Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 03 Apr. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 03 Apr. 2023 16:13

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.
This is an historic week.

Tomorrow, we will welcome Finland as the thirty-first member of NATO.
Making Finland safer and our Alliance stronger.

We will raise the Finnish flag for the first time here at the NATO headquarters.
It will be a good day for Finland’s security, for Nordic security, and for NATO as a whole.

Sweden will also be safer as a result.
Last year Allies made an historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO.

Since then we have seen the fastest ratification process in NATO’s modern history.

And all Allies agree that Sweden’s accession should be completed quickly.

NATO Foreign Ministers meet at an important moment for our security.

Tomorrow, we will hold the NATO-Ukraine Commission with Foreign Minister Kuleba.
To address Russia’s war of aggression, and our support to Kyiv.

We do not know when this war will end.
But when it does, we will need to put in place arrangements so that Ukraine can deter future aggression. 
And history does not repeat itself.

We cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away at European security.

I welcome President Zelensky’s peace plan, which upholds the principles at the heart of the UN Charter.

It provides the foundation for a just and sustainable peace.

But there are no signs that President Putin is preparing for peace.
He is preparing for more war.


That is why we are united in our determination to stay the course.
And support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Allies have delivered 65 billion euros of military aid.
And I welcome that modern battle tanks and other armoured vehicles have started to arrive in Ukraine.
This can make a real difference on the frontlines, and allow the Ukrainian forces to liberate more territory.

We will discuss how we can step up our support, including by continuing to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces.
And supporting their transition from Soviet-era to NATO equipment and doctrine.


Our support is for the long-haul.
So I expect that ministers will agree to start work on developing a multi-year programme for Ukraine.

Allies will also discuss threats and challenges in the South.
Including instability, terrorism and the growing influence of Iran, Russia and China.

To address all of these challenges, it is essential that we invest more in defence.
At the Vilnius Summit, I expect Allies to agree an ambitious new defence investment pledge, with 2% of GDP for defence as a floor, not a ceiling.  

On Wednesday, NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners – Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, will join us.
Together with the European Union.

The consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine are global.
And what is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.
So I welcome our partners’ strong support to Ukraine.
Including Japan’s recent announcement of contributions to NATO’s assistance fund for Ukraine.


We will discuss deepening cooperation in areas such as cyber defence, new technologies and countering disinformation.

We will also address China’s growing alignment with Russia.
Any provision of lethal aid by China to Russia would be a major mistake.

At a time when Russia and China are challenging the international order and democratic values,
it is even more important that we stand together as NATO Allies.
And with like-minded partners.

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

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
And we'll go to Reuters.

Andrew Gray, Reuters:
Reuters. Secretary General, Andrew Gray from Reuters. Do you expect President Putin's announcement that he will station Russian tactical nuclear weapons on Belarus to come up in the discussions in the coming days? And do you anticipate that there'll be any change to NATO's posture or planning as a result of the announcement or the move itself if it actually happens?

NATO Secretary General:
The announcement by President Putin is part of a pattern of dangerous reckless nuclear rhetoric, where Russia, President Putin tries to use nuclear weapons as a way to prevent us from supporting Ukraine, intimidation, coercion to stop NATO Allies and partners for supporting Ukraine in their right to defend their own country. We will not be intimidated. We will continue to support Ukraine. Of course, NATO remains vigilant. We monitor very closely what Russia does. But so far, we haven't seen any changes in their nuclear posture that requires any change in our nuclear posture. We remain a nuclear Alliance, we deter and defend all Allies and of course, we continue to monitor what Russia does also when it comes to any potential deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Associated Press

Lorne Cook, Associated Press:
Lorne Cook from Associated Press. Secretary General if I could just get some clarity from you on Finland. You said tomorrow you're going ahead and welcoming Finland as the 31st member, will everything technically be finished for its membership? Or are you using this occasion, the presence of the ministers to do that, to have that ceremony? And then I just ask, in the near to short term future can we expect NATO to deploy any kind of military equipment, any border support? What will NATO be sending to Finland in this time to come? Or is it perhaps just too sensitive and it's best not to provoke anyone by making any major movements.

