Press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson

  • 10 Feb. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 10 Feb. 2022 12:56

(As delivered)

Prime Minister,
Dear Boris,

Welcome back to NATO Headquarters.
It is always a pleasure to have you here.
And many thanks also to the United Kingdom for being a strong and staunch Ally, which really contributes to our collective defence in many different ways.  

We have just addressed Russia’s military build-up in and around Ukraine.
Russia has already massed well over 100,000 combat-ready troops.

With heavy equipment, missiles and key enablers such as command and control and medical units.

And we are closely monitoring Russia’s deployment in Belarus, which is the biggest since the end of the Cold War.

This is a dangerous moment for European security.
The number of Russian forces is going up.
The warning time for a possible attack is going down.

NATO is not a threat to Russia. 
But we must be prepared for the worst, while remaining strongly committed to finding a political solution.

The UK is playing a leading role.
Delivering both militarily and diplomatically.
I welcome your offer of more troops, ships and planes to NATO.
And the additional troops that you are deploying to Poland showed Allied solidarity in action.

The UK leads NATO’s battlegroup in Estonia.
You contribute to NATO’s Air Policing.
And the aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales leads NATO’s maritime high readiness force.

All of this sends a clear message that we will defend and protect all Allies.

We also have active diplomacy right across the Alliance, with NATO leaders working to get Russia to de-escalate. 

I welcome your support to Ukraine.
As well as your recent contact with President Putin, and the visit of Foreign Secretary Truss to Moscow today.

This morning I have sent a letter to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
Reiterating my invitation to Russia to continue our dialogue in a series of meetings in the NATO-Russia Council.
To find a diplomatic way forward.

We are prepared to listen to Russia’s concerns,
and ready to discuss ways to uphold and strengthen the fundamental principles of European security that we have all signed up to.

We have proposed mutual briefings on exercises and nuclear policies.
Ways to increase transparency and reduce risks in military activities.
Reduce space and cyber threats.
And a serious conversation on arms control.
Including nuclear weapons and ground-based intermediate and shorter range missiles.
These areas represent an agenda for meaningful dialogue.

But NATO will not compromise on core principles.
The right of each nation to choose its own path.
And NATO’s ability to protect and defend all Allies. 

Next week, NATO Defence Ministers will assess options to further strengthen Allied security.
This includes the possibility of additional battlegroups in the south-eastern part of our Alliance.

Renewed Russian aggression will lead to more NATO presence, not less.

Prime Minister, 
Thank you again for the United Kingdom’s strong commitment to our transatlantic alliance.
And for your strong personal commitment to NATO.

So once again, welcome.



NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We'll go to Sky News, Beth Rigby.

