by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the discussion: ''New World (Dis-)Order'' organized by the Körber Stiftung and Der Spiegel
NORA MÜLLER [Executive Director International Affairs, Körber-Stiftung]: Dear Mr Secretary General, dear viewers, a warm welcome to this special edition of our interview series, in cooperation with Der Spiegel, which is called the New World (Dis-) Order.
And rarely has a title been more adequate than it is today. We have 100,000 Russian troops standing near the Ukrainian border. We have a flurry of diplomatic activity, so far with very little tangible results. And after the meeting today with Chancellor Scholz, our guest speaker, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated that there is a real risk of military confrontation on European soil.
This is a very worrying outlook and it’s a crucial moment for European security. So we are very privileged and honoured to have the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with us today.
A warm welcome, Mr Secretary General, great to have you. And we will talk, obviously, about scenarios but also options on the table in the current crisis.
At this point, let me also extend a warm welcome to the NATO delegation here in Berlin, of course everyone heeding the very rigid Corona protocol. And let me also say a warm thank you to the delegation for making this conversation happen today.
I’m also extremely delighted to have with me our friend and colleague Britta Sandberg, the foreign correspondent of Der Spiegel, based in Paris, and the co-host for this series of discussions.
Now, before we kick this off, dear viewers, let me remind all of us – and especially you – that you can pose questions to the Secretary General during those 45 minutes. To do so, please go to Slido.com and enter the following code: 648034. And the code also appears on the screen. So without [further] ado, Britta, the floor is yours.
BRITTA SANDBERG [Correspondent, Der Spiegel Paris Bureau]: Mr Secretary General, you said yourself last week, there is a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe. On Friday, there was more confirmation of Russian forces being moved towards Ukraine from other parts of the country. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab analysed pictures posted on TikTok and other social media this month, which it said showed mobile short range missiles and T-72 tanks being transported westwards.
My first question is a very simple but also a very terrifying one: how close are we these days to a war situation in Ukraine?
JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: There is real danger because it is exactly as you say, there is a continued military build-up with tens of thousands of combat-ready troops, with heavy equipment, with battle tanks, with armoured vehicles and a lot of other offensive weapons systems. This is combined with a very threatening rhetoric, where Russia says that, ‘We have some proposals and if you don’t accept them, there will be consequences.’ And they speak about what they refer to as ‘military technical consequences’.
And then, on top of that, we have a track record of Russia using military force against Ukraine before. So, capabilities, threatening rhetoric and a track record – of course, that is something we have to take very seriously and that’s exactly what we do.
But at the same time, we need to strive for dialogue. And that’s what we have done today. In NATO, we have . . . I invited, again, all the members of the NATO-Russia Council, the 30 Allies and Russia to sit down and try to find a political path forward.
BRITTA SANDBERG: But enough reasons to be nervous? Should we be nervous? Are you more nervous than ever before, if you remember your time as Secretary General these last years?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I will use the phrase ‘concerned’, and we are deeply concerned because it is a serious situation in and around Ukraine. And, but at the same time, we should never give up the efforts to try to find a political way forward. And we should also do what we can to deter or dissuade Russia from once again using force against a neighbour.
And therefore, we are also sending a message to Russia that there will be a high price to pay. There will be economic, financial sanctions. We provide, NATO Allies provide support to Ukraine so they can defend themselves – and also that is increasing the threshold for any use of force against Ukraine.
And thirdly, of course, we are always ready to protect and defend all Allies, if there is any threat against any NATO Ally. So, we are working hard and hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst – trying to do the two things in parallel.