NATO Secretary General 
From tomorrow, Finland will be a full member of the Alliance they will participate in all our meetings, activities, military structures as a full-fledged member. And this will happen tomorrow because now all 30 Allies have ratified Finland's Accession Protocol, meaning that the only thing that remains is what will take place tomorrow and that is that Türkiye which was the last ally to ratify Finland's accession papers will deposit this with the United States and that will take place at the NATO headquarters, and then I will notify Finland and then they will notify –they will deposit their accession documents. And from then on, Finland will be a full member of the Alliance. We will have a flag raising ceremony outside this building at 3:30 tomorrow, the fourth of April, which also happens to be NATO’s birthday, we were founded, the Washington Treaty was signed on the fourth of April, 1949. So this is really an historic day. It's a great day for the Alliance and it's a great honour to be able to welcome Finland as a full-fledged member of the Alliance at our meeting tomorrow.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Financial Times in the middle there.

Henry Foy, Financial Times:
Thank you so much. I wanted to ask about the imprisonment of our friend and journalism colleague Evan Gershkovich in Russia last week. Firstly, do you have a statement on that detention, Secretary General? Do you think it's going to be raised by the Foreign Ministers tomorrow or even on Wednesday? And what if anything can NATO should do –can or should do about that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General 
First of all, I expect this to be raised tomorrow. Second, I join the United States in their call on Russia to release the American journalist Evan Gershkovich to ensure that his rights to work as a journalist are respected. His arrest is of great concern. It is important to respect freedom of the press, the rights of journalists and the rights to ask questions and to do their job. So therefore, we call this immediate release.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay. VG over there, so just behind. Thanks.

Ald Bjarne Johnsen, VG:
Thank you. Good morning. I would like to ask you if you can go a little bit more into details when it comes to the Finnish membership. What kind of expectations do they meet in NATO headquarters? What kind of capabilities should Finland provide to the Alliance? And what else do you expect from Finland in this place of accession –is this formalities that are on the table? What kind of command headquarter would support Finland in the case of the needed? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
So first of all, Finland will bring to the Alliance substantial military forces well trained, well equipped with also large reservist army and also now investing in new advanced, more than fifth generation aircraft F 35s, more than 60. And we also have to remember that Finland is among the few countries in Europe that actually didn't reduce the investments in defence, didn't reduce the readiness of the armed forces at the end of the Cold War. They continued, so they have invested on many years. They have trained and built a large army over many years and maintain that high level of readiness. Finland is also a country with extremely high level of resilience, of preparedness throughout the whole society and of course, we have also the long border between Russia and Finland. So when Finland joins NATO's border, land border with Russia, more than doubles. So what we see is that President Putin went to war against Ukraine with a declared aim to get less NATO. He wanted NATO to remove our forces, our structures from all Allies that have joined after 1997 meaning all Allies in Central Eastern Europe and he wanted NATO to make it absolutely clear that NATO's door was closed for any new membership. He's getting the exact opposite, he’s getting more NATO presence in eastern parts of the Alliance, and he's getting two new members with Finland and Sweden and tomorrow we’ll then finalize the Finnish accession process. And Finland brings all the capabilities to NATO. Then that process of integrating Finland into NATO's command structure has been going on since last summer. Because as soon as we invited Finland and Sweden, we started the process of integrating them into our military structures, that will be an ongoing process, developing capability targets, integrating into the defence planning process, but this is now involving an ongoing process with Finland as a full-fledged member. So there is no more formal steps to be taken. There are no more decisions to be taken after the finalisation of Finland accession that will take place tomorrow.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, Swedish News Agency TT.

Wiktor Nummelin, TT:
Hello, Wiktor Nummelin, Swedish News Agency TT. Are you disappointed that Sweden can't join at the same time, is this a failure for NATO or is it more failure for Sweden or even the countries that haven't ratified yet?