Beth Rigby (Sky News)
Prime Minister. Two weeks ago, you said the intelligence was particularly gloomy when asked about the inevitability of a Russian invasion into Ukraine. Since then, the combination of the threat of sanctions deploying troops to Eastern allies diplomacy has failed to de-escalate this situation. Are you coming to the conclusion that President Putin actually wants this war? And to the Secretary General, you just said that this was a dangerous moment for European security, different allies from France to the UK, to the US are taking slightly different approaches to dealing with Russia. Are you concerned about these different approaches sending mixed messages to Russia? And are you worried that differences between partners could hinder any NATO deployment? Thank you.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson
Thanks. Thanks very much, Beth. Look, I think that this… to answer your question directly about what I think is going on in Moscow and the calculations that are being made there. I don't, honestly don't think a decision has yet been taken. But that doesn't mean that it is impossible that something absolutely disastrous could happen very soon, indeed. And our intelligence I'm afraid to say remains grim and we're seeing the massing of, of huge numbers of tactical battalion group's - potential battalion troops - on the on the borders of, of Ukraine. 70 or more. This is probably the most dangerous moment, I would say that in the course of the next few days, in what is the biggest security crisis that Europe has faced for decades, and we've got to get it right. And I think that the combination of sanctions and military resolve, plus diplomacy is…are what is in order. And everybody understands that…you ask about whether we're at one across the Western sanctions. I think increasingly actually we are at one. And I think that… I congratulate Olaf Scholz, Germany on the way he's been able to move towards a tougher position on Nord Stream 2. Difficult though, obviously, that is for Germany and for the German economy. I think that the UK has been able to help to bring people together with an automatic package of sanctions that would hit Russian commercial and strategic… strategic commercial interests. The tougher those sanctions are, the more automatic they are, the more chance we have of deterring what I think would be an irrational response. But what we're also doing is ensuring that we have a… we engage the Russian’s attention, we occupy their bandwidth and we get ready all over the eastern frontier of NATO and that's why Jens was kind to mention all the things that, that we're doing where we’re supporting operation, Cold Response in… up in the north in the Norway area with the prince of HMS Prince of Wales, 16 Air Assault Brigade. In Estonia, we're doubling the presence at Tapa, the enhanced Forward Presence of Tapa. In Poland we’re adding - where I'll be going shortly - we're adding another 350 troops from 45 Commando. We're doing air policing in Romania, increasing the number of typhoons that we're deploying out of, out of Cyprus - a squadron of typhoons - and we're sending ships to the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, an OPV and a Type 45. And that's, as I think, as Jens referred to, we're also putting on standby 1000 troops in preparation for a humanitarian crisis that may take place on NATO's Eastern frontiers. So we're getting ready. A military… we’re making military preparations, we’re getting ready economic sanctions, but we're also willing to talk and I think, I think Jens summed it up very well in what he said, you know, there are some things that are non-negotiable. That's the idea of a Europe whole and free. That's the idea that NATO must have an open door policy, that the people of Ukraine must be able to aspire to NATO membership. And then of course, there are things that it would be sensible to talk about and things that NATO and the UK, the US everybody is willing certainly to, to discuss. And they include transparency about NATO exercises, about NATO force posture, about the stationing of missiles, making progress on certainly, as Jens said, on the INF area where Russia is, is in breach and making progress on the intermediate nuclear missiles. All those subjects for discussion and far, far better to begin a discussion now than to have a catastrophe. So that's what, that's what we're pushing for and there's a lot of effort going in on all those fronts. But Beth, you know, whether it's going to pay off now, whether we're going to be successful - I simply can't say.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Then on the unity of the Alliance. I think what we have seen over the last weeks and months is actually a very united NATO where we stand together both when it comes to our diplomatic efforts, but also when it comes to the necessary military adaptation we have implemented. On the diplomatic efforts, all allies agree that we need to sit down with Russia to engage in good faith in talks to try to find a political, peaceful solution to the conflict. And that's the reason why we have invited Russia for meetings in the format of the NATO-Russia Council, why I welcomed that NATO allies as United Kingdom, but also other allies, engaged directly with Russia. Secretary Truss is in Moscow today, and other allies have reached out because we need a broad approach when it comes to our diplomatic efforts with Russia. But this is based on a unified message, which all NATO Allies have agreed. We agreed a comprehensive document which we sent over to Russia as our common response, as our united response to the legally binding treaties that Russia proposed for us some weeks ago. And this is the agreed basis. This is an agreed message exactly as Boris said. We list areas we're ready to sit and discuss on arms control missiles, nuclear and many other issues. The point is that it has to be verifiable and balanced. And then we list also some areas where we cannot make compromises, especially the right for every nation to choose its own path. And the right of course for NATO to defend and protect all allies. This idea that we should introduce some kind of second class allies, those allies that have joined NATO after 1997, is absolutely not acceptable for us. But verifiable balanced arms control - That's something we absolutely are in favour of and ready to engage in with Russia. Let me just briefly also add that the military adaptation sends a clear signal that Russia has a choice. They can either choose a diplomatic solution and we are ready to sit down, but if they choose confrontation, they will pay a high price. There will be economic sanctions, there will be increased NATO military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance - UK is really an important part of that, already announced new deployments on top of what UK has already deployed in the eastern part of the Alliance. And of course, the Ukrainian army Defence Force is much stronger now than they were in 2014. Because they're better equipped, better trained, better command and I welcome that the United Kingdom and other allies provide support to the Ukrainian defense forces so they can defend themself. This is a right for every nation to defend themself for self defense. And it's good that NATO allies, like the United Kingdom, help Ukraine to uphold that right.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We'll go to Laura Kuenssberg from BBC.