BRITTA SANDBERG: The United States, as other Western Allies, watched with growing irritation as I understood it, that inside the German government, attitudes, how to deal with Russia are quite different, if not contradictory. The Green Party is demanding a more harsher tone towards Moscow and the SPD a more accommodating position vis-à-vis Russia. Don’t we need, in this special situation, this crisis situation, a very clear announcement of strict and hard sanctions to counter Moscow’s threats?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We need unity. But at the same time, I think we have to just be honest and say we are an Alliance of 30 Allies, 30 democracies with a lot of different parties and different history, different geography from both sides of the Atlantic. So of course, there are different views. And we see changes in governments, so we will always look, if you look for it, you will always find differences among and between NATO Allies. And for me, that’s not […] it’s not a weakness, it’s actually a strength that we have all these different views, as long as we’re able to agree around the core responsibility – and that is to protect each other and also provide support to Ukraine. And we have agreed around that core task.
So, for instance, we had a statement just before Christmas from all 30 Allies about imposing a heavy price, imposing sanctions on Russia if they use force against Ukraine. Again, supporting Ukraine, but also making sure that we are ready to protect and defend all Allies. So, on the core task we agree, but then, of course, there are different views and assessment among 30 Allies.
BRITTA SANDBERG: You met the Chancellor, Olaf Scholz today. Have you got the impression that he is moving towards perhaps a harsher tone, a more decided strategy to, to deal with Russia?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, I think the Chancellor Scholz should speak on behalf of himself. We had a joint press conference and I think he conveyed a very clear message today that, of course, we don’t… don’t accept any use of force against a sovereign independent country, Ukraine.
And, actually, Germany both has helped NATO to provide support to Ukraine. Germany has imposed heavy sanctions broadly supported from the political parties in Germany. Also, when Scholz was Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister on Russia after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. And Germany has been part of the military build-up of NATO in the eastern part of the Alliance. Germany is leading the battlegroup in Lithuania. So Germany, also with Chancellor . . . with, then, previously Finance Minister Scholz and now, also, Chancellor Scholz, I’m absolutely certain that Germany will be supportive of the NATO approach to Russia when it comes to Ukraine.
BRITTA SANDBERG: But up to now, Germany is not saying that, for example, the use of Nord Stream 2 would be part of possible sanctions. And, for example, the Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, said some weeks ago that Berlin should use Nord Stream 2 as a political bargaining chip with Moscow. Are you . . . have you still kind of comprehension for this German position?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, on Nord Stream 2, there are no agreement, there’s actually disagreement among NATO Allies. Some are heavily against the new pipeline. Others are more in favour – at least saying that this is a commercial decision to be taken.
NORA MÜLLER: ‘Others’ – the Chancellor himself?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, but also in Germany there are different views and therefore NATO has not a unified position. But what NATO Allies agree on is that we need more diverse sources of the supply of energy, including gas. And I think also NATO Allies have taken very careful note of the fact that the regulatory authorities in Germany has now suspended the process of certifying the new pipeline, or opening up the new pipeline.
And then I also took very much note of the message from the International Energy Agency saying that actually Russia is now manipulating the European gas market, significantly reducing supplies. They could increase significantly supplies of gas to Europe, as other gas suppliers have done. And they’re also depleting, or reducing significantly – record low levels – the amount of gas in their storage facilities. So of course, this just demonstrates the dangers of being too dependent on one source, or supply when it comes to natural gas.
NORA MÜLLER: You promised you will give us some more details about your talks with Olaf Scholz. Did you mention, or did you speak with him about Nord Stream 2? Not in the press conference, but in your . . .
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, so we have discussed and that was one topic we also discussed. But again, my . . . NATO’s position is that when we are not able to agree a common position then, on this issue, there is no unified position in NATO. So, in a way, NATO is extremely strong, very capable, but sometimes we are not able to reach consensus on the issue of Nord Stream 2 you can just read the newspapers and you can see that some Allies are very much against and others defend the pipeline.
NORA MÜLLER: So, Mr Secretary General, even then in NATO, you sometimes have to agree to disagree. But let’s move from Berlin to Moscow. Last week, we’ve kind of seen a week of failed diplomacy, pretty much, with talks aborted in Geneva, in Brussels, in Vienna. And one could kind of get the impression that Moscow never really wanted to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis. Was this your impression as well?
