Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Estonia, Alar Karis

  • 13 Jan. 2022 -
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  • Last updated 13-Jan-2022 17:24

(As delivered)

President Karis, 
Dear Alar,

Welcome to NATO Headquarters. 

It is a pleasure to have you here and to meet with you.

Thank you for your strong personal commitment to our transatlantic alliance.

Estonia is a highly valued NATO Ally.
Which makes important contributions to our shared security.

You host one of NATO’s battlegroups in the Baltic region, helping to deter any aggression.

NATO jets also keep your skies safe with our Air Policing Mission.
And Allied ships patrol the Baltic Sea.

NATO’s forces continue to preserve peace and prevent conflict.

I welcome that Estonia continues to lead by example by spending more than 2% of GDP on defence, investing in major equipment.  

You also play a vital role in strengthening the Alliance’s cyber defences, including through the work of the Centre of Excellence in Tallinn.

It is vital that we keep our deterrence and defence strong in all domains.
Especially now, as we face a more unpredictable world.

We just addressed the security situation in eastern Europe.
Including Russia’s military build-up in and around Ukraine.

NATO will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment. 
Including by strengthening our collective defence. 

We will always do what is necessary to protect and defend all Allies.

And we remain committed to our dual-track approach of strong defence and meaningful dialogue. 
In the NATO-Russia Council yesterday, Allies made clear that any further aggression against Ukraine would carry a high price for Russia. 

Allies also expressed willingness to engage in further dialogue, so long as it addresses our serious concerns. And we will never compromise on fundamental principles of European security.

Our goal is real de-escalation from Russia. 
And engagement in good faith and on substance, in the interests of everyone’s security. 

President Karis, 

NATO has guaranteed Estonia’s security since you joined our Alliance back in 2004.
That commitment is stronger than ever.

I look forward to continuing working with you. 

So once again, welcome to NATO Headquarters.

Please, you have the floor.

Piers Cazalet, Deputy Spokesperson:
Thank you. We will take some questions. We'll start with Ketevan Kardava from Imedi TV.

Ketevan Kardava (Imedi TV):
Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary General.
Question regarding yesterday's meeting. Did you discuss with Deputy Russian Foreign Affairs ministers the situation in Georgia, occupied territories and our future membership? We know very well that Ukraine is high on the agenda, but the situation is same in Georgia also.
And the second question after your press conference yesterday, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister from Russia said that in case of NATO expansion, the consequences will be severe. So what is in next? Should we, for example, wait for some NATO response in written form or anything else?
And, Mr. President, how would you evaluate the progress made by Georgia with regard of future membership? And how Estonia can help us to reach consensus we need in this organization to receive the invitation to become in the future a member of this organization? Thank you so much.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
The NATO Allies raised a wide range of issues related to European security in the meeting yesterday in the NATO-Russia Council. Including the message about that we, of course, support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of also Georgia. Of course, the main focus was Ukraine, because of the very intense and difficult situation. But also Georgia was part of the discussion, where Allies reiterated their strong support and also stated clearly that the issue of membership of NATO is for the aspirant countries – Georgia in this case-, and that 30 Allies to decide. No one else has the right to try to veto or interfere in that process. And this is about fundamental principles for European security. It's about the right for every nation to choose their own path.
And I also register and take note of the fact that, for instance, Finland and Sweden who are actually not currently seeking a NATO membership, they have stated very clearly that even for them this is unacceptable that Russia calls all NATO to sign a legally binding agreement saying that there will be no further enlargement, neither Georgia or Ukraine or in the future rule out any possible membership, for instance, for Finland and Sweden because this is about violating the whole idea that each and every night nation can decide their own future by themselves.
So then in that context, the Georgia was absolutely part of the discussion because these principles also applies fully for Georgia.
Then on the way forward. Well, we had a very extensive discussion. It was an open and frank discussion but … NATO Allies put forward a proposal to agree a series of meetings addressing arms control, risk reduction, transparency, all the issues of importance for European security. And then to meet in the NATO-Russia Council and a series of meetings to sit down with Russia.
It is good in itself that we're able to sit down around the same table and address these issues. We are far apart from each other on many of these issues, but at least we need to engage in a meaningful dialogue. And we have outlined the way forward, the process, then the issues to be discussed and how to meet and to engage in a dialogue.
Russia was not in a position in the meeting to respond to NATO's proposed way forward, but I hope that they will come back and agree.
We have also made it clear that we are ready to put concrete proposals on the table and then to discuss those with Russia.
So we are ready to engage in dialogue, but not to compromise on core principles of ‘open door’ and of course NATO's right to protect and defend all Allies.