Laura Kuenssberg (BBC)
Thank you very much. Prime Minister, how much further are you prepared to commit the UK on top of what's already happening? Would you for example, in the case of an invasion, give UK military support to some kind of insurgency? And if you're found to have broken the law, would you resign? And can I ask you to address this directly on behalf of people at home? It's not a hypothetical question.

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson
I understand.

Laura Kuenssberg (BBC)
There is a police investigation. And Secretary General, Russia is massing as you said more than 100,000 troops, allies are, like the UK, committing 1000 here and 1000 there, but is the scale of NATO's attempt to protect Ukraine anything like a match for what Russia may be planning?

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson
Yeah, so first of all on your point about what's going on at home, Laura that process must be completed and I'm looking forward to it being completed and that's the time to say more on that. But on your on your question about what we can do to support Ukraine further. Everybody knows that the UK is being forward leaning out in front in offering support to the Ukrainian military. And Jens is right in what he says that the Ukrainian army is now very large probably 200,000, probably 150,000 reservists. And it's my judgment, I think it's certainly the judgment of NATO, that they will fight and they will resist very, very strongly. And they've been helped in their preparations for something as catastrophic as this with a lot of training from the UK operation orbital as you know, has been going on since 2014, we trained 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers. We're now in the last two or three months we've sent some, some anti-tank weaponry, the NLAWs as you know, 2000 of them. We will consider what more we can… we can conceivably offer. But I have to tell you that you know, the Ukrainians are well prepared that there are things that we've offered that they in fact, don't seem to need because they think that they have them in enough numbers already. So it's possible. I don't want to rule this out. But at the moment, we think that the package is the right one. But I just want to stress that it would be an absolute disaster if it were to come to that. And if there would be serious bloodshed on Ukrainian soil. And I know that people in Russia must be thinking about this too. And I know that in the Kremlin and across Russia, they must be wondering whether it is really sensible to expend the blood of Russian soldiers in a war that I think is… would be catastrophic, and also pointless, tragic and vastly economically costly to Russia. And all I would say is that this is the moment now to think of another way forward. And President Putin talks about the indivisibility of security across the European continent, by which he means that Russia can't be threatened by anything that NATO does. Well, I want to stress that NATO is not a threatening, intimidating or aggressive Alliance. That is not what NATO does. NATO has kept the peace in our continent for so long and achieved so much by being a defensive alliance. That's what NATO does. And you can't promote the indivisibility of peace in the European landmass by putting 130,000 troops on the borders of Ukraine. So I think there's an opportunity to talk, on all subjects that Jens just described. I think it's a very good opportunity for us to put our heads together and try to find ways of reassuring Russia without compromising those fundamental principles of NATO's open door policy. I think there is a way through, but it must also be accompanied by a de-escalation from Russia, and a withdrawal of the threats that we're currently seeing. So I think it's time to de-escalate and to talk.

Laura Kuenssberg (BBC)

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson
I’m going to… I understand…but I'm going to, we're going to wait for the process to be completed.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO is a defensive alliance and our purpose is to preserve peace, to prevent conflict. And we do that by standing together as stated clearly, as it is enshrined in our founding treaty, that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole Alliance: one for all, all for one. And that's exactly what we're doing now at this very critical time for European security. And the question was whether we are doing enough. Well, I think we understand that we are doing many things at the same time. First of all, we have already increased the presence in eastern part of the alliance, with more troops, with the battle groups, also with the UK aircraft carrier strike group and also an American carrier strike group and more ships, more planes, the increased presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. Second, we have increased the readiness of our forces so we can quickly reinforce if needed. This is NATO Response Force, but that has been augmented by announcement from the United Kingdom, from the United States, from Denmark, from other countries, who have made it clear that they're ready to assign more troops to the NATO Response Force so we can reinforce quickly if needed. And we have increased the readiness of these forces compared to their normal readiness levels. And thirdly, we are also now looking into whether we should have a more long term change in our posture in the eastern part of the Alliance. Today we have battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland. The UK is leading the battle group in Estonia, but also increasing its presence in Poland. But we are now also considering to have similar battle groups, for instance, in the Black Sea region in Romania. So partly, already increased presence, partly increase readiness so we can quickly reinforce and also now looking into more long-term changes in our posture in the eastern part to the Alliance.

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