Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the release of his Annual Report 2022

  • 21 Mar. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 22 Mar. 2023 09:48

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.
Today, I am presenting my Annual Report for 2022.
This report sums up the main activities of our Alliance in the last year.
2022 was a pivotal year for our security.
Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine is now entering its second year.

President Putin made a big strategic mistake when he invaded Ukraine.
He expected Kyiv would fall within days, and the whole of Ukraine within weeks.
But he underestimated the steely resistance of the Ukrainian people.

He thought he could break NATO unity.
But NATO Allies are standing strong and united, and providing unprecedented support for Ukraine.

And he wanted less NATO.
But he has got exactly the opposite.
More NATO.

In response to Russia’s illegal war, Finland and Sweden decided to apply for NATO membership.
Which will double the length of NATO’s border with Russia.

At the NATO Summit in Madrid last June,
all Allies took the historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to join.

Both countries have addressed Türkiye’s legitimate security concerns.
And delivered on their commitments under the Trilateral Memorandum, agreed in Madrid.

Türkiye is now ready to ratify Finland’s membership of NATO.
I welcome that decision.
And I look forward to the Grand National Assembly ratifying Finland’s accession before the upcoming Turkish general election.
I also welcome that the Hungarian parliament will vote on Finland next week.

The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO quickly.
Not whether they join at exactly the same time.

And I will continue to work hard to ensure that Sweden becomes a full member as soon as possible.
Because the accession of Finland and Sweden will make them safer.
Our Alliance stronger.
And demonstrate that NATO’s door remains open.

President Putin wants a different Europe.
He sees democracy and freedom as a threat.
And he seeks to control its neighbours.

So even if the war in Ukraine ended tomorrow,
The security environment has changed for the long-term.

Putin’s invasion last year was a shock, but it was not a surprise.
It was the culmination of a pattern of aggressive action.

And in response, since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014,
NATO has implemented the largest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation.

So when Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, we were ready.
Within hours, we activated our defence plans.
From the Baltic to the Black Sea.

We put 40,000 troops under NATO command.
With a significant air and maritime presence.
And doubled the number of NATO battlegroups from four to eight.

At the same time, NATO Allies have provided Ukraine with significant support.
Supplying advanced weapons systems and ammunition to help Ukraine defend itself and regain territory.

We are also in the process of agreeing new capability targets for the production of battle-decisive ammunition.
And engaging with industry to ramp up production.
To support Ukraine against Russia’s aggression.
And for our own defence.

NATO is increasing the protection of our critical national infrastructure.
Including undersea cables and pipelines.
We have set up an Undersea Infrastructure Coordination Cell here at NATO headquarters.
And established a joint NATO-EU Task Force.

At our Summit in Madrid last June, NATO Allies agreed a further fundamental shift in our deterrence and defence.
With new plans assigning specific forces to defend specific Allies.
Higher readiness, more stocks, and more pre-positioned equipment.
And even stronger command and control arrangements.

We agreed a new Strategic Concept, the first in a decade.
To guide our Alliance in an era of strategic competition.

It identifies Russia as the most significant threat to our security.
Along with the ongoing threat of terrorism.
And makes clear that China challenges our interests, security and values.

2022 was the eighth consecutive year of increased defence spending across Europe and Canada.
Last year, defence spending increased by 2.2% in real terms.
Since Allies agreed the Defence Investment Pledge in 2014, European Allies and Canada have spent an additional $350 billion extra on defence.

Many Allies have also announced significant defence spending increases since Russia’s invasion.
Now these pledges must turn into real cash, contracts, and concrete equipment.
Because defence spending underpins everything we do.

Since 2014, Allies have increased defence spending and we are moving in the right direction.
But we are not moving as fast as the dangerous world we live in demands. 

So while I welcome all the progress that has been made,
it is obvious that we need to do more.
And we need to do it faster.

At our Summit in Vilnius in July, I expect Allies to agree a more ambitious new defence investment pledge.
With 2% of GDP as a minimum to be invested in our defence.
In this new and more contested world, we cannot take our security for granted.  
It is our security that underpins our prosperity and our way of life.

Our latest polling shows that 82% of people across the 30 NATO Allies believe it is important that North America and Europe  work together for our shared security.
And 61% agree that NATO membership makes an attack from a foreign nation less likely.

NATO has enabled Europe and North America to live in peace for almost 75 years.
But today’s world is as dangerous as at any time since the Second World War.

The years to come will be challenging.
And NATO must continue to rise to the challenge.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We’ll start with Reuters.

