Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Dimitar Kovačevski

  • 21 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 21 Nov. 2023 17:45

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Kovačevski, dear Dimitar,
It is great to see you again and great to be back here in Skopje and thank you so much for your warm welcome.
Later today, I will address the National Assembly.
This is really a high honour, and I am profoundly grateful.

The Republic of North Macedonia is a valued NATO Ally.
You contribute to the security and the stability of the Western Balkans through our KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.
You are committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence by next year.
And North Macedonia has strongly denounced Russia’s war against Ukraine.
You have joined the European Union in imposing sanctions on Moscow.
And you provide military and financial support to Ukraine.
And you provide forces to different NATO missions and operations.
So you are really a highly valued Ally and it makes a difference in your contributions to our Alliance.

NATO can rely on North Macedonia.
And North Macedonia can rely on NATO.

The Alliance guarantees your security.
You are covered by NATO’s air policing.
Fighter jets from Greece and Italy patrol your skies to keep you safe.
This is NATO solidarity in action.
The security of the Western Balkans is vital to NATO.
And there are causes for concern.

Tensions have risen in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I encourage political leaders there to refrain from divisive and secessionist rhetoric,
and instead concentrate their efforts on reconciliation and a peaceful future. 

In Kosovo, we have seen recent incidents of serious violence.
Including an unacceptable attack on KFOR peacekeepers.
Those responsible must be held to account.

Belgrade and Pristina must engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue.
This is the only way to reach solutions that respect the rights of all communities.
We also see authoritarian states seeking to undermine our freedom and way of life.
Including here in the Western Balkans.
Spreading disinformation, sowing division and undermining democracy.

Our response must be to work even more closely together in NATO.

Through our military presence, and our cooperation with Allies and partners, we are a strong force for stability in the region.

So once again, Prime Minister, it’s good to be back. I’ve been here many times before.
But this is my first visit, as you said, as Secretary-General, after you became a full-fledged member, so therefore it is a special honour to be here today.

Thank you so much.


Moderator: Now we'll hear from ALFA TV, questions.

Question 1: [interpreted from Macedonian] Thank you. Good afternoon. [inaudible] from ALFA TV. To the Secretary General Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Kovačevski. How do you interpret last week's statement of the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy that he has information that Russia has a plan for military destabilisation on the Balkans? Have you contacted Kyiv about the information and what do you see as the strongest security risk in the region?

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski: [answers in Macedonian]

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We do not see any imminent military threat from Russia against any NATO Ally or region. But of course, we remain vigilant. We monitor closely what Russia is doing, and we remain united. We have a military presence in this region with KFOR, with a headquarters in Sarajevo and actually also an office in Belgrade. And we are ready to quickly reinforce and to do what is necessary to defend and protect every Ally against any threat. But again, we don't see any imminent military threat against any NATO Ally. Then we continue to reiterate our consistent message to Russia that they should refrain from the aggressive actions against neighbours, and of course stop the military aggression against Ukraine. And they should respect international law and also the right for every nation to choose its own path. Because this is… We have to remember that one of the reasons why President Putin went to war against Ukraine was that he didn't want Ukraine to join the Alliance. And he wanted more than that. He actually wanted NATO to guarantee no further NATO enlargement. He wanted NATO to remove all its forces from the eastern part of the Alliance. Putin is getting exactly the opposite. He's getting more NATO, more NATO presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, and now two new NATO members, Finland and Sweden. So this is a big strategic defeat for President Putin. And it means… It demonstrates again that it was a big mistake to invade Ukraine. And I welcome the support from North Macedonia, from NATO Allies to continue to support Ukraine. We just had new announcements today from Germany, and also recently from the United States, of more military support to Ukraine. So we will be there to continue to support Ukraine in the right for self defence against Russian aggression.

Moderator: [speaks in Macedonian]

Question 2: [interpreted from Macedonian] Thank you. Simona Srbinoska from MIA. I have a question for the Prime Minister. What are your expectations from the December Summit of EU and what are the concrete benefits that we'll have for our Western Balkan growth plan?

Prime Minister Dimitar Kovačevski: [answers in Macedonian]

Moderator: And the last question, [inaudible].

Question 3: [interpreted from Macedonian] Good afternoon, Ivana [inaudible]. Mr. Stoltenberg, you visited several countries from the Western Balkans and your tour will finish here in Skopje, from what we saw. Neither of these countries in the region you did not address in the Assembly and this is not the case with Macedonia. You will address the day before the members of the parliament. Is this a message in terms of the process of the amendments to the Constitution? And what message do you send that the regional meeting of the leaders is happening in Skopje?

Secretary General: […] of North Macedonia as a highly valued NATO Ally, and I welcome very much that the government and the National Assembly is ready to host me, but also the summit tomorrow with leaders from NATO Allies in the region. And of course it is a great honour to be able to address the National Assembly in Skopje once again. So far I have visited partner nations, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and also in Kosovo. Now I'm in a NATO Allied country and therefore it's also natural that this is the place where we have the big meeting with the heads of state and government from the other NATO Allies in the region. So this is a recognition of the importance, the role that North Macedonia plays in this Alliance, and also how much we value that you are now a full-fledged member. I have addressed the National Assembly before. But of course, this is the first time I address the National Assembly as North Macedonia being a full-fledged member of the Alliance. And I've followed that development very closely, and I would like to commend you for the courage, the wisdom and the bravery, actually, that was needed to ensure that you became a full-fledged member of the Alliance. The Prespa Agreement was not easy, but it was good for North Macedonia. It was good for the whole region and it was good for NATO. And this is about security. But it's also that security helps to promote prosperity. With stability and prosperity, there are actually more investments, more jobs and more foreign direct investments in North Macedonia. So there's a link between security and prosperity which I think has been demonstrated by the fact that you now are a full member of the Alliance. So I'm looking forward to the meeting this afternoon with the Assembly and also the summit tomorrow.

Moderator: This will be the end of today's press conference. Thank you for your attention.