by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the Extraordinary meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs
We have just finished an extraordinary meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers.
Russia is carrying out a brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, which NATO, and the whole world, condemn.
This is the worst military aggression in Europe for decades.
With cities under siege.
Schools, hospitals and residential buildings shelled.
Reckless actions around a nuclear power plant last night.
And many civilians killed or wounded.
The days to come are likely to be worse.
With more death, more suffering, and more destruction,
as the Russian armed force bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country.
At our meeting today, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba addressed his NATO counterparts.
And Allies expressed their solidarity and deep respect for the courage of the Ukrainian people and armed forces.
We had warned for many months that President Putin was intent on invading Ukraine.
That is why NATO Allies made tireless efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
At the same time, we made clear that Russia would pay a very high price for renewed aggression against Ukraine.
Russia is paying that price now.
This is President Putin’s war.
One he has chosen.
And is waging against a peaceful country.
We call on President Putin to stop this war immediately.
Withdraw all his forces from Ukraine without conditions.
And engage in genuine diplomacy, now.
NATO Allies have stepped up support for Ukraine.
Helping to uphold the country’s right of self-defence, as enshrined in the U.N. Charter.
Today, ministers addressed our immediate response to the crisis.
And the longer-term implications for Euro-Atlantic security.
We have already strengthened our deterrence and defence.
On land, in the air, and at sea.
Allies from North America and Europe have sent thousands more troops to the eastern part of the Alliance.
We are deploying the NATO Response Force for the first time.
And we have over 130 jets at high alert.
And over 200 ships from the High North to the Mediterranean.
We will continue to do what it takes to protect and defend every inch of NATO territory.
NATO is a defensive Alliance.
Our core task is to keep our thirty nations safe.
We are not part of this conflict.
And we have a responsibility to ensure it does not escalate and spread beyond Ukraine.
Because that would be even more devastating and more dangerous.
With even more human suffering.
NATO is not seeking a war with Russia.
The Kremlin’s ambition is to recreate a sphere of influence.
And deny other countries the right to choose their own path.
So ministers discussed the need to support partners who may be at risk.
Including Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Russia’s aggression has created a new normal for our security.
Where fundamental principles are contested through the use of force.
And we face the threat of conflict for years to come.
There is much at stake.
How we organise relations between states.
Whether democracy or authoritarianism prevails.
And ultimately, what sort of world we want to live in.
Ministers agreed that NATO’s relationship with Russia has fundamentally changed for the long term.
But we remain committed to keeping channels for diplomacy and de-confliction open.
To avoid any unintended escalation, misunderstanding, or miscalculation.
There is one lesson we can already draw from this crisis.
To keep our nations safe, we need North America and Europe standing together in NATO, in strategic solidarity.
At this dangerous moment, no country and no continent can go it alone.
President Putin has failed to divide us.
NATO is more united, more determined, and stronger than ever.
We are also working closer with like-minded partners.
Today, we were joined by the European Union.
As well as Finland and Sweden.
In response to Russia’s aggression, we have decided to strengthen our coordination and information sharing with Finland and Sweden.
Both countries are now taking part in all NATO consultations about the crisis.
And this afternoon, I will join a meeting of EU foreign ministers to address the crisis and our response.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: BBC.
James Landale (BBC): Can you tell us a little bit more about what sort of options were considered about helping countries like Georgia and Bosnia. Secondly, can you tell us a little bit more about whether NATO Allies discussed what more military support could be provided for Ukraine? And thirdly, was the issue of no fly zones even discussed at this morning’s meetings? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO has provided support and NATO Allies have provided support to Georgia, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other partners for many years. We help them with capacity-building, reforms, strengthening their defence and security institutions. We also have a training centre in Georgia. We also have common exercises. And, of course, we have different kinds of activities with different countries, different partners. We didn't make any final decisions. But it's a broad agreement that we need to do more to support these countries. And this is partly about scaling up things we already do on strengthening their defence and security institutions, reforms, training, but also potentially adding more activities in support of these countries. Because what you have seen with Ukraine, is that they may be at risk, exposed for even more intervention, subversion, and potentially even attacks by the Russian armed forces of the Russian Federation.
Then, NATO Allies provide support to Ukraine. I think we have to remember that Allies have provided support to Ukraine for many years and now they're stepping up different types of support. And this is crucial in this critical time for Ukraine. On the no fly-zone, it was mentioned. At the same time, Allies agree that we should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace, or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory.
NATO Spokesperson: CNBC.
