by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
NATO Defence Ministers have just met to address key challenges for our security.
This includes stepping up our support for Ukraine,
Strengthening our deterrence and defence, with the forces, capabilities and stockpiles we need;
And protecting critical infrastructure, with more presence, resilience and intelligence-sharing.
We addressed Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
President Putin has responded to his failures on the battlefield with attempted annexations.
Reckless nuclear rhetoric.
And indiscriminate attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.
Together, this represents the most serious escalation since the invasion in February.
We welcome yesterday’s vote in the United Nations General Assembly.
Condemning Russia’s attempted annexations,
And calling for the reversal of these illegal decisions.
This is a clear and strong message that Russia is isolated,
and the world stands with Ukraine,
in defence of the rules-based international order.
NATO is not party to the conflict.
But we will continue to support Ukraine, for as long as it takes.
Last night Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, joined us and gave an update on the situation on the battlefield.
Ukraine is making good progress, pushing back the invading Russian forces in the East and in the South.
NATO Allies are supplying advanced systems, including artillery, air defence, and armoured vehicles.
And I welcome today’s announcement by Spain that they will provide four HAWK launchers to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences.
This comes on top of what other Allies have delivered over the last few days.
I thank all Allies for their significant contributions and urge them to continue to step up.
We are also providing fuel, winter clothing and medical supplies as part of NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package.
Under this package, NATO will shortly deliver counter-drone equipment to Ukraine.
With hundreds of drone jammers, which can help render ineffective Russian and Iranian-made drones.
And to protect Ukrainian people and critical infrastructure.
Over the longer term, we will also help Ukraine to transition from Soviet-era to modern NATO equipment.
This morning, Allies had the regular meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group.
It is important we continue to consult and coordinate on nuclear issues.
President Putin’s nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible.
We take these threats seriously.
And we remain vigilant.
We will not be intimidated.
Any use of nuclear weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict, and have severe consequences.
Russia knows that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
Allies were updated on NATO’s long-planned deterrence exercise Steadfast Noon, which starts next week.
This is routine annual training, to ensure NATO’s nuclear capabilities remain safe, secure and effective.
NATO’s nuclear deterrence preserves peace, prevents coercion and deters aggression.
Ministers also reviewed our progress on strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence.
We are increasing the number of high readiness forces.
We now have more troops in the eastern part of the Alliance.
Including eight NATO battlegroups, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
Which can be scaled up quickly to brigade size.
Today, we took 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.
NATO agencies can also support Allies to facilitate procurement, and organise warehousing for equipment.
We also addressed what more we will do to protect our critical infrastructure following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines.
We have increased our vigilance in the Baltic and North Seas.
And doubled our naval presence there.
Allies are increasing security around key installations.
And we are stepping up our intelligence-sharing and surveillance across all domains.
From space, to undersea capabilities.
We also agreed to enhance the resilience of critical undersea and energy infrastructure.
Including when it comes to cyber security.
Senior resilience experts from all Allies will meet at NATO for the first time this year, and address this in detail.
In our final session today, Allies focused on NATO’s missions and operations.
From the Western Balkans to Iraq.
We were joined by the EU High Representative Borrell.
In a more unpredictable world, it is important to strengthen and deepen NATO-EU cooperation.
And I look forward to signing a new Joint Declaration with the EU Presidents in the near future.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO continues to support the EU-led operation Althea.
And in Kosovo, NATO’s KFOR mission maintains a safe and secure environment in line with its UN mandate.
In recent months, we have seen tensions flare up on multiple occasions.
All parties must behave responsibly, show restraint and avoid violence.
The EU-facilitated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is the only way forward.
And KFOR stands ready to intervene if required.
In Iraq, NATO remains committed to our training mission.
Helping the security forces to suppress terrorism.
NATO remains strong and vigilant, ready to face any threat, from any direction.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.
NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We will start with Sky. Lady in white.
Deborah Haynes (Sky News): Thank you very much. Thank you, Secretary General. The French President has said that France would not retaliate with nuclear weapons should Russia launch a nuclear strike against Ukraine or in the region. Would NATO consider a nuclear response to such an attack? And is France undermining Western deterrence by unilaterally ruling out a nuclear response?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: The fundamental purpose of NATO's nuclear deterrent is to preserve peace and deter aggression, and prevent coercion against NATO Allies.
The circumstances in which NATO might have to use nuclear weapons are extremely remote.
Russia's nuclear rhetoric is dangerous, reckless. And they know that if they use nuclear weapon against Ukraine, it will have severe consequences. And they also know that a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.
NATO Spokesperson: Ukraine News Agency.
Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): Thank you. National News Agency of Ukraine, Dmytro Shkurko. Secretary General, you just mentioned that the exercises you will held next week will be routine one. But would you consider some kind of scenario, taking into account the Russian rhetoric, because right now they are threatening to blow up by the nuclear weapons the Ukrainian bridges. But that means the contamination of soils and waters. This is dangerous not only for Ukraine, for Russia, and also for Europe. Could that kind of development trigger the Article 5? Thanks.
