Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 27 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 27 Nov. 2023 14:24

(As delivered)

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

Good afternoon,
Over the next days, NATO Foreign Ministers will discuss urgent security issues.

We face the most dangerous world in decades.
Growing global competition.
War in Ukraine.
And renewed conflict in the Middle East.

I welcome that the agreement between Hamas and Israel has led to the release of hostages.
And the delivery of more humanitarian aid.

I call for an extension of the pause.
This would allow for much-needed relief to the people of Gaza.
And the release of more hostages.
The suffering we have seen underlines the need for a lasting political solution.

NATO Allies are present in the wider Middle East region.
Including through our capacity-building mission in Iraq.

We have seen drone and rocket strikes on US positions in Syria and Iraq,
As well as attacks on commercial shipping.
This underlines the risk of escalation.
Iran must rein in its proxies.

Tomorrow, ministers will address Russia’s destabilising actions in Ukraine and beyond.
Russia has brought war back to Europe.
And it seeks to destabilise our democracies, with cyber-attacks, disinformation, energy blackmail, and even migration.

In recent weeks, Moscow has been facilitating the arrival of migrants at Finland's border with Russia,
Prompting the closure of border crossing points.
Using migration as a tool to put pressure on a neighbour and a NATO Ally.
NATO stands in solidarity with our Ally Finland.
And I welcome that Frontex is helping to bolster Finland's borders.

At our ministerial, Allies will also address the challenges China presents to our security.
I welcome recent discussions between China and Allies.
Dialogue is important.
And we must seek opportunities to work together on a range of issues.
Including climate and arms control.

China is not an adversary.
But Beijing’s actions challenge our security.
And we must work together to respond.

We will also address the situation in the Western Balkans.
We have seen serious violence in northern Kosovo.
Divisive and secessionist rhetoric in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
And malign attempts to sow dissent, including from Russia.
Together with the EU High Representative we will discuss ways to enhance stability in the region.

NATO has already added 1,000 extra troops to Kosovo.
And we are examining a more enduring increase of our peacekeeping contingent.
Belgrade and Pristina must re-engage in the EU-facilitated dialogue.
Stability depends on all sides choosing dialogue and diplomacy over conflict and chaos.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will join us for the first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at foreign ministers’ level.
We will reaffirm NATO’s long-term support.

Last year, Ukraine won the battles for Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Kherson.
This year, they continue to inflict heavy losses on Russia.
Ukraine has recaptured 50 percent of the territory that Russia seized.
It has prevailed as a sovereign, independent nation.
This is a big win for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia is weaker politically, economically, and militarily.
Ukraine continues to fight bravely.
We continue to support them.

This month, Germany and the Netherlands pledged 10 billion euros for Ukraine.
Romania opened an F-16 training centre for Ukrainian pilots.
Allies including the US and Finland are sending more air defences and ammunition to protect Ukrainian cities from Russian attacks.
And 20 Allies have now formed an air defence coalition for Ukraine.

Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.
At our meeting, we will agree recommendations for Ukraine’s priority reforms.
As we continue to support Kyiv on its path to NATO membership.

Finally, on Sweden.
Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.
And all of us safer.
So I welcome that the Turkish parliament has begun its ratification process.
I count on Türkiye and Hungary to complete their ratifications as soon as possible.
The time has come.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.


Jan Anderson (Swedish Radio): Mr. Secretary General, how does the statement from the leader of the Swedish Democrats that he wants to stop the construction of new mosques, even confiscate and demolish mosque buildings affect the possibilities of the finalisation soon on a Swedish NATO membership in Türkiye? And what do you think about the statement in general? And the second question, the increased migration, as you mentioned, the pressure we'll see in in Finland from Russia, how will it be raised at the meeting and in what way is it comparable with the situation with Belarus two years ago, according to you? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So first on the last [question] on the Finnish border. Well, I think it's too early to say how many or to what degree this is the same as we saw on the border with Belarus. But I think what we can say is that this is yet another example of how Russia is using migration as a tool to try to put pressure on other countries in Europe and therefore I'm in close contact with the Finnish government. They have briefed us on the situation. And we are of course, following very closely what happens around the Finnish border. Having said that, I'm actually confident that the Finnish authorities are able to deal with this situation themselves also with the support I get from the EU Border Agency, Frontex and so far, there has been no request for any NATO increased involvement on this situation. And of course, border control is something which is done by border authorities and the by national authorities in NATO Allied countries like in Finland.

