Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 15 Feb. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 17 Feb. 2022 16:03

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

Tomorrow NATO Defence Ministers will meet to address the most serious security crisis we have faced in Europe for decades.

There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue.
This gives grounds for cautious optimism.

But so far we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground.

Russia has amassed a fighting force in and around Ukraine, unprecedented since the Cold War.

Everything is now in place for a new attack.
But Russia still has time to step back from the brink.
Stop preparing for war.
And start working for a peaceful solution.

NATO Allies have been very clear that any further Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price.

We have systematically exposed Russia’s actions, plans and disinformation.
To lay bare to the world what Russia is doing and to make it harder for Russia to conduct aggressive actions.

At the same time, NATO Allies remain ready to engage with Russia.

On the 26th of January, I invited Russia to a series of meetings in the NATO-Russia Council.
We sent concrete proposals for a substantive agenda.

To listen to the Russian concerns,
share ours,
and look for common ground.

We are ready to discuss NATO-Russia relations, European security including the situation in and around Ukraine and risk reduction, transparency and arms control.

But we will not compromise on our core principles.
Every nation has the right to choose its own path.

And there will never be first class and second class members of NATO.
We are all NATO Allies.

We have stepped up deterrence and defence across the Alliance.
To remove any room for misunderstanding or miscalculation.

We have deployed more troops, planes, and ships to the eastern part of the Alliance.
Increased the readiness of our NATO Response Force.
And boosted our battlegroups in the Baltic region.

Just last week I was in Romania to meet additional US troops deploying together with other Allies.
A strong demonstration of US commitment to the defence of Europe.
From the Black Sea to the Baltic.

NATO Defence ministers will address the need to further increase our defensive posture.

And I welcome the offer by France to lead a new NATO battlegroup in Romania.

Tomorrow, I will also chair a regular meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group.
Ensuring that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective.

Defence ministers will meet our colleagues from Ukraine and Georgia.

To discuss the worsening security situation in the Black Sea region.
And NATO Allies will reaffirm our strong support for both countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We will also meet with our partners Finland, Sweden and the European Union.
To continue our close consultations and further strengthen NATO-EU cooperation.

The current crisis has shown once again how important it is to invest in our defence.

So ministers will review burden-sharing across the Alliance.
I welcome that our latest figures show seven consecutive years of increased defence spending across Europe and Canada with 270 billion Dollars extra since 2014.
And I encourage Allies to continue to invest in our shared security.

Finally, we will also discuss NATO’s next Strategic Concept. 
which will be adopted at the Madrid Summit in June.

I am confident that Allies will recommit to our core values and to the importance of Europe and North America standing together.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

- - - - - - - - 

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We’ll go to Reuters up there.

Robin Emmott (Reuters):
Thank you, Oana. So Russia has said it is returning some troops to their… to basis of the military exercises were completed. Are you saying then that this isn't true or that you're not seeing any kind of change on the ground? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So far we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine. But we will continue to monitor and to follow closely what Russia is doing. The signs coming from Moscow about willingness to continue to engage in diplomatic efforts. That gives some reason for cautious optimism. But we will of course, follow very closely what's happening on the ground and whether this is affected in some real de-escalation of the Russian military build-up in around Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We’ll go to NPR.

Teri Schultz  (NPR)
Thank you. Teri Schultz. Sec Gen. Hi. I'm over here. Would it really matter if some of the troops are returning to their garrisons? I mean, this is… this may not be a sign of de escalation when you have, you know, more than 100 BTG's and more than 100,000 troops just to follow up on Robins question. But additionally there I think, Foreign Minister Lavrov said yesterday that Russia had prepared its response to the US and NATO. Have you received any such response? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
No, we have not received any response from Russia yet. We will welcome a response. We sent them in January our proposals, quite substantive proposals, in parallel the United States and NATO, where we outlined a wide range of issues topics where we are ready to sit down and look for common ground on arms control, missiles, and transparency on military activities and many other areas. We are ready. We have been ready for a long time and we remain ready to engage in good faith in dialogue with Russia to find a political solution. Of course, what we have seen on the ground, actually, since last spring, is that they're moving forces around but that doesn’t represent a real de-escalation. And we’ve also seen that sometimes they move into a position with combat ready troops and a lot of heavy equipment. And then they take out some of, or perhaps even most of, the troops but they leave the equipment behind. And then they can very quickly reinforce and move all the people back, all the troops back again if needed. So the movement of forces, the movement of Russian capabilities doesn't represent real de-escalation, but we will monitor, we will follow what they are doing. And of course, we call on them to de-escalate, to withdraw troops because the Russian military build-up in and around Ukraine is unprecedented, not only with a high number of combat ready troops, but all the support, all the combat enablers, they need to actually conduct a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine and with all these forces, all these capabilities in place, Russia can conduct an invasion of Ukraine with very little or hardly any warning time at all.