I still remember the photo of you being taken with a very stony face, with the Deputy Foreign Minister, Grushko on one hand, on the one side, and the Deputy Minister of Defence, Fomin, on the other side.
So please share with us your impression. And do you think that there is any or was ever any flexibility on the Russian side?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think it’s too early to judge, too early to say whether there is a possibility to reach some progress, some results, in the diplomatic efforts. We welcome the fact that Russia and 30 Allies were able to sit down. For more than two years, NATO has [been] trying to convene a meeting on the NATO-Russia Council, and last week we had that meeting. We had four hours of discussions on a wide range of topics, Ukraine and the security situation in Europe. We didn’t agree. The discussions were difficult. But that’s exactly why they were important. And that’s a good sign that we were, together, addressing these challenges.
Then I also welcome the fact that there were bilateral talks – the United States, Russia. The United States have consulted on every step together with European Allies, both before and after those meetings. So Allies are also involved in those bilateral talks, Russia, the United States. And then we had the OSCE and then we have, also, efforts by Germany. I commend Germany for trying to reintegrate and to strengthen the Normandy Format.
So there are now many efforts. We don’t have… no guarantee, of course, that we will succeed. But the opposite: not to try – is obviously wrong.
So, I have negotiated with Russia before. When I was Prime Minister of Norway, we agreed on a delimitation line in the High North, in the Barents Sea, on energy deals, on issues as military lines of communications, and also fishery and many other issues. And I know it’s possible to talk to Russia. I know it’s possible to make deals with Russia. That doesn’t mean that we will be able to do that this time. But I think we all have to make a serious effort and NATO is making a serious effort. And I have today invited all the members of the NATO-Russia Council to participate in a series of meetings addressing different issues.
So, we will continue. And then it’s for Russia to decide whether they will engage in these talks in good faith, sit down, or whether they just use this as a pretext for once again using force against a neighbour.
NORA MÜLLER: And if I may come in, Mr Secretary General, are you optimistic that this invitation to engage in talks in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council, will that be seen positively by the Russian side? Will they respond to it?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think, obviously, I’m . . . I’m realistic. I think it’s not clear whether they will, whether we will be able to make any real progress. But at least from the NATO side, we are really ready to sit down and . . . and we know that we have been able to agree with Russia before.
For instance, one of the issues we are open to discuss is arms control and missiles, which is one of the concerns that Russia has raised. And we are ready. We had, actually, a ban on all intermediate range missiles with the INF treaty. And then we saw the Russian violations. But if Russia is willing to sit down and have reciprocal, balanced arms control agreements on conventional or nuclear weapons, of course we are in favour of that. And then we can discuss in what . . . some of the nuclear issues have to be bilateral negotiation – Russia and the United States – but all NATO Allies are affected, so, of course, we need NATO Allies to be very much involved as NATO Allies were involved in the process when the INF Treaty banning all intermediate range weapons were agreed to back in 1987.
NORA MÜLLER: Right, you say, I mean, it’s possible to deal and to do deals with Russia and it’s been possible before. But one of the central questions that people, you know, in many Western capitals try to, kind of, wrap their heads around is the question: what actually goes on in Putin’s mind and what is it that he really wants?
So it seems to me that he kind of already attained two important goals, namely, first of all, preventing that, at least in the foreseeable future, Ukraine will be able to join NATO. That’s one. And then also, talking to US President Biden, kind of on an equal footing, from kind of global power to global power, if you will. So these are things that he already achieved.
And the question is, and the question I would be interested in hearing your answer to: what else does he want? Is it all about turning the clock back on European security? Is it about a Yalta 2.0 moment?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, in one way, Russia and also then President Putin have stated very clearly what they want in the two treaties, legally binding treaties, they have proposed for the United States and for NATO. And core articles, provisions, in those treaties are clearly violating core principles for European security. It is stated clearly that NATO should have no further enlargement, no new members of NATO.
