Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a meeting of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament

  • 27 Sep. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Sep. 2022 14:51

(As delivered)

Thank you so much, President García, Iratxe, it’s really a pleasure to be here, to meet with you all and thank you for inviting me.

I have visited the European Parliament and the European institutions many times. I actually visited also different political party groups here, but never the Socialists and the Democrats. So I think it’s now time that I actually meet also with you. I feel at home, among friends, and I think it is a great thing that we have this opportunity to sit down and to address a very difficult, important, serious issue, and that is the war in Ukraine, the brutal war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine.

But let me just briefly start with a reflection on something that matters for me, and that is the fact that NATO and the European Union, we have a lot in common. We are two different institutions, two different organisations, but we share the same values, we share the same neighbourhood, and we also share many of the same members. When Finland are now joining NATO, 96% of the people living in the European Union, they will live in a NATO country, be protected by NATO. So meaning that we have really a lot in common. And then, of course, we also have in common the fact that we share the same neighbourhood and share the same threats and challenges. And that we see in Ukraine, a neighbour of NATO, a neighbour of the European Union, and something that matters for all of us.

Just a few hours ago, I spoke with President Zelenskyy, and I told him again that NATO Allies, partners, Europe, North America, we stand in solidarity with him and we admire the courage the Ukrainian people have demonstrated, the Ukrainian armed forces, and also, of course, the strength and the determination of the political leadership. What we now see is a brutal war of aggression. It’s a blatant violation of international law, and it’s an absolutely unjustified invasion of a neighbour. I say this because it is extremely important to understand that if we don’t react against this war, this brutal invasion, then we are actually jeopardising not only the security of Ukraine, but also our own security. Because then the lesson learned for President Putin and other authoritarian leaders will be that if they use military force, violate international law, they get what they want. And that’s bad for Ukraine, but it’s also bad for us. And that’s the reason why we have stepped up and supported Ukraine in the way we have done over the last months. This is also serious, not only because it’s about security, but also, of course, the ramification, the consequences of the war, and the fact that Russia is now weaponising energy, using energy as a tool in an armed conflict has ramifications for all of us, with a sharp increase in energy prices and also, increased inflation. 

And of course, we also follow with great concern the reports from the Baltic Sea, where we see the leakages from both Nord Stream 2 and Nord Stream 1, the two pipelines. This is something we monitor closely from NATO. We are, of course, in close contacts with the NATO Allies involved, Denmark, but also with Sweden, soon to become a NATO member. And this is something that is extremely important to get all the facts on the table. And, therefore, this is something we will look closely into in the coming hours. And that is in close cooperation with NATO Allies and our partner, or invitee, soon to become NATO member, Sweden. Then, I will be quite brief in my introduction because I think it’s important to leave time for interaction with you. So I will just focus on what is NATO’s core tasks, main responsibilities and, also, in many ways, also an EU co-responsibility, and then I’m ready to answer your questions, comments on all the issues I don’t address in my introduction. 

NATO has firmly two core tasks when it comes to the war in Ukraine. One is to ensure support to Ukraine, and the other task is to prevent escalation of the conflict. First, on support for Ukraine. What we have seen over the last weeks is unprecedented support, with military support, weapons, ammunition, financial support, humanitarian support, and of course, also NATO Allies, European Union and others have implemented unprecedented sanctions on Russia, to ensure that they pay a heavy price for this brutal war against Ukraine. What we see is that this support is making a difference on the battlefield every day. President Putin has made a big strategic mistake. He thought he was able to win over Ukraine within days, to take control of over Kyiv within days. He was absolutely wrong. He has been driven out of the north, the areas around Kyiv. Then he launched an offensive in Donbas. Now that offensive has been stalled by the Ukrainian armed forces. And actually, Ukrainian armed forces have been able to retake territory. This is, of course, first and foremost because of the courage, the skills, the determination of the Ukrainian armed forces. But it would not have been possible without the substantial support from countries sitting in this room, from all NATO Allies and the EU. What we need to realise, that wars are unpredictable, so no one can tell how long this will last. And of course, we need to understand that this can continue for the long haul. So therefore, we need to be prepared to continue to provide support to Ukraine for the long haul. And therefore, we need also to ramp up production. I met with NATO armament directors this morning, and we are now discussing how we, also in cooperation with the European Union, can ensure that we produce more, so we can deliver more, both to ensure our own deterrence and defence, but also to provide support to Ukraine. 

