Press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Pekka Haavisto and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ann Linde

  • 24 Jan. 2022 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 25 Jan. 2022 09:34

(As delivered)

Press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Pekka Haavisto and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ann Linde

Minister Haavisto, 
Dear Pekka,
Minister Linde, 
Dear Ann,

Welcome to NATO Headquarters. 
It is great to see you both again.

Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners.
We share the same values.
And we face the same challenges, in the Baltic Sea region and beyond.

Our forces have trained and exercised together for many years.
We continue to share information and situational awareness.
And both Finland and Sweden have contributed to NATO missions and operations, from the Western Balkans to Iraq. 

The worsening security situation in Europe makes NATO’s cooperation with Finland and Sweden even more important.

Today, we discussed Russia’s continued military build-up in and around Ukraine.

The risk of conflict remains real. 
And we continue to call on Russia to de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy.

NATO is a defensive Alliance, which does not threaten Russia, or any other country.

But we will always do what is necessary to protect and defend all our Allies. 
And I welcome that Allies are stepping up.

For instance, Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and will deploy more jets to Lithuania as part of our Baltic air policing mission.

France has expressed its readiness to send troops to Romania under NATO command.

The Netherlands is sending fighter aircraft to Bulgaria for air policing, and is putting units on standby for the NATO Response Force.

Spain is sending ships to join NATO naval forces in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, and considering sending jets to Bulgaria.

And the United States, for the first time in decades, put a carrier strike group under NATO command. 

We are considering to further enhance our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. This could include the deployment of additional NATO battlegroups.

These deployments are proportionate and in line with our international commitments.
And they reinforce European security for all of us. 

At the same time, NATO remains ready to continue dialogue with Russia. 

Following the NATO-Russia Council earlier this month, I have now invited all members to a series of further meetings. 

To address European security, including the situation in and around Ukraine.

NATO-Russia relations, and how to reduce risks and increase transparency.

And arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.   

So NATO Allies are ready to engage in genuine dialogue and to seek constructive outcomes. 

And we will continue to consult with our key partners Finland and Sweden as we take this dialogue forward.

But let me be clear: NATO will not compromise on core principles.

We stand for the right of each nation to choose its own alliances.

And NATO’s door remains open.

While NATO cooperates closely with Finland and Sweden, we fully respect your strong and independent security policies.

It is for Finland and Sweden alone to decide on your path.
Not Russia.  
Not anyone else.
Sovereign nations have the right to self-determination.
NATO will always respect that.
Others must respect that too.

Dear Pekka,
Dear Ann, 
Once again, welcome to both of you.
Thank you again for Finland and Sweden’s deep friendship and partnership with NATO.
Our cooperation makes us all safer and more secure.


NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Thank you very much. We'll take questions from here in the press room. And also we'll try to take a couple of questions online. We'll go to Swedish TV, gentlemen in the second row.

Boati David (SVT – Swedish TV):
Secretary General, what was the outcome of today's meeting and how will this situation affect NATO's relationship with Sweden?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
For NATO and for me, it is extremely important to have very close consultations with Finland and Sweden and to share analysis and to share assessments as we face a very challenging security situation in Europe, because of the military build-up in and around Ukraine by Russia. And also because of the threatening rhetoric by Russia. And I think we all agree on the need to pursue a diplomatic path. I updated both Ann Linde and Pekka Haavisto on the diplomatic efforts of NATO. The fact that we had a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council for the first time for a long time, I think that was a positive sign. At least a step in the right direction. And that NATO has invited Russia to participate in further meetings, in a series of meetings, in the NATO-Russia Council and outlined also the different areas we are ready to discuss with Russia. At the same time, of course we are working for the best. We are hoping for the best. But we have to be prepared for the worst. Meaning that we also are - as NATO - are increasing our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.

You asked about what this means for the relationship with NATO and Sweden. Well, I think it highlights the importance of the close relationship, that fully respecting the Swedish decision to not be a NATO member, we welcome very much the close partnership. Sweden is an enhanced opportunity partner. Sweden and Finland are our most…closest partners. The fact that we work together, that we share information, that we exercise together is something which is important and the importance is demonstrated in this situation we are faced with now. Let me add finally that I welcome the fact that Sweden has reinforced its military presence at Gotland, because that is important for the whole Baltic Sea, the strategic importance for the Baltic Sea and of course NATO is present there, we have littoral states there and NATO allies have also increased its presence in the Baltic Sea region.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
We’ll go to Helsingin Sanomat.