And of course, that violates the whole idea that every nation has the right to choose its own path. And this is not only about Ukraine. This is also about, for instance, the right for Sweden and Finland to join some day, if they so decide. And therefore, I think it was very interesting to listen to the Finnish President, who actually used his New Year’s speech this year to say that, ‘Finland is not applying for full membership, but we don’t accept, we will strongly oppose the idea that Russia should sign a deal with NATO ruling out the possibility for Finland any time in the future to become a NATO member because this is about Finland’s right to choose its own path.’ The same was the message from the Swedish Prime Minister. So, well, my message on Ukraine is that Ukraine and Ukraine’s relationship to NATO, that’s for Ukraine and 30 Allies to decide, no one else. And that applies for all other countries.
The whole idea that, anyway, big powers can decide what smaller neighbours can do or not do – that is to move us back to Yalta, or to an age of spheres of influence. We don’t want to go there. I’m coming from a small country, five million people bordering Russia. And of course, when we joined NATO in 1949, the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin were heavily opposed to that. But at that time, London, Washington, Paris, they said, ‘No, Norway has the right to join’ and they allowed us to join. And this is the principle of self-determination that should apply for every nation.
NORA MÜLLER: That point is well-taken. But coming back to kind of decision making in Moscow, so you believe that the decision on what to do with Ukraine has still not been made in Moscow?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I don’t think there’s any final . . . there is no certainty, at least, about what the intentions with the Russian military build-up is. We need to prepare for the worst. We see the build-up. We see the rhetoric. We know the track record.
At the same time, I think it’s also important to understand that there are many ways for Russia to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine. It can be a full-fledged invasion with tens of thousands of troops and heavy armour and all that and missiles and air attacks. But we have also seen and know that Russia has the capabilities of doing many other forms of . . . or conducting many other forms of aggressive actions: heavy, very serious cyberattacks, efforts to try to create provocations or what we call false flag operations, to try to oust the government in Kiev, more smaller military operations to create a land bridge from Russia to Crimea. There are many possibilities which are a bit smaller than a full-fledged invasion. And also the possibility that Russia will try to deny any responsibility for, for instance, provocations or attempts to interfere in the political processes in [Ukraine]. I say that because we need to be prepared, also, to react to other scenarios than the full-fledged invasion.
NORA MÜLLER: Plus, if we go beyond Ukraine, there’s, I mean, there are even more worrying scenarios. Our colleagues from Der Spiegel have a very interesting piece in the current edition saying that even at NATO, there are apparently people who are concerned with a much broader attack on a . . . sort of, on multiple fronts, namely, sort of, Russian forces potentially using their presence in the Mediterranean, in the northern Atlantic, in the Arctic to kind of really strike on a broad front. I mean, that’s very hard to conceive, but do you think that’s a . . . is that thinkable at all, or is that just a scenario?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Many things are thinkable and, of course, we need to be prepared for many scenarios. And there’s always the possibility that a tense situation in one place can suddenly move to another place. That’s absolutely possible.
At the same time, I think if I now started, as Secretary General of NATO, to speculate about all those potential scenarios, I would just add to the tensions. So I think now the important thing is to try to reduce tensions. It’s to call on Russia to de-escalate. Russia is the aggressor. They have . . . they’re responsible for the military build-up. So I think that instead of speculating about all possibilities, I can just assure all NATO Allies that we are prepared. We have plans in place. We are monitoring. We have intelligence. We are following what’s going on in and around Ukraine, but also, of course, along our borders, elsewhere.
And NATO is always ready to react. And we have over the last . . . since 2014, actually implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, partly with more presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, with the battlegroups. Before Crimea, before 2014, it was absolutely impossible to envisage a presence of NATO battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland, now we have them. We have air policing. We have more naval presence. We have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force as a result of what Russia did against Ukraine the last time. And of course, we are following what’s happening in the High North or in the Mediterranean. So, we are there. We are vigilant and of course, the strength of NATO is that we bring North America and Europe together. Together, North America and Europe, we are by far the strongest military power in the world. So as long as we stand united . . .
NORA MÜLLER: Which we’re not always doing.
