Joint press conference
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the President of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs
It’s good to see you again. Welcome back to NATO, you know this headquarters very well, after many years of being Foreign Minister, now President, and therefore it is a particular honour and privilege to welcome you in your new capacity as President of Latvia.
Congratulations on your appointment.
And thank you for your strong personal commitment to NATO.
We are meeting just two days before Latvia’s Independence Day.
An important moment to mark your country’s freedom and sovereignty, which NATO protects every day.
Latvia is a highly valued NATO Ally.
You lead by example on defence spending. Committing more than 2% of GDP to defence.
And you plan to reach 3% of GDP by 2027.
You are investing in new capabilities, including HIMARS, to strengthen our collective defence.
And you contribute to NATO operations and missions in Kosovo and in Iraq.
I have also had the pleasure of visiting the Canadian-led battlegroup in Ādaži,
in which 11 NATO Allies work side-by-side to defend NATO’s eastern flank.
And next year, you will host NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission, which keeps our skies safe.
So NATO can count on Latvia.
And Latvia can count on NATO.
At our Vilnius Summit, we agreed the most robust regional defence plans since the Cold War.
We are transforming the NATO Response Force.
And increasing the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000.
Backed by substantial air and naval power.
There should be no doubt that NATO is ready, willing and able to defend every inch of Allied territory.
Our Alliance will become even stronger when Sweden joins NATO.
And I welcome that the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee is taking up Sweden’s membership today.
We look forward to welcoming Sweden as a full Ally very soon.
President Putin invaded Ukraine wanting less NATO.
He is getting more NATO.
He totally underestimated the determination of the Ukrainian people to defend their freedom.
And he totally underestimated the strength and unity of NATO’s support.
NATO Allies are providing unprecedented military, humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine.
And Latvia plays a key role in this.
This is even more important now, as the situation on the battlefield is very difficult.
But that is not an argument for less support.
It is an argument for more support.
Not just for Ukraine’s security, but for our security.
So dear Edgars, thank you once again and welcome again to the NATO Headquarters.
I look forward to continuing to work together.
To keep NATO strong.
And our people safe.
Please, you have the floor.
Acting Spokesperson, Dylan White: Thank you. We'll go to questions starting with Latvian Radio Television in the sixth row, please.
Ilze Nagla (Latvian Television): Latvian television. Thank you for taking questions and I have a question for both. There is increasing migrant pressure on Finland's eastern border with Russia and do you see it as another hybrid attack, similar to what we have seen in Latvia? And is there a necessity for more coordination on NATO level to address that? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We are following this very closely. I actually met with the Finnish Defence Minister briefly on the margins of the EU Defense Ministerial meeting in Brussels earlier this week. He shared with me his assessments, his analysis and his concerns about the increased number of refugees, asylum seekers at the border. So this is something that we monitor very closely. The Alliance is vigilant. Of course, the first responder, the Finnish authorities are responsible for managing the situation on the border, but we need to exchange information we need to have the best possible common situational awareness and then to take necessary actions, if needed, whether that will be as NATO or as NATO Allies or in other formats. That's a bit too early to say depending on the developments, but we are closely following the situation also along the Finnish border.
President of Latvia, Mr Edgars Rinkēvičs: Let me just add that Latvian authorities are in close coordination with the Finnish authorities as Latvia and Finland both share a border with Russia. We have also coordination and information sharing with other EU and NATO member states that are having common border with Russia and Belarus. We are prepared to implement joint decisions if we can agree on the necessity for those like there are many options from the border closing to restricting entry of citizens but those measures will be decided by our own competent authorities based on the analysis of the situation and based on joint assessment and based also on joint decisions. I would also say that we discussed with Secretary General the overall situation in the region not only when it comes to the purely military point of view, but also from different hybrid attacks that we have seen, lately, we were discussing the need to protect critical undersea infrastructure. We still remember what happened in October in the Baltic Sea, that –that incident is being investigated, but we are of the same opinion that we need to be prepared to respond to all kinds of hybrid challenges that we face. When it comes to the border situation, I do believe that regional cooperation, also the EU coordination is needed. We've discussed this also a little bit yesterday when I met with the President of the European Commission, because also the European Union is playing a role in this regard. But I think that we are of the same opinion with the Secretary General that also NATO needs to look into the matter but at this point, those decisions should be taken by the national authorities of the countries that are bordering Russia.
Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: Questions we’ll go to Bloomberg in the third row, please.
Natalia Drozdiak (Bloomberg): Natalia Drozdiak from Bloomberg. I had a question for both of you, if I may. I wanted to ask about support for Ukraine and the debate in the US Congress at the moment. What is your feeling if aid doesn't get passed for Ukraine? How dire is this for Ukraine's effort to fight back the Russians? Thank you.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Well, it is of course important that all Allies continue to stand by the decisions we have made jointly at the Vilnius Summit. All Heads of State and Government, all NATO Allies promised to stand by Ukraine, not only because it will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians if President Putin wins but it will be dangerous for us. Because then the message would be that when authoritarian leaders use military force, when they violate international law, when they invade another country, they get what they want and that will make the world more dangerous and us more vulnerable. So it is a national security interest of all NATO Allies also the United States, to prevent that from happening, to prevent President Putin from winning in Ukraine. And therefore, I'm confident that United States will continue to provide support to Ukraine. And the message when I travel around in NATO capitals is that Allies are ready to sustain and to step up their support. And just over the last days, we've had new announcements from, for instance, Germany, made significant new announcements of increased support just few days ago. Other Allies have also announced additional support. So I'm confident that that will be the case. Lastly, let me also say that we need to realize that the situation on the battlefield is difficult. Russia doesn't plan for peace, they plan for more war. And we are also seeing how Russia has tried to launch offensive operations around for instance, Avdiivka, but the fact that the situation on the battlefield is more difficult than we hoped. That's not an argument against support, it is an argument in favour of more support for Ukraine, because again, we cannot allow President Putin to win. Then let me also add that the Ukrainians have already made big victories. At the beginning of this war, most experts believed – and we also feared – that Ukraine would collapse in days and that Russia would control Kyiv within weeks. The reality was that the opposite happened and Ukrainians were able to push back Russian forces in North and East and in the South and have liberated half of the territory so this is a big victory for Ukraine that have liberated so much territory, it's a big victory for Ukraine that they have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian invaders. And it is a big victory for Ukraine that Ukraine has prevailed as an independent sovereign nation in Europe. Russia has lost a lot. Ukraine is a strategic defeat for President Putin. He has not achieved what he wanted. So that's the background as we now continue, how to provide, or ensure that we continue to provide support to Ukraine.
President of Latvia, Mr Edgars Rinkēvičs: It's almost impossible to add to what Jens just said. I think that this has been really a perfect argumentation. Let me just say that first of all, my country Latvia, has provided military assistance to Ukraine that is worth more than 1% of GDP. And we are a small country. Of course, if we talk about millions of euros or millions of dollars, it's not a huge amount, but actually it shows the commitment that we, as a country that understands the danger of the Russian aggression, the danger of Russia not being stopped by Ukraine in Ukraine, going further and challenging other neighbouring countries. This country is currently aggressive. This country is mobilizing its economy. It's mobilizing its war machine. And I think it would be a huge mistake currently not to provide Ukraine with all kinds of assistance, be it military, be it financial assistance, so that the government can function and all the services are being delivered. So I do hope that all Allies, including the US and its Congress, do understand that at this point, it is critical to help Ukraine in order to stop Russia and in order to actually keep the peace in Europe for years to come. There can be questions, there can be questions on how this assistance is spent, and those questions should be answered. But it does not change the big picture and the big picture is that it's in the interest of Ukraine, it's in the interest of all NATO Allies, including the United States that Ukraine is successful, combatting the Russian Federation.
Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: That concludes this press point. Thank you very much.