Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with Prime Minister of Estonia, Kaja Kallas and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen

  • 24 Feb. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 24 Feb. 2023 15:04

(As delivered)

Joint press conference of the NATO Secretary General, the Prime Minister of Estonia and the President of the European Commission at Stenbock House

Prime Minister Kallas, dear Kaja, 
Congratulations on Estonia’s Independence Day!

President von der Leyen, dear Ursula, 
It is an honour to be together with both of you here, in Tallinn today on this very symbolic day.  

Over a hundred years ago, Estonian troops fought bravely for their freedom and independence. 

Independence was short lived, but the Estonian people never gave up.
And with the fall of the Iron Curtain, you regained your freedom.

And thank you so much for inviting me to be part of the celebrations today, the flag rising ceremony and the wreath laying ceremony was really moving.
It demonstrates how much you value your freedom.

Your history is a strong reminder that we cannot take our freedom for granted.

Freedom is not for free.
We must fight for it every day. 

Today, it is the Ukrainian people who are bravely fighting for their freedom.
And despite a dark year of despair and destruction, their determination and courage will no doubt prevail.    

One year ago, President Putin launched his full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.

An illegal war of aggression.
In blatant breach of basic international rules.

He wanted to break the will of the Ukrainian people.
And he wanted to break our unity. 

President Putin failed.
Ukraine stands.
And NATO and the EU stand with Ukraine.  

Yet, Putin has not given up his goals.
He wants a different Europe.
Where Russia can dictate what neighbours do.

He is not preparing for peace.
He is preparing for more war.  
So we must give Ukraine what they need to prevail.

Some worry our support to Ukraine risks triggering escalation.
But there are no risk-free options.
And the biggest risk of all is if President Putin wins.

Because the message to him and other authoritarian leaders would be that they can use force to get what they want.

That would make the world more dangerous.
And us more vulnerable.

So supporting Ukraine is not just morally the right thing to do.
It is also in our own security interest.

That is why NATO Allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine.

Working hand in hand with the European Union.

Again, Estonia is leading by example.   
Providing more military aid as a share of GDP than any other country. 

NATO presence protects the space for Allies to provide this support. 

Since 2014, we have significantly reinforced our presence and readiness.

From the Black to the Baltic Sea. 
Including here in Estonia. 

NATO’s multinational battlegroup in Tapa, led by the United Kingdom, deters aggression.

Fighters from France and Germany help protect your skies.

And NASAMS from Spain will augment your air defences. 

All this sends a clear message to Moscow. NATO will protect and defend Estonia. 
And every inch of Allied territory. 
Our article 5 commitment is ironclad.
All for one, and one for all. 

And at our Vilnius Summit in July, 
we will take further steps to strengthen our collective defence.

We also see progress as regards the historic accession of Finland and Sweden into our Alliance, two close neighbours of Estonia.

28 out of 30 Allies have already ratified the accession protocols.
I had good discussions with President Erdogan in Ankara last week.
We agreed to restart the talks and to convene a trilateral meeting between Finland, Sweden and Türkiye at NATO  Headquarters in mid-March under my auspices.
To discuss the implementation of the agreement made last June and how to complete the accession process. 

And it is good that the Hungarian parliament will start the ratification process next week. 
Our aim is for both Finland and Sweden to join as soon as possible.
This will strengthen their security.
It will strengthen Europe’s security.
And it will strengthen NATO.

So dear Kaja, dear Ursula,
Thank you once again, for our excellent discussions and not least your strong commitment to the strong transatlantic bond for North America and Europe, standing together to protect our freedom. Thank you.


[Inaudible name] Public Broadcasting
Yes, thank you, [inaudible] for public broadcasting, questions to all of you actually, about China's position paper about Ukraine and it has 12 points. I would like to know do you find it credible, especially as it –as the China abstained United Nations vote yesterday about Ukraine and also before the war started you were shared intelligent info about Russia's troops and preparation. So has United States shared any info about its claim made by Mr. Blinken that China is considering giving weapons to Russia. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General 
On the question of surprise of military support from China to Russia, we have not seen any actual delivery of lethal aid. But what we have seen, are signs and indications that China may be planning and considering to supply military aid to Russia, and China should not do that. Because that will be to support an illegal war of aggression. Breaching international law and violating the UN Charter and China is a member of the UN Security Council and they have a particular responsibility to protect the UN Charter and this is a war of aggression violating exactly that charter, then on the proposals and the points presented by China. So first of all, China doesn't have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine and they also signed that just days before the invasion, an agreement between President Xi and President Putin on limitless partnership with Russia. So I think what we see now in Ukraine is that President Putin is not preparing for war he is preparing for the exact opposite, for more war, for more new offensives, and therefore most likely this war at some stage will end at the negotiating table. But if we want a peaceful solution, we need to also realize that what happens around that negotiating table is totally dependent on the strength and the situation on the battlefield. So meaning that if we want a peaceful negotiated solution where Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation, then we need to support Ukraine military now because that's the only way to create the conditions where President Putin realize that he will not win on the battlefield. He has to sit down and accept Ukraine as an independent sovereign nation in Europe. So, military support today is the way to achieve a peaceful agreement tomorrow.

We have our next one, please.

[inaudible name], Postimees
My name is [inaudible]. I come from the Postimees. I have one question to the President of the European Commission. And one question to the Secretary General of NATO. To the commission, what measures will you take to prevent the circumvention of the European sanctions by the third countries and to the NATO Secretary General, how NATO will help Moldova to secure its defence against Russia?

