Securing Europe

Panel discussion with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo, the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands, Kajsa Ollongren and the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski

  • 24 May. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 25 May. 2022 11:02

(As delivered)

FRANCINE LACQUA [Editor-at-Large, Bloomberg Television]: Hi, everyone. We have a packed room, that really goes to the heart of the matter, that this is probably one of the most important sessions in Davos. Thank you all for joining us. Welcome to our session, Securing Europe. I’m Francine Lacqua from Bloomberg TV and however the war unfolds, of course, Russia’s invasion has upended European defence policy probably for the longer term. But the war in Ukraine has also united the European Union around this common threat while shattering the security order that helped Europe to prosper in the last couple of decades. Now, in the next 45 minutes we’ll try to address what steps Europe needs to take to develop into a viable security player in this radical changed context. From Berlin to London to Baltic capitals like Tallin, the metrics, of course, of defending Europe are changing, they’ve been torn up, a large-scale war is no longer unthinkable, and nations are reconsidering what they spend, what they buy and also how they would need to fight.

Now, a reminder that you can ask questions for the session, it’s Q&A, through the Slido – I’ve been reminded of it that its #SecuringEurope, or there’s also a QR code that should show up somewhere, where you can actually . . . that’s the QR code on the right where you can just lock it in and send some questions. Now, before we get to an all-star panel that are sitting here with me, let’s go straight to Andriy Yermak, he’s the Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine and he’s joining us from Kyiv. So, sir, thank you so much for joining us and for being here with us today. Mr Yermak, where are we militarily in this war today and how would you define victory?

ANDRIY YERMAK [Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine]: Dear Miss Lacqua, dear panellists, dear guests. Thank you for the honour of the opening of this meeting, it’s dedicated to one of the most pressing issues in today’s world. This panel is focused on Securing Europe. I’m here as an official Ukrainian representative. No more doubts, obviously – Ukraine is Europe. It’s a shame it took eight years for Europeans to realise it. In those eight years, the world order shattered, the political map was illegally changed. Tens of thousands of the people died and millions more had to escape.

However, […] despite all the crimes Russian soldiers committed in Bucha, Mariupol, Chernihiv and dozens of other locations, we keep hearing calls for capitulation for the sake of the peace in Europe. Some of our partners are still suggesting us to give into aggressors to save lives. Negotiations, also called territorial disputes, are proposed. How can one believe it, when Russia showed outright intention to destroy Ukraine? How can one hope for, while Russian opinion, leaders are calling Ukrainians, us, ‘the wrong Russians?’ How can one expect, given the numerous testimonies of the act of genocide against Ukrainians committed by Russian troops?

Ukraine does not have any territorial dispute with Russia. Russia has simply occupied and tried to annexe Ukrainian territories illegally, absolutely. More than anyone, we strive [for] a balanced and [inaudible] dialogue. However, Russian political culture does not provide for a dialogue like the equal terms – its basis, its dictation and language is of the brute force. What they want is they want the world to seek peace, but it should be just. Our sovereignty and territorial integrity are not subject of the compromise. We are dealing with the ideologies and practises terribly like the worst dictatorships in the last century. History teaches us that pacifying an aggressor is futile. They always take peacefulness for the weakness. They demand more with every next concession.

Therefore there is only one way to prevent the war in Ukraine from escalating into continental and even World War. Help Ukraine win. Now, you don’t have to wage this war. Just help us to do it. Otherwise, you’ll have to send your troops to the battles. Helping Ukraine is a way to resolve the construction between the real policy and real politics. This is a way to send a clear signal to potential aggressors in the future. Their actions will not… they’ll not go unpunished. So Ukraine’s immediate goal: to stop the Russian brutal aggression and ensure the complete withdrawal of its troops from our lands. Then we must find a reliable way to deter Russia for repeating aggression in the future.

But the world order is nearly wrecked and shattered. Russia’s presence in the United Nations is semi-paralysed with the Russian presence in the Security Council. The OSCE has lost its raison d’être. NATO is the only institution capable of providing a reliable security umbrella to its members. But some of the [inaudible] nations still allow Russia to veto Ukraine’s accession. So we have take an alternative path.

