Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and the President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda at Exercise Griffin Storm 2023

  • 26 Jun. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 26 Jun. 2023 17:50

(As delivered)

Dear Gitanas,
dear Boris,

It is good to be together - we both are here today and to watch this exercise which is so important for the whole Alliance. And it’s also great to be together with you, just two weeks from the Vilnius Summit, so the NATO Summit, here in Lithuania.

We just had the opportunity to meet some of the Lithuanian and the German troops participating in Exercise Griffin Storm.
And I thank them for their impressive skills and service.

Griffin Storm is one of the biggest exercises in the region this year.
And demonstrates the ability to rapidly scale up the German-led NATO battlegroup to brigade size.

With the German personnel and military vehicles deployed, operating seamlessly alongside the Lithuanian forces.

This exercise sends a clear message:  NATO is ready to defend every inch of Allied territory.

There are now over 40,000 troops under NATO command primarily in the eastern part of the Alliance. Backed by significant air and naval power.

We are demonstrating that we can also reinforce quickly, whenever needed.

Further strengthening our deterrence and defence will be high on the agenda at the Vilnius Summit.

We are now putting in place new regional plans, with specific forces and capabilities
assigned to the defence of specific Allies. These forces will exercise together regularly.

We also agreed a new rotational model for air and missile defence.
To allow for swift transition from air policing to air defence.

The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will further strengthen Baltic security.
I spoke yesterday to President Erdogan and I'm also in contact with the Swedish and the Finnish governments. And we agreed to convene a high level meeting in Brussels before the Summit. This meeting will include foreign ministers, heads of intelligence, and national security advisors. The aim is to make progress in completing Sweden's accession to NATO.

Support to Ukraine is top priority for the Summit.
And I commend both Lithuania and Germany for providing critical support and training, which helps save lives every day.

At the Summit, we will agree a multi-year package of assistance,
and upgrade our political ties with Ukraine.
This will bring Ukraine closer to its rightful place in NATO.

At the same time, we continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Russia.
The events over the weekend are an internal Russian matter.
And one more demonstration of the big strategic mistake that President Putin has made with his illegal war against Ukraine.

NATO is also monitoring the situation in Belarus.
Allies condemn Russia's announcement about the deployment of nuclear weapons to Belarus. This is reckless and irresponsible.

We don’t see any indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons.
But NATO remains vigilant.

We call on Belarus to stop its support for Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine.
Moscow is attempting to intimidate us. And to deter us from supporting Ukraine.
But we will not be intimidated.

We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. And we will defend all Allies against any threat.

So, Mr. President,

It’s good to be together with you here today. And I look forward to continue to work with you and to welcome you to the Vilnius Summit.


Thank you. I invite the media representatives to pose your questions. Please take a microphone, introduce yourself and indicate who you are addressing your question to.

Saulius Jakučionis, Baltic News Service:
Thank you. Thank you, Christina. My name is Saulius Jakučionis. I am from news agency Baltic News Service. I have a question for the German Minister of Defence, Mr. Pistorius: Minister, when Germany will make a decision regarding sending air defence capabilities to Lithuania under this new air defence model, which was agreed in NATO several weeks ago. Also on the other matter, touching upon the press conference, previously, which [took place] in Vilnius Airport. Can you indeed confirm that there are Wagner units being stationed to Belarus? Thank you very much. And President Nauseda, I also have a question for you: what are the other countries, except Germany, Lithuania is negotiating to send, to deploy air defence capabilities? Thank you.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius: 
From my part, I don't have any newer information about the deployment of Wagner troops or units into Belarus.

Saulius Jakučionis, Baltic News Service:
What about Air Defense [inaudible]?

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius: 
Air defence? Well, we made our decision for the Summit this year, but not more at the moment.

President Gitanas Nausėda:
This is the issue I would like to touch too because air defence systems are critically important, especially in the crisis scenario, because the air policing missions are important during the peacetime but air defence systems are much more important if the situation starts to deteriorate, and the war in Ukraine showed that, really, to control the air spaces is one of the most important possibilities to reduce the losses, especially during the initial stage of the crisis. But regarding your question, yes, Minister already mentioned that now we are talking about air defence systems provided during the NATO Summit and shortly afterwards. We are talking about air defence systems on a rotational basis after the Vilnius Summit, and I already started my discussions with different Allies, namely Netherlands, France, Germany, and other countries but so far it is a very complicated issue to answer this question and who will be responsible for which part or which element of air defence systems. Much more important is that we already have the conclusion or decision on the NATO level: that air defence systems in the eastern flank on rotational basis. This is probably an adequate response to the current situation and we are looking forward to cooperate with our partners in the nearest future regarding this issue.

Thank you. We have a second media question, please.

