Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the informal leaders meeting of NATO Allies from the region

  • 22 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 23 Nov. 2023 08:45

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Kovačevski, Dear Dimitar,

Thank you so much for hosting us all here today in Skopje together with NATO Allies from the region. It is good to be together with you all today. And we just finalized and finished a very interesting meeting where we addressed common security challenges we all face in the Western Balkans. 

But let me start by saying that the Republic of North Macedonia is a valued NATO Ally, making important contributions to our shared security. North Macedonia also leads by example as a successful multi-ethnic society.
Demonstrating how people from different ethnic and religious groups and backgrounds can live together in peace. And build a country together. 

In a few months’ time, we will mark NATO’s 75th anniversary. And at our next Summit in Washington, we will continue to adapt our Alliance for the future. We will strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence. Address growing geostrategic competition. And maintain momentum in NATO’s support to and relations with Ukraine. 

Today, in our meeting, was an opportunity to discuss all of these issues. As well as the situation in the Western Balkans. This region is strategically important to NATO. But there are reasons for concern. 
We see secessionist threats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a fragile security situation in Kosovo. And stalled normalisation between Belgrade and Pristina. On top of this, authoritarian states like Russia seek to undermine our democracies with cyber and hybrid threats. 

I have just completed a tour of the region. In every stop, I made clear that stability in the Western Balkans depends on all sides choosing dialogue and diplomacy over conflict and chaos. Ending secessionist rhetoric would boost stability and enable reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Re-engaging in the EU-facilitated dialogue is essential to Belgrade’s and Pristina’s path to peace and prosperity. The latest proposals for the establishment of the association of Serb-majority municipalities in Kosovo could be an important step forward. It is time to overcome regional conflicts that have continued for far too long.

We also discussed Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine. There are no signs that Putin wants to negotiate or stop fighting. So I commend NATO Allies present here today for providing vital support to Ukraine. This is even more important when the situation on the battlefield is so difficult. 

So Prime Minister, thank you again for hosting us all today. I look forward to working closely with you all as we start to prepare for the upcoming Summit in Washington.

Thank you so much.


Moderator: [speaks Macedonian]

Journalist: [speaks Croatian]

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I think we need to understand why this region is of great importance for NATO. We don't see any imminent military threat against any NATO Ally in this region. What we see is increasing tensions in particular in Kosovo. We also see that there are rising tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but we don't see any direct, imminent military threat against any country. So yes, we are concerned about the developments, which are going in the wrong direction in some countries in this region. But at the same time, I think it's also to understand and to recognise the strength and the importance of NATO.

And NATO has been present in this region for many years. We now also have several NATO Allies represented here in this meeting. In Kosovo we have already increased our presence with around 1000 extra troops also with some heavier armour. And we are, of course, vigilant, we are closely monitoring the situation. And we will always do what is necessary to protect and defend all Allies. But this is more about how to work with our partners in the region. How to help to stabilize our neighbourhood because when our neighbours are more stable, we are more secure. And therefore it has been very useful for me to sit down with the other leaders from the region and to improve and to share, to improve our analysis and to share our assessments because that helps us to get a better common understanding of the way forward.

The Western Balkans are core business for NATO. We have Allies and partners in the region. We have history here. We have presence here and we have a responsibility to help to ensure peace and prosperity. And therefore, this meeting has been important.

Then just to mention briefly that yes, of course, I will look into the proposal from Prime Minister Edi Rama, supported also by the President of Croatia, that of course what we should look into is whether we should meet on a more regular basis and also inviting [inaudible] nations.

[Questions to various regional leaders]

Moderator: [speaks Macedonian]

Journalist: Good afternoon. I have a question for the President of the government of Montenegro. You have been appointed Prime Minister recently: will the cooperation with NATO be on the top of the agenda?
And if Mr. Stoltenberg can say and answer the same question what are the expectations of NATO from the new government in Montenegro? Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We expect that the new government will continue to ensure that Montenegro continues to be an important and highly valued NATO Ally. I had the honour and the privilege of welcoming Montenegro as a new member of the Alliance a few years ago. It has been a great pleasure to work with Montenegro and I look forward to working with the new government because Montenegro is a NATO Ally and an important region for our Alliance. Montenegro contributes to different NATO missions and operations.

I met Montenegrin soldiers, officers, and different NATO missions and operations and I've been impressed by their commitment, their professionalism, and I look forward to see more of those troops in different NATO missions and operations in the future.

Then, of course, we also appreciate very much the clear commitment by Montenegro to continue to invest more in defence: in a more unpredictable and dangerous world there is a need to invest more in security and Montenegro is doing that. And lastly, Montenegro plays an important role in the Western Balkan region, bordering countries and, as the prime minister said, having a good relationship with all the neighbours is important in itself. But also what Montenegro does when it comes to help and support the NATO efforts to facilitate and support the dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade to address the tensions and difficulties we see in Kosovo is also an area or a topic or task where Montenegro plays an important role and I look forward to see continued effort from Montenegro on exactly these efforts.

Moderator: [speaks Macedonian]