by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Folk och Försvar Security Conference in Sälen, Sweden
Thank you very much.
Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much for inviting me to participate here today, at one of the leading security policy forums in the Nordic region.
A visit to Sweden and Sälen is a good start to the New Year.
It was not long ago that I last came here to the National Conference.
It was in 2018.
But a lot has changed since the last time I was here.
There is full-on war in Europe.
And Sweden and Finland are on their way to join NATO.
First, a few words about Ukraine.
The brutality of the war has shocked many.
But there is no reason to be surprised.
We saw this war coming.
It is part of a pattern where Moscow uses military force to achieve its political goals.
The brutality in Grozny.
The invasion of Georgia.
The bombing of Aleppo.
And the war in Ukraine did not start last February.
It started in 2014.
With Russia's annexation of Crimea and the attacks in Eastern Ukraine.
But it is not only this pattern that did not surprise us.
At NATO, we also had precise intelligence about the build-up of Russian forces along the border and their concrete plans.
We made this information public and warned about a possible invasion for months.
We repeatedly made significant political and diplomatic efforts to prevent war.
But President Putin still chose to attack.
NATO was prepared.
Since 2014, we have carried out the largest restructuring of the alliance since the end of the Cold War.
Deployed more NATO troops in our member countries.
Increased the readiness of our forces.
Established new defence domains, such as cyber.
And not least, NATO Allies have been investing more in defence.
Hours after the invasion, we activated our defence plans and significantly increased our military presence, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
We now have even more soldiers on high alert.
This is not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent the war in Ukraine from becoming a full-blown war between NATO and Russia.
And to remove any room for misunderstandings and misjudgements in Moscow about our ability and willingness to defend NATO territory.
Strong defence secures peace.
NATO and NATO allies also make significant contributions to Ukraine.
For many years, NATO and especially the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have provided weapons, equipment and training to Ukraine.
Many more countries are now contributing, including Sweden.
It is important and it makes a difference.
If Putin wins in Ukraine, it will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians.
But it is also dangerous for us.
The message to him and other authoritarian leaders will be that if they use military force, they will get what they want.
It will make us more vulnerable.
There will be no lasting peace if oppression and tyranny win over freedom and democracy.
So we do not just have a moral obligation to support a country that is attacked by another.
It is also in our own interest and important for our safety.
Wars are unpredictable.
It is impossible to say when, or how, the war in Ukraine will end.
But what we know is that most wars end at the negotiating table.
Most likely this one too.
What Ukrainians can achieve at the table depends on their strength on the battlefield.
So if we want a negotiated peace solution, where Ukraine survives as an independent democratic country in Europe, the fastest way to get there is to support Ukraine.
Weapons are – in fact – the way to peace.
Regardless of when, or how, this war ends, we must accept that the security situation in Europe has changed permanently.
The regime in Moscow wants a different Europe.
It wants to control neighbouring countries, and it sees democracy and freedom as a threat.
This puts Russia in a position of constant confrontation with the West.
So even if this war ends, the problems in our relationship with Russia persist.
The Ukrainian forces have inflicted heavy losses on Russia in Ukraine.
But Russians have once again shown a willingness to take great risks and endure great human losses.
They have already mobilized 200,000 extra troops.
In addition, we know that they can acquire a lot of new material.
And perhaps most importantly, there is no indication that Russia’s ambitions have changed.
It is dangerous to underestimate Russia.
It also has major consequences for security in the Nordic region.
It is therefore rewarding that Sweden and Finland are now becoming members of NATO.
It erases grey areas.
Strengthens the political community.
And NATO's ability to ensure security in the Nordic region, the Baltic region and Europe.
And that will make us all safer.
Not least because Sweden and Finland have a lot to contribute.
You have strong defences.
You have operated together with NATO for many years.
And you have a modern defence industry.
At the NATO Summit in Madrid last year, Sweden, Finland and Türkiye reached an agreement to strengthen cooperation and step up the fight against terrorism.
This paved the way for the historic decision to invite Sweden and Finland into NATO.
And I am happy that the agreement has been followed through.
This has been the fastest membership process in NATO's modern history.
All NATO allies have signed the accession protocol.
28 out of 30 countries have ratified.
I am confident that we will soon be able to warmly welcome you as full members of NATO.
Sweden and Finland's security has already been significantly strengthened.
A number of NATO Allies have given you security assurances.
NATO has increased its presence in this region.
And Sweden and Finland now participate in NATO meetings and are integrated in military cooperation.
It is inconceivable that NATO would not act if the security of Sweden and Finland is threatened.
Sweden has come a long way in a short time.
I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank both former Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson for showing political drive in uncertain times.
Their leadership and the broad consensus in Sweden on NATO membership have strengthened Sweden's security.
A lot has changed since the last time I was here.
It is a more dangerous world.
That makes it even more important that we, who believe in freedom and democracy, stand together.
Not because we are always right.
Not because we never make mistakes.
Nor because we always agree. I'll be the first to admit that's not always the case.
But because we share the same values.
And because we are so much stronger together than alone.
NATO represents 50 percent of the world's economic power and 50 percent of the world's military power.
In a way, that is half the world brought together to secure peace for each other.
And to continue to preserve our freedom and democracy.