NATO Secretary General 
On Moldova, of course, we are concerned when we see the challenges they face, and that's a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine. Moldova is a close and highly valued partner of NATO. We have been working with them for many years. We have agreed now to step up our partnership and also to help to build defence capacity. We have a tailored defence capacity building agreement in place to help to strengthen their different institutions and to help them to strengthen their resilience. We also welcome of course, efforts by individual Allies, also know that the European Union is doing a lot to support Moldova because I think if there's one lesson, that at least, we can learn from the war in Ukraine is the importance of supporting those countries which are vulnerable for Russian aggression as soon as possible. And that also applies for Moldova. And that's the reason why I need to work more closer and provide more support to Moldova.

Next one, please.

Herman, Delfi
Hello Herman [inaudible] from Delfi. As you all know, any positive signal from these two large multinational powers can serve as a boost for morale for troops on the frontlines and an entire nation in suffering. So my question to President Von der Leyen would be Ukraine would like to begin accession talks to the EU within this year. Can you tell Ukrainians what their government can do to make that dream happen? And Secretary General Stoltenberg, President Zelenskyy is coming to the Vilnius summit and Ukraine would like to see a clear pathway to membership there. So what can the Ukrainians do to make that dream happen? And I'd like the Prime Minister's thoughts on that as well. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General 
I invited President Zelenskyy to attend to the NATO summit in Vilnius in July. I really hope that they can be there in person but of course it depends on the situation because he is in the midst of a full-fledged war, invasion of his country. NATO's position on membership for Ukraine remains unchanged. We have stated several times that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance. At the same time, we all realize that the first step to ensure that that will happen is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation, without a sovereign democratic free Ukraine, membership won’t be an issue at all. So all our focus, all our efforts is now on ensure that Ukraine prevails that Putin doesn't win, because then there will be no issue of membership for Ukraine. Then when this war ends, then of course, we need to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself. Because there's a pattern of Russian aggression, Georgia in 2008, Crimea and Eastern Donbas in 2014, and then the full fledge invasion last year, and we need to make sure that when the war ends now that Russia is not able to continue to chip away at European security, and we need to break this cycle of Russian aggression. This will be about enabling the Ukrainians to have strong armed forces themselves so they can deter aggression themselves, but it will also be an issue of creating the framework and the political framework that sends a clear message to Moscow that it cannot continue to attack an independent, sovereign, democratic neighbor, Ukraine. So we need to help Ukraine move forward on the Euro Atlantic path. Ukraine is part of the Euro Atlantic family and the first step is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign nation.

Thank you. Next one, please.

[Inaudible name], German Public Broadcaster
German public broadcaster, question to the Secretary General. You mentioned talks with Türkiye, how can NATO act on Türkiye in order to speed up Sweden's joining process?

NATO Secretary General 
First of all, this is a priority for NATO and for me, and I'm confident that both Finland and Sweden will become full members of the Alliance. Second, I have just met with President [inaudible] and of course we discussed also how we can make progress on the accession of Finland and Sweden. And we agreed to restart the talks to convene the meeting in Brussels. At the NATO headquarters with Finland Sweden and Türkiye. And we need also to understand that so far this has been the quickest accession process in NATO's modern history. Finland and Sweden applied in May last year, already in June, 30 Allies also Türkiye decided to invite them. And we also, all 30 Allies agreed, including Türkiye on the accession protocols and all 30 Allies signed these accession protocols, then 28 out of 30 Allies have already ratified in national parliaments. The Hungarian parliament [inaudible] declare that they will start the accession process, discussions and the decisions last –next week. And then on Finland and Sweden, I cannot guarantee you any specific date. But on Finland, Türkiye has made it clear that they don't see any problems with ratification. With Sweden, there are some issues still remains, I have made it clear that both Finland and Sweden have lived up to their commitments they signed up to at the NATO summit last year. So I think the time has come to ratify both of them now. But of course, Türkiye has now the position and then we have this trilateral mechanism to address how to ensure that the accession process continues to move forward. And the most important thing is not whether Finland Sweden joins exactly at the same time. The most important thing is that they join us as soon as possible. You can briefly add one more thing and that is that we need to understand that Finland and Sweden are [inaudible] totally different place now. They're much more secure now than before they applied because as part of the accession process, they have now been integrated more and more into NATO civilian and military structures, defence planning, capability targets, we exercise [inaudible] together NATO's increases presence, different Allies have also provided bilateral security assurances. So it's absolutely inconceivable that Finland or Sweden will be faced with any military threats from Russia without NATO reacting. So we are making a lot of progress. We have come a long way already and I'm confident [inaudible] finalise this process.

So time for final question, please.

James Bays, Al Jazeera
James Bays from Al Jazeera, Secretary General, I've already asked you this once this week, but please can you tell us what evidence you have that China is giving, is thinking of giving weapons to Russia? And to all three of you. I know this is the final question. So very quickly and directly. You're here for Estonia's independence. But what message directly to President Putin do you want to send today about Ukraine's independence?

NATO Secretary General 
Well, we are monitoring closely what China is doing. And we have seen signs they may be considering and planning to send lethal aid to Russia. This will be a very big mistake. This is very serious and that's also why the United States and other Allies have conveyed so clearly that this should not happen. Then briefly on the message of Moscow, the message to Moscow is that the President Putin started this war, President Putin can end this war today by withdrawing his forces, if he doesn't do that, we will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes. And Allies have provided unprecedented level of military support to Ukraine. And because this is about Ukraine, it will be a tragedy if President Putin wins, for the Ukrainians, but it will be dangerous for all of us. And therefore, this is in our own security interest to ensure that Ukraine prevails.