Joint press conference

with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Prime Minister of The Netherlands, the Presidents of Lithuania, Poland and Romania, and the Prime Ministers of Belgium, Norway and Albania

  • 27 Jun. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 27 Jun. 2023 22:41

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Rutte, 
Dear Mark,
Thank you for your warm welcome.

And for hosting tonight’s meeting of seven NATO Allies here in The Hague. 
It is an honour to be a co-host of this very important dinner. 
Where we discussed the upcoming Summit. 

We all saw the events in Russia over the last days. 
These are internal Russian matters.
But what is clear is that President Putin’s illegal war against Ukraine has deepened divisions, and created new tensions in Russia.

At the same time, we must not underestimate Russia.  
So it is even more important that we continue to provide Ukraine with our support.
And I expect that our Summit in Vilnius will send a clear message of our commitment.  

The Ukrainian forces are now pursuing a counteroffensive.
The fighting is hard, but they are making progress. 

The more land the Ukrainians can liberate, the stronger their hand will eventually be at the negotiating table.

I commend the Netherlands, and all Allies present here tonight, for providing critical support to Ukraine. 
This includes your contributions to NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package. 
And the Dutch and Danish-led initiative to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. 

At the Summit, we will agree a multi-year programme for Ukraine. 
And we will upgrade our political ties. 

This will bring Ukraine closer to its rightful place in NATO. 

During the dinner we also discussed the next steps to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence.

We are putting in place new defence plans, with assigned forces and capabilities, and high levels of readiness.

Yesterday, I was in Lithuania to visit Exercise Griffin Storm.
Which demonstrated that we can quickly reinforce the German-led battlegroup in Lithuania. 

And sent a clear message: NATO is ready to defend every inch of Allied territory. 

At the NATO Summit, I also expect Allies will agree on a more ambitious defence investment pledge.  
With 2 percent of GDP for defence as a floor, not a ceiling. 

Russia’s war in Ukraine demonstrates that we cannot take peace for granted.
And that we must invest more in our security. 

So again, Prime Minister, dear Mark,
It’s a real pleasure to be here with you and the other Allies. 

Questions & answers

MODERATOR: OK, now we have time for Q&A's and the first question is for Simen Ekern from NRK. 

Journalist: Yes, thank you very much. I have a question for the Secretary General Stoltenberg following the statement earlier by the President of Lithuania; does the now-confirmed presence of the Wagner warlord in Belarus change NATO's security evaluation concerning its Member States? And if I may, Mr. Secretary General, could you let us know when you will let us know that you will stay on as Secretary General for a while longer? Thank you. 

NATO Secretary General: First, on the consequences of the mutiny, or the events we saw in Russia over the weekend and over the last days, I think it's too early to make any final conclusions on the long-term consequences, including for NATO. But what we can say is that we are of course closely monitoring the developments. And we have already increased our readiness, our preparedness and our military presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance. We will make further decisions to further strengthen our collective defence, with more high-readiness forces and with more capabilities to ensure credible deterrence and defence for the whole Alliance. We'll make those decisions at the upcoming NATO summit in just a few days. 

What is absolutely clear is that we have sent a clear message to Moscow and to Minsk that NATO is there to protect every Ally, every inch of NATO territory. We do that through what we communicate, but also through our actions over several years now. We have significantly increased our collective defence and the way we invest in our shared security. So there’s no misunderstanding, no room for misunderstanding in Moscow or Minsk about our ability to defend Allies against any potential threat. And that is regardless of what you believe will be the final consequences of the movement of the Wagner forces. 

I think it's also actually too early to say exactly where those forces will end up, and whether all of them will end up in Belarus. 

When it comes to myself, I have made my position clear many, many times. I have nothing more to add. I don't seek an extension and that is that is what I’ve stated many times before. 

Moderator: The second question is for Reuters. Please go ahead. 

Journalist: This is for Secretary General Stoltenberg: could you maybe give a little bit more detail about how concerned you are that Prigozhin has moved to Belarus, and that the Wagner forces may follow? What assurances can NATO give to its members on the Eastern flank, who have been, today, expressing concern about that move? What can NATO do to alleviate those concerns? Thank you very much. 

Secretary General: I believe it's too early to make any final judgement about the consequences of the fact that Prigozhin has moved to Belarus, and that most likely also some of his forces will also be located in Belarus. It's too early to say. But we will monitor and we will ensure that we always are ready to protect and defend every NATO Ally, and especially those Allies which are border countries to Belarus. This was also addressed at the dinner. 

