Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the first day of the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence

  • 16 Feb. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Feb. 2022 19:19

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

Defence Ministers have just met to address Russia’s continued military build-up in and around Ukraine.

This was a substantive discussion on the most serious security crisis in Europe in decades.

Allies welcome all diplomatic efforts.
And there are signs from Moscow that diplomacy could continue.

But so far, we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground.  
No withdrawals of troops or equipment.
This may of course change.
However, what we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack.
With high-end capabilities.
From Crimea to Belarus.

This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War.

From the start, NATO Allies have made clear that further Russian aggression against Ukraine would have a high cost.  And we have called out Russia’s actions, plans and disinformation.

At the same time, NATO remains prepared for dialogue. 
It is not too late for Russia to step back from the brink of conflict.
And choose the path of peace.

NATO has sent concrete written proposals to Russia.
On transparency, risk reduction and arms control.

We have yet to receive a response.

I reiterate my invitation to Russia to meet again in the NATO-Russia Council.

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

We have already enhanced our deterrence and defence.
With more troops, planes and ships.
And higher readiness of the NATO Response Force.

These steps are defensive.
NATO is not a threat to Russia.

We do not know what will happen in Ukraine.
But the situation has already demonstrated we face a crisis in European security.

Moscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades.
And to do so by using force. 

I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe.

Therefore today, Ministers decided to develop options for further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence.
Including to consider establishing new NATO battlegroups in central and eastern, south-eastern Europe.
And I welcomed the offer by France to lead such a battlegroup in Romania.

Our military commanders will now work on the details and report back within weeks.

Earlier today, we also held a regular meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group.
Ministers considered worrying developments across the globe.
Including Russia’s and China’s modernisation of their nuclear arsenals.
And the continued risk of nuclear proliferation.

Allies consulted on how to keep our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective.
So NATO’s deterrence and defence remains strong.

Ministers also welcomed the progress made on burden-sharing.
With the seventh consecutive year of increased defence spending by European Allies and Canada.

This means 270 billion US dollars in additional spending on defence since 2014.

And we welcome that a large majority of Allies are now allocating at least 20 percent of defence investment to major equipment, research and development.

This evening we will discuss NATO’s next Strategic Concept.

I am confident that when leaders meet in Madrid in June, they will reaffirm that Europe and North America must continue to stand strong together in NATO.
Because NATO is the unique, essential, and indispensable transatlantic forum for our defence and security.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:  We'll start with the BBC. 

Jonathan Beale (BBC): Secretary General, you talked about new battlegroups. Are those going to happen regardless of what Russia does, and can you give us a timeframe of when we might see forces sent to Romania, Bulgaria, elsewhere? And then, also, I think you just said “I regret to say this is the new norm”. What is the new norm for European security? You say it's in crisis, you're essentially saying it's going to be in crisis for a long time?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, the new normal is that Russia has demonstrated that it really is willing to contest some of the fundamental principles for our security, the right for every nation to choose its own path. And also, of course, the right for NATO Allies to defend and protect each other. They've actually suggested a legally binding treaty violating those principles. And they have used force, the biggest concentration of combat force since the end of the Cold War, to underpin and to try to intimidate other countries in Europe, to, in a way respect or to accept the Russian demands.

So this is a normal, a new normal which is violating core principles which have been important for the security and the stability of Europe for decades.
And therefore, I regret to say that we don't know what will happen, but we know what has already happened. And that is that Russia has demonstrated will to use force, to try to coerce other countries, and to try to change some fundamental principles that are important for our shared security. And that's the reason why we need to also consider more longer term adjustments of NATO's posture in the East.

I will not preempt any final decision. We have asked our military commanders to provide advice and provide more details on the scale and the scope, including on potential new battlegroups in the East, in the southeast, in Romania, in the Black Sea region. And also other potential adjustments of our more longer term precedence in the East.

But I think it's important to understand that what we now have launched, the work on a more longer term adjustment of our posture in the East, our presence in the East, that is just one element of what we have done over the last years and months.

After 2014, we implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense by establishing the battlegroups in the Baltic countries, by modernizing the NATO command structure, by tripling the size of the NATO Response Force, and also by starting to invest more in defense.

This has already happened over the last years since 2014. Then, over the last weeks and months, we have, first of all, deployed more NATO troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. More troops, more ships, more planes, under existing authorities and structures, under SACEUR. And that is to make sure that we are able to monitor, to follow what Russia is doing and to also reassure Allies in the eastern part of the Alliance. That has already happened.

Then, we have also increased the readiness of the NATO Response Force, so we can quickly reinforce with even more troops and forces in the eastern part of the Alliance. So, it is not as if we are waiting for something to happen. We have already done a lot. But then, we will consider more longer term adjustment and we will have the advice from the military commanders within weeks. And then we will make a decision after that.

NATO Spokesperson: Reuters.

Robin Emmott (Reuters): Thank you very much. Just a clarification. I know that the tasking is only just beginning but these battlegroups are they are likely to be similar to what we've seen set-up in the Baltics and Poland? And as a second point, if I may, is this not the sort of thing that would antagonize Moscow and therefore should be avoided at this critical time? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: NATO is a defensive Alliance. NATO is not a threat to Russia. And we have been clear for years and months that we are ready to sit down, and also listen to Russian security concerns, and to address issues like, for instance, arms control. If they are concerned about missiles and offensive weapons, the best way to deal with that is to sit down and engage in good faith in talks about how can we limit, reduce number of missiles. But that has to be balanced and verifiable.