Teija Sutinen (Helsingin Sanomat):
Mr. Stoltenberg as you said, NATO is sending reinforcements in eastern Europe. Could you be a bit more precise what is  NATO's response to increase Russian military presence in the Baltic Sea?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
I have listed some of the additional deployments with more air policing, with more naval presence. Currently there are five NATO ships in the Baltic Sea region, we are also strengthening our presence in the air with the air policing. We already have deployed battlegroups, NATO multinational battle groups, to the three Baltic countries and Poland. And we are for the first time in a decade we have a US aircraft carrier group under NATO command. That is not in the Baltic Sea but of course it matters for the security of the whole of Europe. So we have stepped up. But this is defensive. NATO is not threatening Russia. It's proportionate. And the same time, as we step up, we also invite Russia to continue our dialogue because we are ready to engage in good faith, in the effort to find a political solution. We are ready to listen to the Russian security concerns. Also in the Baltic region. But we will not compromise on the right for every nation to choose its own path. And that also applies for Sweden, Finland, for other European nations, and not of course compromise on NATO's right to protect and defend all allies. But again, I think what we see now with the increased tensions, the deteriorating security situation just highlights the importance of the very close partnership we have built with Finland and Sweden over the last years, including in the Baltic region with exercises, with a high degree of interoperability, and a very close political consultations that was demonstrated today with a meeting with the two foreign ministers.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Ok, gentleman over here.

Andreas Liljeheden (Swedish Public Radio):
Thank you. Andreas Liljeheden, Swedish Public Radio. Two questions. So if I may. You talk about increasing the cooperation between NATO and Sweden. Can you be more concrete? What could this increasing cooperation look like? And secondly, we see now an increase in defense capacity in eastern Europe. Do you see any risks that this might actually create further tensions or if it could be used by Russia to be even more aggressive. And feel free if you like to answer in Scandinavia?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Okay, then I think I’ll answer in Scandinavian.

[Transcript not available]

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we'll get to the Finnish News agency, the lady in pink.

Heta Hassinen (Finnish News Agency):
Thank you, Heta Hassinen, Finnish News Agency. Secretary General you already mentioned that the political cooperation and exercises are very important in this situation. But what else is NATO expecting from its close members – close partners, sorry, close partners in this kind of situation. And I would also like to hear from the foreign ministers. What is Finland and Sweden - where are you ready to offer for this cooperation in situation? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
I’m going to be very brief because [inaudible]. The main issues that we work together in many different ways - on exercises, on training, on just improve the way we can operate together. And Finland and Sweden have participated in different types of missions and operations from Afghanistan, Iraq, maritime deployments, to our presence in the Western Balkans. And we are all ready to step up and to do more. And also to share more information and to share more situational awareness. And again when we see high tensions, especially in the eastern part of the Alliance and including also in the Baltic region, of course, we share information with Finland and Sweden. They share information with us. That's good for their security. It's good for our security. And that is highlighted with the situation we see now.

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mr. Pekka Haavisto:
Maybe from Finnish perspective, one remark on the current situation. When Russia has made the proposals and to the U.S. and to NATO, then these answers are modified by NATO and by U.S., it's very important that we are aware what is going on and that things are not decided over the heads of the countries that are not NATO members or are not directly involved in these talks. And of course, there also comes to importance of the OSCE organization and the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter and those wider European security principles - this has to be taken into consideration. Secondly, like Secretary General, said the sharing of information is very important, in this kind of, that we have the common analysis of the situation. And then of course our experience and our continuing programs for training and common exercises and so forth. So this technical cooperation and military cooperation of course with NATO has been very intensive and we are doing it for the benefit of our own security and our own defense capability.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ms. Ann Linde:
Yes, just to say I can just agree what the gentleman has said but also the political dialogue is very important. And there was for several years… there was no taking part of foreign ministers in the foreign ministers meeting but now I and the Finnish foreign ministers has taken part both in Brussels and Riga, on different kind of important discussions. For example, when we give our information and analysis of what's happening in the high north and in the Arctic is where we have also special experiences. So that has been very well received. I also would say is not like it's a one way street. As the Secretary General said about Gotland and having the possibility in the Baltic Sea for also our troops to show that we have a strong defence. I would remind that Sweden has increased our military spending since 2014 - when the annexation of Crimea and so on - with 80%. That's quite a high increase in our military spending.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
We'll go to Kauppalehti, the lady in green.

Saara Koho (Kauppalehti):
Saara Koho I work for the Finnish paper Kauppalehti.  As we all know, Secretary General, Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that NATO stops expanding in Europe. However, in a recent interview the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö had with our German newspaper Zeit, he said that in his interpretation, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has withdrawn these demands when it comes to Sweden and Finland. And I would like to know if you share his interpretation. Has Russia with drawn its demands?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
What we have seen is what they have proposed in the proposals for legally binding agreements or treaties between NATO and Russia and that was submitted to us some weeks ago, in parallel with the proposed treaty between Russia and United States. There are two proposals on the table for legally binding agreements between Russia and United States, and Russia and NATO. And in the treaty with the proposed draft treaty with NATO, it is clearly stated that there should be no further enlargement of NATO with any country. So based on that, it is clear what Russia has demanded. And we are ready to sit down and discuss many issues with Russia on arms control transparency, and the security situation in Europe, including situation in and around Ukraine. But we are not ready to discuss core principles for European security. And as the Finnish President has stated and many other leaders, both in Finland and Sweden, have stated is that it is for Finland to decide if they want to apply for membership in NATO and then it's for Finland and 30 NATO allies to decide, finally, on the issue of membership. And that's exactly the same for Sweden. So I just base my assessments on what Russia has put forward in written proposal for a legally binding agreement, banning any further enlargement of NATO, and my message is that NATO’s door remains open and then we will respect sovereign independent decisions by sovereign independent countries like Finland and Sweden on whether they like to apply for membership or not.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
I see one more question here and then we'll take a couple online. The gentlemen over here.