Today I’m glad, here in Davos, to announce that together with the former NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, we’re establishing an international advisory working group. Its aim is to make some recommendations for reliable and efficient security guarantees for Ukraine. Leading figures from security, policy and diplomacy as well as scientists will be invited to join and contribute. We look forward to involving the friends of Ukraine, who can offer their experience and their expertise to efficiently implement the initiative. Our goal is to stop history from repeating and prepare the future for the sovereign and free Ukraine.

Given the Budapest Memorandum experience, we assume that the future agreements should contain security guarantees, not insurance. And this is very important. No third-party security obligations can fully substitute for Ukraine developing and sustaining its own strong defence capabilities. So the first block of the security guarantees, it’s related to and enhances the Ukrainian ability to resist aggression. To ensure Ukraine’s defence capabilities, the guarantor states should provide our armed forces the modern conventional weapons and military equipments. No restrictions nor political-motivated bars. We need weapons to defend, only to defend. We must be able to withstand any aggressions.

I want to say you that since February 24, nearly 700 Ukrainian children have been killed, tortured, raped and wounded by Russian troops. Those are we know for sure, so we’re told probably much higher. Over 230,000 kids, they’re deported to Russia. We must be able to protect our children. They have the right to live in this safe country. And we are to ensure that right. As a part of our commitment, partners could help us in the fields of intelligence sharing, information, security, cybersecurity, maritime security. We believe that a rapid recovery of defence potential of Ukraine is one of the important factors in preventing the new possible aggression. Russia has badly damaged our economy and we can’t put enough money into defence in the coming years. So we’ll need a new financial help for reconstruction purposes as well as we financing the security and defence.

The next block of the security guarantees is sanctions. They’re effective tools for stopping Russian aggressions today and deterring in the future. The current sanctions should last, at the very least, until complete withdrawal of the Russian troops from Ukraine. Their mitigation and lifting should be agreed with the government of Ukraine. We should consider the risks of restoring Russian military technical potential. We also believe that guarantees of the imposition of the preventive sanction should be also provided in case of real threat to our states. And of course, in the event of the aggression, immediate and coordinated sanctions should be provided.

The final block of the security guarantees, it’s related to political and diplomatic support of Ukraine. [Involving] Ukraine in the multilateral diplomatic process would improve our integration in the international community. First of all, I mean, it’s about Ukraine joining the European Union as soon as possible. I need to emphasise we don’t think the so-called alternative formats of integration are acceptable here. Ukraine also supports the establishment of the coalition of the responsible states, like the Friends of Ukraine or Anti-War Coalition, U-24, which [would] be ready to effectively respond to violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within 24 hours. This means providing the necessary military and military-technical, financial and humanitarian aid, as well as imposing sanctions against the aggressor country. That’s in 24 hours. When it comes to security guarantees for ourselves, we are not asking, we are offering our partners to invest to common security. First, your opinion, but in the future, this system could become the base of new global security architecture. Thank you very much for your time. And now, with pleasure, I give the floor to Miss Lacqua. Thank you for your attention.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Mr Yermak, thank you. Just a quick… Mr Yermak, just a very quick follow-up before we go to the panel. So, victory, I think you were clear at the beginning, but victory in your eyes is not a full ceasefire, it’s Russian troops leaving Ukrainian territory full stop. Is that right? Is that how you would describe victory?

ANDRIY YERMAK: You see, we are not an aggressive state. We are only defending. So restoring our sovereignty and territorial integrity and make our people safe is… it’s really our immediate priority. Now, I think it’s meantime the aggressor must pay the price of their choice. And of course, we need to make everything that Russia will not be able to attack us again. And, of course, for us, the victory it’s not just ceasefire. It’s… Our people paid the highest price, it’s the life of our people, hundreds of our people. And, of course, we are waiting for our victory and I’m absolutely sure that we win. And this win will be not only victory of Ukraine, it will be victory of all democracy and free world.

FRANCINE LACQUA: All right. Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr Yermak. I would love to get to our panel straightaway. Alexander De Croo, the Prime Minister of Belgium; Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO; Kasja Ollongren, the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands; and Stevo Pendarovski, the President of North Macedonia. So thank you all for joining us. Secretary General, let’s start with you. How do you see NATO getting involved in this conflict, if at all?

JENS STOLTENBERG [NATO Secretary General]: Well, NATO has two tasks when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine. The first is to support Ukraine. And I am so impressed by the courage of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian political leadership. And we all have a responsibility to support them in their fight, to help them to uphold the right for self-defence. And actually, NATO Allies have supported Ukraine for many years, since 2014, helped to train thousands of Ukrainian troops and especially the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and also Turkey has provided also critical equipment. And after the invasion, all the NATO Allies stepped up and many other partners also started to provide support. That’s our first responsibility, is to support Ukraine, because this matters also for our security.

