Press conference

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

  • 16 Mar. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 16 Mar. 2022 18:09

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

We have just finished an extraordinary meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, focused on the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

We addressed our support for Ukraine;
the severe costs we are imposing on Russia;
and NATO’s work to strengthen our defences, 
now and for the years to come. 
Our close partners Finland, Sweden, and Georgia, and the European Union joined us for the first session.

And Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov described in stark terms the death and destruction caused by president Putin’s war, the determined resistance of the Ukrainians against the invasion and the importance of our continued support. 

We all paid tribute to the courage of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian armed forces. 

NATO Allies and partners have supported Ukraine with equipment and training for many years.  
We are helping Ukraine to uphold its fundamental right to self-defence, freedom, and democracy with significant amount of critical military equipment.

Today, ministers agreed that we must continue to provide significant support to Ukraine. 

Including with military supplies, financial help, and humanitarian aid.

NATO Allies and partners are also hosting millions of Ukrainian refugees.

President Putin must stop the war. Immediately.
Withdraw his forces. 
And engage in diplomacy.  
In good faith.

NATO is responding to this crisis with speed and unity.
And next week, Allied Heads of State and Government will meet for an extraordinary NATO Summit.

We will address both our immediate response.
And the changes we need to make for our longer-term security.

Moscow should be in no doubt.
NATO will not tolerate any attack on Allied sovereignty or territorial integrity.  

We have already activated our defence plans to shield the Alliance.
Increased our readiness.
And deployed troops from both sides of the Atlantic. 

There are now hundreds of thousands of forces at 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.

But we face a new reality for our security.
So we must reset our collective defence and deterrence for the longer term. 

Today we have tasked our military commanders to develop options across all domains. Land, air, sea, cyber and space.

On land, our new posture should include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the Alliance, at higher readiness.
With more prepositioned equipment and supplies.

In the air, more Allied air power.
And strengthened integrated air and missile defence.

At sea, carrier strike groups, submarines and significant numbers of combat ships on a persistent basis.

We will also consider the future of our cyber defences.
And how best to draw on Allied space assets.

We should also train and exercise more often, and in greater numbers. 

Major increases to our deterrence and defence will require major investments.

Allies need to invest a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.

And I welcome that Allies such as Germany and Denmark have already made important announcements on more investments and faster timetables.  

We also need to spend more together.

NATO common funding is the essential enabler that allows us to work together. 
It is a force multiplier for national defence efforts.
And it shows solidarity as Allies.

At this critical moment for our security, unity between North America and Europe in NATO is more important than ever.

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

Jonathan Beale (BBC): Thank you, Secretary General. Can I just ask you, we've heard once again from President Zelensky addressing US Congress calling for a no fly zone. Are there any Allies at all who have been asking for one, even if the decision of the Alliance as a whole is not to enforce one?
Has there been any discussion at all about it? And the second question I have is just about Ukraine and its NATO membership. Do you believe that Ukraine has cooled towards its view of joining NATO as a negotiating tool with the hope of eventually reaching some kind of agreement with Russia? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Allies are united both in providing support to Ukraine, to support Ukraine to uphold the right for self defence. But Allies are also united when it comes to that NATO should not deploy forces on the ground or in the airspace of Ukraine. Because we have a responsibility to ensure that this conflict, this war, doesn't escalate beyond Ukraine.

We see death, we see destruction, we see human suffering in Ukraine. But this can become even worse if NATO took actions that actually turned this into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia. So Allies are united when it comes to the issue of how to provide support to Ukraine. Ministers addressed this today, they reinforced the message of the importance of providing support with equipment, advanced equipment, air defence systems, anti-tank weapons and many other types of support, but no NATO deployment of air or ground capabilities in Ukraine and that's the united position from NATO Allies.

Then, the message to Ukraine is the same now as it has been for years: that Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation. It has its own right to choose its own path, and we respect the decisions made by the democratic elected government by Ukraine. So it's up to them to decide whether they aspire for NATO membership or not. And then it's for 30 Allies to decide on that issue, not for Russia to try to veto such a process.

Natasha Bertrand (CNN): Thank you, Mr Secretary General. I'm wondering whether NATO has invited President Zelensky to participate in any way in the leaders’ summit next week as Reznikov did in the defence ministerial today, and I'm also wondering if you could respond to the Polish proposal to send NATO forces into Ukraine on a so-called peacekeeping mission. Thanks.

NATO Secretary General: What we need is peace in Ukraine and therefore Russia and President Putin has to stop the war and withdraw its forces. We support all efforts to find a negotiated solution. We support all efforts to find a diplomatic solution. And of course, we support and welcome the talks and negotiations which are now taking place between Ukraine and Russia. At the same time, we support Ukraine because we know what they can achieve on the negotiating table is of course very closely linked to the situation on the battlefield. So I strongly also believe that one reason why the Ukrainians also are saying that they have seen some steps in the right direction is because they have been able to fight back. They have been able to fight back against the invading Russian forces.

