Doorstep statement

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Riga

  • 30 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 30 Nov. 2021 14:53

(As delivered)

Good afternoon,

It is great to be back in Riga, back in Latvia.
Latvia is a very staunch and committed NATO Ally. 
It is great to be here at the Foreign Ministers Meeting that starts today and that will take place today and tomorrow.
The foreign ministers have a very full agenda.
They will address a wide range of different issues.
In particular the situation in and around Ukraine.
We see Russian military build-up, we see heavy armour, we see drones, and combat ready troops.

And we call on Russia to be transparent because this is unprovoked and unexplained.

So therefore, Russia needs to be transparent, and they need to reduce tensions, and de-escalate.

We will also of course address the situation on the border with Belarus, where we see the Lukashenko regime using vulnerable people to put pressure on neighbouring countries.

We stand in solidarity with all Allies affected.
And we also work very closely with the European Union.
Because neither the European Union nor NATO has all the tools in the toolbox.
But together we can provide a strong response to what we see.

And it was a great pleasure and a demonstration of this unity, NATO-EU, when I travelled together with the President of the European Commission to the region, to Lithuania and Latvia, on Sunday.
And it demonstrates that the two organisations stand together in solidarity with the Allies and the member states of the EU affected.

We also have a discussion among ministers on Afghanistan.
We need to discuss lessons learned.
Both when it comes to what we achieved.
For 20 years we have prevented any terrorist attack against a NATO Ally from Afghanistan.
We achieved a lot in degrading international terrorists organisations and preventing Afghanistan from being a safe haven for international terrorists.

But at the same time, there are lessons to be learned. Some difficult lessons to be learned from 20 years of NATO presence in Afghanistan. And I look forward to the discussion among ministers tomorrow.

So there will be many issues and I look forward to meet all the ministers later on today.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ):
Secretary General, the US has just concluded its Nuclear Posture Review. How do you assess that? Would you expect reinforcement at the Eastern Flank? Secretary Blinken has somewhat risen the expectations on that in a press conference he gave earlier today.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General: 
So what we see is continued US commitment to European security. Over the last years the United States has increased their military presence in Europe with more troops, more preposition equipment, more exercises. 
And just in this region, we have a US battlegroup in Poland, we have a new armoured brigade.

And the Posture Review, which has now been published, states that they will maintain this high level of US presence in Europe, and actually also some elements of further increase.
I welcome the strong commitment by the United States to European security, not only words but also in deeds.
And this is then confirmed in this posture review, including by lifting, removing the ceiling of the number of troops posted in Germany, and also actually establishing new command in Germany.

All of this fits into the broader picture of a strong US commitment, also with increased presence in Europe.

Teri Schultz (DW):
Hi. Mr. Secretary General, you continue saying that Russia will face costs and consequences if the aggression goes further.  Without knowing yet what Allies might ask for, - I know what's under discussion here today-, what could NATO provide?
We've seen condemnation, we have the eFP, we have the, you know, very high readiness force. What could you offer if they asked for more reassurance?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
NATO is here to defend and protect all Allies against any threat.
And we demonstrate that commitment also by the presence of NATO troops and forces on Allied territory with the four battle groups in the Baltic countries. 
I visited the battlegroup to yesterday led by a Canada. And then the battle group in Poland.  And also with air policing, and also naval presence both in the Black Sea and in the Baltic Sea.
And then we can also quickly reinforce if needed. We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force over the last years to around 40,000 troops.
And all of this demonstrates our ability to defend all Allies against any threat.
And the purpose of deterrence is to not provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict. Our presence in Eastern part of the Alliance is, of course, defensive.
It was actually the increased presence of NATO troops in this Eastern part of the Alliance, in the Black Sea region, and in the Baltic region was triggered by Russia's use of force against Ukraine back in 2014, with the illegal annexation of Crimea, and with the continued destabilization of Donbas, Eastern Ukraine.  So there's no doubt that this was a defensive response to what we saw back then.
I think it is important to distinguish between NATO Allies and partner Ukraine. NATO Allies, there we provide [Article 5] guarantees, collective defence guarantees, and we will defend and protect all Allies.
Ukraine is a partner, a highly valued partner. We provide support, political, practical support. Allies provide training, capacity building, equipment and I am absolutely certain that Allies will recommit and reconfirm their strong support to Ukraine also during the meeting today. 
But as I said there's a difference between a partner Ukraine and an Ally like for instance Latvia.

