Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 11 Oct. 2022 -
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  • Last updated: 11 Oct. 2022 17:20

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

NATO Defence Ministers will meet this week at an important moment for transatlantic security.

We will review our progress on strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence.
We will further increase the protection of our critical infrastructure, in light of the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.

And we will step up and sustain our support for Ukraine.

So that they can continue, so they can continue to defend themselves, and liberate territory from Russian occupation.

Ukraine has the momentum.
And continues to make significant gains.

While Russia is increasingly resorting to horrific and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.

President Putin is failing in Ukraine.
His attempted annexations, partial mobilisation, and reckless nuclear rhetoric represent the most significant escalation since the start of the war.

And they show that this war is not going as planned.

NATO is not party to the conflict.
But our support is playing a key role.
Allies remain united in their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-defence.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, will join us tomorrow.
Both for the US-led Contact Group for Ukraine and for a dinner with NATO Ministers.
Together, we will address Ukraine’s urgent needs.

I welcome the recent announcements by Allies to provide more advanced air defence systems and other capabilities to Ukraine.
And I look forward to further deliveries.

Our message is clear.
NATO stands with Ukraine.
For as long as it takes.

President Putin started this war.
He must end it.
By withdrawing his forces from Ukraine.

And President Lukashenko should stop the complicity of Belarus in this illegal conflict.

On Thursday, I will chair a regular meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group.
The fundamental purpose of NATO’s nuclear deterrence has always been to preserve peace, prevent coercion and deter aggression.

Next week, NATO will hold its long-planned deterrence exercise,
Steadfast Noon.
This is routine training, which happens every year.
To keep our deterrent safe, secure and effective.

President Putin’s veiled nuclear threats are dangerous and irresponsible.
Russia knows that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

We are closely monitoring Russia’s nuclear forces.
We have not seen any changes in Russia’s posture.
But we remain vigilant.

At the Madrid Summit in June, NATO leaders decided a fundamental shift in our defence and deterrence to respond to the new security reality.

We have doubled the number of NATO battlegroups in the east of the Alliance.
They can be scaled up quickly to brigade size.
We are also increasing the number of our high readiness forces.

At this ministerial, we will take decisions to increase our stockpiles of munitions and equipment.
To speed up the delivery of capabilities.
And to use the NATO Defence Planning Process to provide industry with the long-term demand they need to boost production.

We will also address the protection of our critical infrastructure.
NATO has been working on this for many years.
And following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, we have further enhanced our vigilance across all domains.

We have doubled our presence in the Baltic and North Seas.
To over 30 ships.
Supported by maritime patrol aircraft and undersea capabilities.
These efforts are closely coordinated by NATO’s Maritime Command.

Allies are also increasing security around key installations.
And stepping up intelligence and intelligence sharing.
We will take further steps to strengthen our resilience and protect our critical infrastructure.
Any deliberate attack against Allies’ critical infrastructure would be met with a united and determined response.

Our final session will focus on NATO’s missions and operations.
From Kosovo to Iraq.

We will be joined by EU High Representative Borrell.
Because NATO and the European Union face the same security challenges.

We have a difficult winter ahead.

So it is even more important that North America and Europe continue to stand united.
In support for Ukraine.
And in defence of our people.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We'll start at the very top with Deutsche Welle, NPR.

Teri Schultz (Deutsche Welle / NPR): Thank you. Mr. Secretary General, you said that you will be making decisions at this meeting about how to increase national stockpiles and keep your arsenals full while supplying more to Ukraine. But for example with the air defence, the Air to Air Missile System that Germany is sending, that was something that Germany was expecting to order for itself. Estonia has sent its entire shipment of javelins to Ukraine. So are you worried that while Allies are supplying Ukraine with everything they can, they are leaving themselves unprotected at home? And what will be your deliverables out of this meeting that will change that, in terms of manufacturing processes and streamlining those? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: NATO Allies have provided unprecedented support to Ukraine with capabilities, weapons, ammunition, different types of military support. And that is something of course we welcome, and then we have encouraged this from NATO ever since the invasion started. Actually, we did that before the invasion. We have to remember that NATO Allies have provided support to Ukraine since 2014, including training tens of thousands of Ukrainian officers, soldiers which are now playing a key role in the defence against the Russian aggression against Ukraine. But after the invasion, Allies stepped up.