So the courage, the determination and the support from NATO Allies to the Ukrainian Armed Forces is extremely important also when it comes to what they can achieve as part of a negotiated process with Russia. So again, of course we support peace efforts, we call on Russia and President Putin to withdraw its forces, but we have no plans of deploying NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine.

Marilu Lucrezio (RAI TV): Can you comment on Italy's role in this current crisis? And happy birthday for today!
NATO Secretary General: Thank you. I would very much like to comment on Italy’s role. Italy is a highly valued NATO Ally and a founding member, and Italy is contributing to our collective defence in many different ways. I was recently in Romania, I met Italian pilots, they are helping there to keep NATO airspace safe. And they really show commitment and strength in their contributions to different NATO missions and operations, including in Kosovo, where Italy has been a key Ally for many, many years.

Henry Foy (Financial Times): Thank you. Just a follow up to the question about the peace talks. You said that you're encouraged by signs and that you support any effort to find a diplomatic solution. Could you tell us are you seeing any signs on the ground that the Russians are genuine in their approach to these peace talks? Or that they may well just be using them as a distraction for resupply and for restructuring their approach? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: On the ground, we don't see any sign and that's the reason why we also call on Russia to engage in these talks in good faith. And it's not for me to report from these talks, NATO are not part of those talks. These are talks between Ukraine and Russia. But I'll just see in the reports coming out from those talks, I think it's very important not to speculate and not to pre-judge or to pre-empt any outcome of these talks. But my message was in a way that it is obvious that what Ukraine can achieve around the negotiating table is very closely linked to the situation on the battleground. And therefore the support we give to them to stand up against and to resist the Russian invasion also helps them to achieve an acceptable outcome in the negotiations.

Lorne Cook (AP): Could you tell me a little bit more about the tasking that you've given NATO commanders, what that might involve and are we looking ahead one year or are we talking about a decade, something longer term? And you also use the word persistent, I wonder what that means? Why wouldn't you say permanent, on a permanent basis?

NATO Secretary General: This is the way we make these kinds of decisions in NATO is that the politicians, they set out the guidelines, the direction, then we task our military commanders to give advice on how to follow up, and then we make final decisions as politicians based on this advice and input from our military commanders.

This was exactly the same we did back in 2016 when we had the Warsaw summit and made historic decisions for the first time in our history to deploy NATO combat troops to the eastern part of the Alliance. You have to remember that before Ukraine, also before the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 by Russia, NATO had no combat troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. Then we had the illegal annexation of Crimea. And since 2014, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, tripling the size of the NATO Response Force, establishing the battle groups in the Baltic countries and Poland, more presence in the air, at sea and of course also started to invest more, increasing defence spending. Then the process was the same: the politicians tasked the commanders, they provided advice and based on that we developed the final conclusions that Allied heads of state and government made at the summit in 2016. And then since then, we have implemented that.

I foresee a similar process now. We have tasked the military commanders, we will have their advice within weeks. And then my ambition is that heads of state and government, when they meet at the end of June, can make the decisions on significantly increased presence, reinforcing our deterrence and defence on land, at sea and in the air. Of course, this will then depend on the input we get from the commanders but also of course, at the end of the day, it has to be a political decision by the leaders. So the decision I foresee within months, meaning by the summit in June, then implementation will of course vary a bit depending on what conversations you're going to make.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Secretary General, is there anything in the NATO Russia Founding Act that could restrict military planners and commanders when they work out these options for leaders? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: We will do what is necessary to make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding in Moscow, for miscalculation in Moscow about our commitment, readiness to protect and defend all allies and every inch of NATO territory. The reason why we do that is not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict. That has been the success of NATO for more than 70 years; that any potential aggressor or adversary has always known that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole Alliance.

To ensure that, in a new security reality, we need to reset our deterrence and defence. That is exactly what we are now tasking the commanders to provide advice on; how to reset our deterrence and defence and we will do what is necessary. 