Alar Karis, President of Estonia:
Thank you very much for this question. Mr Stoltenberg has already answered most of this question this week, [inaudible] keep this open door policy discussed this also today. And this applies not only to Sweden and Finland, it also applies to Georgia. And on how we can help in Estonia? I mean, by all means, if they fulfil the criteria what is needed… but it's all also up to Georgia whether to join NATO or not. And it's up to 30 members of NATO whether to decide to take them in this Alliance. So well, [we] carefully look what's happening in Georgia as well, not only in Ukraine, and trying to help them to fulfil all these criteria to get into NATO, if they want themselves.

Piers Cazalet, Deputy Spokesperson:
We take a question from Estonian Public Broadcasting.

Joosep Värk, Estonian Public Broadcasting:
Joosep Värk from Estonian Public Broadcasting. So we're living in a reality where there is clear threat that Russia might attack one of its neighbours once again.
So I would like to ask how can you assure that the people of Estonia are safe and in case of an armed conflict, will you fortify the Eastern flank of NATO even more?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
NATO is based on the core principle that we defend and protect each other, and that an attack on one Ally will be regarded as an attack on all Allies. And this principle ‘one for all, all for one’ has kept all our allies safe for more than 70 years. And now these principles applies for Estonia since two joined back in 2004.
The strength of that principle is that it is absolutely clear to any potential adversary and that there's no way you can use military force against one NATO Ally, including Estonia, without being prepared to face the response from 30 Allies together. And to underpin that message we have since 2014, since Russia used force against Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea and start to destabilize Eastern Ukraine in the Donbass region, we have significantly reinforced our presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance.
For the first time in our history, we have combat ready battlegroups not only in Estonia, but also in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. We have air policing.
We have more maritime presence. So there is more presence on the ground, at sea and in the air.
And we have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force. This is not only about the forces we have in the region, but also the forces we can quickly bring in. We exercise them, we test them so we can bring in additional forces if needed.
We modernized the NATO command structure including a new command in Ulm, in Germany, that is actually focused on only one thing, that is to bring the troops and forces across Europe. So we can easily reinforce any part of our Alliance including the Baltic region. 
And the presence of the battlegroups, the UK led Battlegroup in Estonia is important, partly because there are competent troops working closely together with Estonian forces, but also because they are multinational. NATO is already there. So NATO will be present from day 1 in any potential conflict.
The purpose of this military presence is not to provoke the conflict, is not to pose any threat to any neighbour, but it's just to send a clear message of deterrence. It is to prevent conflict. And we have done that successfully for more than 70 years. And actually send the message we stand together, as we did at the meeting yesterday, as we do every year, every day in NATO. And there will be no armed attack against Estonia or any other NATO Ally, just because together we represent 50% of the world's military might. And our unity is our greatest strength and standing together is the best way to deter and aggression against any NATO Ally including Estonia.

Piers Cazalet, Deputy Spokesperson:
Okay, we will take one question online from Momchil Indjov from Club Z Media.