Steve Sedgwick (CNBC): Thank you, Secretary General. Is there any evidence that the support that NATO and its Allies have been pouring into Ukraine so far is going to change the tide of battle? Although the Russian advances slowed in some places, it is still advancing. Is there anything that NATO is doing that actually could possibly turn the tide in the battle in Ukraine? And secondly, if I may Sir, have events around the nuclear facility, the nuclear plant in Ukraine, and the ramifications from that changed the mind-set of NATO at all? I was wondering what the conclusion was in the meeting about that? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: The reckless actions around the nuclear power plant last night just highlight the danger of this war. War is dangerous, and to have military operations, conflict, fighting going around the nuclear power plant adds to the danger. And this just makes it even more important that President Putin ends this war, and withdraw all Russian troops from Ukraine, and engage in diplomatic efforts in good faith. So that was the message from Ministers today. And it's just underpinned by the potential danger of also a nuclear disaster related to this war, or as part of this war.
Steve Sedgwick (CNBC): The first point was about is anything about the military, ammunition, supplies that are going into Ukraine, is that changing the battle at all, or is it likely to?
NATO Secretary General: What we have seen is that President Putin totally underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And they have been able to push back, to fight back, and to slow down the Russian advances. And this is, first and foremost, the result of the courage of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And also the support and the courage of Ukrainian people, and the leadership of President Zelenskyy, which is really strengthening the morale of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people. We have helped that. Because NATO Allies have trained and equipped the Ukrainian Armed Forces for many years. We started in 2014. And NATO Allies especially the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, but also, Turkey have provided equipment and military aid. And we have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian forces. And they are now on the front line. So this support has proven to be crucial for the strength of the Ukrainian army. And we are now stepping up support with more supplies. And I think also we have to realise that compared to where the Ukrainian army was in 2014, the training NATO Allies have provided, the equipment NATO Allies have provided since 2014 has made the Ukrainian Army much better trained, much better equipped, much better commanded, and much stronger. And this is the reason why they are able to push back the way they are able to do.
NATO Spokesperson: We will go to Interfax Ukraine.
Iryna Somer (Interfax Ukraine): Thank you, Oana. I have a follow-up question on my colleague from the BBC. Secretary General, even General Breedlove, former SACEUR, expressed an opinion that NATO and US have to provide, as soon as possible, help to Ukraine and to close partially, this humanitarian purpose only sky in Ukraine. All Ukrainians are begging for this. Do you think at some point Allies can review this position, how long it will take them guilty enough of Ukraine to be destroyed by Putin?
NATO Secretary General: What is taking place in Ukraine now is horrific. It's painful. And we see human suffering, we see destruction at a scale we haven't seen in Europe since the Second World War. And I would like to commend the courage of the Ukrainian people standing up against the Russian invasion, standing up against Putin’s forces. And that's also the reason why we are stepping up our support. And also why NATO Allies have implemented the most severe sanctions ever. And also why we are mobilising support from the whole world in condemning and calling on Russia, and President Putin, to end this war. At the same time, we have a responsibility as NATO Allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine. Because that will be even more dangerous, more devastating, and will cause even more human suffering. So we have made it clear that we are not going to move into Ukraine, neither on the ground, or in Ukrainian airspace. And of course, the only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes, fighter planes into Ukrainian airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes. And our assessment is that we understand the desperation. But we also believe that if we did that, we'll end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe, involving many more countries, and causing much more human suffering. So that's the reason why we make this painful decision to impose heavy sanctions, provide significant support, stepping up support. But at the same time not involving NATO forces directly in the conflict in Ukraine, neither on the ground, or in their airspace.
NATO Spokesperson: Der Spiegel.
Markus Becker (Der Spiegel): Mr. Secretary General, you said that the aim is to make Mr. Putin withdraw his troops unconditionally. What if it doesn't comply? Is there any other off-ramp you can think of, any opening for negotiations? And if the sanctions don't make him back down, is there a plan B or even an exit strategy?
NATO Secretary General: We are imposing severe costs on Russia, as we warned. We told him, President Putin, that if he invades Ukraine, once again, there will be significant costs for him to pay. And that's exactly what we're doing now with unprecedented sanctions. Of course, these will also have long-term effects and they are working also over time.
Then, Allies are providing support, humanitarian support, financial support, but also military support to Ukraine, helping them to withstand the Russian invasion.
And then, of course, together with a whole world, the UN General Assembly, we're also calling on Russia to engage in diplomatic efforts. To see if there are any political off-ramps, way out.
But then, Russia has to sit down in genuine diplomatic efforts to find the solution.
So far, they have not being willing to do so. A minimum should be to find agreements on a humanitarian corridor or humanitarian corridors to get civilians out and the humanitarian aid in.
I hope that at least that could be a first step. And I welcome all efforts to try to find some kind of agreement on humanitarian support.
