Press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken

  • 09 Sep. 2022 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 09 Sep. 2022 15:18

(As delivered)

Press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the US Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken

Secretary Blinken,
Dear Tony,

Welcome back to NATO. It’s always great to see you here. And thank you for your personal leadership and your commitment to our transatlantic Alliance.

Today, the NATO flag and the flags 30 Allies are at half-mast to honour Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

She was a strong supporter of our transatlantic Alliance, of our armed forces and our values.    


She knew and worked with all NATO Secretaries General since the founding of NATO.

She visited NATO headquarters and hosted NATO leaders at Buckingham Palace. 

I will always remember her wisdom, her warmth, and her strong personal interest in transatlantic security.

Our heartfelt condolences to King Charles III, the Royal Family, and the people of our Allies, the United Kingdom and Canada.  


We have just concluded a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, where we addressed NATO’s strong and united response to Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. 

This includes unprecedented military, financial and humanitarian aid from Allies, so that Ukraine can uphold its right to self-defence.

The United States is leading the way. 
And I welcome the billions of dollars of additional support announced this week.

Yesterday I participated in the US-led Ukraine Defence Contact Group in Ramstein.

We all agreed on the importance of stepping up and sustaining our military support, so that Ukraine prevails as an independent sovereign state.

In June, NATO leaders agreed a strengthened package of assistance.
With fuel, food, medical supplies, military gear, secure communications and equipment to counter mines and drones. 
We will support Ukraine in the long-term.
And help it transition from Soviet-era to modern NATO equipment.

The war in Ukraine is entering a critical phase. 

Ukrainian forces have been able to stall Moscow’s offensive in the Donbas, strike back behind Russian lines and retake territory.

Just in the last few days, we have seen further progress both in the south in Kherson and in the east in the Kharkiv region.

This shows the bravery, skills, and determination of the Ukrainian forces.
And it shows that our support is making a difference every day on the battlefield. 

In the coming months our unity and solidarity will be tested.

With pressure on energy supplies and the soaring cost of living caused by Russia’s war. 

But the price we pay is measured in money.
While the price the Ukrainians are paying is measured in lives. Lost lives, every day.

And all of us will pay a much higher price if Russia and other authoritarian regimes see that their aggression is rewarded. 

If Russia stops fighting, there will be peace. If Ukraine stops fighting, it will cease to exist as an independent nation. 

So we must stay the course, for Ukraine’s sake and for ours. 

At the same time, we are sending an unmistakable message to Moscow about our readiness to protect and defend every inch of Allied territory.

We are significantly enhancing our presence in the east of the Alliance.
Putting hundreds of thousands of troops on high readiness.
Supported with significant air and naval forces.
And continuing to invest in cutting-edge capabilities. 

All of this makes clear that our commitment to Article 5 is unshakeable.

Europe and North America must continue to stand together in NATO.
In defence of our people, our nations, and our values.

So Secretary Blinken, dear Tony,

Thank you again for your leadership, for being here, and for your strong personal commitment to NATO.

Please you have the floor.
 

 

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We'll take questions now. I see Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung up there.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Thanks a lot. Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. A question to you, Secretary Blinken. We've seen this astonishing move of Ukrainian forces in the northeast of their country, pushing possibly 50 kilometres into Russian occupied territory. How do you explain that? It appears the Russian army is hardly even fighting, is it on the brink of collapse in that area? Do you have an explanation for that? And do you see this potentially as a turning point in this war? And the question to the Secretary General, if I may, you're constantly making the case for member states to send more ammunition, more arms to Ukraine. One of the replies we are constantly hearing from our defence ministers is that it would compromise capacities that they have pledged to NATO. So when push comes to shove and member states do have to make a decision on either supporting Ukraine or holding up their commitments to NATO, what is your suggestion? What's the right decision to take?

