Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the Extraordinary meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence

  • 15 Mar. 2022 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 15 Mar. 2022 17:46

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

NATO Defence Ministers will meet tomorrow at a defining moment for our security.

President Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is causing death and destruction every day.
It has shocked the world.
And shaken the international order.

For months, we have exposed Russia’s long list of lies.

They claimed they did not plan to invade Ukraine.
But they did.

They claimed they were withdrawing their troops.
But they sent in even more.

They claim to be protecting civilians.
But they are killing civilians.

Now they are making absurd claims about biological labs and chemical weapons in Ukraine.

This is just another lie.
And we are concerned that Moscow could stage a false flag operation, possibly including chemical weapons.
The Ukrainian people are fighting bravely.
Defending their homes.
And their future.
And we must support them.

Tomorrow we will be joined by the Ukranian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov.
And our other partners Georgia, Finland, Sweden, and the European Union.

The whole world has condemned this senseless war.
NATO Allies, the European Union and other countries have introduced unprecedented sanctions on Russia.

For many years, NATO Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops.
Many of them are now fighting on the front-lines.

Allies have also provided significant quantities of critical equipment.
Including anti-tank and air defence weapons, drones, ammunition and fuel.  

This training and equipment is helping Ukraine to defend itself.

Ukraine has a fundamental right to self-defence, enshrined in the UN Charter.
And NATO Allies and partners will continue to help Ukraine uphold that right.

By providing military equipment, and financial and humanitarian assistance.

NATO’s core task is to protect and defend all Allies.

We have responded to the crisis quickly.
Activating our defence plans,
raising our readiness,
and deploying the NATO Response Force for the first time for our collective defence.

There are now hundreds of thousands of forces on heightened alert across the Alliance.
One hundred thousand US troops in Europe.
And around 40,000 troops under direct NATO command, mostly in the eastern part of the Alliance.

Backed by major air and naval power.
As well as air defences.

The US is currently deploying Patriot batteries to Poland. 
And Germany and the Netherlands are also deploying Patriots to Slovakia.

All of this sends an unmistakable message.
An attack on one Ally will be met with a decisive response from the whole Alliance.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 
and its military integration with Belarus, create a new security reality on the European continent.

So we need to reset our military posture for this new reality.

Tomorrow, ministers will start an important discussion on concrete measures to reinforce our security for the longer term, in all domains.

On land, this could include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, at higher readiness, and with more prepositioned equipment.

We will also consider major increases to our air and naval deployments.
Strengthening our integrated air and missile defence.
Reinforcing our cyber defences.
And holding more and larger exercises.

I expect we will task NATO’s military commanders to develop options for our Madrid Summit in June. 

Major reinforcements of our defence will require major increases in investment.

I welcome that Germany and other Allies have already announced they are stepping up.

And I encourage all Allies to spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.

We must do more.
So we must also invest more.

To protect peace and freedom.
And uphold our values, at this critical time.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll start with CNN.

Natasha Bertrand (CNN): Thank you. I'm wondering whether you can say whether the NATO Alliance has seen evidence that China has been providing Russia with any kind of assistance that would help it on the battlefield, whether that's military equipment, or MREs, food for troops, anything of that kind. And also, with regard to the situation that we saw earlier this week with Russia targeting a military base very close to Poland's border, I'm wondering what you can say about the kind of red lines and whether there would be any kind of consequences if a missile for example, were accidentally to enter NATO territory or on purpose. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So NATO's core responsibility, our main responsibility is to protect and defend all NATO Allies, so one billion people in 30 different countries, and to ensure that we also do that now in a more dangerous security situation in Europe, caused by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We have increased the presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, we have increased the readiness of our troops and we are deploying more capabilities, especially to the eastern part of the Alliance. So the attack on one Ally will trigger the response from the whole Alliance and we are there to protect and defend every inch of NATO Allied territory.

When we see more military activities, when we see actually fighting going on close to NATO borders, there's always a risk for incidents and accidents. And therefore we have to make every effort to prevent such incidents and accidents and if they happen, to make sure that they don't spiral out of control and create really dangerous situations. And we are very closely monitoring the airspace and the border areas around NATO. And our military commanders also have the lines to the Russian commanders to help to prevent incidents and accidents and also prevent them from spiralling out of control if they happen.

