Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the extraordinary meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 07 Jan. 2022 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 07 Jan. 2022 21:37

(As delivered)

Press conference by Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO following the Ministers of Foreign Affairs NAC meeting.

Good afternoon.
We have just concluded an extraordinary meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers.

Allies addressed Russia's unprovoked and unjustified military build-up in and around Ukraine.
And the implications for European security.

We regret that despite the calls of the international community, over many weeks, Russia has not taken steps to de-escalate.

The Russian military build-up continues.
With tens of thousands of combat troops, and heavy capabilities.

As well as threatening rhetoric.
And a track record of using force against neighbours.

The risk of conflict is real.
Russia’s aggressive actions seriously undermine the security order in Europe.

NATO remains committed to our dual-track approach to Russia:
strong deterrence and defence, combined with meaningful dialogue.

It is a positive signal that Russia is now prepared to come to the table and talk.
Because when tensions are high, dialogue is even more important.

On Wednesday, Allies will meet with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council.

The meeting will focus on the situation in and around Ukraine.
And the implications for European security.

I also welcome that the United States and Russia will hold talks in Geneva on Monday.
And that the OSCE will meet on Thursday.

NATO ministers also consulted ahead of these meetings today.

Next week’s series of engagements are an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that it is serious about dialogue and diplomacy.

We are always ready to listen to Russian concerns.
And NATO will make every effort to find a political way forward.

But for dialogue to be meaningful, it must also address Allies’ long-standing concerns about Russia’s actions.

It must be based on the core principles of European security.
And it must take place in consultations with Ukraine.

We are also consulting closely with other key partners.
Such as Georgia, Moldova, Finland and Sweden, as well as the European Union.

NATO will engage in dialogue with Russia in good faith, and on substance.

But we must also be prepared for the possibility that diplomacy will fail.

So today, Ministers stressed that any further aggression against Ukraine would have significant consequences and carry a heavy price for Russia.

Allies continue to stand with Ukraine.
We fully support its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
And we provide political and practical support.

I will chair a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on Monday.

We will be joined by Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the evolving situation.

All countries, regardless of their size or who their neighbours are, have the fundamental right to decide on their own path and their alliances.

This has been a fundamental principle of European security for decades.
And Russia has committed to uphold it.

Finally, Allies made clear that NATO will always take the necessary steps to protect and defend our nations.

Including by strengthening our collective defence as necessary.

Today’s meeting demonstrated once again NATO’s unity and cohesion.

We are an indispensable forum, bringing Europe and North America together.

To consult on our security.
To protect our people.
And to uphold our values. 

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: And we will take questions both here in the room but also online. We will start in the room with Agence France-Presse.

Max Delany (AFP): Hello, Secretary General. Thank you very much. Max Delany, AFP. Several points on the NATO-Russia-Council. You've said many times before that the open door policy is non-negotiable, and that other elements that Russia proposed - and it seems that other elements that Russia proposed, such as withdrawing forces from countries that joined after 1997 have been widely dismissed by Allies. So can you give a guarantee now that there will be no concessions on these points in the talks with Russia?

And secondly, did you, beyond that, see any scope for negotiation in the documents that Russia published? And thirdly, what guarantees has the US given to Allies that they won't cut the deal without including the Europeans?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: It was a very strong and unified message from all Allies today. That we need to engage in dialogue in good faith and actually do whatever we can, make every effort to ensure a political path forward. But at the same time, all Allies also sent a very clear message that we will not compromise on core principles, including the right for every nation to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of. This is… these are principles which are enshrined in documents, which also Russia has subscribed to, starting with the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. And then, of course, it's also part of the NATO founding treaty. So there's no way NATO can compromise on the principle of the right of every nation to choose its own path. And that was very clearly stated by Allies today.

NATO Allies support arms control. And we are ready to engage in arms control with Russia, conventional, nuclear. But that has to be reciprocal, and it has to be balanced and verifiable. And that's a different thing that in a way, imposing one sided restrictions on NATO's ability, right to defend and protect all Allies. And we cannot end up in a situation where we have kind of second class NATO members, where NATO as an Alliance is not allowed to protect them in the same way as we protect other the Allies. So balanced, verifiable arms control, yes. One sided demands on NATO, no. And that's the big difference.