Reuters: From Reuters. Secretary General, can you tell us how many countries are currently reaching the 2% target, according to your latest report? And if that number is still relatively small as part of the total, can you comment on, do you have any concerns about the fact that even almost 10 years after that goal was agreed, most Allies aren't meeting that target?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We have all the numbers and the figures updated in this report, both graphically but also in tables, where you can look into the details for each and every Ally. And it shows that seven Allies now spend the 2%. We actually expected that to be slightly more earlier. but because GDP has increased more than expected for a couple of Allies, two Allies that we expected to be at 2% are now slightly below 2%.

So as I said, we welcome the progress, we welcome the fact that all Allies have increased, that more Allies now spend 2% of GDP on defence, and more and more Allies are actually coming closer to 2%. Having said that, there is no doubt that we need to do more, and we need to do it faster. The pace we have when it comes to increase defence spending is not high enough. So my message to Allies is that I welcome what they've done, but they need to speed up, they need to deliver more in a more dangerous world, we need to invest more in defence.

Let me add that of course, it is important that Allies meet the 2% guideline. But of course, it also helps that those Allies who have been close to 1% now are at 1.5, we are moving towards 2%. So for instance, Germany has significantly increased defence spending over the last years. They are still not at 2% but the increase in German defence spending makes a big difference because of the sheer volume of the German economy and the German defence budget, and Germany has clearly committed to be at 2% soon.

NATO Spokesperson: Ok. We’ll go to Associated Press.

Associated Press: Secretary General, Laurent [inaudible] from the Associated Press. You just met with the Hungarian Foreign Minister, and I understand from some remarks that he's made in Brussels that you intend to go ahead with a ministerial-level meeting at some point,  NATO-Ukraine, and I wonder why you've made that decision to go ahead, despite what I understand to be existing Hungarian objections. And if I could briefly, I'd be very interested in any remarks you might have about the Chinese peace plan that President Xi and President Putin are talking about at the moment. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: First, on the peace plan: It is for Ukraine to decide what are acceptable conditions for any peaceful solution. And China therefore needs to start to understand Ukraine's perspective, and to engage with President Zelensky directly if it wants to be serious about peace. We also need to remember that China has not been able to condemn the illegal war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine. Having said that, of course, I will welcome any initiative, any plan, that can lead to adjust a sustainable peace.

China's peace proposal includes some positive aspects and elements which I support, for instance the importance of nuclear safety, or protection of civilians, and not least underlining the importance of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. And of course, any peace solution for Ukraine must be based on these principles, to the respect of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

And this is also the main element of the peace plan that President Zelensky put forward some months ago. And of course, any durable, lasting peace has to respect Ukraine as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe in accordance with the UN Charter. And a ceasefire or any solution that doesn't respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine will only be a way to freeze the war, and to ensure that Russia can reconstitute, regroup and re-attack. And that will not be just and sustainable peace, it will only help Russia to hold on to territory it has illegally occupied.

So again, I welcome initiatives that can lead to a just and sustainable peace. At the end of the day it has up to Ukraine to decide what are the acceptable conditions. What we should do is to support Ukraine in the right to defend themselves, a right which is enshrined in the UN Charter, and they are defending themselves against Russia's illegal war of aggression.

Then on the NATO-Ukraine commission: Yes, my plan is to convene a meeting at our Foreign Ministerial meeting in a couple of weeks. I do so because I think this is a platform to demonstrate our support to Ukraine. Ukraine is an Enhanced Opportunity Partner. But at the same time, I'm aware of the issues related to minorities, and this is an issue that has also been discussed directly with Ukraine in a previous meeting, and I expect it will continue to be part of a dialogue with Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson: Politico.

Politico: Thank you very much. Secretary General, you mentioned that you will be advocating for a more ambitious defence investment pledge. I was wondering if you could share, perhaps a bit of detail of what you would be advocating for at Vilnius. Would it be again a 10 year pledge? Will the numbers still be 2%, just as before, or would you be advocating for a different number? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So first of all, it has to be, or will be, up to the 30 Allies - soon to be 32 Allies - to decide what will be the language of a new first investment pledge. But I will work for, I will advocate in favour of a more ambitious pledge than the pledge made in 2014. Simply because, yes, the war started in 2014, with the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia going into eastern Donbass. But of course, the full-fledged invasion that we saw last February has made it difficult and dangerous and challenged the security situation, even more dangerous and even more challenging.