But the second responsibility, and our core task, is, of course, to protect all NATO Allies. So it is important to prevent this conflict from escalating to a full-scale war between Russia and NATO. Then we will see even more death, more destruction, more damage than what we see today in Ukraine. So this dual task of support, but not do anything that can escalate the conflict, is the challenge for NATO. And we do that partly by making it clear that we support Ukraine, but NATO will not be part of the conflict, we’ll not send NATO troops into Ukraine.

Second, we have, of course, increased our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. Now we have 40,000 troops under NATO command. We have more naval and air capabilities, especially in the eastern part of the Alliance. And we have more than 100,000 troops on a heightened alert. This is to send a very clear message to Moscow and leave no room for miscalculation or misunderstanding: an attack on one NATO Ally will trigger the full response from the whole Alliance. This is deterrence. The purpose is not to provoke conflict, but it’s to prevent conflict, preserve peace. So this is the way we conduct our dual task: support Ukraine – of course, also supporting the sanctions on Russia – but then at the same time stepping up deterrence and defence to ensure no escalation of the conflict.

FRANCINE LACQUA: But Secretary General, sir, when you look at what kind of security arrangements are needed to secure peace in Ukraine, what do those look like in the next six months?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, I welcome the fact that Allies are discussing with Ukraine how to help them ensure their security. I also welcome, of course, that NATO Allies and NATO is also providing support. And the strongest way of providing support is actually to do what they’re asking for and that is to deliver weapons. And that’s exactly what Allies are doing at an unprecedented level. And then the issue of NATO membership is further down the road. The important thing now is to support Ukraine in their heroic fight for their freedom, which is also important for our security.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Prime Minister, what do you see as the most important thing in terms of a common defence strategy in Europe right now?

ALEXANDER DE CROO [Prime Minister of Belgium]: I think we European countries are waking up from a certain degree of naiveness that we’ve had the last decades thinking that, you know, a full-scale war on the European continent would never come back, and especially not this type of war. And, you know, the good thing is that as European countries, we’re not alone. I mean, in a moment like this, if you are alone: or you’re scared to death, or you’re joining NATO – which is what we’re seeing with Finland and Sweden these days. So it’s good that this is a collective thing.

Of course, the collective defensive umbrella is something that we also need to contribute to. And all European countries are scaling up, in a gradual way, their investment. We in Belgium have decided so, a few months ago, we will continue in doing so. What is important to me is that if we invest more in defence, is that, to me, there are three elements which are important. First element is less fragmentation. Today European defence is incredibly fragmented, which makes it expensive and not very operational. Second element is more industrial return for European industry – today, that industrial return is way too low. Third element is more societal return: if we do investments in cybersecurity, it should be for our industry and our population; if we invest in intelligence, it should help us, for example, in counterterrorism; if we invest in a well-developed defence, it should be also a way of training part of our population.

The last element that I want to put forward is that security is not just defence. We have to have a much more holistic view of this. And why is this holistic view necessary? That’s because Vladimir Putin has also a much broader view of destabilising Europe. He’s not only destabilising Europe just with the war in Ukraine, he’s doing it with the war in Ukraine, he’s doing it with strategically using his energy reserves, he’s doing it with disinformation campaigns. He’s doing it with refugee flows that he’s trying to weaponise through Belarus. I mean, there’s so many tracks that he is using to try to destabilise Europe, which means that if we want to stabilise Europe, we also have to have a much broader view than only the defence part. But the defence part is the most urgent one and it’s good to see that European countries are all stepping up.

FRANCINE LACQUA: But President Pendarovski, if we talk about the defence part, it took years for your country to actually accede to NATO. What do you make of the fact that we’re now trying to accelerate the accession of two member countries?

STEVO PENDAROVSKI [President of North Macedonia]: You know, being the last entry into the Alliance, two years now, I know the best the desires of the Ukrainian people, why they would like to join the Alliance. And I wouldn’t like to forget, speaking about the NATO membership, the membership in the European Union – they have applied for that recently as well, because these are two corridors, so to say, for the better, more secure and prosperous future.