On China, China should join the rest of the world condemning strongly the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. And any support to Russia, military support or any other type of support, would actually help Russia conduct a brutal war against an independent sovereign nation, Ukraine, and help them to continue to wage war which is causing death, suffering and an enormous amount of destruction. So China has an obligation as a member of the UN Security Council to actually support and uphold international law. And the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law so we call on [China] to clearly condemn the invasion and of course not support Russia. And we are closely monitoring any signs of support from China to Russia.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): Secretary General, NATO has a glorious story of supporting some countries and preventing bloodshed, for example, like it happened in Sarajevo, in Kosovo and so on. What is the threshold for NATO when the Russian killings will, you know, will overcome that threshold to NATO for direct involvement? And a short follow up because of that, if you follow the Russian rhetorics they are not going to stop purely in Ukraine so the question is, isn't it the right time for NATO to intervene, to defeat and to [inaudible] Putin’s military machine while it’s still in Ukraine while waiting that the Russian bombs will be falling to the European capitals? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies have supported Ukraine for many years, and especially since Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time back in 2014. And NATO Allies, like the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada have also helped to train tens of thousands of Ukrainian forces, special operation forces and other troops, and they are now bravely fighting and resisting the invading Russian forces. And I think this support over many years has proven extremely important in strengthening the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukraine Armed Forces are much bigger, much stronger, much better equipped, much better trained now than in 2014. And I’m glad that NATO Allies are helped to achieve that with the training and with the equipment. Then, of course, it's first and foremost the courage of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian political leadership that has actually enabled them to fight back, to slow down, to resist the brutal invasion conducted by the Russian Federation and which is the responsibility of President Putin. And it is President Putin who is responsible for this war. He can end this war now, withdraw all his troops now and then engage in good faith in a political effort to find a diplomatic solution. So we're calling on President Putin to do exactly that.

Then, NATO’s… Ukraine is a highly valued partner which we have supported and continue to support and Allies are also stepping up support, partly with military equipment, partly with financial support, humanitarian support, but also by imposing the sanctions which is forcing… which is actually crippling the Russian economy. Our responsibility as an Alliance is to protect and defend all Allies and we are sending a clear message that we are ready to do so by increasing the presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. But again, it is Russia and President Putin that are responsible for the invasion of Ukraine, and President Putin should end the senseless war by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine.

Lili Bayer (POLITICO): Why do the US and NATO insist that fighter jets won't be helpful for Ukraine when the Ukrainians themselves say otherwise? Shouldn't it be up to the Ukrainian authorities to say what would be helpful for them? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies are providing many different types of equipment including advanced air defence systems, which have actually helped the Ukrainians to shoot down Russian planes, Russian missiles, and Allies continue to provide support also when it comes to different types of air defence systems. But I will not go into the details of every type of supply, every type of support, exactly how and where, because I think that will just make it harder and more difficult to continue to provide this type of support. We are, NATO Allies are, stepping up and providing also advanced air defence systems.

Dan Michaels (Wall Street Journal): To follow up on an earlier question. There have apparently been UAV incursions into NATO airspace. Apparently one Russian drone entered and left Polish airspace and another one crashed in NATO territory. How do you determine when something like that is an act of aggression or an act that warrants a response? And you were talking earlier about escalation, how do you ensure that something like that is handled in a way that, you know, is appropriate and doesn't get out of control? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, I cannot confirm the latest instance you're referring to but in general, I can say that we are stepping up our vigilance, our presence, the way we monitor our airspace and including by deploying new Patriot batteries to the eastern part of the Alliance and by doing that and also through our AWACS surveillance planes and increased air policing, air patrolling, we are both increasing the capabilities we have to monitor, to track, but also to ensure that we are able to react if needed.

NATO's integrated air and missile defence tracked the flight path of an object which entered Romanian airspace on Sunday. In response, Romanian fighter aircraft scrambled immediately to investigate and the Romanian authorities and NATO are reviewing this incident as we are also reviewing the incident that ended with the crash of a drone in Croatia. The indications we have so far on the drone that crashed in Croatia outside Zagreb is that that was not an armed attack, not an armed drone. But it just highlights that with more military activities in the air, with drones, with planes, there is a risk for incidents and accidents. And therefore we need to be extremely vigilant, we need to react when needed and we need to make sure that we have the communications, the line of communications, also with the Russians to prevent incidents from really creating dangerous situations. So that's the reason why we are increasing the presence and also the surveillance and monitoring of the airspace over NATO.

Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg): I just wanted to follow up on what you said in your introduction about the risk of a false flag event, and Russia may be using chemical weapons. How would NATO respond in such a scenario? Is this a red line for potential NATO intervention? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Any use of chemical weapons will be a violation of international law, will be a violation of the ban that… or the treaty that bans chemical weapons and Russia has signed to that convention. And we call on Russia not to use chemical weapons. We call on Russia to withdraw all its forces and to stop the fighting but in particular, not to use any chemical weapons. Russia has used chemical agents before to attack and actually kill political opponents. We have also seen that Russia has supported the Assad regime in Syria and helped to facilitate the use of chemical weapons several times in Syria. And any use of chemical weapons is absolutely unacceptable and therefore it is also extremely important that Russia understands that it is unacceptable if they consider any use of chemical weapons. And we are also very vigilant about the possibility of them trying to stage some kind of pretext, false flag operation to provide an excuse for any type of use of chemical weapons.

Teri Schultz (NPR/Deutsche Welle): Thank you very much. Just somewhat of a follow up on Natalia’s question. She was asking whether NATO, what NATO would do and whether this changes your red lines. So as you say that you are looking at NATO's military posture again, is this something that you would consider changing? You have said that this would be a war crime, and we know that simply warning Russia against doing something is not enough of a deterrent to stop it. So if NATO knows, or if NATO sees that a chemical attack could take place and you say that's a war crime, would NATO consider changing the fact that it would not intervene in case of such a threat?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Our main responsibility is to protect and defend all NATO Allies. It is important that Russia understands that we are there to do exactly that. We have conveyed a very clear message to Russia about that. We also see when they try to stage pretexts for use of chemical weapons. We have seen that they throughout this crisis have tried to create different kinds of false flag operations to try to provide excuses for use of force. We saw that in the lead up to the intervention. And now we have seen them accusing Ukraine and also NATO Allies [of] producing and developing chemical weapons and that's an absolute lie. And therefore it also makes us a bit concerned about the possibility that they are actually planning to do that. And the President of the United States and other Allies also made it very clear that if they use chemical weapons, there will be a high price to pay. But I will not speculate about any military response from the NATO side except for saying very clearly that NATO's main responsibility is to make sure that we defend and protect all Allies.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Secretary General, after the demise of the INF Treaty it's been NATO's position that the Russian deployment of SSC 8 will not be reciprocated by the deployment of medium or intermediate nuclear capable missile systems. In the light of the Russian aggression against Ukraine and President Putin's threats, nuclear threats, to NATO, in your view, does this stance need to be reviewed?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: The demise of the INF Treaty was a serious setback for international arms control because the INF Treaty agreed in 1987 banned all intermediate range weapon systems. And then over the last years, over actually several years, we have seen that Russia has deployed a new missile which violates this treaty and then that led to the demise of the treaty a few years ago. We have stated from the NATO… And Russia has deployed these, these weapons over now several years, the SSC 8. We have made it clear that we will not mirror what Russia does. So we have no plans to deploy nuclear capable intermediate range land based systems in Europe.

At the same time, we need to be able to make sure that we are able to respond and protect all Allies also in a new security environment where Russia has deployed more nuclear capable missiles. And therefore, we have to do many things at the same time. We need to strengthen our air and missile defence – we are doing that. We need to invest more in advanced conventional capabilities including fifth generation aircraft, and I welcome the German decision to invest in fifth generation aircraft. We need also to increase the readiness and our ability to monitor and detect. And of course we also need to make sure that NATO's nuclear deterrent remains safe and secure and effective. That's exactly what we're doing when we are now making sure that we exercise and ensure the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent.

Mark Carlson (AP): Mr Secretary General, what do you know about the three European leaders visiting Ukraine today?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies and the European leaders have had extensive contacts with Ukraine and the political leadership in Ukraine, including with President Zelenskyy throughout the whole crisis and also in the lead up to the crisis. I think it's important that leaders of NATO countries, of European member states are engaging closely with President Zelenskyy. We will have the Defence Minister of Ukraine attending the NATO defence ministerial tomorrow by video link. And therefore I think it's important that we at all levels, in different formats, engage and meet with the Ukrainian political leadership.