So we follow this but at the same time, we believe there is some ground for cautious optimism based on the science coming from Moscow, that they are interested in continuing diplomatic efforts and to sit down with NATO and NATO allies to find a political solution to

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Ok we’ll go to Interfax Ukraine.

Irina Somer (Interfax Ukraine)
Thank you, Interfax Ukraine, Irina Somer. Secretary General, two questions if I may. First one: can you please give more details about upcoming meeting with Ukrainian Minister of Defence? In which format it will be, when it will be? What do you expect from Ukrainian side? And second question is: being under a threat of possible war don't you think that NATO might review Bucharest decision regarding Ukraine? Or in other words, maybe it's easier to give up Ukraine. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
I look very much forward to the meeting with the Ukrainian Defence Minister. Also together with the Defence Minister of Georgia. The two defence ministers will meet all 30 NATO Defence Ministers - this will take place on Thursday. And it is yet another sign of the very close and highly valid partnership we have with Ukraine and the strong support that allies provide to Ukraine.

In the meeting, I expect the ministers to once again express their political support to Ukraine, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And as you know NATO provides support with capacity building. We helped to modernise Ukraine's defensive security institutions, I guess that will be… I expect that to be addressed during the meeting. And, we also help with cyber defence. And then of course, on top of what NATO do together, several NATO Allies provide also bilateral support to Ukraine. So the political the practical support to Ukraine will be addressed in the meeting.

Then I think also it will be an opportunity for all of us to take stock. Are there any signs that things are moving in the right direction? Or is the military buildup in and around Ukraine continuing, or does it continue? So I think it's a bit early to pre-empt the exact outcome of that discussion. But it is important that when things are so challenging, and when tensions are as high as they are now, it is important that we consult closely with close partners with Ukraine and that's exactly what we do. Let me also add that we are in regular contact with Ukrainian leadership in different formats, almost all the time. I have spoken several times with President Zelenskyy and we continue to be in close contact with the Government, and the Bucharest decision stands. NATO strongly believe that all nations have the right to choose their own path and the NATO's door remains open. The enlargement of NATO has been a great success that helps to spread democracy, freedom and ensure peace and stability across Europe for decades. So that decision stands.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Ok, we will go to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Gentleman over there, with glasses.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ)
Secretary General, over the past days France has indicated that it no longer considers, or would no longer consider, the NATO-Russia Founding Act valid in case of an invasion. Do you expect a discussion on the NATO-Russia Founding Act in that respect during the defence ministerial? And do you sense a change among member states which decided after the 2014 annexation of Crimea that they still be bound by this basic act?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Russian invasion of Ukraine will be a blatant violation of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. But that has happened before. But NATO Allies are still committed to the Founding Act. We believe in the importance of respecting all our international obligations, including the Founding Act. And we have seen before that Russia has violated the Founding Act by invading Ukraine, by using military force against Ukraine and illegally annexing Crimea. But we still believe in in the importance of the Founding Act.

And I'd also like to add that we strongly also believe in the dual track approach. We need dialogue. We need to talk to Russia. But at the same time, we need strength and deterrence and defence and that remains NATO's position.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Ok, Associated Press.

Lorne Cook (Associated Press)
You spoke before just on the troop movements about the different types of things that Russia has been moving in recent weeks. You spoke about fighter jets, about S-400 and so on, and more recently about the enablers, about medical centres, logistics, command and control and so on.

When it comes to the things that Russia is talking about withdrawing today, do you see any substance in that? Anything significant that might impact its ability to invade Ukraine? And if I could also just ask you very briefly, during the last few months, has there ever been a direct and probable security threat to a NATO Ally?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side. Over the last weeks and days we have seen the opposite. A continued military build-up with more troops, more battlegroups, more high-end capabilities, artillery, air defence missiles and a lot of support elements that makes it possible for Russia to move into Ukraine for full-fledged invasion or a more limited military incursion with hardly any warning time at all.
That picture has not changed so far. But we monitor, we follow what they do. And we believe there is some ground for cautious optimism based on the signals and signs coming from Moscow that they're ready to engage, continue to engage in a diplomatic effort, and we are ready to continue to engage in a diplomatic effort.