Then on the statement from the Swedish leader of the Swedish political party, I will just say that, I will not go into domestic discussions, but I believe in freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and these are also core NATO values: democracy. Freedom and democracy. And these are actually fundamental rights which shall be protected throughout the Alliance. What matters for NATO's, for Sweden's NATO membership, is the fact that Sweden as a government, as a nation has delivered on what they pledged. Sweden promised in Madrid and also later on in Vilnius to step up its fight against terrorism, step up its cooperation with Turkey, and also to remove restrictions on arms control, and that's exactly what Sweden has done. So Sweden has delivered on what they promised and now the time has come to Türkiye to finalise the accession process. And it's good that President Erdoğan has submitted their papers for ratification to the parliament. It's good that the parliament in Ankara, the Grand National Assembly, has started to deal with these documents and I hope they can finalise this process as soon as possible.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: We'll go to Iryna Somer, row four in the middle here please.

Iryna Somer (Interfax Ukraine): Thank you Dylan. Secretary General Iryna Somer, News agency Interfax Ukraine. What is your assessment for the implementation of Vilnius summit decision regarding Ukraine? What is your expectation towards upcoming summit in Washington, and what Ukraine have to do to get a good result there? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So NATO Allies are following up and implementing the decisions we made on Ukraine and NATO membership at our summit in Vilnius in July of this year. And we made three important decisions.

First of all, we shortened Ukraine's path to membership from a two step process to a one step process by removing the requirement for a Membership Action Plan for Ukraine. So that's the part that has been taken. We have actually removed one of the phases that Ukraine has to pass to become a full member by removing the requirements for a Membership Action Plan, as we also actually did for Finland and Sweden.

Second, we have established a NATO Ukraine Council, which is an important body where Ukraine and all NATO Allies meet around the same table with the same rights, the same obligations, and that's about it where we can make decisions together. So that moves Ukraine, of course, significantly closer to NATO by establishing a decision making body at the NATO Ukraine Council and that body, that Council will meet for the first time after the foreign ministerial level this week when Minister Kuleba comes to NATO.

And thirdly, we have agreed, comprehensive substantial program for ensuring full interoperability between Ukrainian forces and NATO forces. This will of course help them also to come closer to us, that they are more capable of operating together with NATO forces and Allies are delivering on that. On top of that, of course, the fact that NATO Allies are delivering F-16s and battle tanks, artillery, training, all of that is in a very practical way, helping Ukraine to come closer to NATO because they are more and more capable of operating and working together with NATO soldiers and based on NATO doctrines and training procedures. It's too early to say exactly what will be the session at the Washington Summit. All Allies agree that in the midst of a war full membership is not possible. But of course, we will continue to look into to address how we can move Ukraine and NATO even closer together as we prepare for the Washington Summit. What decision we make there has to be addressed at a later stage when we are closer to the summit.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We'll go to Petra, Jordan in second row here please.

Mohammad Al-Shboul (PETRA): This is Mohammad Al-Shboul from Jordan news agency. Mr. Secretary General what specific issues will the ministers discuss with respect to the situation in the Middle East? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Of course, we are extremely concerned. And I also welcome the fact that King Abdullah visited NATO a couple of weeks ago and he gave a briefing to all Allies. I had a bilateral meeting with him and of course, his assessments and his analysis are of great value for NATO and it demonstrates also that Jordan is a close partner, a highly valued partner of NATO. We have partners in the region. Israel is a partner but also Jordan, Iraq, many Gulf countries and other Arabic countries are a NATO partners. And in this critical situation, we consult we work with we listen to our partners in in the region. So we welcome the pause in the fighting and this has enabled the release of hostages and enabled the delivery of support, humanitarian support to the people of Gaza.