NATO Secretary General:
So first of all, I'm absolutely confident that Sweden will become a member. It's a priority for NATO, for me to ensure that happens as soon as possible. And we have to understand that so far, this is the quickest accession process in NATO's modern history. Finland and Sweden applied in May last year, already in June both Finland and Sweden were invited by all Allies to become members and all Allies signed the accession protocols. That decision is actually a very important decision. The decision we made at the NATO Summit in Madrid last June because that gave Finland and Sweden a special status, a status that means that Sweden now can participate in NATO's military and civilian activities, being integrated into NATO's military structures. We assign capability targets, interim capability targets to Sweden, and many Allies have also provided bilateral security assurances to Sweden and now with Finland as a full member that will further increase Sweden’s security and also further integrate Sweden into NATO because Finland and Sweden are so closely integrated  already. So I'm saying all of this because we should not leave the impression on the way that Sweden is left alone. No, Sweden is very much inside NATO, integrating into military civilian structures. Allies are ready to act and it's inconceivable that there was any, that there were going to be any threats or military attacks against Sweden without NATO reacting and even more so with Finland as a full member. So my aim and aim of NATO Allies is to ensure that we also get Sweden in their future, then this will remain a very quick accession process. Of course, I am in declare –before last fall that both Finland and Sweden were ready for finalising the accession. Well, it has taken some more weeks than we hoped or a couple of more months but the reality is that we are still moving very quickly in this accession process also for Sweden.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Swedish Radio.

Jan Andersson, Swedish Radio:
Jan Andersson, Swedish Radio. How does it feel that you will have this flag ceremony tomorrow with Finland and not with Sweden? You have made a lot of efforts by yourself in this question. And what's the current situation right now with Sweden and the talks with Turkey?

NATO Secretary General:
It is an historic and great day for NATO and for Finland that we are able to welcome Finland as a 31st member of the Alliance that is in itself, something that we should celebrate and recognise the importance of, also because it demonstrates that NATO’s door remains open. It demonstrates that every nation has the right to choose own path. It's not for Moscow to decide who's going to be a member of NATO or not. It's for the applicant countries and for NATO to decide and this is very clearly demonstrated here at the NATO Headquarters tomorrow when we raise the Finnish flag and finalise the Finnish accession process. This is also good for Sweden. It makes Sweden even more integrated into NATO and makes Sweden even more safer. We also then Finland, a close neighbour as a member and then at the same time as we celebrate and enjoy that Finland is now a full-fledged member. We should continue to work to also finalise the Swedish accession process, and I will continue to work hard on that. I'm confident that we will succeed. And in the meantime, Finland will be in a much, much better position than sorry –that Sweden will be in much better position than Sweden were before they applied because of the close integration into NATO.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Frankfurter Allgemeine

Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: 
Secretary General, a question on political relations with Ukraine. Where do you see these relations heading? What's the role of the NATO-Ukraine Commission in developing them? Will it not from now on regularly be convened at high level? And related to this, the multi-year programme that you announced, how will it be in substance different from the current programmes with Ukraine? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
So first of all, I think we need to, in a way, understand that there is an urgent need to support Ukraine with lethal support, weapons, as Allies and partners have done for a long time and then also with urgent non-lethal support. But, at the same time, we need also a more long term perspective. And in addition to stepping up the short term urgent need for support to Ukraine, we also need to have a perspective that goes a bit beyond the coming weeks and months. And especially we need to also look into a future where this war has ended.
And that's the reason why I expect the Foreign Ministers when they meet tomorrow and the day after tomorrow to start to agree on a more long term partnership where we can look into how we can help Ukraine, not only with the immediate need to defend themselves against Russia's brutal war of aggression, but also to move closer to NATO by implementing reforms, by continuing to modernise their defence and security institutions, including fighting corruption, and by moving from Soviet-era equipment, standards, doctrines to NATO standards and doctrines. This will also improve interoperability between Ukrainian forces and NATO forces. A lot has already happened, but we need to do more and we need to work on this on a more multi-year long-term perspective.
The NATO-Ukraine Commission is an important platform. It has met regularly at the ambassadorial level. And now, you are correct, it is some time since last time we met at the ministerial level. But we should continue to meet at different levels, including at the ministerial level, also in the future, because this is a way to address a wide range of issues, including issues related not only to support, economic, military support Ukraine, but also issues as reform, the fight against corruption and minority rights. So this platform is an important platform to strengthen further our relationship with Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, Kyiv Post.

