Doorstep statement

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

  • 16 Feb. 2022 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 16 Feb. 2022 12:26

(As delivered)

Good morning. 

NATO Defence Ministers will meet today and tomorrow, facing critical challenges for European security. 

And we have heard the signs from Moscow about readiness to continue diplomatic efforts. 

But so far, we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground. 
On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues the military build-up. 
And we have not received any response to our written document, our written proposals, that we sent to Russia on the 26th of January. 

Outlining the topics and items where NATO Allies are ready sit down and discuss with Russia and to try to find a political path forward. 

We will continue to convey a very clear message to Russia that we are ready to sit down and discuss with them.

But at the same time, we are prepared for the worst. 

And if Russia once again invades Ukraine, they will pay a high price. 

And we will continue to expose Russia’s  plans and actions to make it harder for them to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine. 

But we really hope that Russia will engage in meaningful dialogue and choose diplomacy instead of confrontation. 

And we are ready to sit down and find a political solution.

Jonathan Beale (BBC)
Russia has said it has withdrawn some of its forces, you essentially say that you do not believe them? And you have expressed grants for cautious optimism on the diplomatic track on the diplomatic track, given that the situation on the ground doesn't seem to change, why do you have that optimism?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
I think the message and the signs we heard from Moscow yesterday provides some grounds for cautious optimism because that was a message about diplomacy. And we have been ready for diplomatic efforts talks with Russia throughout this crisis. We have stated that again and again and conveyed our proposals to Russia in written and we are waiting for their response. At the same time, we have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces. That contradicts the message of real diplomatic efforts. It remains to be seen whether there is a Russian withdrawal. We are monitoring very closely what Russia does in and around Ukraine. They have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So far, there is no de-escalation. But we hear the message about diplomacy and we are ready to engage in diplomatic efforts with Russia. Let me just add that the that this ministerial will focus on the critical security situation in Europe but we will also have other meetings. We will meet with our partners from Ukraine and Georgia. That will be a platform to address the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in Europe, including Georgia and Ukraine. We will also meet with our close partners, Sweden and Finland, and the European Union. There will also be a regular meeting of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group.

Florian Neuhann (ZDF)
Mr. Stoltenberg, Mr. Scholz yesterday has said that Ukraine won't be a member of NATO when he is still in office or when Mr. Putin is still in office. So actually, he says it's not on the table for a longer future. Do you agree? Is NATO membership for Ukraine not on the table for let's say the next decade or so?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So my message is that this is for 30 allies to decide. Russia is not deciding who's going to be a member of NATO or not. And this is a matter of principle that all allies have stated clearly again and again. And this is about respecting the right of every nation in Europe to choose their own path, whether they want to belong to an organization as NATO or whether they don't want to belong to NATO, Finland and Sweden, close partners of NATO not applying for membership, but they have also stated very clearly that of course, NATO cannot sign a legally binding agreement with Russia, where we say that there will be no further enlargement of NATO. So this is about… this goes beyond Ukraine. This is about Ukraine, but also about other sovereign nations in Europe, about the principle, the right for every nation to choose its own path. And these are principles not only enshrined in the NATO founding act, but also enshrined in for instance, the Helsinki Final Act, which are principles that also Russia has enshrined to. So this is about the right for every nation to choose its own path.

Markus Preiss (ARD)
Mr. Secretary General, could you elaborate a little bit what you just said - you have no evidence of Russian retreated. The Russians yesterday, they showed pictures of tanks putting… being put on trains. Does that not mean any retreat? My first question. And the second one: with the Russian build-up at the Ukrainian border, NATO also strengthens the eastern flank, will this continue even if there's a de-escalation now? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So far, we have not seen any Russian de-escalation. But of course we are closely monitoring and following what they're doing. And then if they really start to withdraw forces, that's something we will welcome. But that remains to be seen. They have always moved forces back and forth. So just that we see movement of forces, so battle tanks, doesn't confirm a real withdrawal. It has been a bit up and down, back and forth all the way. But the trend over the last weeks and months has been a steady increase in the Russian capabilities close to Ukraine's borders. So Russia retains the capability of a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine without any warning time.

Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg)
Are you concerned that this diplomatic opening could be a tactical ploy for Russia to buy time to continue building up troops?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So I think we should be careful about speculating. What we see is a very strong Russian military presence at the border of Ukraine. But we also see a message from Moscow that they will give diplomacy a chance. And then we are ready to meet them to talk to find a diplomatic solution, but we’re also prepared for the worst. So we work hard for the best, a peaceful political solution, that we are prepared for the worst that Russia once again invades Ukraine.

Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg)
Yeah, just to clarify the numbers, because last night President Biden said we're seeing 150,000 troops, you're talking about 100,000. There's a huge difference. Which number is the right one?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Well, I have talked about well over 100,000. But there has been that steady increase. So we are seeing that it goes up and up and up, and it continues to increase. So I think that the most important thing now is to closely monitor what Russia does. And we really call on them to do what they say and that is to de-escalate, to withdraw forces. And that will be the best contribution to reduce tensions and to avoid any conflict in Europe. We are monitoring closely what they're doing. And of course, what we’ve seen several times over the last months is that they move in with a high number of troops and heavy equipment. Then they take most of the troops out again, but the equipment stays. Then they can very easily, very quickly send the personnel back again and then they are up with all the capabilities in place. So what we need to see is a real withdrawal of forces, which is lasting and real, and not that they move troops around. But again, we are monitoring, we really hope that they will withdraw forces, and that will be the best contribution to a political solution. And we believe there's some reason for cautious optimism because they have stated so clearly, at least stated, that they're ready for a diplomatic solution.