I call on an extension of the pause because this will give the people of Gaza much needed relief. It will also enable further release of hostages. NATO as an Alliance has never played an active role in the Israel/Palestine conflict. We have a presence in the wider region with our training mission in Iraq to fight ISIS with our close cooperation with Jordan. We also do some defence capacity building efforts. And of course, we are concerned about the potential escalation of the conflict. And therefore our message to Iran is that they should rein in their proxies. And of course, what we have seen, drone attacks on ships, on US forces in the region but also attacks on commercial ships is of great concern and underline the importance that Iran actually really don't use this situation to turn this war into full scale regional conflict.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Go to Teri Schultz in row three please.

Teri Schultz (DW): Thank you, Teri Schultz with DW today. Mr. Secretary General how concerned are you by the emergence of plans that could call for Ukraine to give up territories permanently, possibly in exchange for NATO membership? How much does this concern you about the long-term security of NATO? If this were actually to be the case, and are you also worried that perhaps flagging, flagging in the sense of declining weapons deliveries to Ukraine, could mean that Ukraine would be forced into that situation, again leaving territories in Russian hands that are Ukrainian land? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: It is for Ukraine to decide what are acceptable ways to end this war. Our responsibility is to support Ukraine and to enable them to liberate as much land as possible and to put them in the best possible place when or if negotiations may start. Wars are by nature unpredictable. We have seen no sign that the President Putin is planning for peace, he is actually planning for more war.
So what we do know is that the more military support we provide to Ukraine, the stronger their position will be on the battlefield and the stronger their position will be on a potential negotiating table. I think we have to also recognise that Ukraine has already made big or achieved a big victories. We have to remember where this conflict started at the beginning of the war. We feared that Ukraine would collapse within weeks and that President Putin would control Kyiv within days. That didn't happen, the opposite happened.

The Ukrainians were able to push Russian forces out to the north, in the east and in the south. They liberates 50% of the territory that Russia occupied at the beginning of the war with a full-fledged invasion, and they have prevailed as a sovereign independent, democratic nation in Europe. This is a big victory for Ukraine. At the same time, Russia has suffered big losses. Significant fighting capabilities, tens of thousands of troops and unmatched personnel and Russia is becoming more and more isolated politically, weaker economically and militarily. So in total, what we have seen is big defeats for Russia. They have not achieved their strategic goal to control Ukraine and Ukrainians have achieved a lot. Again, it is for Ukraine to decide. Our responsibility is to put them in the strongest possible position. Therefore, I welcome the continued support from a NATO Allies.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Go to Reuters here in third row please.

Andrew Gray (Reuters): Secretary General, you said that Ukraine has achieved big victories in this war, but it hasn't achieved any big victories this year. In the counter offensive, General Zaluzhnyi himself talks about a stalemate. So what does, is NATO content with that state of the war? And if not what is NATO and what are NATO Allies willing to do to break the stalemate?

NATO Secretary General: So what we see is intense fighting. This extremely difficult situation along the frontline especially in the in the east, we see high casualty numbers. And some of the most intense fighting that we have seen throughout the whole war has actually taken place over the last weeks and couple of months. This happens at the same time as the frontline has not shifted in a significant way. So I think we need to distinguish between the fact that the front line is not moving so much, and the fact that actually there is very heavy fighting going on. And again, we are impressed by the bravery, the competence of the Ukrainian forces, and also their ability to actually strike behind the Russian lines, deep into Russian controlled territory. And of course, military achievements can partly be measured in square meters, but also on the losses you are able to inflict on your adversary. And yes, the frontline has not moved so much. And of course, we would like them to liberate as much territory as possible as quickly as possible as possible. But even though the frontline has not moved, the Ukrainians have been able to inflict heavy losses on the Russian invaders, both measured in personnel and casualties but also in taking out fighting capabilities. So these are significant gains and also the enable to push back the Black Sea Fleet from big parts of the Black Sea. So these remain important military gains even though last months we haven't seen any significant territorial gains. But again, we have to remember the starting point, the starting point was that most experts and also we feared that Ukraine was going to collapse in weeks. They've actually made huge gains.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We'll go to Tanjug over here on the left side. Thanks.