NATO Secretary General: The Steadfast Noon exercise is a long-planned exercise. It’s an annual exercise. It was planned before the invasion of Ukraine and we have been transparent on this. And the purpose of that exercise is to ensure that our nuclear deterrent is safe, secure and effective. And this is to prevent coercion. It is to prevent an attack on a NATO Ally. It is to preserve peace. Because we know that our nuclear deterrent is our ultimate deterrence. Deterrence is the way to prevent any attack on a NATO Ally and to preserve peace. And we have demonstrated that NATO's nuclear deterrent is effective and works. We have done that for decades.
Then, you ask me questions actually about two different things. Because one thing is an attack on NATO Allies. Then, we will, of course, we will trigger Article 5. But when it comes to Ukraine, NATO is not party to the conflict. But we support Ukraine in defending themselves. Ukraine is a close partner. We have been supporting Ukraine for many years. NATO Allies have trained and equipped the Ukrainian forces since 2014. And of course, after the invasion in February, Allies have stepped up. And over the last months and weeks, we have further delivered further and even more advanced systems to help Ukraine protect themselves against the brutality of the Russian military forces.
NATO Spokesperson: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Secretary General, over the past days you've said numerous times that you haven't seen any indications that Russia may be preparing a nuclear attack. Now, it's also going to hold its nuclear exercise soon. And in the context of this, I wonder how it will be possible to distinguish preparations for a full scale nuclear exercise from preparations for a nuclear attack.
NATO Secretary General: NATO and NATO Allies, we have very good intelligence. We are working hard. We have monitored Russian nuclear forces for decades. And, of course, we will continue to monitor them very closely and we will stay vigilant, also when they now start a new exercise. What I can say is that this exercise, the Russian exercise, is an annual exercise. It's an exercise where they test and exercise their nuclear forces. We will monitor that, as we always do. And of course, we will remain vigilant not least in light of the veiled nuclear threats and the dangerous nuclear rhetoric we have seen from the Russian side. Again, the purpose of NATO is to prevent war, is to prevent any use of nuclear weapons. And therefore, we also are communicating these so clearly, also to Russia.
NATO Spokesperson: Reuters.
Sabine Siebold (Reuters): Thank you, Secretary General. A NATO official yesterday said in case of a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine, NATO or NATO Allies were almost certain to respond physically. Could you explain that to us? What would that mean? Would that mean respond with force?
NATO Secretary General: It will have severe consequences if Russia uses nuclear weapon, any kind of nuclear weapon against Ukraine. And this is something Russia knows, something NATO and NATO Allies have communicated in different ways to Russia. And we will not go into exactly how we will respond. But of course, this will fundamentally change the nature of the conflict. It will mean that a very important line has been crossed. Even any use of a smaller nuclear weapon will be a very serious thing, fundamentally changing the nature of the war in Ukraine. Of course, that will have consequences and Russia knows there will be consequences.
NATO Spokesperson: Here, in the middle.
Paul McLeary (POLITICO): Thank you. Paul McLeary with Politico. Russia has attacked civilian targets in Ukraine from the start of the war. But it's really ramped up this week. Do you think these attacks are deliberate and do they constitute war crimes?
NATO Secretary General: We have seen throughout the whole war attacks on civilians. We have seen horrific attacks on civilian infrastructure, on hospitals, on residential areas. And we have seen a high number of civilian casualties. And, of course, any deliberate attack on civilians constitutes a war crime. That's also the reason why it is so important to now support the ongoing investigations. NATO Allies are providing support to Ukraine so they can collect facts, make available all the documentation which is necessary. And then this is important to ensure that those who are responsible are held accountable for war crimes committed in Ukraine.
NATO Spokesperson: Wall Street Journal.
Dan Michaels (Wall Street Journal): Winter is going to make war fighting hard for both sides. Does Ukraine have enough support and the particular equipment it needs from NATO members and from the Contact Group to continue pushing its recent offensive throughout the winter? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: The main message from the meetings in Brussels today and yesterday, in the NATO Defence Ministerial Meeting and the US-led Contact Group, was to mobilize more support for Ukraine. Not least in light of the fact that the winter is coming. So there has been a lot of focus on winter clothing, on equipment to enable them to also operate throughout the winter, generators, tents, and all the things which are extremely important to enable the Ukrainian forces to operate also throughout the winter. Then, I think I will leave it to the Ukrainian commanders to comment exactly on how they will operate. But our task is to enable them to also be able to conduct meaningful operations throughout the winter and continue to supply them with everything from fuel, winter clothing, tents to advanced weapons systems, air defence, armoured vehicles, and advanced artillery.
NATO Spokesperson: We will now go to Army Inform Ukraine. Gentleman with glasses.
Yehor Brailian (Army Inform): Yes, good afternoon. Yehor Brailian, Army Inform. What will NATO do to help to protect Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and the military to outlast the war?