JENS STOLTENBERG: No, no, no, but on the core task, to protect and defend, the European Allies and NATO stand together.
NORA MÜLLER: Britta?
BRITTA SANDBERG: Let us talk about what will happen now in the following days. The Russians are waiting for a written statement with new proposals from the West, but the Russian Foreign Minister already said that they won’t wait indefinitely for a response. He said, ‘We have run out of patience.’ Can you give us a kind of timetable? What will happen now in the . . . this week, next week?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, we will soon convey our proposals [in writing] to Russia. We have made that clear to them. They know it. And those written proposals will reflect our serious readiness to sit down and engage in serious talks about substance: on arms control, on measures to have more transparency on military activities, missiles, many other issues. But we are not ready to compromise on core principles: the right for us to defend all NATO Allies and the right for every nation to choose his own path. And then it will be up to Russia to respond and then to hopefully come to the meetings I have invited them to join or to attend.
BRITTA SANDBERG: Today, you did it today?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, today I circulated an invitation to all members of the NATO-Russia Council, which is the institution we have to make sure that European Allies, NATO Allies and Russia meet and address issues of common concern. So, of course, we will also listen to the Russian concerns. That’s part of having a dialogue, is that we also listen to the other part and see what can we do and to address them without compromising on core principles for European security.
BRITTA SANDBERG: But Russia’s quest for security guarantees and NATO’s open door policy seem to be irreconcilable positions. So how could a compromise solution look like? What could it be?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, these principles are important for all Allies and we can’t compromise on the principles of every nation’s right to choose its own path. But then I think that if there’s going to be any diplomatic progress, any diplomatic solution on any issue, we need to not conduct diplomacy in public.
There’s no way we can reach any agreement on anything if we exchange all the proposals and all the comments in the media. I have great respect for discussions like this, but it’s not in this, as a forum, we will actually reach agreements with Russia. We need to sit down and have talks without publicising exactly what we are talking about at every moment.
BRITTA SANDBERG: You mentioned it already, Russia was planning a false . . . or is still planning a false flag operation to justify, perhaps, an invasion. Apparently, Russian Special Services are preparing provocations against Russian forces. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, said last week, ‘We saw this playbook in 2014 and they are preparing this playbook again.’ What kind of intelligence information do you have confirming these activities and attempts?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We share intelligence among Allies. We have seen intelligence also indicating that Russia has not only a military build-up along the borders, but they have also more intelligence operatives inside Ukraine. And of course, trying to undermine the government, the authorities and also absolutely possible that they are also planning for different incidents, accidents, false flag operations, that can create . . .
BRITTA SANDBERG: Possible or confirmed?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So we will not go into the details of the intelligence we have. But have information confirming what the United States told the world a few days ago, that that there is a significant Russian presence of intelligence officers or operatives inside Ukraine.
BRITTA SANDBERG: We also saw large-scale cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites. I think several ministries were concerned, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ukraine’s Information Minister said the first data suggests that the attack was carried out by the Russian Federation. What can NATO do to avoid further attacks of this scale?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, NATO and NATO Allies provide significant support to Ukraine to help them to strengthen their cyber defences. And we have also signed an agreement with them recently, how NATO can provide more technical help. And then I also saw, for instance, today the Chancellor informed me that Germany is ready also to provide more experts to Ukraine to help them strengthen their cyber defences and protect their cyber networks. So when it comes to cyber, NATO and NATO Allies support Ukraine and are helping them to defend themselves against cyber attacks.
BRITTA SANDBERG: But there is general support that has always been there and now it’s additional support in this crisis situation?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, Germany announced, or the Foreign Minister Baerbock announced that they are ready to provide more experts. I am not able to tell you exactly what Germany plans to do, but that has been announced. And that’s one example of the many Allies that are providing different types of support. And some have also announced their willingness to step up in the light of the attack. But the attack that we saw a few days ago is not the first attack. So this is a kind of consistent threat and many attacks over a long period of time. So we have been aware of the risk for cyberattacks for a long time, and that’s exactly why NATO as an Alliance, but also individual Allies have already started to provide significant support to Ukraine on the issue of cyber defence.