Natalia Drozdiak, Bloomberg:
Natalia Drozdiak from Bloomberg. Thank you so much for the questions. For Secretary Stoltenberg: what impact is NATO to expect the Wagner events to have on the battlefield in Ukraine, and German Minister Pistorius: I was curious to ask why did Germany change its decision about having permanent troops based in Lithuania? Was this at all tied to the Wagner events over the weekend or was this in motion already before? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
I think what we are seeing in Russia over the last days demonstrates the fragility of the [...] Russian regime, we see the weakness of the Russian regime, and it also demonstrates how difficult and dangerous it is for President Putin to be reliant on mercenaries that has actually turned against him. It also demonstrates that it is hard to predict exactly what will now happen in the next days and weeks, but we should not make the mistakes that we are underestimating the Russians. So we need to continue to provide support to Ukraine and that is exactly what NATO and NATO Allies are doing with military support, but also support for the long term and that is in a way what we can say today about the effects on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius:
To your question, it is not really, a real change of our position. What I wanted and what I did emphasise today was to say we are willing to do that under two preconditions: and the one is, of course, the infrastructure, which the Lithuanian government is willing and prepared to provide as soon as possible. And we agreed to build up the brigade in the same speed, like improving like building up the infrastructure succeeds in Lithuania. And the second point is very important too, regarding and looking to Stoltenberg, of course, SACEUR has certain interests and very important interests too, so we said he has to have the possibility to maintain military flexibility at the Eastern flank, which is very important too, so if he does not disagree, if he doesn't disagree, we will go on and proceed in that way.

President Gitanas Nausėda:
From my side, I can only assure you that our part of [the] job we will do as good as possible and as quick as possible, meaning elements of infrastructure in order to accommodate the brigaded size presence of German troops in my country.

Thank you. We have time for one last question. Please.

Michael Fischer, Deutsche Presseagentur:
Thank you very much. Michael Fischer, German Press Agency. I have a question for Secretary General first of all: does NATO need to react in any way on the recent developments in Russia, President Nauseda for example suggested yesterday, to strengthen the eastern flank of NATO right now, if the Wagner troops will settle in Belarus. Is that an option from your point of view? Or are there any consequences for the NATO-Russia Founding Act? And my second question to you would be: what message goes out from the permanent deployment of the German brigade that was announced by Minister Pistorius today? What message goes out to Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko from the deployment? And Mr. Nauseda, a question on the brigade too: the condition is that Lithuania builds the infrastructure for the brigade. By when will that be finished?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Let me start by saying that we, of course, very much welcome the German leadership, which has been demonstrated throughout actually a long, long time, but it's very much enhanced by the German announcement today, because German-led battle group but also more German troops are deployed here shows strong German commitment to our collective defence, to our shared security; and it's part of the adaptation of NATO which has taken place since 2014. With high readiness of forces but also with more deployments of combat ready NATO troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, including the battlegroups, and one of them is the German-led battlegroup, here in Lithuania. So this demonstrates German leadership, German commitment to our transatlantic bond, and it also demonstrates the value of a multilateral NATO commitment to a country like Lithuania. It sends, of course, a message, our presence here and also the exercise, we just watched of NATO readiness and NATO capability to defend every inch of NATO territory and the reason we do that is of course, not to provoke a conflict, but it is to prevent the conflict, because credible deterrence is about preventing war, it is about preventing conflict, it is about preventing attacks and preserving peace.
And this is not only about Forward Presence, which is important, but it is also about pre-positioning equipment and supplies, high readiness and exercises. So it is all of this together, backed also by significant air and naval power, and that also fits into the issue of air defence, I think, of course, land based air defence systems are important, but we have to understand that we now have this rotational model in place for air defence, which can make it easy for us to switch from air policing to air defence. Air Forces is also part of air defence and naval forces can also provide significant air defence capabilities on very short notice. So this is the general announcement, it is welcomed and it is part of a pattern, big adaptation of NATO that had taken place over several years. One more thing about this is that we will also make important decisions at the Vilnius Summit on infrastructure, the new force model and also with plans that will dedicate specific forces to protect specific territories. This is the first time, since actually the Cold War, where we are going to have plans linked to specific forces to protect specific territories. Then the first question was on…Well, so first of all, I think it is a bit early to say exactly because things may still evolve. Second, we are of course, monitoring very closely and we are able to react quickly if there is a need. At the same time, I think it is important to remind you all that this is about internal Russian matters and therefore what NATO is focused on is to support Ukraine. It demonstrates the fragility of the Russian regime but it is not for NATO to intervene in those issues. That is a Russian matter. What matters for NATO is to not be intimidated and not be prevented from continuing to provide unprecedented support for Ukraine. And also, of course, to have the necessary deterrence and defence. We have that already, we have increased our presence over the years and with the German announcement too, yet another example of how Allies are increasing the presence but again, it is not only about presence it is also about the ability to have early warnings, indications and then react quickly if there is a need and this exercise demonstrates exactly that.

President Gitanas Nausėda:
My part of the question: we [have] simplified the procedures and technical procedures, legal procedures in order to be able to finalise the building of infrastructure by 2026 but I will be not angry if the Minister of Defence, which is sitting in front of me they finalise in 2025. Anyway, we have strong political commitment in the Lithuania to find the necessary financial resources in order to be able to finance the needs of infrastructure, but of course, hand in hand modernisation of our armed forces, it is a very important priority to us too.

Thank you. The press conference is over. I wish everyone a pleasant afternoon. Thank you.