So, it's too early to say but since we so strongly believe in a need for a political solution, of course, we will now really look into whether it is a possibility to create a framework for meaningful dialogue with Russia. I welcome the different formats. We need the NATO-Russia Council, we need the bilateral talks between different NATO Allies, we need the Normandy Format to engage with Russia.
And I also welcomed efforts by many NATO Allied leaders meeting with President Putin and engaging with Russia. We have Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow today.
Last week, President Macron. Also of course, President Biden has been in contact with President Putin. So has Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others. So there are many efforts from NATO and NATO Allies to engage with Russia.

We hope that we will receive an answer from Russia soon, an answer to our letter, to our proposals, where we invited them to sit down in a series of meeting and outline that the topics we are ready to discuss.

Then, so in a way, that’s…It's too early to say whether we can see anything on the ground. But I will tell you, or at least we.. let's come back to what we [indistinct], but at least we are following very closely what they are doing.
[Follow-up question inaudible]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
What we see is a serious build-up in and around Ukraine. And I think also the fact that we have increased the NATO presence in the eastern part of the Alliance sends a very, very clear message to any potential adversary that we are there to defend and protect all Allies.
And I've seen that myself, the battlegroups. I visited them just before Christmas in Latvia and Lithuania. And then, on Friday, I was in Romania. And the fact that we have deployed more NATO troops on the ground, more naval assets, more aircrafts, all of that sends a very clear message. So we are there to protect and defend all Allies. And I think there is no room for any miscalculation in Moscow about our commitment to defending Allies.

So we have to understand that Ukraine is a partner. We support Ukraine. But for all NATO Allies, we provide 100% security guarantees and we have demonstrated that commitment also with more North American presence in Europe over the last weeks.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Okay, we'll go to the lady with a red scarf, there.

Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg)
I just had a follow-up to my colleagues’ question. Could you be a bit more precise about what the start of de-escalation would look like? I mean, how many troops would have to pull back? And to what extent do you see this Russia's new force posture as a long-term formation there? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So what we have to see is, of course, a substantial withdrawal of troops. But not only troops. Also equipment because what we saw this spring was that they moved in with troops and had the equipment and very often it takes much more time to move the heavy equipment than to move in and out the troops and the soldiers.
And what I've seen before is that they go in with heavy equipment and troops, take up out some troops, and then they can easily move them back in again after just a few days, or very short notice. So what we need to see is a significant and enduring withdrawal of forces, troops, and not least the heavy equipment.
But I think also we need to understand that what we have seen over, in reality, the last year because this actually started last spring and then have gone up and down, with an upward trend all the time,  will have a lasting impact on the security situation in Europe. And that's also why NATO is not only responding to the current crisis in and around Ukraine by increasing our presence in eastern part of the Alliance, but we are also going to consider more long-term adjustment of our posture in East, including with, considering the establishment of a battlegroup, for instance in Romania. And I welcome the offer by France to lead that battlegroup. So I think we need to distinguish between different things. NATO has since 2014 increased our presence in eastern part of the Alliance because of Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine with the illegal annexation of Crimea. And that has taken place over many years with the battlegroups, with a new command structure, with more naval and air presence. But also, then, in the last weeks and months we responded to the current crisis by increasing our presence and then we are looking at the more long-term adjustment, but that will be something we will take decisions on later on.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Ok, we will go to POLITICO.

David Herszenhorn (POLITICO)
Secretary General, at the start of the Olympics, we saw quite a striking joint statement from Russia and China against NATO expansion. I wonder if you assess that the outcome of this crisis is stronger unity between Russia and China against the Alliance? Would this have happened if leaders hadn't turned to the China issue at last year's Summit? I know that the Strategic Concept, you said, would address Russia more than before and China more than it had before. Does it need to address now Russia and China together?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first of all, NATO has to respond to reality. And the reality is that China and Russia has come closer and closer over the last years. They are exercising together. They are working more closely together in the diplomatic domain in the UN Security Council, but also see how they conduct more and more exercises, they've done over the last years, including recently with a joint exercise with Iran in the Indian Ocean.