NATO Secretary General: NATO will step up what NATO, NATO Allies and partners have now done for several months. We have all delivered unprecedented support to Ukraine. And this has helped the Ukrainians to make the gains they've made over the last weeks in the war against the invading Russian forces. Of course, the victories we have seen in Kharkhiv and in Kherson belong to the brave Ukrainian soldiers. But the support that NATO, NATO Allies and partners have provided has enabled them to make these gains. And we will continue and deliver even more ammunition, weapons and also, of course, air defence systems. Partly to protect their forces, the critical infrastructure, but also to protect civilians. I trust that Ukrainian commanders know how to best utilize the different air defence systems we are delivering.
But you have to understand that just over the last few days we have had announcements and deliveries from countries like the United States, Germany just announced, actually, delivered their advanced air defence system. Spain announced a new delivery of HAWK air defence launchers today. And France has announced more air defence to Ukraine, as well as the Netherlands and many other countries. So just over the last few days, we have seen that when we mobilize, when you call on NATO Allies to do more, they are actually doing more. And that's making a huge difference. And that was also the main topic we discussed with Defence Minister Reznikov. And, of course, he calls on us to do more. I call on Allies, we all call on Allies, and Allies are digging deeper into their stocks to be able to provide more support to Ukraine.
At the same time, the deeper we dig into existing NATO stocks, the more important it is that we also are able to ramp up production. So that has been the other main issue in the meetings today: how to ensure that our industry are producing more, partly by utilizing the existing production capacity more… just to utilize existing investments more. But then, they are also obviously need to invest more to expand the production capacity so we are prepared for long haul. Both to be able to replenish our own stocks for our own deterrence and defence, but also to enable us to continue to support Ukraine.
NATO Spokesperson: ATV Kosovo. Lady in black.
Flaka Vitaku (ATV Kosovo): Thank you. Please can you give us more details on what you discussed on the Western Balkans, especially with regard to cooperation with European Union?
NATO Secretary General: First of all, the Western Balkans is a region in Europe where the European Union and NATO are working very closely together. Of course, we work together in Bosnia and Herzegovina where NATO supports the EU-led operation Althea. We all work hard for an extension of the UN mandate for that operation. And the NATO Headquarters in Sarajevo is working closely with the EU personnel and the EU offices and also operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
NATO, of course, has a long history in the Western Balkans. We helped to end two brutal wars, first in Bosnia and Herzegovina, then in Kosovo. We have our presence, the KFOR mission in Kosovo. Allies are committed to continue, to contribute forces. There were some new announcements made from some countries to step up support for our KFOR mission. And we have seen increased tensions in Kosovo, not least related to the license plate issue. And again, we see how NATO troops, the KFOR troops support the efforts of the EU diplomats to make progress on the EU-facilitated Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. So and then of course, we have many members in the Western Balkan region. And NATO has actually, recently…we have two new members from the region, Montenegro and North Macedonia, demonstrating that NATO’s door is open, and that we are further strengthening our relationship with that region.
NATO Spokesperson: FENA.
Monika Cubela-Savic (FENA): There is no internal political consensus in Bosnia and Herzegovina to joining the NATO Alliance. That's a big challenge. How do you see that issue? And how close are we to joining NATO? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the countries that have… which are on the path towards NATO membership. And of course we will continue to support the efforts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to move closer towards NATO. And we work and we support those efforts. Then, at the end of the day, of course it has to be Bosnia and Herzegovina that decides whether it wants to join NATO or not. That’s for the aspirant country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and for the 30 Allies to decide, soon to be actually 32 with Finland and Sweden. No one else. But of course, it has to be something that is wanted by Bosnia and Herzegovina. NATO will always respect decisions by countries to choose their own path. So if a country wants to be neutral, we of course 100% respect that. If they want to join NATO, of course, then we sit down and see what we can do to make them move towards NATO membership.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we'll take one final question from Polish TV. Lady in blue.
Dominika Cosic (TVP): I want to ask you, do you consider a risk of new provocation on the border between Poland or Lithuania and Belarus? And what might be the answer of NATO in the case of new Belarussian provocation on the border.. or Russian. Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: When the invasion happened in February, NATO was well prepared because we had intelligence telling us clearly that invasion was under preparation and something that was going to come. We actually shared that intelligence with the broader public as early as last fall.
So when the invasion happened, we were prepared. Meaning that the same morning we were able to activate our defence plans and increase further our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. So, we were not surprised. And I say this because we have actually been preparing for a situation like this since 2014. Since 2014, we have implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. Therefore, we were able to deploy thousands of new troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, also to Poland, backed by significant naval and air forces. And we have increased the readiness of our forces to be able to further reinforce, if needed. We also made the decisions in Madrid that will further strengthen NATO's collective defence.
I say all this because the purpose of this increased military presence is to prevent any misunderstanding or miscalculation about NATO's readiness to protect every inch of allied territory. And the reason why we repeat and repeat again and again this message is that as long there is no miscalculation in any capital of any potential adversary, then they will not attack us. Because we are the strongest Alliance in history. Of course, there is always risk for hybrid attacks, for cyber-attacks. But an armed attack on the NATO allied country, well, we have been able to protect against that for more than 70 years because we have been united. And because we have been able to, every day, send a clear message of deterrence, that we are one for all, all for one, that are collective defence clause is real.
NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.
NATO Secretary General: Thank you.