And of course very much of the support that NATO Allies have provided – the javelins, the air defence systems, ammunition – that they have provided to Ukraine, that has been taken from existing stocks. So by doing that, they have reduced their stocks. But that has been the right thing to do, because it is important for all of us, that Ukraine wins the battle, the war against the invading Russian forces. Because if Putin wins, that is not only a big defeat for Ukrainians, but it will be a defeat and dangerous for all of us, because it will make the world more dangerous and it will make us more vulnerable for further Russian aggression.

So that's the reason why we have used NATO stocks, stocks from NATO Allied countries, to provide support to Ukraine. But of course the longer this war drags on, the more important it is that we also then are able to replenish these stocks. That is exactly why we're now addressing how can we ramp up production? So we can produce more, both to replenish stocks, but also to continue to support Ukraine. I expect ministers to make decisions at the ministerial meeting tomorrow and the day after tomorrow on how to use the NATO defence planning process to agree on the more ambitious targets on, for instance, different capabilities, including a look into the possibility of increasing the targets, the guidelines for stocks. This will provide the industry with a long-term demand. They need to invest in new production capabilities, because they have been able to increase production partly by utilising existing production capacity more, but to really ramp up production, you need to make new investments. I also expect them to agree on how we can further strengthen our interoperability, ensuring that Allies can work together and also jointly purchase ammunition capabilities partly to use in stocks, but also to actually ensure interoperability between Allies. And the unique NATO defence planning process is, I think, the best tool to ensure that Allies are coordinated and actually provide the long-term demand messages to the industry to ramp up production.

NATO Spokesperson: OK we’ll go to Associated Press.

Lorne Cook (Associated Press): Yes, Lorne Cook from the Associated Press. I have a question on infrastructure. Germany was, how can I put it … Deutsche Bahn had its communications cables severed over the weekend in Germany, cut off transport in the north of the country. We've also seen the leaks to the pipelines, obviously Nord Stream going to Germany. At what point do these attacks… sorry, do these incidents then become acts of war? And how does NATO respond to that as a collective Alliance? You said the Allies would respond, but how do you do that in this kind of instance? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Over the last years, NATO has implemented the biggest transformation of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, and part of that is to take fully into account hybrid threats, cyber threats. And therefore we also stated a few years ago that hybrid and cyber attacks can trigger Article 5; it can constitute an armed attack against a NATO ally. And we have stepped up both our work on resilience, the protection of critical infrastructure, we are conducting more exercises both on hybrid threats and cyber threats. And we are exchanging best practices and have also agreed guidelines on the protection of critical infrastructure. All of this is about protecting, for instance, undersea capabilities for undersea infrastructure, pipelines, cables, but also of course, energy grids, energy production, transportation infrastructure. Of course, I cannot comment on those specific incidents because there are ongoing investigations, and I think we need to await the outcome of this investigation before we make any final judgement. But in general, I can say that of course we are closely monitoring every incident that may constitute a hybrid or cyber attack against the NATO Allies and we are ready to take the necessary measures if needed. Exactly what kind of measure, depends on the nature of the attack. And we will never give our potential adversaries the privilege of defining exactly where the threshold for Article 5 goes. That will be a decision we make as Allies, taking into account the precise context, the specific situation we will face, if there is a hybrid or cyber attack against a NATO Ally.

NATO Spokesperson: Interfax Ukraine, in the middle.