The NATO Russia founding Act of course has a clear reference to the current security environment back in 1997. We are not in the current security environment today. We are in a totally different security environment. At that stage we actually foresaw Russia as a strategic partner, working with them. Since then Russia has invaded Georgia, illegally annexed Crimea and also invaded Ukraine. We will do what is necessary and the NATO Russia Founding Act is not something that will create problems or hindrance for NATO to make the necessary decisions.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): In the negotiations with Russia, there is another important factor. According to data released today, from the General Staff of Ukraine, around 40% of invading forces already lost by Russians in equipment and manpower. Could NATO confirm that? And because of that, we obvious question; is the  threat which Russia poses to NATO in escalation a little bit over estimated by NATO countries? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: President Putin totally underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. President Putin underestimated the unity of the Ukrainian people and the courage of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian leadership. And this, combined with the massive support the Ukrainian Armed Forces are receiving and actually have received from NATO allied countries over many years, have forced President Putin to change his stance and to realise that this quick victory, this blitzkrieg; taking control over Kiev within days, has actually failed.

But we should not underestimate Russia's capabilities when it comes to continue the war and also to continue to attack, including cities. We have seen how Russia has been responsible for the same brutal warfare, both in Chechnya, but also in Syria. Of course, even though they have made severe mistakes, Russia maintain a large capability of conventional armed forces.

President Putin has also, they have also, used nuclear rhetoric. Russia is a nuclear power and we have seen how they have stepped up the nuclear rhetoric threatening both NATO allies and Ukraine. I think we must not underestimate the dangers related to the military capabilities of Russia, including the will to actually use force and impulse devastation and destruction on others.

Ketevan Kardava (IMEDI TV): Mr. Secretary General, can you tell us more about Georgia. Defence Minister from Georgia attended the ministerial and you said recently that it's a good agreement that we need to do more to support Georgia. So, what options were discussed for example today? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General: I think we need to realise that we are faced with a totally new security reality, which of course affects the people of Ukraine. It's devastating for them, but it's also putting more pressure on those countries in our neighbourhood who are not members of NATO, not members of EU, countries at risk, and Georgia is one of them.

The Georgian Defence Minister attended the meeting and all of us listened very carefully to his intervention, where he stated the challenges Georgia faces being a country which has already seen the consequences of aggressive actions by Russia back in 2008 and other attempts by Russia to interfere in Georgia in domestic affairs.

One of the lessons we have to learn from what is going on in Ukraine today is that we need to support these countries which are at risk now. It's better to support and help them now than after a military intervention. So if anything, I think we now see the value of the support that has been provided to Ukraine before the invasion, but also the importance of that we could have done even more for Ukraine.

I think that the message for Georgia is that we should step up, provide more support and send the message that we support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. Not only words, but also in deeds, and therefore I call on NATO allies and others to provide support to Georgia and that was the message also from allied leaders at the meeting today.

James Bays(Al Jazeera): Secretary General, we're 21 days now into this conflict. Based on Russia's performance militarily so far, and your current intelligence, can Russia win this war?

NATO Secretary General: I think we should all be careful speculating too much. What we have seen is strength, the strength and the courage and the capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces, which has impressed the whole world. Which has been able to slow down to fight back against the invading Russian forces and I pay tribute to the Ukrainian forces and the Ukrainian people in the way they have been able to stand up against the invasion.

But at the same time, Russia remains a formidable military power. They have many different types of weapons, and therefore I think it's too early to speculate about the outcome. What we need is Russia to stop the war. President Putin to withdraw its troops and then to find a political solution. That's what I would say about that.

Dominika Kosic (POLISH TV): I would like to go back to the special summit of NATO in upcoming week. Could you say what is the special reason to organise the summit, especially since there was a regular NATO Summit in June? So could you tell us more about his thinking?

NATO Secretary General: President Putin has underestimated Ukraine, the people of Ukraine and the armed forces of Ukraine and the political leadership of Ukraine. But President Putin has also underestimated NATO, because we reacted swiftly and unified in a way that has imposed severe costs on Russia. Together with partners; the European Union, NATO allies have imposed unprecedented economic costs. We have provided and continued to provide essential support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Allies do that every day and we are also increasing the presence of NATO in the eastern part of the Alliance.

President Putin's aim was to divide NATO. What he gets is a more united NATO. He wanted in a way to undermine the nation of Ukraine, he is actually strengthening the unity of Ukraine and the commitment to the Ukrainian nation by the Ukrainian people. And then he wanted less NATO on his borders. He's getting more NATO on his borders.

To do all this, we need to be coordinated. We need to consult and therefore we, the day after the invasion, had a virtual NATO summit with all the NATO leaders, extraordinary NATO Summit, and we will have an extraordinary NATO summit next week, in person here in Brussels. To continue to ensure that we are united, that we are closely aligned and that we act together.

Both when it comes to providing support to Ukraine, when it comes to coordinating our efforts, when it comes to imposing costs on Russia, but also when it comes to taking the necessary decisions to ensure that we send a clear message to Russia about our credible deterrence and defence. Both in the short term but also in the longer term, including by starting the work to reset NATO's deterrence and defence.

Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson: Thank you. This concludes this press conference.