We had been waiting for 21 years to become [a] member of the Alliance, since becoming [a] candidate country for membership in 1999. And we have finally succeeded in 2020. And unfortunately, we’re still waiting, speaking about the European Union, 17 years with the status of a candidate country for membership. So we should help Ukraine to persuade other Allies which might be sceptical. I’m not speaking only about our Allies in NATO, but the European Union as well, that both gates of these both organisations should stay open for those people, for this country, because they are not fighting only for their freedom – in the first place, of course – but they are fighting… This is the war of one autocracy towards democracy. They are fighting for the democratic values for all of us. And if Putin somehow succeeds in winning this war, then it’s not going to be only Ukraine.

So, a few days ago, I have sent a letter to President Zelensky saying that we are doing everything we can as a small country – do not forget that North Macedonia is 1.8 million inhabitants, we have a military budget of only €171 million – but we are helping Ukraine as much as we can, from the military hardware to the diplomatic support throughout the international fora. So, I said to him that we are going to speak with our partners, both organisations, that gates should stay open. As I said, the open door policy should not apply only for the NATO Alliance, but for the European Union as well. Otherwise, the concept to have the united Europe to be at peace with itself, and with the world, from the Atlantic to the Europe will be only a dream.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Minister Ollongren, how much money, how much funding do we need to actually to secure Europe? And how much can your country and Allies keep on sending to Ukraine in terms of weapons?

KASJA OLLONGREN [Minister of Defence, the Netherlands]: Well, in terms of weapons, I think we, yesterday, we had a meeting in the Rammstein format, so that was 40-plus countries that coordinate their efforts to help Ukraine with the weapons they need. Ukraine is very good at articulating very precisely what is needed, and I think we are now, also, much better coordinated amongst ourselves in a way that we can actually provide what they need. If we cannot do it ourselves as the Netherlands, we can join forces with Germany or with other countries and in that way provide them with really complex advanced weapons systems that is very much needed in the war itself. But also, as the representative of Ukraine just said, also because Ukraine now has to sort of backfill their own military equipment, because they also used old Soviet Russian equipment. They can, of course, not replace it by Russian equipment. So they have to get stuff from our countries, also to build on their military infrastructure. So that’s really costly.

And at the same time, we are also increasing, in the Netherlands and other countries, our own defence budgets, of course, because we have to be stronger on the eastern flank of the Alliance. We really want to step up our efforts to be ready also for the future. But one warning, I mean, if we are going to spend more, but going to spend it separately, then only the costs are going to go up and then we will not increase our own security. So we really have to work on that. We have to coordinate better. We have to find ways for standardisation, for interoperability of our systems, and for joint procurement in ways that countries are already experimenting with now – the Netherlands with Belgium, for instance. But we have to step it up because otherwise we will keep fragmentated armies in national countries instead of a very strong NATO army, and also European defence that can step up when necessary in Europe.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Prime Minister, what happens, though, if the war lasts years?

ALEXANDER DE CROO: Well, then, first of all, I hope not, of course. But if it lasts years, we’ll continue support for years. I mean, we have to be very clear on this: we’re supporting Ukraine in this and we will continue supporting with what is necessary, with equipment – talked about – with information as well, because in a war situation like this, information intelligence, of course, is extremely, extremely important. And we, as European countries, will continue improving the equipment that we have. And I think indeed, as Kasja said, I think it’s important that we do it in an intelligent way, in a planned way, less fragmentation, as I said. This is about how much we invest and how much is important, but how we do it is equally important. And if I see in some of the investment plans of some European countries, which are very aggressive investment plans – let’s coordinate, let’s really sit together and let’s see who is doing what? What are we buying? How can we standardise? I mean, what we need to do as a European Union is to do a gap analysis ourselves and to say, ‘Okay, what weapon systems do we need? How do we develop them together?’. Together with the Netherlands, we do this for our naval efforts, we develop together the battleships that we need. It’s good that Belgium and the Netherlands is doing it, but honestly, we should be doing this together with many, many countries. And this is not just ramping up investment because of the Ukraine war. This is a long-term effort that we are putting forward for the next decades. If we do it for the next decades, let’s please do it in a coordinated way so that we become more efficient. Because, I mean, if you look at the total defence budget of European countries and compare it to Russia, actually our budget is much higher, but it’s much too fragmented if you compare it to the way Russia is organised today.

FRANCINE LACQUA: President, then I want to ask . . .

