by the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovačevski
Prime Minister Kovačevski,
It’s great to welcome you to NATO Headquarters, and really welcome.
And congratulations on your appointment as Prime Minister of North Macedonia.
The fact that you are here so early after your appointment I think demonstrates your personal commitment to our Alliance. And therefor I also welcome the fact we were able to meet so early after you took office.
It is almost two years since North Macedonia joined NATO.
And you have proven to be a highly valued Ally.
The stability in the Western Balkans is of great importance for NATO.
I welcome North Macedonia’s efforts to promote security, stability and progress in the region.
This includes your contributions to NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
Since North Macedonia joined NATO, the Alliance has guaranteed your security.
You are now part of NATO’s Air Policing system.
Fighter jets from Greece are on patrol to keep your skies safe.
This is NATO solidarity in practice.
Allies standing together, to protect and defend each other.
We have just discussed Russia’s continued military build-up in and around Ukraine, which is now well over 100,000 troops.
Over the last days we have seen a significant movement of Russian military forces into Belarus.
This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War.
With an expected 30.000 combat troops.
Spetsnaz, special operation forces.
Fighter jets, including SU-35.
Iskander dual-capable missiles.
And S400 air defence systems.
So we speak about a wide range of modern military capabilities.
All this will be combined with Russia’s annual nuclear forces exercise, expected to take place this month.
NATO continues to call on Russia to de-escalate.
Any further Russian aggression would have severe consequences, and carry a heavy price.
We remain ready to engage in meaningful dialogue.
And have conveyed our written proposals to Russia.
Allies are prepared to discuss NATO-Russia relations, how to reduce risks and increase transparency, and arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.
But NATO will not compromise on core principles.
The right of every nation to choose its own path,
and NATO’s ability to protect and defend all Allies.
We are committed to finding a political solution to the crisis.
But we have to be prepared for the worst.
Yesterday, the US announced that they will deploy additional forces to Germany, Poland, and Romania.
This is a powerful signal of U.S. commitment, and comes on top of other recent U.S. contributions to our shared security.
Including putting a carrier strike group under NATO command in the Mediterranean.
And providing 8,500 troops at high readiness for the NATO Response Force.
We have already increased the readiness of the NATO Response Force.
And we are considering the deployment of additional NATO battlegroups to the south-eastern part of the Alliance.
I also welcome the recent offers by Allies to enhance NATO’s deterrence and defence with more troops, more ships and planes.
NATO brings Europe and North America together to face a current crisis.
We are strong, we are resolute and united in our response.
Welcome once again to NATO, it’s great to see you and I look forward to working with you.