So of course, these are realities that have taken place over some time and they impact our security. So there is no way we can deny, or in a way, not take that into account. And that's exactly what NATO has done over the last years, especially since our Summit last summer, where we for the first time had some substantial language on the security consequences of China for our security.
But we are ready to also engage with China. We need dialogue, we need to address arms control, big issues like also climate change and many other issues. And that's exactly what we are doing. But knowing that, for instance, China is now rapidly developing new nuclear capabilities, long range missiles, hypersonic missiles, of course that matters… and missiles that can reach all NATO territory. There is no way we cannot take that into account. Not at least also because we see that China is coming closer to us in cyberspace, in the Arctic, in Africa and also trying to create to control critical infrastructure.
I think what fundamentally what we see is that two authoritarian powers, Russia and China, are operating together. Because that don't like the rules based international order. They don't share our values, freedom, democracy. And that's also the reason why they tried to deny sovereign, democratic nations the right to choose their own future. They want a world where big powers can decide what smaller powers and countries can do.

So this is about fundamental principles, whether free, independent countries can choose to be part of an alliance as NATO or they can choose to stay out. We should respect it anyway. And NATO respect sovereign, democratic decisions by Finland and Sweden to not apply for membership or by Ukraine to apply for membership. This is their sovereign, democratic decisions and we respect them.

But Russia and China do not. They have stated clearly in a joint statement that they don't want countries in the world to have that freedom, to make their own decisions on their own future. And that just demonstrates a fundamental difference when it comes to values and what kind of world we would like to live in. I would like to live in the world where we have free, democratic nations living in a world with a world order. And where the rule of law is what we have to abide to, not the spheres of influence where big powers decide what neighbours can do.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We’ll go to TV Imedi.
Ketevan Kardava (TV Imedi)

Thank you, Oana. Mr. Secretary General, what can you tell us about the meeting with Georgian Defence Minister? You spoke about Ukraine, I mean, can you tell us more about it and also last week during the press conference here in this room the Polish President said that he asks for a high level meeting with Ukraine and Georgia in Madrid, what do you think about this ideas? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So first of all, I look very much forward to the meeting with the Georgian Defence Minister. It reflects the closer partnership, the important partnership we have with Georgia. We have just, so, stepped up our cooperation in different ways. We have activities together, we will have also an exercise together and there are other ways of demonstrating how NATO and Georgia are working closely together. And we continue to provide support to the reform efforts. And we continue to, of course, support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. So this is part of the regular important close coordination between Georgia and NATO, and I look forward to the meeting.
[Question by journalist inaudible]
Well that's too early to say - the different formats of the Madrid summit. So let's… we have to come back to that.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We'll try to take a couple of questions online before coming back to the press room, so we'll go to VG, Alf Bjarne Johnsen.

Alf Bjarne Johnsen (VG)
Thank you, Mr. Stoltenberg, I would like to ask you about the unprecedented public sharing of intelligence during the these months specifically from the US and latest about the possible invasion tomorrow on Wednesday. Is this open sharing a new tool for NATO, or for allied, meant for deterrence? And can you tell us whether in the European Union if it had had any effect on Russia?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
We have systematically shared information about the Russian plans, the Russian capabilities and the Russian attempts to stage a pretext for aggressive actions against Ukraine, what is often referred to as a false flag operations. And we do so because we believe in transparency but also because we believe that that makes it harder for Russia to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine. So to lay bare everything they do, is a way also to increase the threshold for them to invade Ukraine, to send in forces, to try to organise riots, topple the government or all the other things that we are afraid that Russia may try to do. So the fact that we do this is a way also to try to counter and to prevent these things from happening. So I think we have to understand that intelligence is not always a prediction. Intelligence is information. And when we share information, it is actually an effort to try to prevent things from happening, which would have otherwise happened. So yes, we do this in an attempt to prevent aggressive actions against Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Okay, we'll go to DPA, Ella Joyner.

Ella Joyner (DPA)
Thanks for taking my question. Can you hear me okay?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Ella Joyner (DPA)
Great. Thank you. Basically, I'm inferring from your comments that you have no plans to step back from building up NATO's presence in the eastern flank. If you did see a - I think you said a significant and enduring withdrawal - would you then consider reversing those plans to increase NATO's presence in its eastern flank? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So NATO is a defensive alliances, everything we do is defensive and it's about protecting and defending NATO allies. Second, we have had an increased presence on NATO in eastern part of the Alliance since 2014. It started in 2014 because of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, and because of Russia's continued efforts to destabilise Ukraine, including by supporting the separatists in Donbass. So this has been there now for many years and that has triggered the defensive response from NATO in the eastern part of the Alliance.