The United States has been very clear that there'll be no decisions about European security, no discussions about European security, without the Europeans at the table. And that's exactly why we welcome that the United States is so closely consulting with NATO Allies, also on the bilateral strategic talks that they conduct with Russia. We welcome those talks, because they, for instance, address arms control, but it is very important that European Allies and also Canada are involved and closely consulted with as the United States engages with Russia on these issues.

European Allies are at the table in the NATO-Russia Council. They were at the table today. We have to remember that NATO we are 30 Allies. Two are North American, the United States and Canada, and 28 are Europeans. So when NATO engages in dialogue with Russia, when we discuss the security of European Allies, when we discuss future European security, then European Allies are at the table because European Allies are in NATO. And that's what makes NATO unique and an indispensable platform, because NATO brings together Europe and North America to address common security challenges.

So of course there's no way we can discuss European security without European Allies. And that's exactly why NATO is so important when we address these issues as NATO as we did today, or in the NATO-Russia Council meeting with Russia.
Let me also add one more thing and that is that, of course, for NATO it is important to also consult closely with partners. Just today I spoke with the Finnish President and the Swedish Prime Minister and just after the NATO-Russia Council, on Wednesday, I will go straight to the EU Defence Ministerial Meeting in Brest consulting with all EU Allies, or all EU members, excuse me, and also the regular meetings with the EU leadership.

NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll go to Wall Street Journal.

James Marson (Wall Street Journal): Thanks, Oana. Secretary General, James Marson from The Wall Street Journal. A couple of questions about the Russian forces on the border of Ukraine. Wondering if you've seen the number or the character of these forces change at all in recent days and weeks. And secondly, interested whether the ministers today discussed any plans for reinforcing NATO's eastern flank, if Russia does invade Ukraine again, or if it maintains the forces in the position they are currently in for a long time. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: The Russian military build-up has not stopped, it continues. And they are gradually building up with more forces, more capabilities, we see armored units, we see artillery, we see combat ready troops, we see electronic warfare equipment, and we see a lot of different military capabilities, which are gradually building up in and around Ukraine.
And the challenge is that when you see this gradual military build-up combined with the threatening rhetoric. The rhetoric that if you don't do exactly as we say and agree to our demands, that they know are not acceptable, violating core principles for European security, combined with a track record of Russia that have actually used force against neighbours before, Georgia and Ukraine. The capabilities, the rhetoric and the track record - of course that sends a message that is a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe.

But that's exactly why it is so important to engage in dialogue and to sit down. And therefore, also the reason I welcome that Russia now is willing to meet in the NATO-Russia Council that at least is a positive signal, and then we will engage in good faith, we will listen to Russian concerns, we will discuss different issues. I believe there is absolutely a possibility to look into, for instance, arms control, but also transparency on military activities, mechanisms to reduce risks, for incidents and accidents, and of course, lines of communication, military and civilian, and other issues. And it was a very strong support for ministers today that we should engage in dialogue on these issues.

After 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine last time, or when they used military force against Ukraine illegally occupying Crimea but also the continued destabilization of eastern Ukraine, Donbass, which supported the separatists, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcements of our collective defence in a generation. With a more military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. With the battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland. We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force and we see air policing, we see also more presence in the Black Sea region. And we are constantly assessing whether there’s a need for further adjustments to our posture, our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, and of course, we will do that in light of what happens in Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson: Ok, we will go here to the National News Agency of Ukraine. Third row, thanks.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): Concerning the Russian rhetoric, Russia, including some Russian officials openly threatened Ukraine to destroy it during minutes. That's mean that it is like a real threat of missile blow to the major cities and critical infrastructure. So my question is, if ministers or NATO on some kind of level, consider the possibility to assist Ukraine in developing its own antimissile capabilities, or at least its element to defend itself. And a follow-up, if I may. Are there any kind of political preconditions for NATO to establish over Ukraine? No flight zone in case of escalation like it was done in Iraq, for instance? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation. And Ukraine has, of course, the right to defend itself. That is right which is enshrined in the UN Charter. And when Ukraine is threatened, I think everyone understands that Ukraine is actually stepping up its efforts to be able to defend itself.

