Joint press conference
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (remote from Brussels) and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Annalena Baerbock following the informal meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
We have just finished our first informal Foreign Ministerial meeting. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend in person due to Covid.
But let me start by thanking you, Annalena, for hosting all the ministers for a free-flowing and constructive political discussion among the ministers.
Germany is a staunch defender of the transatlantic bond, and at this turning point for our security, it is more important than ever that Europe and North America continue to stand united.
Last night, Finland and Sweden updated ministers on their possible applications for NATO membership.
It is up to them to decide if they want to join NATO. We will respect whatever decision they make, because all sovereign nations have the right to choose their own path.
Finland and Sweden are NATO’s closest partners. If they decide to apply, this would be an historic moment.
Their membership in NATO would increase our shared security, demonstrate that NATO’s door is open, and that aggression does not pay.
Today, Allies discussed our strong support for Ukraine, the further strengthening of NATO’s deterrence and defence, and the longer-term implications of the war, including on our future stance towards Russia.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned.
They failed to take Kyiv. They are pulling back from around Kharkiv, their major offensive in the Donbas has stalled.
Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives.
President Putin wants Ukraine defeated.
NATO down. North America and Europe divided.
But Ukraine stands.
NATO is stronger than ever.
Europe and North America are solidly united.
Ukraine can win this war. Ukrainians are bravely defending their homeland.
To help them do so, Allies have committed and delivered security assistance to Ukraine worth billions of dollars, and over the years, NATO and Allies have trained tens of thousands of Ukrainian forces.
All of this is making a real difference on the battlefield every day.
We must continue to step up and sustain our military support to Ukraine, and build on the work of the Ukraine Support Group which recently met in Ramstein.
Ministers also discussed our upcoming Madrid Summit.
We will make important decisions, to reinforce NATO’s deterrence and defence to reflect the new security reality in Europe, to further support and engage with like-minded partners, near and far, and to adopt our next Strategic Concept, NATO’s blueprint for an age of strategic competition.
Minister Baerbock, dear Annalena, once again thank you for hosting the meeting, and thank you for your strong personal commitment to our Alliance.
Over to you in Berlin before we take some questions.
Annalena Baerbock, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany (translation from German):
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me firstly say on a personal note how delighted I am and how pleased we are as Foreign Ministers that we had the opportunity to meet here in Berlin this weekend as NATO member countries for an informal exchange of views. It was a great pleasure to welcome my colleagues to Berlin.
I said this morning that informal isn’t perhaps the first word that springs to mind when you think of NATO. But these are different times and it was thus exactly the right meeting at this incredibly difficult time. It is more than a shame that you, Jens, our Secretary General, were not able to be with us in person in Berlin even though the whole meeting was organised by NATO. With the G7 meeting in Weissenhaus, this NATO meeting today and tomorrow’s meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, we are in the midst of a veritable summit marathon.
This underscores how dramatic the situation remains in Ukraine, yet it also underscores how truly united we are at this time. This weekend all our talks were of course held against the backdrop of the horrendous war being waged in Ukraine. A war in which people are being killed and lives being destroyed every single day. This is something we must not forget even for a second.
We talked openly and in great detail about these very developments, analysed them and discussed how we can continue to help Ukraine, what we can do in the coming weeks and months to stand by Ukraine and above all stand by the people of Ukraine. We agree that we must not and will not relent in our national efforts, particularly in our military support, while the Ukrainians need this support to defend their country. And as far as efforts within our Alliance are concerned, we are keeping our finger on the pulse. We are all aware that this war will not be over any time soon. The Russian attack on Ukraine, the Russian violation of all standards underpinning peaceful co‑existence, in particular the violation of Europe’s peaceful order, the deliberate destruction even of international humanitarian law, signifies a watershed moment in the international order for the coming decades and also as regards stability in the coming years.
All this has dramatically changed the security situation in the Euro-Atlantic area and we need to provide far-reaching strategic responses. And for us in Germany and in Europe, it has highlighted very clearly the value and the security for our lives in democracy and freedom inherent in the NATO Alliance. After years in which there have been voices in NATO member countries, also here in Germany, who considered NATO to be an outdated organisation whose days were numbered, we are now seeing – unfortunately in the most brutal fashion – precisely why we need NATO, a security and defence union.
And we are also seeing, and many people in our societies are seeing for the first time, that security, peace and above all freedom do not just happen and are not guaranteed for evermore. This, at least speaking for myself, is not an easy realisation. It is painful because it is of course so much easier to live in peace with friends and neighbours. Even if you do not agree on everything, living in peace is simpler.