Iryna Somer (Interfax Ukraine): Thank you. Thank you, Oana. Secretary General, according to Americans and Ukrainians yesterday’s strikes on Ukraine were planned in advance and nothing to do with Kerch Bridge as Russian claims. And moreover some analysts also said that Ukraine has nothing to do with Kerch Bridge, which was simply used as pretext for this strike. Does NATO share the same assessment? And do you think, is this a turning point of this war? What could it change on the battlefield? And some short follow up to Teri’s question, you said that ministers will discuss how to refill stocks only tomorrow. But war is going on already for seven months, why it was not done before? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: First, we have already of course started the dialogue with the industry and with the different Allies on how to ramp up production and refill or replenish our stocks. We had a meeting of the NATO Armament Directors a couple of weeks ago here in NATO. So this is an ongoing work, but when all the ministers meet tomorrow, of course, that provides an excellent opportunity to take stock of what we have achieved, how far we have been able to move on ramping up production. But also then to make new decisions on how to further ensure that we are not only digging into existing stocks to provide support to Ukraine, but actually also able to ramp up production. And we need to ramp up production of ammunitions and weapons to both ensure the deterrence and defence of our own Allies, NATO Allies, but also to have enough to continue for the long haul to provide support to Ukraine. But just to prevent any misunderstanding, this work doesn't start now. It has been going on for some time. But of course the longer the war in Ukraine continues, this work with the industry becomes more and more important, because then they need the decisions. They need the NATO defence planning process decisions, capability targets, to be sure that actually they can make the necessary investments to be able to produce more.

Then if the question was about how the attacks yesterday will change the situation on the battlefield, I think what we saw yesterday is actually a sign of weakness. Because the reality is that they're not able to make progress on the battlefield. Russia is actually losing the battlefield. They are giving up territory because they don't have the capabilities to stop the Ukrainian forces making advances. So the way they are able to then respond is by indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian cities, hitting civilians, critical infrastructure. And of course, this causes suffering, damage on Ukraine, but in many ways it actually reflects the lack of alternatives for President Putin. They are losing ground, they have lost the momentum, and then they had to revert to missile strikes and airstrikes in a way we saw yesterday and actually also today.

Then the first question… [inaudible] Well, Russia has conducted similar attacks earlier in the war, we have seen… Of course it has been some time since we have seen similar attacks against Kyiv and some of the cities in the western part of the country, but we have seen attacks against cities in Kherson, in Zaporizhzhia, and other parts of Ukraine actually quite regularly. So they had these capabilities exactly when these attacks were planned. I will not go into it but the reality is that it doesn't change the nature of the attack. These are attacks against cities, civilians are killed, civilian infrastructure is targeted, and this is unacceptable. And this is something which goes against international law.

NATO Spokesperson: Financial Times.

Henry Foy (Financial Times): Henry Foy, Financial Times. Thank you so much for the question. I want to ask about the nuclear exercises. Was there any discussion amongst the 30 Allies whether this was such a good idea to practice flying nuclear weapons around given the heightened threats from Russia and the potential for miscalculation or misunderstanding? And secondly, will this year's exercise be different to previous years given the context, which of course is incredibly important here. And I'm aware that it's an annual exercise, it's routine, so that's all understood, but I'm asking about whether or not there was a discussion inside the Alliance about whether now is really the right time to do this. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Now is the right time to be firm and to be clear that NATO is there to protect and defend all Allies. And this is a long time planned exercise, actually planned before the invasion of Ukraine. It's a routine exercise, and it's an exercise to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective. I visited this exercise a few years ago. We have been open about the exercise and I think it would send a very wrong signal if we suddenly now cancelled a routine, long time planned exercise because of the war in Ukraine. That would be absolutely the wrong signal to send. And we need to understand that NATO's firm, predictable behavior, our military strength, is the best way to prevent escalation. We are there to preserve peace, to prevent escalation and prevent any attack on NATO Allied countries. So if we now created the grounds for any misunderstanding, miscalculation in Moscow about our willingness to protect and defend all Allies, we would increase the risk of escalation and that's the last thing we will do.

NATO Spokesperson: Polish Radio.

