Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the first day of meetings of NATO Ministers of Defence in Brussels

  • 11 Oct. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 11 Oct. 2023 19:43

(As delivered)

Good evening.

We have just gone through a day of productive meetings on support for Ukraine.

This morning I met with President Zelenskyy.

Together, we took part in the US-led Ukraine Defence Contact Group.

More than 50 nations, including all NATO Allies, focused on Ukraine’s most urgent needs.

Russia is stepping up its attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, and is preparing again to use winter as a weapon of war.

So it is even more important that we step up and sustain our support to Ukraine.

I welcome the new announcements in the past hours, among which:

Belgium and Denmark have confirmed their plans to deliver F-16 jets to Ukraine.

Canada will donate tens of millions of dollars’ worth of winter clothing and equipment.

Germany announced a one billion-euro package, with a focus on Patriot and IRIS-T air defence systems.

The UK is committing more than 100 million euros for more air defences and mine clearance equipment.

And the US will provide more than 200 million dollars' worth of air defence, artillery, and rocket ammunition.

This afternoon, we welcomed Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov to a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council.

Establishing the Council was one of the three historic decisions we took at the Vilnius Summit to bring Ukraine closer to NATO.

We also brought Ukraine to within one step of the Alliance, by removing the requirement for a Membership Action Plan.

And we agreed a programme to make Ukraine’s armed forces fully interoperable with its future NATO Allies.

Today in the NATO-Ukraine Council, we discussed Ukraine’s priorities on its path to NATO membership.

Including long-term interoperability and defence procurement.

A modernised defence and security sector will not only help Ukraine to prevail;

It will also ensure the Ukrainians can sustain peace and stability.

Allies commended Ukraine’s continued fight against corruption, even in the midst of Russia’s brutal war.

We also made clear that NATO will step up support to help Ukraine weather another difficult winter.

This includes providing more cold weather clothing, demining capabilities, fuel, and medical equipment.

This will help the brave Ukrainian forces to fight through the cold.

And continue to press forward.

Tomorrow, NATO’s Defence Ministers will meet to discuss:

Strengthening our deterrence and defence;

NATO missions and operations;

The damage to critical undersea infrastructure in the Baltic Sea;

And the situation in the Middle East.

With that, I’m ready to take your questions.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: Thanks. We'll start with Reuters here please.

Andrew Gray (Reuters): Secretary General, Andrew Gray from Reuters. We've heard assurances in recent days that neither the infighting in the US Congress nor the war, or the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will affect support for Ukraine. On what basis can you give those assurances especially given in the case of Israel? They're asking for air defence and ammunition which is also what Ukraine is asking for.

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: So first of all, what we've seen today is that action speaks louder than words. Meaning that not only do we tell clearly that NATO Allies are ready to standby Ukraine but actually Allies are delivering more support Ukraine, more air defence, F-16s, ammunition, more training, and packages of different types of support.

So I think the meeting today, the NATO Ministerial meeting and also the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, demonstrates that NATO Allies are there to provide support to Ukraine. And not only in words, but also in deeds. And that's a strong message to Russia and to anyone that believes that Russia can wait out NATO Allies. We are there to support Ukraine. And I'm confident that NATO Allies will continue to do so not least because it is in our security interest that Ukraine prevails. Their fight is our fight. Their security is our security. Their values are our values. So it's in our national security interests to ensure that we continue to support Ukraine and that Ukraine prevails. And that has been a message from all NATO Allies since the start of the war. And we have demonstrated our support through unprecedented support to Ukraine. Then of course, NATO and NATO Allies, we have the capability, the strength to address different challenges at the same time. We don't have the luxury of choosing only one set and one challenge. NATO Allies also have the capability to address the situation in the Middle East. And as you know, several NATO Allies have provided support, intelligence, all the types of support to Israel.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We go to Sky News in the third row in the middle please.

Andrew Parsons (Sky News): Andrew Parsons from Sky News. Secretary General, can I ask you, how worried are you that the conflict in the Middle East can now spill over and create an even bigger war? What can you and the NATO members do to prepare for that, here? And if I may ask specifically, do you think that Israel, a trusted partner of NATO, has the right to launch a ground offensive into Gaza?