United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken: So happy to start, thank you. Let me say two things. First, what we're seeing is that the counter offensive that Ukraine has put in place with strong assistance and backing from many other countries is now underway. It's early days, but it is demonstrably making real progress. It's focused in the south, around Kherson, in that area, but we're also seeing Ukraine not only hold the line in the Donbass and in the northeast, but as you noted, make a significant advance, moving some 45 to 50 kilometres in one area past what had been the existing Russian line. I think it's too early to say exactly where this will go, when it will get there and exactly where it will end up. But I think we can say that Ukraine is proceeding in a very deliberate way with a strong plan and, critically, enabled by resources that many of us are providing. But fundamentally, and I think this may explain more directly the answer to your question, why am I absolutely confident in the success of the Ukrainians in pushing back the Russian aggression, whether it's in the northeast, the Donbass, or in the south? For one simple, basic reason: this is Ukraine's homeland, not Russia. People are fighting for their homeland, they're fighting for their future. And while we can calculate the benefits of weapons systems and financial resources, it's hard to put a value on that determination to fight for one's own country, except to say that it is invaluable and the single biggest difference maker that I think we'll see play out over the weeks and months ahead.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies have provided unprecedented support to Ukraine, with weapons, with ammunition and other capabilities. And of course, they have done that mostly by reducing existing stocks. And you are right that of course some Allies are now raising the issue of whether these stocks are depleted too much. My answer to that is actually twofold. One is to realise that the weapons, the munitions that we are providing to Ukraine are used to stop the aggressive actions of Russia against an independent sovereign nation in Europe, which is a close partner of NATO. And if President Putin wins in Ukraine, it's not only bad for Ukrainians, but it is also dangerous for all of us. So actually, by ensuring that Russia, that President Putin, does not win in Ukraine, we are also increasing our own security and strengthening the Alliance by proving that we don't allow that kind of behaviour close to our own borders. So the use of these stocks actually helps to increase our own security and reduce the risk of any aggressive actions by Russia against the NATO Allied countries. Let me also add that more than 80% of Russia's land forces are now dedicated to the war in Ukraine. So of course what happens there matters for the total capacity of Russia to pose any threat to any NATO Allied countries. So my first thing, my first message, to Allies is that we welcome the unprecedented support, we are calling for even more support, and we urge them to dig deeper into the inventories, to the stocks, to continue to provide the supplies that Ukraine needs immediately. And we see that this is making a huge difference on the ground. Because as Secretary Blinken, Tony, just referred to, we see progress on the ground in Ukraine. But make no mistakes, we have to be prepared for the long haul. The second answer to the concern about the level of stocks is of course to produce more. And therefore we are now in close contact with the defence industry, with capitals. We have established structures here at NATO on defence planning, on capabilities, to ensure that we are now ramping up production, that we are replenishing the stocks, both to be able to continue to provide support to Ukraine, but this is not only about supporting Ukraine – it is also about ensuring that we have the weapons, the ammunitions, the capabilities in place for our own deterrence and defence.

NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we have Agence France-Presse.

Shaun Tandon (AFP): Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Can I follow up on my colleague’s question a bit on the state of where it is. Russia has just announced that they're sending in reinforcements into the Kharkiv area. How do you see this going? Do you think this is a sign of… How do you see this as a sign in terms of the direction that Russia is going in? And how do you see this as… in terms of where we could be seeing in Kharkiv? Could I ask you also, since we're talking about the Alliance and unity among the Allies within the Alliance: the question of Türkiye. Türkiye, there were some concerns raised previously on Sweden and Finland. This past weekend, there were comments from President Erdogan regarding Greece and comments perceived as threatening. How do you see the role of Türkiye in this? Do you have any specific reaction to President Erdogan’s remarks this weekend? Thank you.