Beata Płomecka (Polish Radio): Thank you. Beata Płomecka, Polish Radio, public broadcaster. Secretary General, there are some suggestions from various politicians from various member states that in the light of yesterday's and today's attacks on the critical infrastructure, civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, it's high time to call Russia as a terrorist state. Will you call Russia as a state that sponsored terrorism? And the second question is there are also suggestions to call the summit on the level of the leaders of NATO. Are you planning to do such a summit? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: We are constantly consulting among NATO Allies. We have already conducted three NATO Summits this year. We will convene a summit when needed, so we have the meetings we need, when we need them. And we are constantly assessing also the need to then convene yet another summit to ensure that we have consultations and the right messages from NATO at all levels. We will have a ministerial meeting this week, and that provides a good opportunity to send a clear message and then we'll make decisions on a potential summit when we think the right the time is right.

Then on the nature of the war. Well, this is an illegal invasion of another country. It is a clear violation of international law. Russia invaded a sovereign independent nation, violated its territorial integrity and sovereignty. That actually didn't start in 2022 or in February of this year. It started in 2014. But of course they scaled up their aggressive actions against Ukraine in February, and they have violated international law in a blatant way. And we have also seen horrendous and horrific attacks against civilians, we have seen the reports from Bucha, from many other places in Ukraine. And the important thing now is that all facts are made available, that we have thorough investigations, NATO Allies support the ongoing investigations, and that those responsible are held accountable for these atrocities.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go to Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Thanks a lot. Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung.  Secretary General, two questions. The first one, is the bridge across the Strait of Kerch a legitimate military target, in your view, and does that include a terrorist attack? And the second question, when you speak about stepping up support to Ukraine you mentioned air defence systems. Which other systems or types of weapons does Ukraine need now that it has not received yet to cope with their situation? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Ukraine needs a wide range of different systems and that is, of course, a lot of lethal weapons, artillery, armoured vehicles, air defence systems and many other anti-tank weapons. But also, of course, non-lethal support: fuel and winter clothing, and communications systems and a lot of different types of support. And that is the reason why it was also so useful to meet, because when we meet tomorrow in the U.S.-led Contact Group for Ukraine but also at the NATO Defence Ministerial Meeting, with Defence Minister Reznikov, we have the best possible opportunity to go into details to discuss different lists and match these lists of needs from Ukraine with what NATO Allies and partners are able to provide. And that is what has been going on in this framework for now several months and also the reason why we have been able to mobilise so much support from NATO Allies and partners. There's an urgent need for air defence, but of course also many other capabilities: precision guided ammunition, HIMARS and other advanced modern NATO-standard systems. And we see that they are making a difference and we see that Ukrainian soldiers are able to utilise these modern systems in a very effective way, making gains on the battlefield.

Then it's not only a question of, you know, adding more and different systems. It is also to ensure that we have the fuel or the ammunition to existing systems. So since the war is continuing, logistics, resupplies of spare parts, ammunition, fuel to systems that are already delivered becomes more and more important. So they need almost everything and Allies are providing unprecedented support because they understand that we have a moral, political and security interest in ensuring that Ukraine wins the war against President Putin.

NATO Spokesperson: Politico.

NATO Secretary General: Sorry. Well, I… First of all, I think that we have to remember the starting point of this discussion. Crimea is illegally annexed by Russia. Crimea belongs to Ukraine, and NATO Allies and NATO have made it clear that we will not recognise and never recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea. And it was Russia that started this war, President Putin started this war. And then I will not go into who was behind the attack against that bridge, I will leave that to the Ukrainians to comment on that.

NATO Spokesperson: Politico.