NATO Spokesperson: Polish TV.
Dominika Cosic (TVP): Let me go back to rumours from few days ago about Poland and Bulgaria. There were rumours in media that Poland and Bulgaria allowed some..[inaudible] military fighter jets to Ukraine and allow Ukraine to use military airport. Could you comment on this? And could you also comment on the remarks of the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs who told for the BBC that NATO should consider all options.
NATO Secretary General: We had a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers today. And we had the NATO Summit on Friday. And in both those meetings, I have clearly stated that we should support Ukraine, we should continue to provide, NATO Allies should continue to provide military support Ukraine, different types of support.
But we will not be part of the conflict. And that is the NATO position. And I conveyed that message because I strongly believe that if NATO becomes directly involved in the conflict will see more human suffering, more civilians killed.
And that's the reason why we need to step-up support, impose heavy sanctions, call on Russia to engage in a political solution, but not involve NATO.
Our main responsibility, our core task is to protect and defend 1 billion people living in 30 allied countries. We are doing that by increasing the presence of NATO forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, deploying for the first time the NATO Response Force, but we are not going to be part of the conflict with Russia in Ukraine.
[Follow-up question inaudible]
NATO Secretary General: Well, I met President Duda recently. We discussed many aspects and challenges related to the Russian invasion, brutal invasion of Ukraine. And you saw the statement from President Duda in the Łask airbase, that Poland is not planning to sending any airplanes to Ukraine.
NATO Spokesperson: Ok, we will go to Al Jazeera.
James Bays (Al Jazeera): Secretary General, on his way in the Latvian Foreign Minister said it's time to go from a deterrence mission to a full scale defence mission. So, was there any discussion of sending further troops in addition to the ones that you've deployed in recent weeks? And as you talk about a new normal, was there any discussion of making some of the recent deployments permanent?
NATO Secretary General: We need to distinguish between NATO’s immediate response and longer-term adaptation of our posture in the eastern part of the Alliance. When it comes to the immediate response, we have already significantly increased our presence. We now [have] over 200 ships from the High North to the Mediterranean, and 130 planes on high alert, and thousands of more troops.
I recently visited NATO troops, US troops, German troops and other troops in Romania. I met them in Estonia and also in Poland. So this is the immediate response, and we will do what it takes to defend and protect all Allies and if needed we will further increase our presence.
But at the same time we started at the meeting today the discussion about the more longer term changes to our presence, posture, deterrence and defence throughout the Alliance but especially in the eastern part. And today, we have some presence in the eastern Allied countries, we have the battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland, we have some presence also in Romania and in the southeast.
We are now seriously considering a significant increase of that presence, both in more troops, with more air defence, with deterrence by defence, through defence, not only by sending a message of NATO presence. So this is, as some ministers formulated it today, it is about the difference between deterrence by presence or deterrence by defence. We have started that discussion, we will have a Defence Ministerial meeting on the 16th of March. And there we expect more details, we also will of course base our decisions on advice from our military commanders, and then we will take the necessary decisions. But we have some time, not a lot of time but some time, to take that more long-term decision, because we have already implemented immediate responses by a significant increase in the eastern part of the Alliance.
NATO Spokesperson: Ukrainian National News Agency
Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): It is understandable that there will be no NATO planes and pilots in Ukraine. But it was recently sounded, the request from the President of Ukraine, about some kind of selling or maybe transferring the planes to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Maybe it could be done in a framework of general technical assistance from Russian side. And the second question, if I may, as right now we have absolutely discriminate shelling of Ukrainian cities, including the restricted weaponry like for example, Vacuum bombs, it is deployed in living areas. So that can we can count on NATO in collecting at least information concerning the Russian crimes in Ukraine going on right now? Thanks.
NATO Secretary General: The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law. And we have seen the use of cluster bombs, we have seen reports of use of other types of weapons which will be in violation of international law. And of course, NATO, and NATO Allies and partners are collecting information and monitoring very closely what is going on in Ukraine. I also welcome the decision by the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into this, because we have to make sure that President Putin and the President of Belarus are held accountable for what they do.
This is brutality, this is inhumane, and this is violating international law. And we also may have to make sure the International Criminal Court really looks into this and that's the reason why I welcome the decision by the International Criminal Court.
[Follow-up question inaudible]
NATO Secretary General: NATO Allies provide different types of military support. I will not go into the details about that support, but Allies provide many types of support. It’s publicly known that Allies have provided anti-tank weapons, air defence missiles and other types of support but more details will not be given by me.
NATO Spokesperson: Bloomberg.
Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg): Thank you for the question. You mentioned the risk for Bosnia and Georgia. Are you seeing any concrete threat of invasion there? And what about Moldova, is there any increased risk in Moldova? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: All these are different countries, and of course they face different types of risks and challenges. But they have in common that we have seen Russia trying to exercise their power to intimidate them partly by subversion and interference in the domestic political processes or by military invasion. Georgia has been invaded by Russia and Russian troops still in reality control parts of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In Moldova and Transnistria, which is part of Moldova, there are Russian troops without the consent of the government in Moldova. And then, in Bosnia-Herzegovina we see a very fragile, unstable situation with inflammatory rhetoric and serious challenges to the unity of that state. So even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, these countries faced serious challenges partly inflicted by or caused by Russia, but the risk has increased. And therefore, we need to step up our support and we need a serious discussion, as NATO, on what we could do to strengthen them in the face of Russian threats.
NATO Spokesperson: We’ll take one question online from Lenta.ru.
Dmitriy Sotak (Lenta.ru): Previously a NATO representative stated that the Alliance is ready to discuss strategic stability issues with Russia. However, the issue of mutual arms control remains an important priority. The problem has not gone away. The level of global tensions has increased after the Russian military command has transferred Russian strategic missile forces to higher alert levels. The question is, is NATO planning any discussions in the foreseeable future on this issue? And why hasn't the Alliance provided Ukraine with modern weapons, which the Ukrainian authorities have been asking for?
NATO Secretary General: Well first, as I said, NATO Allies have provided Ukraine with weapons, especially since 2014. And NATO Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers who are now on the front line, so we have helped them in standing up against [Russia]. And without that support, without the equipment, without the training, the Ukrainian Armed Forces would have been much less capable of standing up against the Russian invasion. The courage of Ukrainian forces is, of course, the most important factor here, but the training and equipment has been of vital importance. And these, of course, also includes modern systems.
Then, on strategic issues. Well, we reached out to Russia before the invasion because we had intelligence predicting what is happening now. I think we need to understand that actually for many months, NATO Allies and NATO has been warning about that Russia was building up gradually, more and more troops and planning an invasion of Ukraine. But as we saw that build up, we intensified our efforts to engage Russia in some kind of meaningful political, diplomatic dialogue to prevent this invasion. President Putin decided not to find a political solution, but to invade, to use military force. We are of course always in favour of a political solution. But now we face a Russia which is using military force to try to destroy an independent sovereign nation in Europe. The United States and Russia agreed recently to extend the New START Agreement limiting the number of nuclear warheads on long range systems. We believe in arms control. But to have any meaningful strengthening of the arms control architecture we need a Russia which is not killing, and fighting, and invading, but a regime in Moscow which is actually seriously engaging in political efforts to reduce tensions and further strengthen arms control.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll go with the Jane’s for the last question.
Brooks Tigner (Jane’s Defence Weekly): Yes, sorry to hit you with another weapons question but this really is the crucial issue right now. As you know, the EU is sending half a billion and Poland's the coordinator, which makes me wonder, considering that this new rogue state could attack any country now, my question to you is should NATO create a new permanent structure or at least designate the Allies on a permanent rotating basis to coordinate bilateral weapons transfers from the Allies to anticipate the next crisis. Thanks. I don't mean the trust funds, I don't mean ad hoc consultations during the ministerial but something permanent.
NATO Secretary General: We should always have an open mind to what kind of structures we should have to support partners and countries at risk.
At the same time, I think we need a pragmatic approach. And what we've seen over the last years, for instance in Ukraine, is that NATO provided some types of support. We had an office in Kyiv, we were focused on modernising the defence and security institutions, the command and control, logistics, cyber. And also, we helped them with some naval capabilities. So NATO as an institution, provided important help to Ukraine over many years. And we still do.
But then, on top of that, individual Allies provided more of the lethal aid, more of the military training. Again, I don't think actually, it is so important exactly how we organise this, as long as the country in need receives the support and help they need. And over the years since 2014, there are many, many thousands of Ukrainian troops, forces which are trained at the top level by NATO trainers, special operation forces, and they have advanced equipment, and they know how to use it.
We helped them with cyber defence, with command and control, with communications. So it is this combination of something we do as the Alliance, with the NATO structures, something we do consulting each other, but it's provided bilaterally from NATO Allied countries. And it has been especially the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada who has provided most of the equipment and most of the training.
And then Turkey has provided some key capabilities including drones. And also some of the Baltic states have provided military support before the invasion. Then, after the invasion we have seen many more Allies stepping up. So I don't know whether I really answered your question but we should be pragmatic regarding exactly how to organise this as long as NATO and NATO Allies are able to provide support to partners in need.
NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much, this concludes this press conference.
NATO Secretary General: Thank you.