United States Secretary of State: Shaun, thank you. On the first question, following up on our German colleague. Look, the counter-offensive again is in its early days, so I don't want to prejudge, as I said, where it will go and how far it will get. But the initial signs are positive and we see Ukraine making real demonstrable progress in a deliberate way. But fundamentally, what we're also seeing and we've seen this throughout even as President Putin threw as much as he could against Ukraine earlier this summer, Ukraine absorbed the blow and now is pushing back enabled by our partners and Allies, the United States. But the single most important factor I believe, is this: Ukrainians are fighting for their own country. The Russian forces in Ukraine, many of them have no idea why they're there. Some didn't even know where they were being sent. We see reports that their morale is low and when you don't know what you're fighting for, that is something that's not sustainable. Now, Russia has significant resources, military resources, it is acting in horrific indiscriminate ways. Ukrainians are bearing an incredibly heavy cost, as Jens alluded to. Their lives are on the line and even on the frontlines now in and around the Kherson area, even as they're making progress, they're bearing real costs. But fundamentally they're fighting for their own homeland. They're fighting for their future. The Russian forces in Ukraine are not, and I'm convinced that that is the most decisive factor and we're seeing some manifestations of that – but, but this is likely to go on for some significant period of time. There are a huge number of Russian forces that are in Ukraine. And unfortunately, tragically, horrifically, President Putin has demonstrated that he will throw a lot of people into this at huge cost to Russia, at huge cost to its future. And let me just add something I said from the beginning. How is what Putin is doing, doing anything to improve the lives of the Russian people? How is this helping them, how is this assuring their own future, how is this creating opportunity for them? Not only is it not, it's doing just the opposite. It's cutting Russia off from the world. It's denying opportunity. It's depleting its resources, resources that could go to help the Russian people. In a closed information society that Putin has created in Russia, that information doesn't get there as quickly as it otherwise might, but I believe it will. And Russians have to ask themselves, why in the world they are losing so many lives, trying to take another country that is not theirs.

NATO Secretary General: Let me just briefly add that yes, we see some encouraging signs. The Russian offensive in Donbass has been stalled by Ukrainian forces and they have retaken some territory both in the east and in the south. But make no mistake, this can't last for a long time and at least we have to be prepared for the long haul and be ready to provide support to Ukraine for as long as it takes. Wars are by nature unpredictable. And we know that Russia has a lot of military capabilities and they are willing to use them to attack a sovereign, independent, democratic nation as we have seen over the last months in Ukraine. The first task is actually to be prepared for the winter. The winter is coming, it's going to be hard and therefore we need both to continue to supply weapons and ammunition but also winter clothing, tents, generators and other specific equipment which is needed for the winter, partly because the size of the Ukrainian Army has just increased so much they need more of these kinds of winter equipment. And NATO is particularly focused on how can we provide tens of thousands of, for instance, winter uniforms to the Ukrainian Army. On Türkiye and Greece: Türkiye and Greece are two highly valued Allies. They participate and contribute to NATO in many different ways. Any differences between them, of course, should be solved by diplomatic means. We have also at NATO established what we call a deconfliction mechanism where Türkiye and Greece can engage, and have used this previously to provide information, to provide ways to deconflict any dangerous situation or behavior in, for instance, the Aegean Sea.

NATO Spokesperson: New York Times.

Michael Crowley (NYT): I'd like to follow up on Shaun's question about Türkiye and just press a little bit more. You've talked about the importance of unity to the Alliance. President Erdogan, in many ways, not only with this recent threat to Greece seems to be threatening that unity. He's talked about another incursion into northeast Syria. He renewed over the summer his threat to block the admission of Sweden and Finland into the Alliance and then this latest issue with Greece among others. Just can you talk a little bit more about the effect this has on the unity you say is so crucial? And specifically, Secretary Blinken, I believe I heard you say in your introductory remarks that you were confident or looking forward to Sweden and Finland being admitted into the Alliance. Can you tell us what your basis for that optimism is given that President Erdogan, as I said, renewed his threat over the summer to block their admission? And if I just might briefly ask you to talk a little bit about where things stand with the Iran nuclear negotiations? They appear to have stalled out, perhaps once and for all. Can they be revived and what comes next? Thank you.