NATO Secretary General: Israel has the right to defend itself and they have suffered horrendous terrorist attacks over the weekend with many civilians killed. And Israel has the right to defend itself against these types of terrorist attacks.
Then I also expect that of course, when we see Israeli responses, it will be proportionate and it is important as this conflict continues, to do whatever is possible to prevent the loss of innocent civilian lives.
I think it's also an important message that any nation or organisation hostile to Israel should not try to utilize the situation. And we now see that for instance, the United States has increased its military presence in the region to also send a clear message of deterrence to prevent the escalation this conflict.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: To FAZ, on the third row here, please.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): On the pipeline incident, I'm just wondering could there be a role for NATO to investigate this or to support the investigation? Have you offered something to Finland and Estonia or have they may be asked for assistance from NATO? I'm asking this in view of the fact that NATO has now its own capability on critical infrastructure. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Well, NATO has been concerned about our critical undersea infrastructure for a long time for many years. And of course, NATO has capabilities, we have intelligence that is relevant to address and to minimise the risk and to protect our critical infrastructure after the attacks, the explosions. On the Nord Stream pipelines, we stepped up further, and we have established a cell here at the NATO headquarters to coordinate efforts and we are in the process of also establishing a centre at our maritime command in Northwood to step up what we do on protecting critical undersea infrastructure. I spoke with the Finnish President yesterday Sauli Niinistö and also with Prime Minister of Estonia  Kaja Kallas yesterday. They updated me on the ongoing national investigations by Finland and Estonia. They shared of course what they find with NATO. I told them that we are ready to help them with their national investigations, and also updated them on what NATO is doing in general to protect against protect our critical infrastructure. We have to understand that these undersea understand critical infrastructure is vulnerable, because we speak about thousands of kilometres, of pipelines, of cables, of internet grid, of power grid, which by nature is vulnerable. Therefore, it is important that we share information that we shared intelligence and that he also shared best practices in how to protect both between NATO allies, but also between the government and the private companies that are operating most of these critical infrastructure.
NATO Acting Spokesperson: We’ll go to POLITICO, row four, please.

Joshua Posaner (POLITICO): In view of the recent results in the Slovak election and also the rhetoric that we've been hearing from Poland recently, has the Alliance been forming contingency planning in terms of delivery routes for armaments to Ukraine, moving forward? Should there be any restrictions or problems?

NATO Secretary General: First of all, Poland has been a strong supporter of Ukraine since the very beginning and has expressed again and again that they continue to be ready to support Ukraine and also be platform, a hub for all their Allies to deliver military support into Ukraine. Also, Slovakia just had an election; it will be a new government but I'm absolutely confident that NATO Allies will continue to provide support to Ukraine, because it is in our security interest. And the Allies have demonstrated that indeed, through the meeting today. So of course it is for the new government Institute in Bratislava to speak on behalf of Slovakia. It's not for me, but I'm confident that NATO Allies will continue to provide support to Ukraine.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We’ll have Swedish radio in the second row, please.

(inaudible): What kind of contacts, more concrete, does NATO have with Finland and Estonia regarding this pipeline issue? And anything new regarding in the Swedish membership?

NATO Secretary General: The contact is that we have contact on the highest political level. I spoke with the President and the Prime Minister yesterday and we have our military authorities working closely together sharing information. Of course, Estonia and Finland are NATO Allies. They are present here at NATO headquarters with military experts. We share information and we have of course, different platforms are also sharing classified information. That's exactly what we are doing. It's too early to determine exactly what caused the damage of these pipeline and the cable. There are ongoing investigations. And until they are finalised, I think it's a bit too early to tell. But if it is proven that this is a deliberate attack on Allies’ critical undersea infrastructure, this would be a very serious incident. And it will be met by a united, undetermined response from NATO. But [it] remains to determine what caused the damage and therefore I think it's a bit too early to say exactly how NATO will respond. It depends on what the investigation will reveal. But we share information constantly at different levels, the technical level, the political level, with two NATO Allies Estonia and Finland. On Swedish membership, I'm in regular contact with the Turkish authorities. I met with President Erdogan recently in New York. I spoke with the Turkish foreign minister a few days ago. And on my messages, of course that we have an agreement in Vilnius where Türkiye said clearly that they are ready to ratify, that the papers’ ratification will be transmitted to the Grand National Assembly and that the President will work with the Grand National Assembly, the Parliament to ensure ratification. And it was stated clearly that that should happen as soon as possible, meaning that when the assembly the Parliament again convened, then this process should start to take place. Now the Parliament has just convened a few days ago. Therefore I expect this to happen.
NATO Acting Spokesperson: Just one or two more, we’ll go to Espreso TV Ukraine, row 2.