Lili Bayer (Politico): Thank you very much. Lili from Politico. I have two brief questions. Going back to the issue of air defence, in the coming weeks – so in the short term – do you believe that NATO Allies have the capacity to provide Ukraine with all the air defence systems that Kyiv is asking for? Are you expecting any further announcements in the coming days? And the second question is more looking toward the future, given the domestic pressures in Russia, what kind of planning is there at NATO for the possibility of President Putin leaving office and the destabilisation that might follow? Is this something you are discussing? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Just over the last days we have had two new announcements from NATO Allies – from Germany and United States – to provide more advanced air defence systems. The Germans announced it yesterday, and we welcome of course that. And United States has announced further delivery and we know also that they have announced that they're also ready to provide and deliver NASAMS, which are actually one of the many advanced systems that Ukraine has received over the last months. And again, we need more and we need also more ammunition to these systems and I welcome that Allies are doing that.

These air defence systems are making a difference because many of the incoming missiles were actually shot down by the Ukrainian air defence systems provided by NATO Allies. But of course, as long as not all of them are shot down, of course there is a need for more. And therefore we are going to address at the meeting this week, tomorrow, with Defence Minister Reznikov how, what type, and how can we ensure not only the delivery of the systems as soon as possible, but also training, spare parts and ammunition to their air defence capabilities.

Then, it was one more question? […] So first of all, I think that we just have to be prepared for the long haul. I will be careful speculating too much about the domestic political situation in Russia. Regardless of what different analysis may indicate, I think what we need to do at NATO is to be prepared for all eventualities and when it comes to Ukraine, be prepared to continue to support them.

NATO Spokesperson: Nezavisne.

Dejan Sajinovic (Nezavisne): Thank you very much. Dejan Sajinovic, Nezavisne from Bosnia-Herzegovina. So next month, there's an important vote in Security Council about the extending the European Union military mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. After this year it was a routine, now maybe Russia could put a veto to the mission. What is your… Are you concerned about the situation, security situation, in Bosnia-Herzegovina? And maybe more broadly, what's your assessment of the situation in Western Balkans in security? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: We are of course following the situation in the Western Balkans very closely. We have several Allies who are Western Balkan countries and part of the successful NATO enlargement over the last years has been actually with countries from the Western Balkans, including most recently North Macedonia and Montenegro. NATO has a history in the Western Balkans; we helped to end the two brutal ethnic wars including the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We still have a presence in the Western Balkans with a KFOR mission in Kosovo and also our support for a NATO headquarters in Sarajevo and the support for the EU Operation Althea. I will not speculate about whether the mandate for Operation EUFOR Althea will be renewed or not. The only thing I will say is that it is in nobody's interest that the mandate is not renewed, because the EU presence there and with the support from NATO is helping to address the challenges Bosnia-Herzegovina faces. And of course, there are many concerns and many, many challenges we all face. But if we reduce the international presence of Althea, or our international presence in Bosnia, we're only making a difficult situation even more difficult.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go to the final question, NTV.

Güldener Sonumut (NTV Turkey): Güldener from NTV Turkey. Secretary General, there is a growing rhetoric, nuclear rhetoric, banalisation of the nuclear rhetoric in Moscow, and NATO is assessing the nuclear situation in Russia. So therefore, I have two short questions. The first is, what is your assessment about a nuclear risk? Is it true or not? And second, should this risk increase, are you ready to either warn the citizens and do the necessary to reassure the public opinion on that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: NATO is prepared for any threat, any attack, against any NATO Ally. And that's the reason why we have NATO, to be able to deter also nuclear threats. And this was important before the invasion of Ukraine, it has become even more important after. Not least in light of the nuclear rhetoric from President Putin and from Russia. This nuclear rhetoric, or veiled threats, are dangerous and reckless. Russia knows that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. And we also conveyed clearly to Russia that they will have severe consequences if they use nuclear weapons in any way, including low yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Then, by ensuring that we have credible deterrence and defence, we are helping to reduce the risk of escalation. And therefore it is important that since 2014, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. So we were prepared when Russia invaded Ukraine in February. And since then, we have further stepped up, increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. We activated our defence plans the morning of the invasion, and we made decisions in Madrid in June to further strengthen our collective defence. The purpose of this is to prevent war, preserve peace, and including prevent any use of nuclear weapons.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.