So if there was a need to increase defence spending back in 2014, it is even more obvious now.
And of course, we also have to build on the progress we have made. Back in 2014, the majority of NATO Allies were reducing their defence budgets. Total defence spending across Europe and Canada was going down year by year. So we were on a downward trend, and only three Allies spent 2% or more on defence. Since 2014, that picture has totally changed.

Now, all Allies have increased defence spending. And in totality we now have eight consecutive years of more defence spending across Europe and Canada. So we are in a totally different place than we were in 2014 when things were going down, now they're going up, and they’re going significantly up, defence spendings.

So of course when we agree on a new defence investment pledge at the Summit in Vilnius, it has to build on the progress we have already made, and take into account the fact that we live in a more dangerous world. So what I will argue in favour of is that when we refer to 2% in the Pledge we made in Wales, in the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014, we referred to that as something we should strive towards, more like a kind of a ceiling. But now we should refer to 2% more as a floor, a minimum. And of course then, we then had a kind of 10-year perspective, 2014 to 2024.

Now, I think we should  all understand that this is going to immediately need to be there, and we have had now 10 years already to move towards the 2%, so I expect actually that in reality, the majority of Allies could be able to be at 2% very quickly.

NATO Spokesperson: Agence France Presse, here.

Agence France Presse: Thank you very much, Secretary General. Just returning to the issue of China. Have you had - do you have any more information on whether China is planning, or is actually supplying, arms to Russia for the war in Ukraine? And, more specifically, what is your message to President Xi as he meets with a leader who is now accused of committing war crimes? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: First, we haven't seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia but we have seen some signs that this has been a request from Russia, and that this is an issue that is considered in Beijing by the Chinese authorities. And therefore our message has been that China should not provide lethal aid to Russia. That would be to support an illegal war, and only prolong the war, and support the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. That is something that China, of course, should not do.

Then, of course, the meeting that takes place in Moscow is part of a pattern we have seen over the last years, where China and Russia are coming closer and closer. We have to remember that just a couple of weeks, a few weeks before the invasion last February, President Xi and President Putin met in Beijing, where they signed the joint declaration promising each other a partnership without any limits. And we see how China and Russia are coming closer and closer in the military domain, they have joint exercises, joint patrols, naval and air patrols, in the economic domain, and also in the political and diplomatic domain. So the meeting in Moscow is part of that pattern where China and Russia are working more and more closely, and building a stronger and stronger partnership.

NATO Spokesperson: Slovenian TV.

Slovenian TV: Igor Jurić, Slovenian Television. Secretary General, just a short question. How do you see, and of course also comment on the latest development in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, especially after this [inaudible] meeting of both leaders?

NATO Secretary General: Well, I welcome the agreement and the important thing now is the full implementation, the speedy and full implementation of the agreement between Belgrade and Priština. And of course, we strongly support the EU-facilitated dialogue. NATO Allies and NATO provide political support. We have been in close contact with the EU but also with Priština and Belgrade. And of course, we support also the efforts to find a peaceful solution through our KFOR mission close to 4000 NATO troops in Kosovo, which are key to facilitate and support a political process.
So we welcome the agreement. The message is that it has to be fully and quickly implemented by both parties.

NATO Spokesperson: Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Frankfurter Allgemeine: Thomas Gutschker. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Two questions. The first is for clarification. Has Hungary formally agreed to another meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission? And the second one is on ammunition. Yesterday, EU Foreign and Defence Ministers took the decision to provide Ukraine with 1 million artillery shells within 12 months. Commissioner Breton is also working with industry to get around bottlenecks in the production, hoping to speed it up. I am just wondering what specifically is NATO's role in speeding up delivery and production of artillery shells? What specifically can NATO do? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: First, on the speeding up of delivery. NATO has many tasks. So first of all, it was to set the guidelines and we started last year to revise our guidelines and not least for battle decisive ammunition, which includes artillery shells, to ensure that Allies started to ramp up production, both to replenish the stockpile, which they have depleted to provide support to Ukraine but of course also to be able to continue to, to deliver support to Ukraine.

We met with the defense industry, we met with our [inaudible] directors, and the message was very clear: ramp up our production. And I welcome that already several Allies have signed contracts. Of course, that is a national decision to sign the concrete contracts with industry.

But we also do and have done for many years, including on ammunition, we are doing joint procurement, partly with groups of NATO Allies but also through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). So joint procurement is something we have done for many years, we will continue to do joint procurement, including of ammunition. For instance, NSPA now is working on both. We have projects both on artillery, but also air defense, ammunition and other types of ammunition.