Yuriy Fizer (Espreso TV): Yuriy Fizer, Espreso TV Ukraine. Secretary General, I have two questions. The first one is, last week, Admiral Rob Bauer said that NATO's stockpiles are running low and without replenishing them, it might be quite difficult to send more weapons to Ukraine, and how critical can this be? And my second question is, Russia has started to actively blackmailing the civilised world with nuclear weapons again, and Putin has even hinted that he might withdraw Russia from The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Is it just blackmailing again, or maybe he can use actually nuclear weapons if the war, the Russian aggressive war in Ukraine, fails? Is there any information from the intelligence agencies about this?

NATO Secretary General: So first, on ammunition. This is an issue we have put very high on the NATO agenda for many months, because, when last summer we saw that this was more and more now turning into a war of attrition, we realized that of course, we were not able in the long run to only dig into our own stocks to provide support to Ukraine.
Because, then our own stocks were going to run too low. So in the beginning, we could remove ammunition from stocks to Ukraine. Since last summer, since last fall, it has been obvious that we need also to engage with the industry, ramp up production. And since then, we have worked to at NATO, with our existing structures, the different platforms we have to engage with the industry, but also based on NATO's capability targets. They have been revised upwards to ensure that Allies are now producing more.
Sometimes it takes time to ramp up production, but Allies are now ramping up production. More and more contracts are signed. We have something we call framework contracts for 2.4 billion euros for ammunition, out of which 1 billion is our firm contracts, and it was an issue also today.
They need to ramp up production and Allies are increasing production both to replenish our own stocks, but also to be able to continue to provide Ukraine with support, so this is extremely important. I welcome that Allies are doing more and I urge them to sign more and more contracts, because there is the signing of contracts that can enable the industry to produce more and also to make investments in increased production capacity.
So the rest assured, and it was also an issue I discussed with President Zelenskyy when I visited Kyiv. Also to have joint efforts by NATO Allies and Ukraine to produce more, also inside Ukraine to ramp up production also in Ukraine.
Then Russia's nuclear rhetoric throughout this conflict has been, and continues to be, reckless and dangerous.
And Russia must know that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Of course, we continue to watch what Russia is doing very closely. So far, we haven't seen any changes in their nuclear posture that require any changes in our nuclear posture. But of course, Russia's announcement on revoking ratification of the comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, demonstrates Russia's lack of respect, and the continued disregard for its international commitments, and the reckless, this is reckless and dangers the global norms against a nuclear explosive testing.
NATO Allies have upheld this norm against nuclear testing for over 25 years and we have no plans to start testing again. Putin is trying to use nuclear blackmail to intimidate and coerce. He tries to use this nuclear rhetoric to prevent NATO Allies from supporting Ukraine, but he will not succeed, because again it is in our security interest that Ukraine prevails. So we will continue to support Ukraine and will not allow President Putin to blackmail NATO Allies through his nuclear rhetoric.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Last question to Romanian radio, here in row two.

Bogdan Iosipescu (Radio Romania): This is the first meeting after the drone incidents in Romania. The Romanians in the area are afraid for their lives. I'm not asking just for a message for them but some details, extra details, about measures, NATO measures in the area against, I don't know, drones?

NATO Secretary General: Well, NATO has since the beginning of this war increased its presence in the Black Sea region, including in Romania. I remember actually before the full scale invasion, I went to Romania and we had started already then to increase our presence with NATO troops, with different capabilities. And of course, since the full scale invasion, we further stepped up our presence. With planes with the surveillance drones, but also with ground forces.
And after the incident with the drone, or the debris from the drone near Danube, we further increased our air policing, with more planes in the NATO air policing mission in Romania. To help to detect, to help to monitor. So far, we have no proof that the drones that landed, or the debris, the parts of the drones that have landed in Romania, are a result of an intentional attack on Romania. The indications and the information we have indicated, these are results of attacks that were targeted on Ukrainian targets but then ended up in Romania because they're targeting, as you know, infrastructure, grain infrastructure in the Danube region, very close to the border of Romania.
But rest assured, we have capabilities, different types of capabilities, to closely monitor and also to help protect all NATO Allies, including Romania and we are constantly assessing the need to strengthen our presence as we have already done in the Black Sea region, including in Romania, also after the drone incident.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: That is all we have time for, see you tomorrow. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.