Heikki Piuhola (MTV Finland):
Heikki Piuhola, MTV Finland. USA and United Kingdom have started already to move family members of personnel to leave Ukraine. Should all NATO and EU members do now the same?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
This has to be a national decision. We share information among NATO Allies. We also share information with the close partners as Finland and Sweden. We have NATO personnel in Kiev. We have two NATO offices in Kiev. We have of course assessed and followed the situation closely. But we have not made any decision to withdraw those people working for NATO in Kiev.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we'll go online to Club Z Media Group Momchil Indjov.

Momchil Indjov (Club Z Media Group):
Thank you. My question is to Secretary General. As it became clear today and you told it recently, the NATO allies began to send more ships and jets to enhance deterrence and defence in Eastern Europe and are there any plans to deploy immediately more troops in the south eastern Flank of NATO especially in Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey and has NATO made a new risk assessment? And if so could you please specify? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
We are constantly assessing the risks and we are constantly sharing information among allies. And we have stepped up our capabilities to collect information. One of the reasons why we have increased our presence in the Black Sea region is just to be able to monitor and to follow the situation very closely to collect more information. So our presence, our increased presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, and in particular in the Black Sea region, is partly to collect information to assess the situation very closely, but also of course, to be able to respond to any situation that will require a response from NATO allied countries. So I think this is prudent behaviour. What we do is defensive. It's proportionate, and it's fully aligned with our international obligations, and of course the NATO presence is in no way threatening because it is compared to the significant military build-up by Russia in and around Ukraine, a very limited presence. But it sends a strong signal and message of our unity and our resolve to protect and defend all allies. We are considering to further increase our presence, also in the southeast of the Alliance. And we are considering also to have battlegroups not only in the Baltic region and Poland, but also in the southeast to the Alliance. But no decision has been taken. We will assess and make the decisions when the time is right.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Next question, online, goes to Teri Schultz from Deutsche Welle.

Teri Schultz (Deutsche Welle):
Thank you very much. This is a question for all three officials there. I just came back from Sweden as a matter of fact, and it was explained to me that the country feels secure without NATO membership, because there are so many partnerships and also because of the fact that if Gotland for example, were attacked, it would be of NATO's own interest to come to the defense of Sweden. So do all three of you agree that that is enough of a security guarantee without Article Five for this region? And then just a second question, because of course I'm recording for Germany: Mr. Secretary General [inaudible] in Germany [inaudible] … for the comments of the naval chief that said that Russian President Putin deserves respect and also in its refusal to allow military equipment from Estonia to be delivered to Ukraine as Finland in fact has allowed. Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First on the on the Article 5, I think we'll leave it to the Finnish and Swedish Foreign Ministers to reflect on that. As I said, we have an extremely close partnership with both Finland and Sweden. Then of course there's a difference between membership and not membership and that is something Sweden and Finland have to assess and make their own decisions. We will not interfere or try to influence those discussions in Finland and Sweden. We respect their decisions. Then, on Germany. Germany is a NATO ally. They have agreed to send the same messages as we have done in NATO over some time now with both the message of readiness for dialogue with Russia, the NATO-Russia Council. And we are now working on our written proposals that we will convey to Russia in the near future. And Germany is of course is strongly part of that. But Germany is also part of that the increased presence in eastern part of the Alliance. Germany's leading the battle group in Lithuania. And what we do now is that we are stepping up within existing NATO frameworks, air policing, the standing naval forces of NATO and other existing NATO force structures and again this is something Germany has agreed to and Germany also contributes. So NATO allies are united in their response to the threatening Russian military build-up both when it comes to dialogue, but also when it comes to sending a message of unity and strength.

Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mr. Pekka Haavisto:
From the Finnish perspective, Finland, of course, is a democratic country and our decisions are based on the opinion of the people and political parties. The majority has not been in favor of the NATO membership but for the close partnership with NATO, which we currently have and our defense doctrine bill so maintaining a strong national defense capability. We have a conscription army, we have 280,000 reservists in Finland, we have just made the decision to renew our fighter capacity to F-35 on and so forth. And of course, we are increasing our preparedness and readiness whenever there are new security concerns. We have been investing also quite a lot to tackle the hybrid, new kinds of hybrid and cyber threats. But close cooperation with NATO of course is something that people support.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ms. Ann Linde:
And I will say that, of course every country has to see what is the best way of keeping our country and our people out of war, what will keep them safe. And that is how you determine what kind of security arrangement you want to have. And for us in Sweden, we are military non-aligned and that is something that has served us very well during very, very difficult times. And we think it still serves us well together with a strong defense. And I just mentioned here earlier since 2014 we have increased our defense spending with 80% and with close cooperation with other partners. We have about 20 agreements with countries, NATO countries, other countries, organizations, and the closest partnership we have is with Finland.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Thank you so much.