And NATO Allies provide support to Ukraine to enable Ukraine to uphold the right to defend itself. And that's the reason why we not only provide political support, support to Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, but also provide practical support with helping to modernise the Ukrainian Armed Forces. NATO Allies are providing training, capacity building, and also some Allies are providing different types of equipment. So Ukraine is not a NATO Ally. But Ukraine is close and highly-valued partner, which is threatened by Russia, and where Russia actually occupy part of Ukrainian territory and continue to destabilize eastern Ukraine, Donbass.

And therefore, one of the messages in the meeting today was the need to provide support to Ukraine in different ways. And Allies provide support. And also NATO as an Alliance provide support to Ukraine.

The whole idea that Ukraine is a threat to Russia is to put the whole thing upside down. Ukraine is not a threat to Russia. I think if anything, it is the idea of a democratic, stable Ukraine which is a challenge for them. And therefore, NATO will continue to provide support to our partner, to a sovereign nation. But also of course recognising that Ukraine is a partner, not a NATO Ally.

NATO Spokesperson: We will go to ZDF.

Florian Neuhann (ZDF): Good afternoon, Florian Neuhann from ZDF, German television. Mr. Stoltenberg, I'd like to know whether the crisis in Kazakhstan has been raised today at the meeting. What is NATO's reaction to the Kazakhstan crisis? And what do you think, from your point of view, does this have any impact on Russia's plans regarding Ukraine? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
NATO Allies and NATO are following the situation in Kazakhstan very closely. We are concerned. We regret the loss of lives. And, of course, it is important that violence ends and that human rights are respected, including the right of peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression. And many Allies have expressed this. And I’ve expressed this as the Secretary General of NATO, that we are following closely and are concerned about the situation. And the need to end violence and respect human rights in Kazakhstan.

NATO Spokesperson: Imedi.

Ketevan Kardava (Imedi News): Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General, you have just mentioned that it's very important for NATO, engagement with partners, aspirant countries, especially for Georgia and Ukraine. How are you going to increase practical and political support for these two countries? And with it to convince Russia that they have no veto and they have no right to close the door of this organisation, which is open for Ukraine and Georgia, as they are asking to disavow the Bucharest Summit decision. And I want to ask you also is this topic, future enlargement and future membership of Georgia and Ukraine on the table for the next week meeting? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General: I think we have to understand that the enlargement of NATO has been extremely important for stability, and peace, and freedom, and democracy in Europe. The enlargement of NATO and the European Union really helped over the last decades to spread and to strengthen democracy, freedom in Europe. And it's not that NATO has dragged the countries into our Alliance. It has been decisions by independent nations through democratic processes, through their free, independent decisions that they wanted to join NATO. And after a process we have accepted new members into our Alliance. And by doing so, we have helped to protect democracy and freedom throughout Europe. So this is again, this is about respecting, free, democratic decisions by individual nations in Europe. And we demonstrate, NATO has demonstrated, also over the last years, that NATO's door remains open by admitting North Macedonia and Montenegro as new members of the Alliance.

Then, we stand by our decisions at the Bucharest Summit when it comes to Ukraine and Georgia. We support and help them on their way towards further Euro-Atlantic integration with reforms, with practical and political support. And I strongly believe that partly it is important to send the message that reforms are important partly because it is a way too to meet NATO’s standards. But it also makes the societies of Ukraine and Georgia stronger. So resilient, well-functioning societies are also less vulnerable for interference from Russia. So we will continue to provide support and continue to work with Georgia and Ukraine as we move forward.

NATO Spokesperson: We have TV2 Norway.

Elin Sørsdahl (TV2 Norway): Good afternoon, Secretary General. How do you prepare for a failure of diplomacy? You said that you're not sure that diplomacy succeeds. Have you discussed, for instance, moving of capabilities?