So I welcome, of course, the fact that the EU is now also engaging in joint procurement. But the most important thing is not whether the joint procurement is a group of nations or EU or the NATO Procurement Agency, or whether it is done by individual Allies. The most important thing is that contracts are signed with the industry so production can be increased. And we have already seen more contracts being signed and we welcome all the different initiatives, in different formats for joint procurement, because we think that can help to speed up and also utilize the economy of scale. But again, it happens in different formats, including through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency.

So far, NATO Allies have delivered military support over 65 billion euros. A lot of that comes from the United States, but also Canada and European Allies are providing significant military support to Ukraine, and it is not least to finance the delivery of ammunition.

It is my prerogative to convene the NATO-Ukraine Council and I do that because I think the time has come. Of course, I always try to have Allies to agree but when we cannot fully agree, then it is still my priority to convene a meeting in the North Atlantic Council, in different formats and now I do that.

NATO Spokesperson: Swedish radio.

Swedish Radio: Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. What does it mean in concrete terms that Swedish NATO membership is a top priority? As said yesterday.The second question, how included is Sweden for NATO future plans for the Baltic Sea? [inaudible] Finland is approaching NATO membership faster than Sweden.

NATO Secretary General: Well, I didn't get the last question.

Swedish Radio: How does it mean in concrete terms for the NATO plans for Baltic Sea that Finland is approaching NATO membership faster than Sweden?

NATO Secretary General: So first of all, I am absolutely confident that also Sweden will become a full member of this Alliance. Second, it is a top priority for me, meaning that I really believe that it will be good for NATO. It will be good for Finland, it will be good for Sweden, it will be good for all of us to have Finland and Sweden in as quickly as possible. That is also the reason why I worked hard to get agreement last year, which was an historic decision that all NATO Allies, also Türkiye and Hungary made to invite Finland and Sweden. And since then, since June last year, we had the quickest accession process in NATO's modern history, because we have to remember that Finland and Sweden applied in May.

Already in in June, they were invited. And since then, Finland and Sweden have a totally new position in NATO, because they now have the position as invitees. Meaning that they sit at the NATO table, we integrate in Finland and Sweden more and more into NATO's civilian and military structures and this integration process will take some time with military planning, with capability targets, and that integration process has not been postponed by the fact that the ratification has taken a bit more time than we hoped.

So the military integration goes on, regardless. So in a way the fact that Hungary and Türkiye has not ratified, because part of being invitee means that you can be integrated into NATO's military structures, including interim capability targets. So the military planning integration process is something which is moving on, not delayed by the ratification process.

Second, is that, for me, this is a top priority. Meaning that I spent, so I did what I could together with President Sauli Niinistö, with at that time, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and with the new government in Sweden, we will continue to work together closely to ensure the agreement, the invitation and now the integration into NATO civilian and military structures. And then the ratification. So far 28 has ratified.

I went to Ankara. I think it has been now three, four weeks ago. We had a good meeting with President Erdoğan. That was the meeting where he made it clear, that he is ready to, or Türkiye is ready to ratify Finland, and I welcome that, to now see progress on the ratification of Finland.  Hopefully that will happen very soon.

Then on Sweden, President Erdoğan in the meeting agreed to restart the process. Also in the meeting, what we call the Permanent Mechanism where Finland, Sweden, Türkiye meet, and they met under my auspices, at the NATO headquarters a few days ago. And that also then led to the formal announcement of the decision to move on with the ratification of Finland.

But of course, in that meeting, we also then are able to address how to make progress on the ratification of Sweden. And we will continue to meet, I spoke again with the President Erdoğan on Friday, and we again agreed to continue the consultations and the meetings to ensure that we can also make progress on the ratification of Sweden.

Then I spoke this morning with the Foreign Minister of Hungary, Péter Szijjártó and, he also confirmed that there will be a vote on the 27th of March in the Hungarian Parliament on the ratification of Finland and we will continue then to work on making progress on the ratification of Sweden.

NATO Spokesperson: Interfax Ukraine. There, with the red scarf.