STEVO PENDAROVSKI: Only one, if I may, only one sentence-plus. Of course, I wouldn’t like to criticise my friends, because we are in the part of the same Alliance, but please, that joint procurement system, which has had big flaws from time to time, some weaknesses, should be improved in the future. In my view, that should be the task, main task of all of us, to coordinate, to have the better procurement system. But in the years to come. Now give the Ukrainians on the bilateral basis, whatever they want, because this is a critical period of the war. In my view, following what the NATO experts and all of the military security experts are saying to us, this period of time is probably a very decisive period for the rest of the war, whatever it might last. So this is very important. Give them now, on the bilateral basis – we are giving them, of course, everything they want – but give them more and these questions, this coordination among joint procurement systems, that’s a hot topic, always, has been for years and years in the Alliance, within the Alliance, not to waste time and resources and have duplicity in that process, but now it’s critically important to help Ukrainians today, not to tomorrow.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Yeah, so this is a [inaudible] timeline. I just want to spend a couple of minutes with the Secretary General, because I know you spoke to the President of Turkey over the weekend over his concerns about Sweden and Finland actually accessing NATO. What does he want in return?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, in my conversation with President Erdoğan, he expressed many of the same concerns that he has expressed publicly. And that’s about terrorism. It’s about their concerns about the PKK and also, of course, the need for Turkey to be able to acquire the weapons they deem that they need.
But let me start by saying that the fact that Finland and Sweden applies for NATO membership, that is historic. Very few people, if anyone, expected that as late as the beginning of February. And now they are applying. And that demonstrates a very important thing. And that is that when President Putin tried to close the door to NATO, then actually Finland and Sweden decided to move in. Because as late as in December this year, President Putin proposed a legally binding treaty for NATO, which actually was going to re-establish spheres of influence, where big powers like Russia could decide what smaller neighbours could do or not do. Because in that treaty it was stated clearly that there was no more NATO enlargement whatsoever. NATO had to withdraw all its troops from those Allies that had joined after the end of the Cold War – introducing a kind of A and B membership, first and second class membership.

And then, of course, he wanted less NATO military presence on his borders. He’s getting the opposite. He’s getting more NATO presence on his borders, more troops, more forces. And then there will be more NATO members. And I think that’s a very strong answer to a president that really tries to reshape the European security architecture by using force and intimidation. And the response is: no, we will not bow to that. Then, of course, as when there are concerns, as expressed by Turkey, we sit down, as we always do, when there are differences in NATO, and then we find a way out. I cannot tell you exactly how and when, but be confident we are working on the issue and we have solved problems before in Alliance. All Allies – also Turkey – agree that NATO enlargement has been a great success, helped to stabilise Europe. And we also realise how Finnish and Swedish membership will strengthen NATO, will strengthen the transatlantic bond and, also, not least, be of great importance for the Baltic region. So, yes, I’m confident that we will address those issues.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Quickly? You have been confident in the past that actually this can be resolved quite quickly, but if you look at some of the weapon export controls, they cannot be lifted overnight?

JENS STOLTENBERG: No, but I still hope and work for a quick solution. But let me also add that I think part of this solution is also to recognise that despite the fact that there are different views within NATO and among NATO Allies on issues related to Turkey, we also have to recognise that Turkey is an important Ally, Turkey’s the Ally that has suffered the most terrorist attacks, far more than any other NATO Allied country. And Turkey is key, just because of its geographic, strategic location bordering Iraq and Syria, the fight against ISIS has been totally dependent on using facilities in Turkey. And of course, when you look at the war in Ukraine, the Black Sea, you realise the importance of Turkey. So I’m not saying that there are not differences within the Alliance on issues related to Turkey. On the freedom of press and other things, but I’m only saying that we need to understand that the reason why we need to solve this issue, the concerns that Turkey has put forward, is that Turkey matters for the whole Alliance and therefore we are working hard on this.

ALEXANDER DE CROO: Yeah, look, I think the question that is at hand here is, do we believe Europe will be more secure if Sweden and Finland join NATO? I think yes, there’s absolutely no doubt to that. Okay, so Europe will be more secure when both of them join. That’s the main goal. Then let’s talk with the Turkey and let’s solve the issues that they have. But we, as 30 countries and now 32, the main goal we have is stabilising Europe, and we will be better off 32 than 30. So I honestly would be very surprised that things would be put on the table which are unsolvable, knowing what the goal is that we have in front of us.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Minister, do you agree with that?