NATO Secretary General: NATO has a dual-track approach to Russia. We need to now engage in dialogue. We will do so in good faith. And we'll sit down with Russia on Wednesday. And we also welcome the fact that the United States are engaged in bilateral with Russia.  And we will do whatever we can, make every effort to ensure a political way forward, preventing the use of forces, preventing Russia from using military force against Ukraine. But at the same time, and in parallel, we need to be prepared for that the talks break down and that diplomacy will fail. And that's exactly why we are sending a very clear message to Russia that if they once again decide to use military force against a neighbour, then there will be severe consequences, a high price to pay. Economic sanctions, financial sanctions, political sanctions. And this has been conveyed by NATO Allies, by the United States, by the European Union, and others.

Second, we support Ukraine. And by supporting Ukraine, and underpinning their military capabilities, their armed forces, we’re also increasing the threshold for Russia to use force against Ukraine.

And thirdly, we are constantly assessing, evaluating the need to strengthen our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We have, over the last years, implemented a significant increase of our presence on land, at sea, in the air, air policing, maritime presence in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea. We have modernised command structure. And not least, we have the battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland, something we didn't have before 2014. The battlegroups we deployed there, we have there, I visited recently one in Latvia, the Canadian-led. They are a direct result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014. So, we will assess and we will do what is necessary to make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding, no room for miscalculation about our readiness, and preparedness, and ability to defend all Alliance, also, of course, in eastern part of the Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson: We'll try to take a couple of questions online now. We'll go to Greg Palkot from FOX News.

Greg Palkot (FOX News): Thank you very much. Secretary General, if I could just ask you two questions. One, what would be the worst-case scenario? Where could you see military being used on the NATO side against Russia if it makes some moves? And number two, doesn't talking to Russia now, next week, encourage their behaviour? That is, if you can put 100,000 troops on the other side of the border with Ukraine then you'll get the West to pay attention? Aren't you encouraging that misbehaviour by going forward next week?

NATO Secretary General: First, on the last question. NATO has been calling for Russia to engage in the NATO-Russia Council since the summer of 2019. That was the last time we met. And we have invited Russia to sit down in the NATO-Russia Council to discuss Ukraine, but also other issues, for a long time. And until now, Russia did not respond in a positive way to our invitation. And now they have responded and they have said they were ready to sit down, so we welcome that.

And for us, there is no contradiction between deterrence, defence being strong and dialogue.  Actually, I believe that as long as we are united as NATO, as long as we are strong as we are, then we can also engage in dialogue with Russia. Because, of course, there are many issues to be discussed. Arms control, how to build, as a minimum, level of confidence, confidence building measures, information about military activities, exercises, all dialogue on these issues, all kinds of dialogue on these issues, will help to increase our security and it will be good for stability and peace in Europe.

So, we have for many, many years pursued what we call the dual-track approach: deterrence, defence and dialogue. And then, when Russia now finally is ready to meet, then we should welcome. And I welcome the fact that they will sit down next week and meet. And hopefully that will be the start of a process where we can engage with Russia on several issues with a series of meeting in the NATO-Russia Council.

Then, I think, we have to remember that Ukraine is a very close partner. We provide support to Ukraine, but Ukraine is not covered by NATO's collective defence clause because Ukraine is not a NATO member, they are a partner. And then, we have 30 NATO Allies, 28 of them in Europe. They are all covered by our collective defence clause, meaning that an attack on one NATO Ally will trigger the response from the whole Alliance. And an attack on one will be regarded as an attack on all. One for all, all for one.

This core principle idea of NATO, that we stand together, and an attack on one will be an attack all, the purpose of that is not to provoke a conflict but is to prevent the conflict. And we have been able, through NATO, through our collective defence, through our unity, through Article Five commitment to defend and protect each other, we have been able to prevent, deter an attack on a NATO Ally for more than 70 years. And that's the purpose also now.

So to remove any possible room for miscalculation in Moscow, we are constantly adjusting, adapting our military strength, our posture, to make sure that there is no misunderstanding about that. And the purpose is not to then fight a war, but the purpose is to prevent a conflict.