And it just demonstrates that this has been the right decision of NATO over the last years - actually, since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 - to implement the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War. Battle groups in the Eastern part of the Alliance, with higher readiness of our troops. And also after the invasion of Ukraine, in February last year, we doubled the number of battle groups and we further increased our military presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance. 
One of the neighbouring countries of Belarus is actually Lithuania. I was in Lithuania yesterday and this morning, and I saw how NATO troops, German troops, exercised how to scale up the current battle group in Lithuania to a full brigade-size presence. And also we saw the announcement of Germany, as a NATO Ally, to further increase its presence in in in Lithuania. 

So we have the readiness, we have the forces, we have the plans. And we have the commitment and resolve to deploy what is necessary, when and whenever is needed to ensure that there is no misunderstanding about our ability to protect every inch of NATO territory. We do that not to provoke conflict, but to prevent conflict. And that is a message we send to any potential adversary. Of course, including Moscow and Minsk. 

Moderator: Next question, Nieuwsuur. 

Journalist: Question for Prime Minister Rutte and Secretary General Stoltenberg and any other leader who feels the need to respond. Did you all agree today on concrete steps regarding Ukraine's NATO membership and what are these steps? And will the Netherlands send more troops to countries on the east flank? I hear there is readiness and there is a will and hope, but will the Netherlands and other countries send more troops? 

Prime Minister Rutte responds.

NATO Secretary General:  I can just underline what the Prime Minister just said. Consultations are ongoing. We are preparing the upcoming NATO Summit and I am absolutely confident that we will find common ground on how to address Ukraine's membership aspirations. 

But let me just remind you of the following: Allies agree on a lot; also when it comes to NATO membership for Ukraine. All Allies agree that NATO's door is open. We have demonstrated that by inviting Finland and Sweden to join the Alliance. All Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member. We have stated that again and again. 

And we also agree that it is for the NATO Allies and Ukraine to decide when Ukraine should become a member. It is not for Russia. President Putin does not have a veto on NATO enlargement. 

But then the most important thing that all Allies agree on, not only in words, but also in deeds, is that the most imminent, the most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails, that President Putin does not win in Ukraine. Because unless Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation, there is no membership issue to be discussed at all. So we focus on that, the military, the economic support; all the Allies standing here have provided significant support to Ukraine, and I'm absolutely confident that at the Summit we will also step up and sustain our support for Ukraine. We will also move forward on the membership issue by strengthening our practical support for Ukraine, including a multi-year programme for transition from Soviet era equipment to NATO standards and procedures, strengthen political ties within the NATO Ukraine Council. And then also of course, find a way to address the specific way forward on the membership issue. 

Moderator: Next question is for Polsat. 

Journalist: Good evening. I have a question for the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda. I'd like to ask you about the main issues, expectations of Poland before the upcoming summit. I precisely think about Polish security, the security of our borders and the presence of American soldiers in Poland. Thank you. 

President Duda answers.

Moderator: Thank you. Next question is for the Albanian Public Television. Please go ahead.

Journalist: Good evening. Prime Minister Rama, you compared the situation in north Kosovo with Donbass in Ukraine. Did you discuss the situation with Mr. Stoltenberg and the other colleagues and what can we see as the solution? 

Prime Minister Rama answers.

Moderator:  Thank you. Final question is for Radio Romania. Please go ahead. 

Journalist: Thank you. President Iohannis talked about the Republic of Moldova, a vulnerable partner; Is there going to be, in Vilnius, a different approach to the Republic of Moldova, a new kind of assistance?

And for Mr. Stoltenberg, sorry, the next meeting between Turkey and Sweden - could it be the decisive one for Sweden to become a NATO member? Thank you. 

President Iohannis answers.

NATO Secretary General: It's still possible to have a positive decision on the Swedish membership by or at the Vilnius Summit in a couple of weeks. I spoke with President Erdogan about this on Sunday, and my message is that Sweden has implemented and delivered on the agreement that was made between Finland, Sweden and Türkiye at the NATO summit in Madrid last year. Now the time has come to ratify, to complete the accession process for Sweden. This will be good for the Nordic countries, for the Baltic region, and for the whole of NATO, including Türkiye. We agreed to convene a new meeting of Finland, Sweden, Türkiye and NATO. This meeting will take place in Brussels next week. I will chair the meeting and it will be a high-level meeting with the Foreign Ministers, the Chiefs of Intelligence and the National Security Advisors. The purpose of that meeting is, of course, to make progress, so we can have a positive decision at the Summit on Swedish membership. 

Moderator: Thank you all for attending the press conference. Thank you. Good evening.