BRITTA SANDBERG: Okay. Nora, I think we have the first questions coming in from . . .
NORA MÜLLER: We have a flurry of questions coming in, Britta. And here’s one I’ll pass over to you, Mr Secretary General. It comes from [name inaudible] who’s currently at the GMF in Washington, D.C. and her question is: NATO declared in its 2008 Bucharest declaration that Ukraine and Georgia will become a member of NATO one day, whenever that may be. Has this become a strategic impasse for NATO?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I was at that Summit as Norwegian Prime Minister back in 2008 and I remember very well – and again, it’s no secret that there were different views – but, and then we agreed on that decision, meaning that we declared that these countries will become members of NATO. We have reiterated that position many times since then, but we didn’t provide any timeline or we didn’t grant what is called the Membership Action Plan. We think that the important thing for Ukraine is to focus on reforms, is to focus on meeting NATO standards.
And of course, Ukraine have some serious challenges when it comes to, for instance, fighting corruption and to meet all the NATO standards. And we help them with our capacity building programmes with the NATO Office in Kiev, with experts NATO and NATO Allies are sending to try to address these challenges, to fight corruption, to modernise their defence and security institutions. That is good in itself because it makes Ukraine less vulnerable. It makes Ukraine a better-functioning society, better governance, more transparency. And, in addition, it moves Ukraine closer to membership. And that’s exactly what we do. And I think that we will continue to do that, focus on reform to meet NATO standards.
NORA MÜLLER: I know, Mr Secretary General, that you’re not in the business of speculating, but still, here’s an interesting military question, in fact, it comes from Philip L., a viewer of our live stream. And Philip asks: how long would it take NATO member states to mobilise a similar number of soldiers as Russia has already done, move them together on NATO’s eastern border?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So we are able to move a significant amount of forces, quickly if needed. As I said, we have tripled the size of the NATO Response Force. And of course, individual Allies also have the forces that they can deploy quickly, if needed.
NORA MÜLLER: […] quickly?
JENS STOLTENBERG: No, but I mean, again, I will not go into operational details. But we have forces, we have plans and we are exercising for different scenarios. But I think also you have to understand the following, is that, as long as we have NATO and we have the commitment to protect and defend each other, of course, for instance, in northern Norway – I’m from Norway – there are not many forces, but.. Norway is part of NATO, so we know if NATO. . . if Norway was attacked, the whole of NATO would come to our support. The same in the Baltic region. We have a battlegroup, around a thousand, in each of the Baltic countries. Then of course, we have the national home forces of the different individual countries – Lithuania, Latvia and so on.
But of course, compared to the tens of thousands of troops we have on the other side of the border, Russian, our forces are small. But the message is that since NATO’s already there, since we have a multinational presence, any attack on any NATO Ally will trigger a response from the whole Alliance. And that’s deterrence. And the purpose of deterrence is not to provoke a conflict, it’s actually not even to fight a war, but it’s to prevent a war. So, the reason I’m saying this is that this has worked for 72 years. For instance, Berlin, West Berlin was part of NATO, we never had forces in West Berlin that could anyway stand up against the Red Army or the Warsaw Pact forces if they decided to invade West Berlin. But West Berlin was never invaded or attacked, because they knew that the whole NATO, including the United States, were behind. So that’s the message of deterrence, and that’s the message of NATO.
BRITTA SANDBERG: Hmm. So deterrence does work?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, it absolutely does work for 72 years, and it will continue to work, as long as we stand united. But it’s one . . . a very important thing about that, and that is that deterrence works because we are so strong when we are together, meaning that we have to keep North America and Europe together. Because we see now that the United States, but also Canada or the United Kingdom being a European country but are not an EU member, of course, what they provide to our shared security, our collective defence is of great importance.
