Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia Kaja Kallas at NATO Headquarters

  • 28 Jun. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Jun. 2023 16:06

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Kallas, 
Dear Kaja,
Welcome back to NATO, it’s great to have you here.

We are only two weeks from the NATO Summit in Vilnius.
Where we will take far-reaching decisions to bolster our deterrence and defence, and step up our support for Ukraine. 

The mutiny by Wagner mercenaries at the weekend is an internal matter for Russia.
At the same time, it demonstrates once again that President Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine is a big strategic mistake.
It has deepened existing divisions and created new tensions in Russia.

But we should not underestimate Russia.
We must continue to support Ukraine.
And we must keep our defences strong.

To send a clear message to Moscow and Minsk that NATO will protect every inch of Allied territory. 

Since 2014, we have significantly reinforced our presence and readiness. 
From the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. Including in Estonia.
NATO’s multinational battle group in Tapa, led by the United Kingdom, helps to deter any aggression.
Just last month, Exercise Spring Storm demonstrated our ability to reinforce our presence in Estonia up to brigade-size level. 

Fighter jets and air defences from Allies also help to protect Estonian skies. 
And Allies have agreed a new rotational model for air and missile defence, allowing for swift transition from air policing to air defence.
At the Summit, we will take the next steps, with new regional plans. 
Assigned forces and capabilities, and an enhanced exercise programme.
All backed by over 300,000 troops on high readiness.

Support for Ukraine is another top priority for the Summit. 
I welcome Estonia’s leading role in providing critical aid, 
and rallying the international community behind the Ukrainian people. 

We need to step up even more.
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. 

We also need to invest more in our security. 

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

Here too, Estonia is leading by example. 
Investing more than 2% of GDP in defence. 

The Vilnius Summit will be the first with Finland as a member.
And we are working to finalise Sweden’s accession as well. 
Therefore, I have called another meeting of senior officials from Türkiye, Sweden and Finland next Thursday. 
The time is now to welcome Sweden as a full member of NATO.

Let me finally mention Kosovo, which was also addressed in our meeting.
Our KFOR mission continues to fulfil its UN mandate impartially.
We call on both parties to refrain from anything that can further escalate tensions.
And return immediately to the EU-facilitated dialogue, which is the only way forward.    

So Prime Minister Kallas,  
Dear Kaja,
Once again, welcome to NATO, it’s great to have you here and I appreciate very much your leadership.
Thank you so much.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: We'll take a few questions. Estonian Public Broadcasting, in the middle.

Joosep Värk (Estonian Public Broadcasting): Thank you for the opportunity. I'll ask two questions, for both of you. My name is Joosep Värk, I’m from Estonian Public Broadcasting. The first question is if those new regional defence plans make sure that, realistically, Allied territory is defended in case of conflict, from the first meter, from day zero, until victory, against any enemy? The second question is if Latvia and Lithuania should be fortified, in light of the presence of Wagner troops in Belarus? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First of all, they have to understand that NATO already has plans and capabilities in place to defend every Ally and every inch of Allied territory. Then, we're further strengthening deterrence and defence, partly by the decision we made in Madrid, and then the implementation, the follow-up, that will happen now in Vilnius. And this is about assigning specific forces to specific territories, and also to increase the readiness of our forces.

The main purpose of this is actually not to fight the war, but to prevent the war. And deterrence has worked for almost 75 years for this Alliance, since we were founded in 1949. And therefore, this is partly a question of forward presence - we have increased our presence also in the Baltic region - but also about high readiness, the ability to quickly reinforce and pre-position equipment.
And then we have to remember that the capabilities we can move more swiftly is air and naval forces, which is also part of the deterrence in the Baltic region. So, yes, we're constantly assessing the need for presence of ground troops across the whole Alliance – including in the Baltic region – but I think it is extremely important to understand that our ability to defend every inch is also about our ability to reinforce and have a credible deterrence, and that's exactly what NATO is about, and that will be also demonstrated in Vilnius.

Then, on the Wagner forces: I think it's too early to draw any final conclusions [on] what kind of consequences that will have. The mutiny, the events we saw, are internal Russian matters. We are following and monitoring what's going on very closely. We have seen that some of these forces may be deployed to Belarus but again, I think it's too early to draw any final conclusions. The most important thing is that we are sending a very clear message to any potential adversary – including Moscow and Minsk – that we are there to protect and defend every inch of Allied territory against any threat. So we have increased our presence, we will further strengthen deterrence and defence during the Vilnius Summit, and then we'll continue to monitor exactly what happens with the Wagner forces.

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas: As it was just for me as well: The defence plans, I think they're good, we also need to make [them] work in practice, and that is what we are doing, [so] that the combat readiness of the troops is really not word on the paper, but actually in real life. And that actually requires the defence investments of all the Allies to increase as well, to be ready to fulfil the warehouses regarding ammunition, the equipment necessary. But I also agree with what was said, that the Alliance is ready to defend every inch of its territory.

When it comes to Belarus: We have considered Belarus as a co-aggressor in this war. So nothing has changed in this regard. We know that Belarus – as Russia – is unpredictable and is dangerous, and this hasn't changed. So, clearly, our stance, our forward defence stance, hasn't changed in this regard as well. I think we are also ready for any development.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Delfi.

Herman Kelomees (Delfi): Hello, I’m from Delfi in Estonia. Question to both of you about the pathway to membership for Ukraine: I've been speaking to some officials and it seems that, rather than getting a pathway to membership in Vilnius, Ukraine will get a promise of a pathway, and that this will be decided upon later in Washington. So what is the most positive scenario that is realistic for Ukraine in Vilnius, and what would an actual pathway look like?