We have been able to do that before. It is possible to make agreements with Russia, not least on arms control. We have seen that with the INF Treaty back in the 80s that actually banned all intermediate range weapons. That was extremely important for European security.
Then, few years ago, we saw the demise of that treaty, but that was because Russia deployed intermediate range missiles in violation of the INF Treaty. But of course, we can go back to a regime where we ban categories of weapons, if this is balanced and verifiable. We have proven before that we can limit the number of long range missiles and there are strategic talks going on between the United States and Russia. So we are not a threat. And we are ready for dialogue. And we have put forward a long list of specific topics where we believe it's possible to find common ground, and to address some of those concerns that Russia has raised.

And we have no plans, in a way, to deploy offensive systems in Ukraine. So, this is what we're ready to do. But of course we cannot, we cannot compromise on the core principle that we have all subscribed to year after year and again, and again, starting with the Helsinki Final Act. And then in the Paris Accord, and then in the Astana Agreement and many other times, all countries in Europe including Russia, and also the United States and NATO Allies, have signed to agreements, treaties, stating that all countries can decide themselves, have the right to decide themselves, whether they want to be part of an alliance as NATO or not.

So what we do is defensive. But when we see this massive Russian military build-up, combined with threatening rhetoric, proposing something which is actually formulated as a kind of ultimatum, that if we don't accept this and that, then there will be, what they call the “military technical” consequences. And we know the track record of Russia using force against neighbours.

Then, of course, we had to take that seriously. And that's the reason why we, in a defensive way, have increased our presence in East and are considering to increase it further. And to make sure that there's no room for miscalculation or misunderstanding about our willingness to protect and defend all Allies.

NATO Spokesperson: Ok, that’s Bloomberg and ZDF is above.

Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg): Thank you for the question. I just wanted to follow up on the term new normal. Is the concern that the troop build-up at this scale could be the new normal? Could you clarify that? And separately, I want to ask about the cyber attack that hit Ukraine yesterday and today, which according to Ukrainian officials, is turning out to be one of the worst in its history. Does NATO have any evidence that this is tied to Russia and could this be the start of a larger military campaign? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: We have not seen any withdrawal, not any Russian de-escalation on the ground. We think, actually, it gives some reason for optimism, some cautious optimism that they have indicated a willingness to engage in diplomatic efforts.

But the paradox is that while, of course, this is something we think is something we should actually take seriously and see if there's possible to make progress in the diplomatic, on the diplomatic track. What we see on the ground is no withdrawal of troops and forces, equipment but actually what we see is that Russian troops are moving into position. And we saw the cyber attack.

And these are the kinds of actions and measures that we expect will come in advance of a bigger military intervention into Ukraine. So of course, this is of concern. And that's the reason why we continue to call on Russia to de-escalate and to follow up on what they say, to engage in good faith in diplomatic efforts.

NATO Spokesperson: ZDF.

Florian Neuhann (ZDF): Thank you very much, coming back to the issue of withdraw. Now there's word against word. You’re saying that Russian troops are still there, and even that Russia continues to escalate, while Russia claims the opposite. So my question was, why should the world believe what you say instead of saying, what the Russian pictures also show? And the second question, am I right? You are still not sure whether to install those new battlegroups and it's still possible if the situation changes that you won't install further battlegroups in southeast, eastern Europe? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So, first, we have been very transparent. And the intelligence we are sharing is actually confirmed also with open sources, with the satellite imagery from commercial satellites. So I think it's very hard to dispute that Russia has amassed well over 100,000 troops and a lot of heavy equipment.

And this is actually something that was predicted by our intelligence several months ago. So what we predicted some months ago has actually happened, despite that Russia denied that that was the plan. So what we're seeing so far is that we predicted a significant military build-up and that has happened.

Then, we have never said that we have certainty about intentions. What we do know is what they have: the capabilities they have, the forces they have. But of course, we don't have certainty about what they will do with those capabilities. But this is the biggest concentration of combat ready troops, with all the neighbours, with all the support, we have seen in Europe since the end of the Cold War. And that is in itself concerning.
Then, what I say is that since there is no certainty of what will happen in the next days and weeks, I'm saying at least two things. One is that if they use force, it will come with a high price. Sanctions will be imposed. We have provided, NATO Allies have provided support to Ukraine so they are better trained, better equipped, better commanded now than in 2014.

And then, of course, we also make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding, miscalculation, on NATO's willingness and readiness to protect and defend NATO Allies.

But even if we see a gradual or some kind of development. Where Russia decides not to use force, and we call on them not to do that, just the fact they have been willing to amass all these troops, and combine that with a message that they are threatening an independent country, and actually also threatening NATO Allies, that if we don't violate core principles for our security, there will be serious consequences. That in itself is serious. And that's reason why we need to consider some more longer term adjustments of our posture in the East.
But we have some time to consider that. Because we have already implemented measures, we have already increase our presence, but that's more the immediate response to the current crisis.

The other issue is whether we separate from that, we'll have some more longer term adjustments. Well, no final decision has been made. But I visited Romania on Friday. They are ready to host a battlegroup. France is ready to lead battlegroup. And other Allies have also expressed a willingness to be part of that. So there is a strong will, there is a strong readiness, but the final decision has not yet been made. We'll make that based on advice from military commanders. And of course, it will not necessarily be exactly the same as the battlegroups as we have in the Baltic countries, but it's based on some of the same concept, multinational forces, NATO in the East.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. The next session starts in two minutes.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.