Nadina Maličbegović (Al Jazeera Balkans) :
Mr. Secretary General, if I may ask you about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What can we expect? You know about the separatists rhetoric which is coming from Republika Srpska on one side. On the other side, we know that withdrawal from the armed forces couldn't be without war. The situation is very tense. Okay, for NATO, what would be the red line? I mean, what should happen for you to intervene in that case? Because we are not a member state.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General: 
First of all, I think we need to remember that we have come a very long way in the Western Balkans with NATO presence there since the 1990s. We helped to end the two ethnic wars in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and later on in Kosovo and Serbia. We have a significant presence in Kosovo with the KFOR and also in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Of course, we are concerned about the increased tensions we see. Therefore we welcome that NATO and the European Union are working very closely together in the region, both in Kosovo but also in Bosnia Herzegovina. Our concern in Bosnia Herzegovina is of course, any attempt to undermine the multi ethnic institutions and especially the armed forces, which is one of the most successful multi ethnic institutions in Bosnia Herzegovina and NATO has been important in helping to build the armed forces of Bosnia Herzegovina into a strong multi ethnic institution. Therefore we are concerned about the inflammatory rhetoric of Mr. Dodik and the Republika Srpska, we continue to support all efforts to reduce tensions and to continue to provide support, capacity building for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Aliaksandr Papko (Belsat TV)
Dear Secretary General, Aliaksandr Papko, Belsat TV. Yesterday, Alexander Lukashenko said - I will quote that: “Belarusian army is ready to react at any NATO movement” and if the West start the war in Ukraine he will support Russia. So, today we'll discuss Belarus. Probably this migration crisis is not the first hybrid attack Lukashenko regime will inflict on the EU. So what message would you deliver to Mr. Lukashenko today? What will be your response to any new hybrid attack and what message will you deliver to Belarusian people, which is largely opposed to Lukashenko regime? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General: 
Mr. Lukashenko should stop using vulnerable people as pawns in a political game against other countries and try to put pressure on other countries. This is cynical, this is inhumane, and it actually puts lives of many people at risk. And that is the clear message from all NATO allies, from both President von der Leyen and me when we visited Lithuania and Latvia on Sunday. And NATO has also provided some support to Lithuania that was directly affected by this a few weeks ago, and also we have been in contact with some partner nations, nations of origin for the migrants and also some other nations to prevent them from becoming transit nations to help to reduce the pressure when it comes to the number of migrants coming to Minsk and to the border of Belarus. Mr. Lukashenko should stop cracking down on peaceful protests in Belarus and release all political prisoners and allow democratic processes and respected democratic rights of the people of Belarus to decide their own future. On NATO's presence. Well, NATO's presence in this region is absolutely defensive. It's something that was triggered by the aggressive actions of Russia back in 2014. There would not have been any battlegroups in this part of the region without the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. And as I have stated several times now, there will be a high price to pay for Russia, if they once again use force against the independence sovereign nation, Ukraine. We have demonstrated our ability to impose costs, economic, political actions. And also, over the years also increased our military presence in this region, just to make sure that all allies are totally defended and protected against any Russian aggressive actions.

Julia Rech (ZDF) :
What is this high price you're talking about? What exactly is that high price and do you exclude the military intervention there?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General: 
So we have different options and we have demonstrated over the years in reactions to Russia’s previous use of military force against Ukraine that we can sustain heavy economic and financial sanctions, political sanctions. And also the fact that we have increased our presence there in the region, both in the Black Sea region but also in the Baltic region, in the air, on land and at sea, is a direct reaction to the Russian military incursion into Ukraine, the illegal annexation of Crimea. Again, I think we need to understand the difference between a NATO Ally, Latvia, other Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, and a close and highly valued partner, Ukraine. We provide support to Ukraine, we help Allies provide training, capacity, equipment. For the NATO Allies, we have the security guarantees, Article 5 and we have the military presence to remove any room for miscalculation, about our ability to defend and protect all Allies.