Asami Terajima, The Kyiv Independent:
I wanted to ask, today we speak of Finland's accession to NATO to strengthen Finland’s security. How do you assess European security would have looked like if Ukraine had been able to join NATO prior to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine? And will it be ever possible for Ukraine to join the Alliance as long as the war continues? And what are the short term and long term goals that Ukraine needs to achieve for NATO to begin accession talks? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
NATO's position remains unchanged, and that is that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance. At the same time, you all have to understand that that main focus now is to ensure that Ukraine prevents as a sovereign independent nation in Europe. Because without Ukraine prevailing as a sovereign independent nation then, of course, the whole issue of membership will not be relevant. So the first step towards any membership of Ukraine to NATO is to ensure that Ukraine prevails.
And that's also reason why NATO Allies and partners have provided unprecedented support for Ukraine, why we continue to do so, and why we, at the meeting tomorrow, again, will call on Allies to sustain and further step up support to Ukraine, militarily, lethal, non-lethal, but also, of course, economic and financial support to Ukraine. So this is the first and most urgent and most important step.
The second, is that we are then also looking into how can we develop our political relationship with Ukraine and some of the ideas we have about how we can expand the work we do on more long term reforms, institution building, transition from Soviet era to NATO standards, interoperability. Of course, all of this also helps to move Ukraine closer to Euro-Atlantic integration, to the NATO family. So these things already interlinked. I cannot give you an exact date. But what I can say is that Allies are extremely focused on ensuring that Ukraine prevails. We provide an unprecedented level of support. And we're now looking into how can we further develop our political relationship. Because for NATO, it is extremely important to continue to demonstrate that NATO's door remains open, as we will do tomorrow, when Finland will become a full member, as we'll do when we finalise the accession process for Sweden hopefully in the near future, and then as we will continue to demonstrate in the coming years.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:

Ömer Tuğrul Çam, Anadolu:
Thank you, Secretary General, you said you are going to work hard for Sweden's membership. Have you been suggesting them anything, because Türkiye says they have legitimate concerns, which all you already said, and Sweden has taken some steps, but it's not enough. Have you made any suggestions to the Swedish government? Thanks.

NATO Secretary General:
My position is that Türkiye, sorry, my position is that Sweden has delivered on the commitments they made when they signed the trilateral memorandum of understanding, together with Finland, Sweden and Türkiye at the NATO summit in Madrid last year. And that's the reason why I also, in my meetings with President Erdogan, also last fall and also this year, both in the meetings and also publically I made it clear that that the time has come to ratify Sweden, to finalise the accession process also for Sweden. That's my position.
Then, of course, you are all aware of that this is an era, this is not an area where we look fully eye-to-eye in Ankara and at the NATO headquarters. So then we have to address those issues. And the best way of addressing those issues is to sit down, meet, consult and find a way forward. And, therefore, I welcome the fact that when I visited the President Erdogan some weeks ago, we actually agreed on two things. We agreed on that he could move forward on finalising the [Swedish] accession. And President Erdogan, the Turkish parliament, the National Grand Assembly has delivered on that. So that's reason why we are where we are now with Finland a full-fledged member from tomorrow.
But the other thing we agreed on in my last visit with President Erdogan was that we should restart the process on addressing how to make progress on Swedish accession. And that's reason why we were able to convene a meeting of this permanent mechanism, Finland, Sweden and Türkiye here at the NATO Headquarters some weeks ago. And also why we have agreed to meet again, because when there are differences, the best way of addressing them is to sit down, consult, and see how we can find a way forward. So we will continue to work to support the efforts of the permanent mechanism. And my message is that, yes, Türkiye has some legitimate security concerns and all Allies should address them. They also matter for us.
And yes, therefore, I also welcome that Finland and Sweden, have agreed to step up cooperation with Türkiye. Sweden has implemented stronger legislation on the fight against terrorism. Mechanisms are in place to exchange more information, intelligence. Sweden has removed any restrictions on arms exports to Türkiye. And we also have to understand that when Finland, sorry Sweden and Türkiye, are now working more closely together and fighting terrorism, that helps Türkiye in their fight against, for instance, PKK which is regarded as a terrorist organisation, not only by Türkiye, but by Sweden, Finland, NATO Allies, the European Union. And of course, then we work together to fight this terrorist organisation.
But it also helps Sweden in addressing some of the organised crime that Sweden is seeing taking place in their own streets, because we know that there is a close link between many of these terrorist organisations, and their activities and organised crime, drug traffic in a country like Sweden. So I strongly believe that we have a common interest in addressing these issues. And by demonstrating that, that we can ensure that also Sweden can be a full-fledged member of the Alliance in the near future.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
We’ll go to television 21 from North Macedonia.