Secretary General Stoltenberg: First of all, I think it’s too early to pre-announce the outcome of the Vilnius Summit. There are ongoing consultations, as they have important decision to make. But I'm absolutely confident that, at the Vilnius Summit, Allies will find common ground, also on how to address Ukraine’s membership aspirations. And we have to remember that Allies actually agree on very many important messages and positions regarding Ukraine and membership of NATO.

We all agree that NATO’s door is open: We have demonstrated that recently by inviting Finland and Sweden. We all agree that Ukraine will become a member of this Alliance, and we all agree that is for the NATO Allies and Ukraine to decide when the time is right to invite Ukraine to be a member of the Alliance. Perhaps the most important thing we agree on is that the most urgent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe. Because if President Putin wins this war, then there is no more membership issue to be discussed at all. So the main focus should be [on] how to ensure that Ukraine prevails, and that's the precondition for any meaningful discussion about further membership.

Let me add one more thing: We are going to strengthen practical support, which will bring Ukraine closer to NATO. A multi-year program for making Ukraine fully interoperable with NATO forces is an important step, and we're also discussing how to further strengthen political ties, including by potentially agreeing a NATO-Ukraine Council.

Prime Minister Kallas: Yes, I have not much to add. We have to work on the wording so that everybody's on board, and the worries some Allies have regarding further steps, and also the hope that we should give to Ukrainians. I'm really confident that any gray zone in Europe is a source of conflict and war and, actually, the only security guarantee that really works is NATO. And I can tell this by my own country's history: The reason we are not living through some really dark times right now is because we are in NATO, and that is important.

And that is also important for the prosperity of the European continent, because if you don't have wars, you have investments, you have economic security. So it is in our interest that we find this pathway, but the wording is still been worked out, and don't want to, somehow, spoil the surprise of the Vilnius Summit.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Last but not least, Deutsche Welle.

Teri Schultz (Deutsche Welle): Deutsche Welle. Thank you. I wanted to drill down on my colleague’s question on military mobility. Prime Minister Kallas, you said famously, almost exactly a year ago, that you feared the Baltic states could be overrun, and that it would take NATO 180 days to kick out whoever's forces who might be overrunning you. Are you convinced that military mobility has moved forward now, not just that you have stockpiles somewhere else, but that you could get them to a crisis spot fast enough? Those are part of the regional plans.

And Secretary General Stoltenberg: Are you disappointed at the budgeting that the EU has given this project? It was slashed to practically nothing, it was going to be a big flagship cooperation project for NATO and the EU. And do you think you could get the forces there fast enough? Has [Türkiye] agreed to these regional plans now so that mobility – thank you, my colleagues are nodding, so we all want these answers, - is military mobility really going to take a big step at Vilnius? Thanks.

Prime Minister Kallas: Yes, this is a big issue. First of all, we have moved from the deterrence posture to defence posture, which means that we are not in any way of, you know, conquering the territories back or liberating the territories afterwards, but we are ready to defend the territories from the first minute and the first centimetre. Of course there's room for some development regarding military mobility. But what I want to stress now is that we have Finland in NATO. That changes the whole picture, because of the military mobility not only making us as a peninsula, in terms of NATO, but actually being in the middle, so the help could come from different ways.
So I'm pretty sure that we have moved from the situation where we were a year ago by the good decisions that we made in Madrid and also the execution of those plans, and now going further with those plans as well. So of course, there's room for development, we have to do more, but it is still much better, the situation.

Secretary General Stoltenberg: NATO has, over the last years, since 2014, implemented the biggest reinforcements of collective defence in a generation. And an important part of that has been – and continues to be – military mobility, because to be able to reinforce quickly is a critical part of the way we are providing deterrence, and the way we can reinforce and deter any aggression against any NATO Ally.

So what has happened over the last years is really a significant improvement of military mobility. There have been huge investments in infrastructure and military transport and logistic capacity, more pre-positioned supplies and equipment. And also, of course, we are working very closely with the European Union. I will be in the European Council tomorrow, together with Kaja and all the other EU leaders. And military mobility has been part of this cooperation. But this is not only dependent on the budget of the European Union, this is [also] financed by the national budgets for investments in military capabilities to ensure mobility, but also in civilian infrastructure, which is important to ensure military mobility.

Then, this is something we're not only doing in words, but also in deeds. We have the battlegroups, we are actually now exercising the ability to scale them quickly up to brigade-size level. I returned from [Lithuania] this week, we’ve had a big exercise demonstrating exactly that. We had an earlier exercise in Estonia to scale up the British battlegroup. And an important part of this is to exercise and demonstrate military mobility, to get these forces quickly into the territories, the countries [where] we want them to be.
Then, I totally agree with Prime Minister Kallas: The fact that Finland is now a full-fledged member of the Alliance also changes the whole security, geography, in the Baltic Sea region. Because if you look at the map, that has profound consequences for our ability to reinforce, move forces quickly into the Baltic region. And soon Sweden, also, will be a member, and that will further strengthen our ability and make it easier to move and to reinforce forces, if needed.

We'll continue to work with European Union. But again: The main task of NATO is not to agree to liberate land; the main task of NATO is to prevent any attack on any NATO Ally. And this is deterrence, and it has worked for almost 75 years. We were able to deter aggression against West Berlin: We didn't have any forces in West Berlin in the middle of East Germany, but deterrence was credible. I'm coming from a country – Norway – the northern part of Norway didn't have any NATO troops at all at the border with Russia, but deterrence worked. So this is partly about forward presence, but it's also about exercising, demonstrating the ability to reinforce in a credible way to prevent any attack at all.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Thank you very much.

Secretary General Stoltenberg: We will agree the regional plans, I’m absolutely certain.

NATO Spokesperson Lungescu: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.