NATO Spokesperson: Well, the next question will go to Sky News. Adam Parsons.

Adam Parsons (Sky News): Mr. Stoltenberg, thank you very much indeed. Adam Parsons, Sky News. Two questions, if I may. One is you seem to be talking about the impact of sanctions. Track record of sanctions having a significant impact on the Russian regime doesn't seem that proven. Are you convinced that they are a significant deterrent? And the second thing is taking in to your point about the military build-up. Of course Ukraine is not a NATO member, but many of its neighbours are. If there was a Russian invasion of Ukraine, can you tell us how many troops you would move towards the eastern flank? What you would feel that you needed to do to protect NATO's eastern flank? And how quickly you could do that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:  So we will do what is necessary to protect and defend all Allies. And more than that. We will do what is necessary to prevent any room for misunderstanding about our capability, and willingness, and commitment to protect and defend all Allies. Because the purpose again is to prevent the conflict. Is to prevent that we end up in a situation that any potential adversary believes that they can attack a NATO Ally without triggering the response from the whole Alliance.

So, for instance, when we have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force to 40,000 that can quickly move, and also we have the multinational battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance. They are important not only because, of course, battalion is fighting capable unit and they've worked together with the National Defence Forces, but perhaps the most important thing with these NATO Forces is that they send a message that we are there. That NATO Allies will be involved from day 1. And therefore the whole Alliances will be involved and that's sending a very strong message of deterrence.

I will not go into the exact numbers of how many troops we can move where and when.

But I will say that we have significant capabilities, we have troops, we have forces, we have the readiness, we have the plans to be able to defend,, protect our Allies. And we are constantly adapting, and also actually investing more now than we are done for many years in modernising our military capabilities to make sure that we preserve peace in Europe.

NATO Spokesperson: And for the last question, we'll go to Teri Schultz, also online, from NPR/CBS News.

Teri Schultz (NPR/CBS News): Hi. Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary General, I'm just going back to a couple of the questions you already answered. On Kazakhstan. Could we press a little bit further? You said that all Allies are very concerned. But are you concerned that more instability on in the neighbourhood could actually affect NATO security? How do you anticipate it will affect Russia's calculations on its ability to perhaps continue to build-up in Ukraine on its potential to further aggress?
And also on open door policy. We've seen some very interesting statements coming out of Finland and Sweden and also yourself, Sir, on how the door should remain open also to Finland and Sweden. A term which normally applies to our friends in Ukraine and Georgia. Thanks very much.

NATO Secretary General: First, Finland and Sweden. They are very close partners. I visited, together with the North Atlantic Council, last fall both Finland and Sweden. And we are working more and more closely together. We exercise together. We consult closely. Both Finland and Sweden participate in many of our ministerial meetings.  This morning I spoke with President Niinistö and the Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. And they, of course, appreciated strongly the very close consultations between NATO and Finland and Sweden. This close cooperation is good for Finland and Sweden, but it's also good for NATO. And they are so close to NATO, bordering Norway, Denmark and also close to the Baltic countries.

My message is that NATO's door remains open. And Article 10 saying that countries in Europe that meet the NATO standards, they can become a NATO member, that of course also applies for Finland and Sweden. But we respect and we highlight that this is a Finnish and a Swedish decision. So we respect a country when they decide to try to join NATO. Then we sit down and negotiate an accession treaty. But we also respect them when they decide not to join. So the freedom of every nation to choose their own path includes also of course, the freedom not to join NATO. So therefore, my message is that this is for Finland and Sweden to decide if and when they feel ready to apply for membership in NATO.

In the meantime, we very much welcome the very strong and important cooperation between Finland and Sweden, the Enhanced Opportunity Partners of NATO.

Then, I will not speculate on, in what way the developments in Kazakhstan will impact calculations by … or in Moscow. I think the main message on Kazakhstan is that violence must stop. We have seen the loss of lives. And the human rights must be respected. And that also includes freedom of expression, and peaceful demonstration.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Good evening.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.