Momchil Indjov (Club Z Media):
Good morning, Secretary General. Yesterday the Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said that the Baltic states are discussing, are talking to NATO Allies about increasing military deployments [….] to deter Russia. Has until now such proposal come from the South Eastern flank of the NATO? I mean from member states like Romania, Bulgaria or Turkey? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
So we are constantly assessing our precedence, our posture in the eastern part of the Alliance. And over the last years we have made the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in this part of Europe in a generation with the battlegroups, with the air policing, with the increased presence in general.
And we will always do what it takes to make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding, miscalculation about NATO's commitment and NATO's capability to defend all Allies.
So we are constantly assessing that.  I'm not going to detail about the different potential proposals, but NATO is always ready to do what it takes to defend all Allies.

Piers Cazalet, Deputy Spokesperson:
Okay, I think we have time for one more question, which we will take from Vivienne Machi from Defence News again online.

Vivienne Machi, Defence News:
Good morning. Thank you so much for taking my question.
First for Secretary General Stoltenberg, but I'd also appreciate President Karis’ response to this too. Secretary General, you said yesterday that NATO was ready to schedule meetings with Russia vis-à-vis on offensive missile limits in Europe, but that Russia made clear they were not quite ready to schedule those meetings yet.
But has there been any established agreement within NATO on neutral limits with Russia vis-à-vis, missile arsenals, and also training exercises? Have the member nations themselves come to an agreement on what you would like to see with Russia with regards to missile limits? Thank you very much.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
So NATO Allies have made clear that we are ready to engage in talks on a wide range of issues including arms control, that there are different formats for the different topics. NATO Allies have clearly stated again and again, that we regret that the agreement we had that actually banned all intermediate range missiles. Not only in Europe, but globally - the INF Treaty banned all intermediate range missiles, both conventional and nuclear - that actually we regret that Russia violated that treaty that led to the demise of the whole INF Treaty. But of course, that's a treaty we have supported before.
And we can engage in talks, re-establishing some kind of limits, different types of limits on missiles as long as this is reciprocal, balanced and verifiable. Exactly the numbers, exactly the scale and the scope and how we do that, I think that's the kind of diplomatic negotiations that should not take place in public that will only undermine the possibility for a successful outcome.
Of course, the US and Russia has bilateral talks, they are important on strategic weapons. But we have clearly expressed our willingness to sit down and discuss different kinds of limitations at different levels, as long as they are balanced and verifiable. And we had an agreement, not only limiting but actually banning all intermediate range weapons, which are of great concern in Europe.

Alar Karis, President of Estonia:
From a position of one of the member states of and from the eastern flank, I mean this is not acceptable that we should limit or ban military exercises in let’s say in Estonia. It's quite the opposite. But what we can do in that sense, provide more transparency which you have already, what we are doing and what we are planning to do. So this is acceptable. And this is … has to be kind of bilateral. Thank you.

Piers Cazalet, Deputy Spokesperson:
Okay, I think we have time for one very final question in the room again, Estonian Public Broadcasting.

Joosep Värk, Estonian Public Broadcast:
So during the last weeks, there have been discussions in Finland and Sweden about NATO membership. I would like to ask, in case they should want to join would and could there be a fast track for them to join NATO?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General:
Finland and Sweden are very close partners. They are an enhanced opportunity partners. We have worked together with them, we have exercised together with them, we have trained together with them. They meet NATO standards in most areas. They have very well organized and well governed defence and security institutions. So in many ways, of course, they are very close to NATO in all aspects. So in that sense, this can go very quickly if they decide to apply.
But at the end of the day, this will be a political decision. That has to be taken in Sweden and in Finland if they want to apply. And I think that it is a political decision among 30 Allies. But I think it's quite obvious that since we are so close already, if the political will is there, then the whole process can move quite quickly.

Alar Karis, President of Estonia:
And of course from our position in Estonia, we would be very glad, because we’re also not only close partners, but they’re also geographically very close. But then again, it's up to these countries to decide.

Piers Cazalet, Deputy Spokesperson:
Okay, thank you very much. That's all we have time for today.