Interfax Ukraine: Thank you. Ukrainian news agency. Interfax Ukraine, Irina Somer. Follow up on NATO-Ukraine Commission. Secretary General does it mean that we can see from now on that such kind of meeting will take place regularly, on a regular basis? And even that participation of the Ukrainian President, Mr. Zelensky in Vilnius, also will take place in this format, NATO-Ukraine Commission? And second question is, don't you think that time came to denounce NATO-Russia Rome agreement, which established also NATO-Russia Council? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: NATO Allies have worked for a meaningful dialogue with Russia for many, many years, Russia has walked away from that dialogue. So that is not functioning. It is not possible to have a meaningful dialogue with Russia, when they are conducting an illegal war of aggression against Ukraine.

But we used the NATO-Russia Council up until the invasion. We have to remember that we actually met in this building in January, just a few weeks before the invasion to try to convince and to try to use all diplomatic and political channels to prevent President Putin, Russia from implementing, to follow through on their plans to invade Ukraine. So the NATO-Russia Council was an important instrument in our efforts to try to establish some kind of meaningful dialogue with Russia. We used it to try to prevent the invasion of Ukraine but since the invasion, this has no meaning. We cannot have any meaningful dialogue with a country that is responsible for an illegal war of aggression against our neighbor, Ukraine. So we don't have meetings, of course, in this Council now.

Then when it comes to the NATO-Ukraine Council, this is an established framework. I have the mandate to convene it. I have in respect for the issues that Hungary has raised. I have not convened that for some time but now I will continue to convene the meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Council. The Commission, sorry. And, I will start with a meeting at the Foreign Ministerial meeting. I have not planned any more meetings but of course, this will not be a one-off event, we will continue to have meetings.

When it comes to the Summit, we have not decided yet on the formats, but I have made it clear that I will invite President Zelensky to the Summit. Exactly in what format we will meet that has not yet been decided.

NATO Spokesperson: Bloomberg.

Bloomberg: [inaudible] from Bloomberg. I just want to follow up on the question about Sweden's ratification. Do you still expect Sweden to be ratified by both Turkey and Hungary, by Vilnius? And then secondly, on the question about MiG fighter jets, Poland and Slovakia pledge. What impact do you expect this to have on the battlefield and have any Allies expressed concern about these deliveries? Especially with regards to escalation. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Well, on Finland, based on what has been announced both from Hungary and Türkiye, the two Allies have not yet ratified the Finnish Accession Protocol. I expect that they can become members before the Turkish election because Hungary has made it clear that they will vote on this in the Hungarian Parliament on the 27th of March. So that is, I base, what I say on what they have publicly said and also told me, Türkiye has made it clear that the plan is to ratify before the Turkish Parliament goes into recess ahead of the Turkish election.

Of course, I cannot guarantee on behalf of national parliaments. At the end of the day, it is a national parliament that make the decisions and I have been a parliamentarian and also Prime Minister myself, I am always very careful not speaking on behalf of Parliaments. Parliaments are sovereign bodies that make their own decisions, but at least that is what has been announced and based on those plans and those announcements, Finland will be member very soon and before the Turkish elections or before the Turkish Parliament goes into recess based on what they have said.

Then on Sweden, I will not give you an exact date but I will just tell you that this is a top priority. And l work hard to ensure that also Sweden becomes a full member and that the ratification process can be finalised as soon as possible. That’s the reason why I traveled to Ankara and that’s the reason why I also spent some time in Stockholm, in Helsinki and also convened the trilateral Permanent Mechanism here at NATO, And we will continue to engage with all these countries to ensure that we have the quickest possible ratification also of Sweden.

NATO Spokesperson: Ansa. Gentleman with glasses.

Ansa: Secretary General, in the Mediterranean, migration is reaching a level unseen since the 2015 crisis. Italy has recently linked this phenomenon with an intentional rational destabilization strategy. And as you know, the Strategic Concept states the 360 degrees approach to security, and see the MED as a critical theater. Now the question is, do you accept that the southern border can be at risk because of migration used as a hybrid weapon? And is NATO ready to do more in in that area? And secondly, if I may, would you be available for a second mandate, I mean, for a prolongation again, of your mandate maybe?

NATO Secretary General: First, on the South, well, NATO has significant presence in the Mediterranean and in the south, to address instability to fight terrorism. And we also support efforts of the European Union to deal with illegal migration. We, for instance, have a naval presence in the Aegean Sea to help implement the agreement between Türkiye and the European Union on illegal migration. I have been there since, for several years. We are also working with partners like Mauritania, like Tunisia and others, to help them build their defence and security institutions to stabilize their own countries. That is the rest of the root causes of the migration challenge. So we are working in many different ways. And of course, we also see that we see increased Russian presence in the south or in Africa, and not just with the Wagner group.