Besir Arifi, Television 21 North Macedonia:
Mr General Secretary, time ago NATO expert team led by Mr Appathurai visited Skopje regarding the hybrid attacks on vital institutions of North Macedonia and the false bomb alarms. He also stated that North Macedonia is not dealing alone with this problem and the NATO provides support. Can you please explain what kind of support and what came out of this visit? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
Well, following a visit of NATO officials to Skopje we have agreed with the government of North Macedonia on a set of different steps. These steps are both short and longer term, which NATO and Allies can take to support North Macedonia in defending against the hybrid campaign it is facing. I actually also discussed this with the Prime Minister of North Macedonia recently and, of course, NATO is there to help and support Allies as we now provide help and support to North Macedonia that is facing different types of hybrid and cyber threats. The support that NATO and Allies are ready to provide to North Macedonia includes technical support and stronger cooperation to fight disinformation. And I would like to also commend the government of North Macedonia for the quick and detailed work in developing the cooperation programme we have agreed.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, we’ll go to Moldovan TV.

Iulia Sarivan, Jurnal TV:
Thank you. The Republic of Moldova is struggling against Russian hybrid war. In this regard, NATO Allies reiterated their full support for Moldovan authorities. So my question is, what are the supportive measures that NATO Allies could provide to help Moldova in order to cope with these challenges? And if the Moldovan case will be discussed at this ministerial? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
Well NATO Allies have made it clear that we are going to step up our support for partners, which are under threat, coercion from Moscow, from President Putin and that, of course, includes Moldova. Therefore I welcome that Allies are providing support to Moldova in different ways. I have also met with the Moldovan President and conveyed the same message that Allies are ready to do more. We have a partnership programme with Moldova. We are constantly looking at how we can do more within that partnership programme. And also part of what we agreed at the NATO Summit last year was also to increase NATO budgets to also be able to finance more activities, support for a partner like Moldova.
Then you also know that NATO Allies are also providing economic and financial support to Moldova in different ways. And, of course, all this matters because we need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity of Moldova. And we see that they are in a very exposed position because of the war in Ukraine, but also because of the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria without the consent of the government in Chisinau.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Okay, Janes

Nick Fiorenza, Janes Defence Weekly:
To return to the subject of Sweden have there been any adjustments to Alliance enlargement plans militarily to assure Sweden, I mean, on the one hand, not having, and also in, in relation to Finland, I mean, on the one hand, Finland won't have the depth that it would have had if Sweden had joined with Finland to defend it. On the other hand, Sweden will be surrounded by NATO countries. So maybe you could enlighten us on this.

NATO Secretary General:
I think you have to understand that the decisions we can make at NATO at 30, as Allies, those decisions have been made. What has taken some time is the individual ratification processes in 30 different capitals, and these have to be individual decisions. We don't take decisions on behalf of parliaments here at NATO. But the two decisions will make as NATO, meaning the decision to invite and then to agree the accession protocol for Finland and Sweden, we made them last summer. And since we made the decision of inviting Sweden to become a NATO ally, since then, we have worked on the integration of Sweden into our military structures, including military planning and including capability targets. This process takes time because it's a big process. But this process of integrating Sweden into NATO's military structures and planning has not been delayed by the ratification process, because that has just gone on. And it will continue also after they become a full-fledged member.
So I think sometimes we should not make the mistakes that that until the final ratification has been done, nothing happens. A lot happens. It started to happen the day we invited them, because then Finland and Sweden got the status as invitees, meaning that they sit at the NATO table in NATO meetings, the North Atlantic Council, the military structures, the different committees, integrating nitty gritty, more and more, including with interim capability targets for Sweden. We are also developing interim capability targets for Finland. But of course now these interim capital targets will turn into normal capability targets.
The difference is not that big, because we know Sweden very well. They are already very close to NATO and with Finland becoming a full member, and knowing the very close relationship for many, many years between Finland and Sweden, that will make Sweden an even closer, make sure that Sweden comes even closer to NATO also in the military structures.
So I say this because sometimes you get the feeling that in a way Sweden is left alone. No, Sweden is not left alone. Sweden is as close as it can come as a full-fledged member. And we continue to integrate Sweden. We will do even more. And then we will, of course, as soon as possible also then finalise the formal membership process.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Thank you very much. This concludes the press conference and we'll see you tomorrow. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General:
Thank you.