Iryna Somer (Interfax Ukraine): This morning some mass media spread information about possible extraordinary summit, NATO summit, next week. Can you please confirm this? And second technical question, according to my information it took for NATO bureaucracy one and a half weeks to implement [the] Ukrainian request for fuel, can you please comment on this? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, NATO Allies are providing and have provided a lot of different types of support to Ukraine. Some of this is channelled through the NATO framework, some are provided bilaterally. And for us it is important that we provide support on short notice and that we provide critical support which Ukraine needs. So overall, I think the message is that over many years leading up to the invasion but also after the invasion Allies have been very quick in stepping up and providing support. And again, I'm a bit reluctant to go into all the details about exactly how and where and when. But the overall picture is that Allies are providing significant support. And they've done some on short notice and that's different types of weapons, but also that includes fuel.

Then, well, NATO Allies have consulted and coordinated closely over several weeks, both in the lead up to the invasion, but also after the invasion. We had a virtual summit just one day after. And we will have different ministerial meetings, also extraordinary ministerial meetings and we will have an extraordinary defence ministerial meeting tomorrow. Then we will… We are able to convene also a NATO summit with all the NATO leaders on short notice, but I cannot go into more details about that now.

NATO Spokesperson: OK, we'll take a couple of questions online. We'll go to Jutarnji list.

Augustin Palokaj (Jutarnji list): Yes, thank you. Secretary General, I have a question which many people in Croatia are asking. How is it possible that the drone of six stones heavy, enters NATO airspace and flies for around an hour and crashed in the capital of a NATO member state, while you are so vigilant in defending NATO sky? And do you know something more, whether it really was a drone without a weapon or something? Because the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence said that there was an explosive device in this flying object that crashed in Zagreb. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well I spoke with Prime Minister Plenković on Sunday and we are working together to establish all the facts. But the preliminary indications and information that we have is that this was an unarmed drone, and that the drone was off course and that it ran out of fuel and crashed outside Zagreb, or crashed in Croatia. But we will have more confirmed facts soon, but that's the information we have so far. I think also it is important to realise that Allies are exchanging information and that this drone was tracked by the… NATO's integrated air and missile defence tracked the flight of the drone that later crashed in Zagreb. But again, we will make sure that the different Allies that were involved share all the information and then we can establish all the facts about what this happened. I think if anything, it demonstrates the need to further strengthen integration, further strengthen information sharing among Allies and also to invest more and upgrade everything from radars to our presence of air and missile defence systems and that’s exactly what we do also by deploying more Patriots in the eastern part of the Alliance.

Robert Lupitu (Calea Europeana): Thank you very much for taking my question. Mr Secretary General, I want to ask whether there will be a speed up process for this establishment of the NATO battle group in Romania? And also since you mentioned about the reset in NATO's defence posture after Russia's invasion into Ukraine, do you think that this reset will also mean a unitary approach both for the northern part of the eastern flank and both for the southern part of the eastern flank, we will see the same level of troops and defence commitment in the Baltics, in Poland and also in Romania and Bulgaria? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So we have already increased significantly our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, also in the Black Sea region with more troops. I went to Romania a couple of weeks ago and I met with US forces, German forces and other forces there who actually increased their presence. And now the lead elements of the NATO Response Force have been deployed to Romania, French troops, and this demonstrates that there is all of this significant increased military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We speak about 40,000 forces on high readiness in the direct NATO command, then we have the national forces, we have also bilateral arrangements. So in total, this is a quite significant presence, both in Romania and the southeast of the Alliance but also in the Baltic region. This is our immediate response. And as I said the battlegroup is under establishment with the French-led VJTF element.

Then what we will discuss at the defence ministerial meeting is not only the immediate response and need for support to Ukraine, but we will also look at the need to reset our presence, our deterrence and defence posture in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the integration of Russian and Belarusian forces. That will take some more time because I think we need to assess the different options. We need advice from our military commanders, and I expect that the ministers when they meet tomorrow will agree a tasking, will agree to ask our military commanders to provide advice for more longer term adaptations. I think it's important to distinguish greatly about the immediate response, already tens of thousands of more troops, air power and naval power, and then the more long term adjustment of our posture, there we will take some more time before we take final decisions. I expect that to be made at the NATO summit at the end of June.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. We'll see you tomorrow.