Simpler for our everyday lives. Simpler for diplomacy. Simpler for economic relations. But that answer is not enough now. This is not the time to churn out easy answers. NATO as an alliance is more relevant and more important than ever. For all of us, it signifies security and that is why it is so good, Secretary General, Jens, that we had this informal meeting to prepare for the NATO Summit in Madrid because at this time NATO is taking on a new meaning and playing a different role.
This is a new identity and a new perception of NATO. If we shoulder our responsibility and together draw up this strategic concept then NATO will be perceived differently not just in our societies, and in eastern European countries it has long been the case, but in fact worldwide. NATO would then be an alliance of those who not only want to but are indeed able to defend themselves should it become necessary but also an alliance of those who are committed to values and international law.
The Russian war of aggression has achieved what the Russian President always wanted to prevent. It has brought us who share values and principles much, much closer together than before and provided an emphatic reminder of the role and importance of NATO. What Russia always wanted to prevent has also created a situation where two countries will most probably now join NATO, countries which had not planned on doing so prior to 24 February. If the people in Sweden and Finland now want their countries to become members of NATO, this is a reflection of our fundamentally new security perception and the fundamentally new peaceful order in Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I said it this morning and I want to say it again because for me there is no doubt: Sweden and Finland are not just our partners, not just our friends, rather they have long been members of our European family. That is why they have our absolute full support on all decisions they are now taking with regard to their own security. The door of NATO is open to them and if they decide to step inside we will welcome them with open arms. There can be no doubt that Sweden and Finland are ready to accede in political and military terms. The two Foreign Ministers once more made that very plain yesterday. As members of the EU and the OSCE, they are part of our European peaceful order and their armed forces are already well integrated into NATO structures. The two countries fulfil NATO standards. The two countries are already participating in NATO missions. Their accession will thus further strengthen our Alliance. Even now, they are practically NATO members without a membership card. I know, and we all talked about this yesterday with Pekka Haavisto and Ann Linde, that this is also a very emotional juncture for Sweden and Finland.
For the first time, all Nordic countries will be united under one security umbrella. This is a development which, precisely because there was not hitherto a majority for this in the population, is a very important step and one which would have been unthinkable just a few months ago. It is also a special juncture for the other Nordic countries who already belong to the defence alliance.
To the people in Finland and Sweden who rightly say, “our political home is the EU, our peaceful order is rooted in the OSCE’s Helsinki Final Act”, to them I would like to say, and it is of course for us no different, with us, with NATO, there is no either/or, there is no contradiction. NATO membership is the expression and embodiment of the right to choose alliances freely, the sovereign right of each and every state. Just like the EU and the OSCE, NATO is committed to the primacy of political solutions and to the rules-based international order.
This morning I made very plain that, should our friends in Helsinki and Stockholm decide to accede, which is very likely, we in Germany will do everything to keep this sensitive transition phase between the application being lodged and ratification as short as possible. So that there is no transition phase, no in‑between, no grey area. This is also something we discussed in great detail with our colleagues yesterday. We basically all see eye to eye on this and that is why we, Germany, will adopt a fast-track procedure. In other words, the Federal Government proposes using all means at its disposal, a rapid Cabinet decision, special sessions of the Bundestag, to ensure that we do not just set this ratification procedure in motion as quickly as possible but also that we get the legal framework in place to ensure we can be one of the first countries to ratify.
And I know and am very grateful that we have the strong and broad support of the German Bundestag here. We hope that we will thus be able to gain traction for the ratification of Sweden and Finland’s accession in other member countries. Many, many countries have signalled that they are on board and although we have not drafted any decisions we are using this informal meeting to issue a joint appeal: Sweden and Finland, if you are ready, we are ready.
Thank you very much.
NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Okay, we have time for three or four questions. We'll start with ZDF. Go ahead, Florian.
Florian Neuhann (ZDF): [Speaks in German]. And the question to you, Mr. Secretary General. Do you expect any retaliation measures from Russia? What could that be and how would NATO react if, for example, Russia attacks, does cyber attacks or violates the airspace, or whatever there could be as a possibility. Thank you.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, I would just like to highlight that when it comes to Finland and Sweden, of course these are sovereign, independent Swedish and Finnish decisions. They are now in the final stages of their processes. And throughout the process, it has been very important for me, and for NATO, to demonstrate that we respect their decision making processes without trying to interfere or to give them advice.