NORA MÜLLER: And we, as Europeans, also have to kind of do our own homework when it comes to our security capabilities. There are some people saying that the EU in this current crisis has kind of been missing in action. I think that’s probably not entirely fair. But the European reaction to all of this is rather meagre, I would say.
So the question to you, as NATO Secretary General, how concerned are you that Europe is still not able to kind of . . . I think the Chancellor, the former Chancellor Merkel once said, to kind of take its fate into its own hand, to provide for its own security, is that a matter of concern for you?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, first of all, I’m a strong supporter of the European Union and I have, in my national capacity, I campaigned twice to convince the Norwegian people to vote Yes and for Norway to join the European Union. I lost.
NORA MÜLLER: [inaudible]
JENS STOLTENBERG: No, no, but I mean, I have really campaigned for the European Union, because I really believe in the idea of the European Union. I think the European Union is extremely important for our economies, for the environment, for cooperation across Europe. So it’s really a strong and important institution.
And I also welcome the fact that over the last years we’ve been able to lift NATO-EU cooperation to unprecedented levels. We consult closely with the European leadership. And also, on Ukraine, I met recently with President Ursula von der Leyen, we discussed Ukraine, I actually went to the Baltic countries together with her a few weeks ago and . . . and I went straight from the NATO-Russia Council last week in Brussels, with NATO Allies and Russia, to the EU defence minister meeting in Brest, where I briefed them and we consulted on these issues. And of course, the EU has an important role to play, especially, for instance, when it comes to imposing sanctions. So the EU has a place . . . a role to play.
At the same time, I think we have to understand that Europe is at the table when NATO is there. When we had the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, we were 30 Allies, out of which 28 are European Allies, representing 600 million Europeans. So of course, Europe is at the table, because NATO is Europe and North America together. That’s what makes NATO so unique, is that we bring Europe and North America together.
And actually, in reality, we don’t have a European security architecture, we have a transatlantic security architecture. That’s the purpose of NATO, is to bring that together. Two World Wars, remind us, have taught us the importance of having Europe and North America together. So . . . so, we need transatlantic security. And then, of course, European security is part of that.
Then, I would also like to add that I welcome European efforts on defence, on providing new capabilities, on strengthening the European defence industry, on the European Defence Fund, PESCO, all that is great, I strongly support it. And, of course, any meaningful European effort on defence starts with more spending. And there’s one institution that has been calling on more European defence spending and that’s NATO. So that’s great. What I don’t think is needed is more structures. We need more European defence capabilities: readiness, planes, ships, all these things, a more competitive defence industry, but . . . but Europe has a readiness force – that’s the NATO Response Force. And every time Europe has called for us to help them in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in Kosovo, or, actually, the Libya operation – the Libya operation was originally a European initiative, NATO was not at the table when that decision was taken. Then, after some time, the Europeans came to NATO and asked for help and NATO helped them. So every time Europe goes to NATO and asks for help, then we are there. We worked together with them in Kosovo. We have NATO troops in Kosovo supporting the efforts of European diplomats. So we have a Response Force, an intervention force: the NATO Response Force. And Europe is part of that.
NORA MÜLLER: Europe is part of that, Mr Secretary General and is Europe also part of the discussion when it comes to resolving the Ukraine crisis? There’s, of course, the issue of reviving the Normandy Format. What we do hear from Foreign Minister Baerbock’s visit to Moscow and her talks with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov is that, you know, very cautiously, there may be some positive noises when it comes to a revival of this Format, or at least, you know, a sense that there is not a clear no-no to this? How do you see that?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Of course, Europe is part of the consultations on Ukraine and how to deal with that. Because, as I said, 28 out of NATO’s 30 member – 28 – are European, representing 600 million Europeans. There are more Europeans in NATO than in the European Union. So . . . so, Europe is at the table. That’s not the question.
