Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Latvia, Egils Levits

  • 29 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 29 Nov. 2021 18:40

(As delivered - Latvian based on interpretation)

Moderator: Dear ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Today, NATO Secretary General is visiting Riga. And the meeting with the President of Latvia Egils Levits has just concluded. We'll start with the statement by the President of Latvia, Egils Levits.

President Egils Levits of Latvia: Thank you. Let me start by underlining that I am absolutely delighted and pleased to welcome NATO Secretary General to Riga.

The NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting will commence tomorrow. And this meeting is a strong signal of NATO's presence here in Latvia, and us being a part of NATO, especially given the current sensitive geopolitical situation.

We discussed the regional security, security of the Baltic region. We discussed situation in the Ukraine. We talked about Russia. And we also briefly talked about Belarus.

But we mostly focused on regional security and regional security context right now. We agreed with Mr. Secretary General that NATO is a very strong Alliance. And Article 5 of NATO can be triggered, if necessary, and we can rest assured in this region that we can fully rely on NATO's assistance. And we are also contributing to the collective defence system, built and operated by NATO. We are, defence spending has reached 2.36% of the GDP, which is more than many other countries have, and it well exceeds the target defined by NATO, the target being 2% of the GDP.

We are also contributing to NATO missions. There is also important to underline that NATO eFP battlegroup is also present in Latvia. Nine nations are contributing their troops to the NATO eFP battlegroup Latvia, which is a unique formation for NATO forces, because multilateral cooperation in scope, one single battlegroup, multinational battlegroup, is not easy, but this is the best way to train the cooperation and the integration of NATO forces eFP. It is very important for security of Latvia, as well as very important for the collective defence capabilities of NATO's Alliance.

We think that the military buildup of Russian force by the Ukrainian border, near the Ukrainian border, is a direct pressure on Ukraine. And NATO will remain in solidarity with Ukraine.

And NATO will continue to condemn such pressure against a sovereign state of Ukraine.

We also believe that these new kinds, new types of threats that emanate mostly from Russia, we're talking about hybrid threats, and being directed at NATO member states, are unacceptable. Yet we do, we're also confident that NATO will do its best to develop the necessary capabilities, which are already at a very high-level, to develop them even further, to enhance them even further, to be able to deter such hybrid threats and defend against such hybrid threads without allowing them to escalate into anything further.

And NATO Center of Strategic Communication, [NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence], based in Riga, is one of such NATO institutions, which is responsible for fighting such hybrid attacks against NATO member countries.

We both, with Secretary General Stoltenberg, concluded that this is a very important institution. And its capacity needs to be built even further for it to be able to address the new kinds of challenges, new kinds of challenges that we're facing in parallel to the conventional threats, traditional threats that have always been there. We are also facing, on top of these conventional threats, also additional hybrid threats. And NATO is ready and will respond to such threats appropriately.

I would like to conclude by thanking you, Mr. Secretary General for sharing our vision on the regional security. And also thank you for supporting our efforts to strengthen and enhance regional security, as well as European security. Thank you very much.

Moderator: Thank you, Mr. President. Now the floor is given to the NATO Secretary General Mr. Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: 

President Levits,

It’s a great pleasure to meet with you here in Riga.

I have just visited the NATO battlegroup in Ādaži.
Where 10 Allies serve alongside Latvian forces, to deter aggression and preserve peace.
I am impressed by the professionalism and dedication of our armed forces.

And I want to thank Latvia for hosting a multinational battlegroup.
One of four in this region.

These forces send a clear message.
An attack against one Ally is an attack on all Allies.

And they show the continuing strength of the transatlantic bond, with Canada leading the battlegroup here in Latvia.

NATO’s presence in the region prevents conflict and preserves peace.
Allied jets also keep your skies safe.
And Allied ships keep the Baltic Sea secure.

So NATO stands with Latvia.
And Latvia stands with NATO.

You make important contributions to our shared security. 

You lead by example on defence spending, committing more than 2% of GDP to defence and investing in major equipment.

You contribute actively to regional exercises, ensuring our forces are well trained and well prepared.

And you provide expertise on countering disinformation through your Centre of Excellence here in Riga.

I want to thank Latvia for hosting the upcoming meetings of the NATO Foreign Ministers.

This week, Allies will address important security challenges, from Russia’s military build-up in and around Ukraine to the situation on your border with Belarus.

NATO stands in solidarity with you, Lithuania and Poland.

The Lukashenko regime’s exploitation of migrants is cynical and damaging to regional stability.

We remain vigilant, and stand ready to help Allies. 

We are also monitoring the situation at the border of Ukraine with concern.

This is the second time this year that Russia has amassed large and unusual concentration of forces in this region.

We see heavy weapons, artillery, armored units, drones and electronic warfare systems.
And tens of thousands of combat ready troops.

This military build-up is unprovoked and unexplained.
It raises tensions.
And risks miscalculation.

Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price. And have serious political and economic consequences for Russia.

Russia must show transparency.
Reduce tensions and de-escalate.

NATO’s approach to Russia remains consistent.
We keep our defence and deterrence strong, while remaining open for dialogue with Russia.

So Mr. President, I look forward to working with you closely as we make our strong Alliance even stronger.

Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you, Mr. NATO Secretary General. Now we will open the floor for questions.