We respect their decisions regardless of what the conclusions will be.
Then on Turkey. Turkey is an important to Ally. Turkey has expressed some concerns and, as we always do in NATO when there are concerns, when there are questions, we sit down. And I'm confident that we will be able to find common ground and agreement, consensus on how to move on on the membership issue. Because all Allies agree that NATO's door is open. Allies agree that the NATO enlargement process has been a great success over many, many years. And also that Finland and Sweden qualify for a membership. They are by far our closest partners, have worked with NATO for many, many years.
So if Finland and Sweden apply and join NATO then that will be a historic moment for Europe, for Finland, Sweden, for NATO, and for a whole transatlantic bond. It will contribute to strengthen Finland and Sweden, NATO and also strengthen stability across the Euro Atlantic area.
I have been in contact with the Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. He was attending the meeting yesterday evening. And I expect that we will be able to follow up quickly if Finland and Sweden apply for a membership.
When it comes to Russia, of course we are monitoring closely, we are following very closely Russia's behaviour along our borders, in the vicinity of NATO territory. And as a reaction to the war in Ukraine, we have significantly both increased our surveillance, our capacity to monitor, but also our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, including in the Baltic region. More than 40,000 troops under direct NATO command backed by significant naval and air power.
So it is clear that we are there, following very closely what Russia is doing. And we are also, of course, ready to follow closely if Russia in any way tries to launch any kind of hybrid, cyber attacks against any NATO allied countries.
Then, let me add that.. we are also aware that that Finland and Sweden are of course concerned about the interim period from when they have applied to the accession, and all the national parliaments have ratified the Accession Protocol.
We will try to speed up that process as much as possible. Many Allies have stated that they will find fast tracks as, for instance, Germany has indicated that this can go quite fast. But anyway, there will be a time period between application and the full membership. It is clear that Finnish and Swedish membership matters for NATO. We will look into ways to provide security assurances including by increasing NATO presence in the region, in the Baltic region, in and around Finland and Sweden, of course in close consultation and…an agreement with Finland and Sweden.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Annalena Baerbock: [Speaks in German]
NATO Spokesperson: CNN
Fred Pleitgen (CNN): First of all, I have a question to both the Secretary General and the Foreign Minister. I want to follow up on what the ZDF colleague was saying. You were clearly saying, Secretary General, that right now Turkey's concerns that they have not been fully addressed yet. It's something that you're still talking about. How long do you think that that could hold up the process of ascension of Finland and Sweden to NATO? Because of course, as you say, in that interim process, there is some uncertainty for these countries. And the longer that process takes, the more difficult it is for these countries. You have countries like Germany that want to get this done in a very quick way. But obviously a country like Turkey could hold that back if their concerns are not address.
And then also basically on the same topic, also. Both Sweden and Finland, but especially Finland, is already facing vile threats from the Russian Federation. There's been talking about annihilating Finland. They've already cut off electricity to Finland. What is NATO going to do to make abundantly clear to the Russians that it's not going to allow states that want membership of NATO to be intimidated?
NATO Secretary General: First of all, Turkey has made it clear that their intention is not to block membership. And therefore, I'm confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn't delay the membership or the accession process. So my intention is still to have a quick and swift process where we will then sit down with Finland and Sweden if they apply and agree the Accession Protocol. And then hope and work for a very speedy ratification process in the 30 parliaments. That will take some time. There's no way to prevent that. But the plan is to have…, and that's still my intention, as process goes faster than we have seen before.
So when an Ally raises concerns, we have proven over decades in NATO that we are able to sit down and then find consensus, find a way to agree, and then move forward. And that's my intention. That's my plan. I am confident that we will be able to do so also in this case because all Allies realise the historic magnitude of the moment. This is a historic opportunity we need to seize and that has been expressed by Allies and also discussed yesterday evening.
We are ready to sit down with Finland and Sweden also to address their concerns in this interim period. And as I said, this is partly about increasing NATO military presence in the region, on land, at sea, and in the air, of course in close consultations with Finland and Sweden. We already work closely with Finland and Sweden for instance on hybrid threats and cyber threats. We have a Center of Excellence on hybrid threats in Helsinki. So we have already developed very close ways of working together with them to address some of the threats and challenges they are afraid that they will see more of in this interim period. So we will work closely with them to reach and to provide assurances… in the interim period.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay, final question: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Thomas Gutschker (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): [Speaks in German]
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany: [Speaks in German]
NATO Spokesperson: […] Thank you very much then. This concludes the press conference. Thank you.