Dusan Kocic (Tanjug): Mr. Secretary General How do you see the future of the mission of KFOR? And do you think that NATO could take on a bigger role than the existing one in order to improve the security situation, especially in the north of Kosovo and Metohija?

NATO Secretary General: I just visited Kosovo, I also visited Serbia and other countries in the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and I met with the leaders from the whole region. And my message is that of course NATO will do what's necessary to maintain stability in this region. It is important for NATO. We have a history there. We have a presence there. And we have just recently increased our presence in Kosovo by adding 1000 extra troops. We are now assessing whether this should be a more enduring increase, where there is a need for any particular new capabilities. But we have already taking important steps and by increasing our presence. We also urge both Pristina and Belgrade to engage in good faith in the EU facilitated dialogue. And we also believe that proposal for association of Serb-majority municipalities could be an important step forward in moving this dialogue in a more constructive direction. My message again, both in Pristina and in Belgrade, was that both parties must refrain from inflammatory rhetoric, and must of course not conduct any actions that can further increase tensions in the region.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We'll go to Telegraph in the fourth row in the middle here please.

Yaroslav Zharienov (Telegraph): Is the flare up of new conflicts increase the likelihood [of having] a global conflict between NATO and Russia? How do you assess the Alliance’s preparation for a possible Third World War? Is it being discussed in the context of the continuation of the conflict in Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General: Fundamentally, NATO has two main tasks when it comes to the war of aggression against Ukraine. One is to support Ukraine, as we have done since the beginning of the war, and actually many Allies have provided significant support to Ukraine before the full-fledged invasion. And we continue to provide support to Ukraine. The other main task is to prevent this conflict from turning into a full-fledged war between Russia and NATO because that will cause even more suffering and death and destruction. And we are preventing escalation in this war by sending a very clear message to Moscow that we are ready to defend every inch of NATO territory.

And we have demonstrated that not only words but also in deeds by increasing our military presence in eastern part of the Alliance. We have doubled the number of battlegroups, we have high readiness armed forces, and we also deployed more air and naval forces in the eastern part of the Alliance. We do this not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent the conflict and to make sure that there is no room for miscalculation or misunderstanding in Moscow about our readiness to defend Allies. This is fundamentally the same as NATO has done for almost 75 years: pursuing peace [and] preventing war by having a credible deterrence and defence. And that's what we continue to do: to make sure that Russia does not go further and actually seek a solution to the conflict in Ukraine where Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent state.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We have time for just a couple more. We'll go to ZDF up here, in the middle of the room please.

Florian Neuhahn (ZDF): Thank you very much Florian Neuhahn, ZDF, German TV. Mr. Stoltenberg, once again on Türkiye. You, yourself have raised the hopes that Sweden could celebrate its accession to NATO on this foreign ministerial. But now again, Türkiye has disappointed and hasn't delivered. Are you disappointed? I mean, President Erdoğan himself has promised to you a rapid accession process. Are you disappointed and what can you do to accelerate this process?

NATO Secretary General: So I would have liked to see a more speedy ratification process. That's no secret. That has been my message now for several months. I actually made it clear several months ago that that the time has come to ratify not only Finland, but also Sweden. And therefore, I've continued to engage with the Turkish leadership including a phone call with President Erdoğan around a few weeks ago, underlining the importance of finalising the ratification of Sweden's membership. After my phone call with President Erdoğan, he decided to submit the protocols for ratification to the Turkish parliament. That was an important step. And it was also good news when the speaker of the parliament decided to submit the papers to the foreign affairs committee. And the foreign affairs committee had their first take on the protocols, the papers for ratification, I think a couple of weeks ago.
Then, of course, I would like them to finalise that and that's exactly what I have communicated many times. Because Sweden has delivered, NATO has delivered on what we promised and now it's time for Türkiye and Hungary to finalise the process. Because we have to remember that Türkiye has legitimate security concerns and no other Ally has suffered more terrorist attacks. They are concerned about terrorist groups which are attacking them. And of course, we should work with Türkiye to help them protect themselves against the terrorist groups.