I have to admit to you that it is a paradox that we as political leaders have to spend so much time, so much energy, so much money on defence. Because we all would like to spend that money on education, on health, on infrastructure, instead of ramping up defence production. But the reality is that we don’t have any choice. Because when we are faced with aggression, as we see in Ukraine, there’s actually defence and only defence that can stop that type of aggression. And that’s the reason why we are in that tragic situation, that money that we should have used for something else now has to be used for supporting Ukraine, because if they lose, that would be bad for all of us. So the first message is that we need to continue to support Ukraine. The other message is that we need to prevent this war from escalating. We have seen, actually, some escalation over the last days, caused by Russia, caused by the sham referendums which Russia are now organising in four regions of Ukraine, but also combined with the nuclear rhetoric from President Putin and other Russian leaders. This is an escalation of the conflict. It will cause more deaths, more suffering and of course, the sham referendums, the nuclear rhetoric, combined with, also, the mobilisation of armed forces in Russia, all of this is a serious escalation of the conflict. Our message is that any use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable. It will totally change the nature of the conflict. And Russia must know that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. I’m not saying that the likelihood of nuclear weapons . . .  that it’s very highly likely that it will be used, but I’m saying that when they . . . when we see that kind of nuclear rhetoric again and again from Russia, from President Putin, it is something we have to take seriously. And therefore, we are conveying the clear message that this will have severe consequences for Russia, and that a nuclear war must never be fought. 

Then there is, of course, another type of escalation, and that is an escalation beyond Ukraine. The war that is going on in Ukraine now is bad, and a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. But of course, a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia would be even worse. Therefore, we need to ensure that this doesn’t evolve into a full-fledged war in Europe. And we do that partly by being very clear that NATO and NATO Allies are not party to the conflict. What we do is to support Ukraine, but we don’t have NATO troops in Ukraine, we don’t need NATO planes in the air, but we provide support to Ukraine. That is not to be party to the conflict. Ukraine has the right for self-defence that is enshrined in the UN Charter, that every nation that is attacked has the right to defend themselves, and we are supporting Ukraine in upholding that right. So we are not party to the conflict. I see, or we see, that Russia is trying now to portray this conflict as a war between Russia, NATO, the West. No, it’s not a war between NATO and Russia. It’s a war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine. And we are supporting Ukraine in defending themselves. That does not make us a party to the conflict. It’s important that we convey that message. But then, of course, we are also preventing escalation of the conflict into NATO territory by sending a very clear message that if an NATO Ally is attacked, then that will trigger a response from the whole Alliance. And we have done so by increasing significantly the presence of NATO troops, especially in the eastern part of the Alliance – in the Baltic countries, but also in Poland, Romania, Slovakia, in the eastern part of the Alliance. More than 40,000 troops now under NATO command, backed by significant, substantial naval and air forces. And we do so not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict. NATO’s task is to preserve peace. That’s the main task of the whole Alliance, we are a defensive alliance. But by increasing our presence, we are making sure that there is no room for miscalculation, misunderstanding in Moscow about our willingness, our preparedness to defend every inch of NATO’s territory. And as long as that is clear, NATO Allies will not be attacked and the conflict will not escalate, because we are there to protect each other, and by standing together we are safer and stronger. So these are the two main tasks of NATO, to ensure that we support Ukraine, to do whatever we can to prevent escalation, both escalation into a nuclear conflict in Ukraine, but of course, also escalation beyond Ukraine involving NATO Allies and Russia. 

Let me add one more thing, and that is that I think what we have seen throughout this conflict is the importance of the transatlantic bond, North America and Europe standing together, and American leadership. Of course, European Allies have stepped up and European Allies are doing more. But we see that the strength of the United States, but also supported by Canada, makes a huge difference. And therefore, I think that the war in Ukraine just highlights once again that North America and Europe have to stand together. That’s the best way to preserve peace and prevent further conflict or escalation of the conflict. We are working closely with the European Union. I think we see how the European Union and NATO, are complementing each other. The European Union has done a lot to provide support to Ukraine, to implement sanctions, and of course, together with NATO Allies, not being EU members of course, this is a strong and united response from North America, from Europe, but also, actually, with partners all around the world to ensure that Putin doesn’t . . . is not rewarded by using force against an independent, sovereign nation. I will stop there, just by ending on a message I had, actually, in this room, I think, some months ago, saying that, of course, we are paying a price as Europeans: energy costs, inflation, the price we pay for the weapons, the ammunition, the financial support we provide to Ukraine. But while our support is measured in money, the price the Ukrainians are paying is measured in blood. And therefore, we need to be prepared for a hard winter, be prepared to continue to provide support, because the alternative, to not provide support to Ukraine, then we risk to pay a much higher price. Then we really risk a dangerous situation in Europe that will also make us even more vulnerable.

So thank you so much. And then I’m ready to take your questions and comments.

Thank you.