Dear journalists, please use the microphone that you can see here, microphone with a stand and introduce yourself.

LETA News Agency:  Thank you for giving me the floor. And I would like to ask, Mr. Secretary General, considering developments in the past weeks and rising tensions on the EU’s external border with Belarus, is there any possibility that NATO might expand its presence in Latvia? And if yes, what kind of strengthening of the presence could we expect? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies have significantly increased their presence, our presence, in this region over the last years, triggered actually by the aggressive actions of Russia against Ukraine in 2014, with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the continued efforts by Russia to destabilize eastern Ukraine, and their support to the separatists in Donbass.

And over the last years, we have actually implemented the largest and the biggest reinforcements of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, with the four battlegroups in the three Baltic countries and Poland, with more naval presence, continued air policing, and also higher readiness of forces. We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force to over 40,000 troops, that can be deployed on short notice, if needed.

And then we have more exercises, we have a closer cooperation between NATO Allies on how to deter and defend against any potential threats, against all Allies, but especially in the eastern part of the Alliance, including also the Baltic region.

Then, we constantly assess the need to adjust our presence, to adjust our posture. And of course, we stand in solidarity with those Allies directly affected by the situation on the border of Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. We have sent some experts to Lithuania, we are in contact with countries of origin for the migrants, and also some countries, partner nations, to prevent them from being transit countries, to reduce the pressure on the border of Belarus, so between Belarus and NATO allied countries.

I also visited, actually, both Lithuania and Latvia on Sunday, yesterday, with the President of the European Commission, demonstrating that the European Union and NATO are working closer together to address this…that is actually a kind of hybrid, it is not only [inaudible], use of hybrid tactics against NATO countries on the border with Belarus.

Moderator: Thank you. Next question, please. Unfortunately can't hear you, you should step closer to the microphone.

Question 2: There were talks about possible triggering of Article 4 with respect to situation on the Baltic and Polish border with Belarus. Did you consider, did you talk about this scenario during the meeting? Is this still on the table?

President Egils Levits: Yes, indeed, together with Lithuanian and Estonian and Polish Presidents, we have agreed that if one member state will request triggering of the Article 4 procedures the other countries will support it. Right now Poland is against the biggest, or the greatest, pressure. And if Poland will request triggering of Article 4 procedures, we will support their request. But so far, Poland does not intend to trigger the Article 4, so we are basically waiting on Poland to initiate the Article 4 procedures.  Until now they have not intended to do so.

Moderator: Thank you. And we have still time for one last question.

TV3 News: The question to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. You are going to discuss the Strategic Concept during these days in Riga. So what are the sort of key takeaways or what are the main sort of directions, or work threads, in which NATO should be working? You know, what are the paths that it should be pursuing in the next period? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: I look forward to discuss the new Strategic Concept after the Foreign Ministerial Meeting here in Riga that starts tomorrow.

We will have a session where we invite the Ministers to share their views and provide guidance. And of course it is too early now to preempt the conclusions because this is a process that has just been launched. And we will continue to work on the new Strategic Concept until we agree, and endorse, a new Strategic Concept when the Heads of State and Government meet at the NATO Summit in Madrid in June next year.

I think it is obvious that the current Strategic Concept has served us well. But it was agreed back in 2010 at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, and since then the world has really changed. And therefore, we need to update and agree a new Strategic Concept. Because, for instance, in the current Strategic Concept we refer to Russia as a strategic partner. That was before they went into Ukraine with armed forces, with military might and annexed part of Ukraine, Crimea.

We don't mention China with a single word. And threats and challenges like hybrid, cyber, but also the security consequences of climate change, are hardly mentioned at all. So it is obvious that we are now developing a Strategic Concept in a different world than the Strategic Concept that we agreed 10 years ago.

I think that it is important that the new Strategic Concept recommits all Allies to our core values, democracy, the rule of law. And that we see that these values are threatened, both by external forces, the rise of China which is not sharing our values, but also a more assertive Russia responsible for aggressive actions and efforts to meddle in our domestic political processes.

I think the new Strategic Concept needs to reflect the need for strong deterrence and defence. We live in a more dangerous world. We see the behaviour of Russia, we see cyber, we see terrorist threats, we see proliferation of nuclear weapons. And we see the security consequences of China which is now becoming more and more a global power.

All of this requires that NATO is actually delivering on strong deterrence and defence, and also that this is reflected in the new Strategic Concept.

Strong societies, resilience is important because we face more hybrid threats. We need to counter cyberattacks, we need to make sure that we have reliable infrastructure. Also to address these new kind of hybrid threats and challenges.

And then, I also believe, strongly, that the Strategic Concept in one way or another should also reflect the fact that we will continue to be an alliance of North America and Europe, but this region faces global threats and challenges. International terrorism is a global threat. Cyber is a global threat, space is more and more a challenge. We saw, for instance, the reckless shooting down of, or testing of a space weapon by Russia recently. So this matters for all of us. And there is no way you can confine these threats to a specific geographic region.

And then of course, the global balance of power is shifting with the rise of China. So these are issues, I believe, should be reflected in a new Strategic Concept. But the discussions have just started in NATO. We will have many meetings, many consultations, and then it is not for me, but actually for 30 Allies, at the end of the day, to decide and to formulate the new Strategic Concept.