But then, of course, I welcome the efforts of the European Union. But, of course, we have Allies who are not members of the European Union. We have the United Kingdom. And so, again, I am in favour of the European Union and I’d like my own country to be part of it, but not all European countries are a part: not the United Kingdom, not Turkey, not Norway, not Iceland. And some of the [Balkan] countries are members of NATO, but not the European Union. So that’s the reason why we have 600 million Europeans living in NATO countries. And they are they, they are . . . they also . . . that’s Europe. But then, the European Union has an important role to play as an institution. But sometimes we are mixing the European Union and Europe as that is one thing – no, that’s two different things.
And I think that the European Union and especially, for instance, European countries like France and Germany, they have a very important role to play, for instance, in the Normandy Format. That’s good. Then we have two European countries engaging, very important, I support that strongly. But of course, sometimes we need all Europeans at the table. And then, of course, the big tent is either the OSCE or NATO, that bring many European countries to the table.
BRITTA SANDBERG: We asked you to look into Putin’s head, I would like to ask you to look into Lavrov’s head, because we watched the press conference Annalena Baerbock and Lavrov gave today. And as the symbols and the tonality of statements are so important these days, I had the impression that at least there was no more escalation. It’s perhaps too early to say that this was a kind of a first step towards de-escalation. I don’t know if you could follow that, but what is your impression these days? Where is Moscow? Where is Lavrov? Is there more flexibility than perhaps last week to, for example, participate or to accept your invitation for further talks?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So, I was not able to watch that press conference, I’ve attended many different meetings in Berlin today, but I really hope that the meeting that the Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Minister of Germany, Baerbock had with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had some kind of positive outcome and it helped to move towards a real political dialogue. I think it’s just too early. I think now the United States and NATO has made it clear that we are ready to meet again, we’re invited for more meetings and we will convey our proposals. Then I think we need to see what Russia says and that will be kind of the pivotal moment.
BRITTA SANDBERG: So what are we looking forward to? Will there be a period of, like, two weeks of more talks and negotiations? I know that you can’t say and precede the future, but . . .
JENS STOLTENBERG: No, we will submit our proposals in the near future and then . . . and then hopefully we can start meetings soon after that. That will be up to Russia to decide. Because we, of course, to have dialogue, we need Russia at the table, to have any meaningful dialogue on the situation in and around Ukraine.
BRITTA SANDBERG: But on the other side, there’s a certain kind of time pressure, as I . . . ?
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yes, we have seen what Russia has been saying and . . . and, of course, I think it’s the easiest thing to do now, and the quickest thing, would be for Russia to de-escalate, to remove their forces and to stop the threatening rhetoric. And then we can sit down and have, you know, important discussions about some serious long-term concerns, for instance, arms control. I grew up with the SS-20 and the Pershing, the cruise missiles and we demonstrated against those missiles. And then we were all so relieved when we had the INF Treaty in ‘87. And now we have seen the demise of that treaty. So anything that can re-establish verifiable, balanced arms control on missiles in Europe is very much welcomed by NATO. But of course, to agree those technical things, verification mechanism, that takes some time. So the best thing would be for Russia to just de-escalate, remove troops and then we can engage bilaterally in, NATO, Russia, in serious talks about many things, including arms control.
BRITTA SANDBERG: So, today we are Tuesday, would you say that the following days are significant to see where Moscow is heading to, or . . . ?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I think that first, we should now submit our proposals to Russia and then we have to see the Russian reaction on that. That will be extremely important for whether we really can have serious discussions. They have asked us to submit written proposals. We have told them that we are ready to do so. We will do that, we are working on that in NATO now, and as soon as they’re ready they will be sent to Moscow and then we have to wait and see the Russian response.
BRITTA SANDBERG: Okay. So we have to keep patient.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah. And I think it’s a good thing to be a bit patient when you speak about peace. So, I think we should spend the time that is needed and we are ready to sit down in the near future and to start a dialogue. And I also issued an invitation today.
BRITTA SANDBERG: Okay. Secretary General, thank you very much for taking the time in the middle of a crisis situation. Thank you, Nora, and thank you for watching us and sending your questions. We do all hope that the situation will not escalate any more, but perhaps de-escalate. Have a nice evening. Goodbye.