So I think that it just highlights that NATO doesn't have the luxury of choosing to either focus on one or the other challenge or threat we face, we need to be able to deal with all of them at the same time. Of course, they are indeed different nature and different intensity, but NATO has to deal with them at the same time.

Also, a lot of what we do on critical infrastructure is also related to the south, there are cables or undersea infrastructures also in the Mediterranean. But of course, NATO is a military Alliance, we have our tools, then the European Union, Nations have other tools. So we don't have all the tools. There is all these issues related to migration, but we support the efforts of the European Union and individual Allies in different ways and will continue to do so.

And also step up our work with partners, for instance, or in Africa. And also in Iraq. I met with Iraqi Foreign Minister yesterday, and we have a presence there, a training mission to help Iraq to stabilize their own country. And that's also a way to address the root causes of the illegal migration.

NATO Spokesperson: Imedi, Georgia.

IMEDI TV: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General, two questions about Georgia. First, as we are waiting for Vilnius Summit this summer and for more support from NATO, what can you tell us more about it and overall evaluation of 2022? And also, can you comment on recent developments in Georgia, I mean, presentation in Georgian parliament for an agent draft, and in two days it was voted down. So can you comment on this? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General: Well, I welcome the decision by the Georgian Parliament to vote down or to withdraw the draft law on foreign influence or foreign agents, because it is incompatible with the Euro-Atlantic values and the protection of fundamental freedoms. So I welcome that this proposal was withdrawn and not supported by the Parliament in Tbilisi. I encourage Georgia's political leaders to work together on reforms urgently needed.

And of course, NATO has also worked with the government of Georgia to implement these reforms, to strengthen democratic institutions, to strengthen democratic control over to security services, and also to fight corruption. The Georgian people have made it very clear that they want a democratic, prosperous Georgia that is integrated into the Euro-Atlantic region and NATO will continue to be a partner to those aspirations.

NATO Spokesperson: Icelandic national TV.

Icelandic National Broadcasting Service: Bjorn Malmquist from Icelandic National Television.  You have talked a lot about Ukraine, understandably, the focus of the Alliance has been there in recent months. Are you keeping focus on Russia's activities in the High North? And how will the membership I mean, the eventual membership of Sweden and Finland changed the dynamic on the northern flank of the Alliance?

NATO Secretary General: So, Finnish and Swedish membership will strengthen NATO in many different ways. First of all, it will strengthen the whole of NATO because Finland and Sweden have capable armed forces, well trained, well equipped, modern armed forces, and we have worked together with Finland and Sweden for many years.

They have naval, land and air forces, which are highly capable and will help us also to increase our presence, our awareness, also in the High North. And of course, both Finland and Sweden or Arctic nations, they know how to operate under arctic conditions. And it will also, not least, increase our ability to use airspace in the in the High North, and to operate across the borders in the Nordic Region.

So yes, that is important for the High North, for whole of NATO.

But of course, also for instance, for the Baltic countries, if you just look at the map, you will see that reinforcement, the protection of the Baltic region will be very different. And NATO will be in a much better place to do that with Finland and Sweden in.

And therefore I welcome the fact that all Allies have invited them, that Finland will very soon be ratified based on what has been announced from Ankara and from Budapest. And then I will continue to work hard for the quickest possible ratification of also Sweden.

Then the High North has mattered for NATO for many years and therefore we have a significant presence there. We have several Allies, which are Arctic nations, including Iceland. We have presence in Iceland, with NATO planes. Iceland is important also when it comes to monitoring, following the Russian military movements up in the High North with their submarines, their ships, their planes. And Allies are also now investing in new modern capabilities, including advanced fifth generation fighter aircraft that will significantly increase our capabilities when it comes to monitoring and surveillance over what's going on in the High North. More ships, we have more exercises.

And last weekend, I went together with President Ursula von der Leyen and Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, to one of the gas facilities, gas platform in North Sea, which is important for Norway, for the Nordic Regions but of course also for energy supplies to Europe. 10% of Europe's gas supplies comes from that one platform. So of course, when NATO is also stepping up what to do to protect critical infrastructure that is also very much about the High North.

So yes, High North is, has been and will continue to be of great importance for NATO. Let me also add that climate change will make the High North even more important. The ice is melting. It is possible to operate there more throughout the year and that also increased the strategic importance of the High North.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. I know there are more questions, but this is all we have time for now. However, you can pick up a hard copy of the annual report on your way out and hope to see as many of you as possible at the Annual Media Reception.