Then over the last couple of months and weeks, we have seen that some of this presence has been enhanced, boosted because we have seen a very current challenge in around Ukraine. We will assess and we will judge the need to maintain that, it depends on what's happening in around Ukraine. But it's too early in a way to speculate, because so far, we’ve not seeing any de-escalation by Russia. And we speak about well over 100,000 Troops, combat ready troops and also close to… they are close to Ukraine, on the Ukrainian borders but they're also close to NATO territory. Not least Poland, some of the Baltic countries, bordering Ukraine and of course bordering Belarus. So we will make judgement, decisions based on what Russia actually does. But I think also that we need to understand that there will most likely be some long term consequences, some long term deterioration of the security environment in Europe, of this significant Russian military build-up, the threatening rhetoric. So we are also then assessing whether we should have some more longer-term adjustments of our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
And we'll take a final question on Zoom. Robert Lupitu from Calea Europeana.

Robert Lupitu (Calea Europeana)
Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary General. Today the Romanian defence ministry has announced that Romania has completed the necessary operations to declare the initial operational capability of the NATO battlegroup. I want to ask you how soon can this battlegroup be up and running and [inaudible] troops do you expect it to be installed over there? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
I will not pre-empt any decisions by ministers. I met with President Klaus Iohannis on Friday. And we discussed the battlegroup. I also discussed this with President Macron and I expressed my support and that I welcome the French offer to lead a battlegroup in Romania. It will take some time before we have all the decisions in place and also some time to have command and control and all the other issues that has to be decided before a backup potentially is stationed in Romania. But then I think it's important to remember that while we are working on this issue of a French lead battlegroup in Romania it doesn't mean that we do not do anything. So just over the last few days the United States has added 1000 troops to their presence in Romania. So that adds to the ….1000 we already had. So that…just that is 2000. United States have made it clear that that's not necessarily a permanent presence, but it is a significant reinforcement of NATO presence in Romania, which has already taken place. I saw the striker units, coming into Romania, coming into Constanta and there are more US planes, there are more German, Italian and other allies have also stepped up. So I think we have to distinguish between the more imminent need for more troops and forces for instance in Romania. We have already deployed more troops on forces to Romania. And I welcome the United States and others. And then distinguish that, or to separate that, from the issue of more long term adjustment and the question of a battlegroup is a more long term adjustment of our presence in Romania and the rest of the eastern part of the Alliance.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Okay, we'll come back.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine)
Dmytro Shkurko  from National News Agency of Ukraine here. Russian rhetorics was accompanied by quite aggressive decisions by the State Duma which is
support… suggested to President Putin to recognise the independence of so called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. I understand that is not the purely NATO issue. But as NATO is going to intensify the negotiations with Russia, how that move would impact them. And the second question, if I may, have you received from Russian side any response to your proposal to conduct and to held the next NRC meeting? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
To answer the last question first we have not received any response from Russia on our proposal to both convene a series of meetings in the NATO-Russia Council. We had one meeting in January. It lasted for four hours it was… was challenging, but also very important meeting because we were together there, Russia and all NATO allies, and discussing and addressing Ukraine, the security implications of the military build-up by Russia in Ukraine, I think that in itself, has also a great importance. But we have not received any response from Russia on our invitation to hold additional meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and have not received any response from Russia on our written proposals on the different topic subjects that we are ready to discuss with Russia. We look forward and we welcome a response from Russia and let's then see what kind of response we will get. Then on the question of Russian recognition of the so called the People's Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk. Well, if that happens, that will be a blatant violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty once again. Because there is no doubt that Donetsk and Luhansk is part of Ukraine within international recognised borders. So such a recognition would be a violation of international law and territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Not only that, but it would also be a violation of the Minsk agreement. So it will make it even harder to find a political solution based on the Minsk agreement and NATO… and I support the efforts of these within Normandy format, of France and Germany, to find a political solution within the Normandy format. And, of course, a recognition of these two territories as some kind of independent entities will totally undermine these efforts and violate the Minsk agreements.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. We will see you tomorrow. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Thank you so much.