United States Secretary of State: Michael, thank you. And I'm really going to defer to the Secretary General on the questions fundamentally related to here. Let me simply say this. First with regard to Finland and Sweden, I think it's very clear that there is a strong Alliance consensus, strong support, for their admission. We've seen the ratification of the protocols process move forward with land record speed and there is strong support in the United States, of course, from both political parties. I had the honour of depositing the instruments of ratification last month. So I'm very confident that this is moving forward, moving forward deliberately, but I would defer to Jens on anything further on that. More broadly, I can only repeat what Jens said, for example, about Greece and Türkiye, both vital, important Allies, friends of the United States. They have differences and of course, we'd like to see them resolve these differences in a constructive way through dialogue. They've done so in the past and we would expect them to do so going forward. And it is precisely because we have a fundamental challenge before us when it comes to Russia's aggression against Ukraine. A challenge that matters to every single Ally and many countries well beyond the Alliance, well beyond the transatlantic area. And so we should be making sure that we're focusing all of our attention and our resources as necessary in supporting Ukraine and pushing back against Russia's aggression. Now, what I heard in the room today, with all of our NATO partners present, was a very strong reaffirmation of that focus, of that unity, unity of purpose, unity of action. President Biden heard that very clearly in a conversation that he initiated just yesterday with many of our partners. Secretary Austin heard that and saw that at Ramstein where, for the fifth time, this coalition of countries has come together to further support Ukraine. So what I'm seeing as a practical matter is an Alliance that is united and is focused on the biggest challenge that that many of our countries face right now. With regard to Iran and the JCPOA, a few things. First, it's a negotiation, there's back and forth. We have a response from Iran to what was put forward most recently by the European Union. We've been looking at that along with the European partners and needless to say, I'm not about to negotiate anything in public. In past weeks, we've closed some gaps. Iran had moved away from some extraneous demands, demands unrelated to the JCPOA itself. However, the latest response takes us backwards. And we're not about to agree to a deal that doesn't meet our bottom line requirements and/or that tries to continuously introduce extraneous demands that are not relevant to the JCPOA itself. If we conclude a deal it's only because it will advance our national security. The President is focused on that. And what we've just seen again, would appear to move us backward, not forward.

NATO Secretary General: On differences in NATO. Yes, of course, there are differences in NATO. We are 30 different Allies, 30 different democracies, and of course, we don't always agree on all issues. And that has been the case since this Alliance was founded more than 70 years ago, dating back to the Suez Crisis in ’56 or the differences on the Iraq war 20 years ago. And of course, we also see differences today. What makes NATO the most successful Alliance in history is that we are able to overcome those differences and then make decisions together and implement them together. And we saw that demonstrated at the NATO Summit in Madrid just a few months ago. We made big decisions on further increasing our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We already have 40,000 troops under NATO command as a direct response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. And we have also agreed to strengthen deterrence and defence across the whole Alliance. We made the decision to invite Finland and Sweden, that's an historic decision, and all Allies agreed to invite them. And I also welcome that, so far, this has been the fastest accession process in NATO's modern history. Up to now 24 Allies have already ratified in the national parliaments the accession protocols, including the US and the United States Senate. And I also think it's important to recognise that we have to take the security concerns of all Allies seriously, meaning that we need to address the fact that no other Ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Türkiye. And therefore I welcome that as part of the agreement in Madrid there was a trilateral agreement between Finland, Sweden and Türkiye to strengthen cooperation when it comes to fighting terrorism. They have established a permanent mechanism to exchange more information, to exchange intelligence and to work more closely together. So I'm confident that we will move forward and that Finland and Sweden will become members, and so far this has been the fastest accession protocol process ever in NATO’s history.

NATO Spokesperson: I know there are more questions, unfortunately we have run out of time. So this concludes this press conference. Thank you.