And that's exactly what NATO is now doing. I have stepped up, we have stepped up here at NATO. I have appointed a special coordinator for our efforts in the fight against terrorism. We are in the process of updating our guidelines for the fight against terrorism. These are important things for Türkiye but also of course with the whole Alliance. And then Sweden has really stepped up when it comes to exchange of intelligence. Their security services are working more closely with the Turkish security services. Also knowing that PKK is not only regarded as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, but also by Sweden and NATO Allies. And also the PKK is linked to organised crime in Sweden.

So I welcome the increased cooperation on fighting terrorism but also that Sweden has removed restrictions on arms exports and also, of course, follow up on the message from Vilnius that we should remove as many obstacles as possible for arms exports between NATO Allies. All of this has been followed up from NATO, and therefore my message remains that Türkiye should finalise and I'm expecting that this will also be a very clear message that will be conveyed to Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan when he arrives here at the NATO Foreign Minister meeting where Allies will express their need to see a speedy finalization of the ratification.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Final question today goes to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in the middle of the room, please.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Thanks so much, Thomas Gutschker from FAZ. Secretary General, do you sense a willingness among NATO member states to equip Ukraine with what it needs for another counteroffensive next spring? And how do you assess General Zaluzhnyi’s recent statement that to break out of the stalemate, Ukraine would need new types of weapons, that the weapons of the past that have been delivered so far, are simply not enough to actually change the situation on the battlefield. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So what I see when I travel and meet NATO Allies, is unwavering commitment to support Ukraine, with an unprecedented level of military support, [such as] the recent announcement by Germany, 8 billion extra and then added with 2 billion extra from the Netherlands. So just over the last couple of weeks, we have had 10 billion extra euros for military support to Ukraine announced by two important Allies.

Then you have the air defence coalition, which is not only looking into how can we sustain and provide ammunition and the spare parts to existing air defense systems, but how can we add more and more advanced air defence systems to Ukraine which will enable them partly to protect the civilians, the cities but also to protect the economy, the critical infrastructure and also protect their own defence industry. It’s enormously important to do what these 28 NATO Allies are doing to establish this air defence coalition to organise [and] facilitate more air defence support. Allies have delivered very advanced weapons including cruise missiles from the United Kingdom and from France. And Allies are also providing a lot of other modern types of weapons. And then of course, we also the establishment of the training facility in Romania for training F-16 pilots.

So overall, I see a very strong commitment from NATO Allies to really provide military support and wide range of types of weapons. Then, of course what you have seen is that, even with this substantial significant military support from NATO Allies, [Ukraine has] not, over the last year, been able to move the front line. And that just reflects the fact that we should never underestimate Russia. Their defence industry is on a war footing. They're able to resupply their forces with ammunition and new capabilities. They have got a significant amount of ammunition from North Korea, and there is a willingness to sacrifice people in this operation, which also makes it hard to for Ukrainians to achieve the territorial gains we all hope for. But, rest assured I'm absolutely certain that the message from NATO Allies at this meeting, but also when we gather later on at the Washington Summit, is that we need to stand by Ukraine. It is our security interest that President Putin does not win this war.

Then just one thing about technology. I think that first of all, we are providing Ukraine with more and more advanced systems. Second, technology is not only about one specific item, or weapon. It's about how they can operate together, how we can use drones, how we can use cyber, how we can use different systems and connecting them, and then providing new capabilities. And Allies are also working on that. And the way I read the article was also very much about actually how to connect and integrate different weapon systems so they can establish or provide even more advanced capabilities.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: I’m afraid that's all we have time for today. There will be several other opportunities this week. See you tomorrow, thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you so much.