KASJA OLLONGREN: Absolutely. I think NATO will be stronger with Finland and Sweden in, I think they were already partner countries, members of the European Union. We have military cooperation with these countries, also with the northern part of Europe in the Joint Expeditionary Force. And as the Secretary General says, of course, there can always be issues and issues must be raised. There is room for talking about specific issues that countries have. But in the light of the situation that we’re in now, I think we have to have the confidence that Secretary General and others will be able to solve this issue.

FRANCINE LACQUA: If we’re talking . . . I mean, have they asked you to actually lift some of the exports bans on weapons? Is it something that your country would do?

KASJA OLLONGREN: We, also, we have bilateral talks with Turkey on a very regular basis. I think these talks are good. We take each other seriously and we try to find solutions that are acceptable.

STEVO PENDAROVSKI: Just a few technical elements because we have been, as I said, last entry and Secretary General knows the best that procedure, but without the political agreement and full consensus among all of 30 members of the Alliance, there is no way forward. If that political disputes between Sweden and Finland, and Turkey on the other side is resolved today – hopefully as soon as possible, but let’s say today – this procedure for ratification of that protocol should go into all of these 30 parliaments of the nation states. In our case, it took 20 months, but a half of that time was during the pandemic. But I cannot remember that anybody has entered the Alliance without having the political disputes [inaudible] of that moment, quicker than 12 months, only for the ratification process in all of the parliaments of the Member States.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Prime Minister, what can Europe actually do to not double up on NATO but also secure, as European Union, I mean, also given the fact that the funds are limited? We’ve just gone through Covid, there’s been a lot of fiscal spending and debt is mounting?

ALEXANDER DE CROO: That’s true. I mean, a lot of things have changed for the fact that the population looks much more towards the public or public service or government in solving all the big things we’re confronted with. Now, first of all, on not doubling up, I know that there’s this discussion, if Europe has a stronger integration from a defence perspective, is that to the detriment of NATO? Not at all. Not at all. I think NATO will be way stronger if we, as European, countries pull our weight. And NATO will be more stable with two stable legs, which is one, North American and one European one. Honestly, I’m not afraid of that at all. What is important is that if we do these military investments, is that the return of those investments is as high as possible. As I said before, industrial and economic return should be way higher, societal return should be way higher, with also a component in basically also dealing with climate change. I mean, we will be confronted with the impacts of climate change in the years to come and in a much more drastic way. Actually, some of the defence investments could help with this. And yes, the pandemic has shown us that the bar is being put much higher on the expectations that the public has and we have to invest in climate change. Okay, how I see it as a government leader is the bar is being put higher, which means that we have to be on the top of our toes. And it’s at moments of crisis that we move forward. It’s at moments of crisis that, as a European Union, we take steps forward. And honestly, what I see now is that as European Union, we used to move forward because we had some visionary leaders with great ideas and they pulled the European public forward. Now this has changed. It’s actually the European public that looks at us and then says, ‘Please, for those big challenges, we know that the nation state on its own cannot do it. Please do it as a European Union.’ Healthcare was not exactly a European competence. Energy isn’t really as well. And defence isn’t really either. The public demands from us more integration. And yes, so there’s more demands of how much we should do. But if we do it in an integrated way, we can do it in a more efficient way and we can do more.

FRANCINE LACQUA: The Minister, and then I have many questions for you, Secretary General, also from the audience. I’ll get to that in a second.

KASJA OLLONGREN: Just briefly, I think, yes, we are increasing our budgets for defence and that is also you have to prioritise, you cannot do everything at the same time. But I think it’s not only about defence, it’s not only about having military at our borders, it’s also about our freedom, it’s about rule of law, it’s about democracy, it’s what we all stand for. So that’s why I think we all feel it’s important to do it, but to do it in a smart way, as the Prime Minister of Belgium has just stated. And I think also you have to look at the future. So, at the same time, with climate change, with the importance of having a well-educated population in our countries, these are the choices that you have to make. And sometimes it means raising taxes, being smart, because we also have our budgetary rules and they apply to all of us in the European Union, at least.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Thank you. I have many questions for the Secretary General, so we’ll start off a bit rapid fire. This one: is it time now for a naval coalition of NATO states to secure a free and open Black Sea by escorting vessels from Odessa to supply grain to the global south?

JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s first and foremost time for President Putin to lift the blockade of Odessa and other Ukrainian ports to allow grain to be exported out of Ukraine, because this is really his responsibility. The war is causing the food shortages and the increasing prices. It’s not NATO or EU sanctions, it’s actually the direct consequence of the war and the Russian blockade. Then I welcome efforts by EU, by NATO member states and others to try to find a way to get more grain out of Ukraine by rail, on land, and also the efforts that are addressing is it possible to get it out on ships? That is a difficult task. It’s not an easy way forward. The best and easiest way is to end the war, to drop the blockade and let the food go out. Let me add one more thing. This this is a war in Ukraine that affects all of Europe, but it has global consequences. The increasing energy prices, energy and food prices, affects everyone and the poorest people of the world. It just makes the whole war, the Russian invasion, even more senseless.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Another question for you: is the best way to prevent a NATO-Russia war to ensure Russia is defeated? Or is it to ensure that Russia has an offramp, so diplomatic negotiations or are we beyond that?

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think the best way to prevent this from escalating, again, it’s for Putin to stop the war. If that’s not the case, then the best way to act is for us to be very firm, to make it absolutely sure that there’s no room to believe that he can attack any NATO Allied country without the full response from the Alliance. Because as long as that’s clear, there’ll be no attack. Because NATO is by far the strongest military alliance in the world. 50% of the world’s military might and 50% of the world’s economic might. So NATO solidarity, and also demonstrated by increased presence. The reason why we have now roughly 30,000 more US troops in Europe over the last three months is to demonstrate exactly that: NATO’s solidarity. So, that will not win the war in Ukraine, but that will prevent it from escalating into NATO territory.
Then we need to support Ukraine to help them reach a result on the battlefield that makes it possible for them to agree on the negotiating table. This war will most likely end at the negotiating table. The question is how and when. And therefore we know that for Ukraine to reach an acceptable result at the negotiating table, they need to be strong on the battlefield. And that’s the reason why it’s not either support the military or be in favour of a negotiated solution. A negotiated solution, which is possible to accept for Ukraine, will only be achieved if they have a strong military position on the battlefield.

FRANCINE LACQUA: President, maybe this one is for you. The former UK Foreign Secretary Hague of the UK wrote in The Times today that Putin may attempt to divide NATO by calling a ceasefire that Ukraine cannot agree to. Would NATO remain aligned? Do you want to take . . . yeah?

STEVO PENDAROVSKI: You know, I agree fully with that. But the optimal way of not showing any signs, in the little one, that we are divided. This was, as Secretary General knows the best, we have shown the unprecedented unity, not in recent times, in NATO history, probably. But I would like to send the message to everybody speaking about this subject these days, what is at stake in Ukraine? First of all, defending the Ukrainian territory, defending the Ukrainian children and the whole people. But we should send . . . we should help, first of all, Ukrainians to defend themselves, but we should send a message to all the prospective autocrats that democracy will always prevail over dictatorships and that we would like to live in the democratic world.


KASJA OLLONGREN: Well, I can only agree . . .


KASJA OLLONGREN:  . . . of course, with that.

FRANCINE LACQUA: But it could be much more of a challenge than we’re talking about here, if this drags on again for years.

KASJA OLLONGREN: Yes, it’s very difficult to predict this, of course. None of us know exactly what is going to happen. But it’s one of the scenarios that we have to take very seriously, is that this can go on for years. And I think it’s very important to point out that it is for Ukraine to decide whether a ceasefire or even a peace is acceptable, if the terms are acceptable. And I also agree until then, we must do everything we can to support Ukraine with weapons, with training, with our partnership that we can give them. And one thing I’d like to mention, because it’s what’s also important, is every day the price for Putin and for the Kremlin is going up. The sanctions are hurting them. And we have to push that even further, I think. And to make them pay for this war in in every way that we can. And that also helps Ukraine, of course, it’s the other side, the even more economical side, but it’s very important.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Prime Minister.

ALEXANDER DE CROO: Yeah, actually, I think you just said it. I think, don’t forget the sanctions, the impact of the sanctions are really it’s . . . it’s a thorough impact. The six packages there, it’s going to go much, much further. And then besides the sanctions, all European countries are making irreversible choices related to energy supply. And the impact of that takes time. But in the years to come, this is going to have a profound impact on the exchange with Russia. And it’s really hurting the Russian financial capability to continue financing this war. Don’t underestimate, besides the packages, what we are doing in energy, and all European countries are making choices which are not going to be turned back.

