of respect for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty is something which is of great concern for all NATO Allies and also the reason why we have so strongly expressed our support and why we stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
On the Czech Republic. We have stated very clearly a very strong statement from NATO allies, our support to the Czech Republic that we stand in solidarity with the Czech Republic after actually we were briefed by representatives from the Czech Republic here last week, on the findings and on their assessments of the explosions in the weapons depot, some years ago.
We have seen that NATO allies have expressed their support, and solidarity with the Czech Republic in different ways. Some are also expelled Russian officials and Russian personnel. I will not speculate anything further than saying that NATO allies expressed strong support and also expressed a very deep concern about the Russian behaviour, again because this is a part of a pattern where we see that Russia is meddling in political processes, in NATO allied countries using cyber, using hybrid tactics to try to weaken the trust in our democratic institutions and also using everything from chemical agents - as we saw in Salisbury - to being responsible for different kinds of use of violence against partner countries, and undermining the trust in the democratic institutions which are the basis for our lives.
NATO Deputy Spokesperson: Thank you, that's all we have time for today. Thank you, Prime Minister, thank you Secretary General.