JENS STOLTENBERG: I think one of the lessons we have learned during this crisis is that long-term security interests are more important than short-term economic interests. To be too dependent on Russian gas is dangerous. That’s the brutal reality. It has a price to wean off Russian gas, but we have to do it. And therefore, I support free trade. I believe in the more globalised economy. But when we need to choose between protecting our values or profits, we need to choose protecting our values. If we need to choose between long-term security interests and . . . and economic gains, then, of course, again, we need to choose economic interests. This is about energy. It’s about technology, and it’s about, also, controlling critical infrastructure in Europe. So this is a hard lesson learned. It has a price. But I think that’s quite obvious in the light of what we have seen over the last weeks after the invasion of Ukraine.

FRANCINE LACQUA: We’re almost out of time. So I’m going to ask you each for about 30 seconds, actually, to give one or two priorities for what we need to do to achieve peace and security. Mr Yermak, let me start off with you, because you’re still there joining us from Kyiv.

ANDRIY YERMAK: I’m sorry. Can you repeat your question, please, because, because . . . yeah.

FRANCINE LACQUA: The question is: in the very short-term, apart from the weapons and the support, what do we need to make sure that there’s peace and security in this region in the longer term?

ANDRIY YERMAK: Thank you for your questions. First of all, I’d like to say that I very intently listened [to] all your comments of colleagues. Thank for your attention and thank you for your support of Ukraine in this war. It’s very important to understand that this war it’s continuing. And every day Ukraine continue fighting, but we continue lost our people. And of course, as soon as possible we need to receive all necessary weapons, because I’d like to say that as long as this war it’s continuing is starting to be more higher the risk that some in other countries, especially which have the borders with Russia, will be involved. And in this country, is countries is the members of the NATO. It means that if we receive everything, which absolutely you say that in all capitals, in our friends and our partners, exactly know that we need, we will win. We stop this war in centre of the Europe.

As we are talking for the long perspective, I explain in my speech that we have proposed and we are now in the consultation of the, first of all, of the security of the guarantees for Ukraine. But we think that after this war we can see evolve strong system of the security in Europe. It’s necessary to build this system, because until this war it’s continue, not any countries in Europe can feel safe. And we are a lot of times talk about it. A lot of conversation was before this war, but it’s happened. Most bad things happened. Happened in the centre of Europe. It means that it’s time to think together and to build new, strong system which will protect any potential aggression, any potential violation of the international law, violation of the territorial integrity of the European countries.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Thank you so much, sir. In 20 seconds, President Pendarovski, how do we achieve peace and security?

STEVO PENDAROVSKI: In 20 seconds. Some people are dubbing this, are naming this period of the time as the second Cold War. What is important – let’s agree with that – but what is important to remember? What is the main difference? The previous Cold War was about ideology. This is not anymore the battle between communism and capitalism. We are speaking here, it’s clear, at least to me, that this is the battle between democracy – democracy throughout the world – and autocratic leaders. And I not even dare to think, to imagine the world, if we are pressed to live in a world where the autocracies rule. It’s going to be the most dangerous place to be, to live, and certainly not the prosperous place the next generations would like to take part.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Thank you. Minister?

KASJA OLLONGREN: I think from the beginning we’ve said unity is our strongest weapon, so we have to stay united. If we stay united, I’m confident we can keep on helping Ukraine with the weapons, and humanitarian aid, financial aid, everything they need. And the second thing I’d like to say, I think this has been a wakeup call for the European Union in a geopolitical sense. And I think we have to use that momentum to build on a stronger European defence within NATO and within the European Union.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Secretary General?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Well, my main message is that the Ukrainian war has reminded us of the importance of North America and Europe standing together. I don’t believe in America alone. I don’t believe in Europe alone, but I believe in North America and Europe together. And NATO is the institutionalised expression of that unity. Two World Wars and a Cold War taught us that we are not safe when we are divided, we are safe when we stand together.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Prime Minister?

ALEXANDER DE CROO: Ensure the support of our domestic population. I think we are in for a somewhat longer period of instability, which means that we need to make sure that our North American and European populations are supporting us, which means that we need to protect them from the impact of what is happening. If we don’t protect them well, we might lose domestic support and it might become much harder.

FRANCINE LACQUA: Thank you so much for this important conversation. Thank you. Thank you.