Press conference

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

  • 29 Nov. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 29 Nov. 2023 13:42

(As delivered)

Good morning.

We just had a productive meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. The first time we meet in this format, the first time we have a Foreign Ministerial Meeting as a NATO-Ukraine Council Meeting.

Today, we approved an ambitious work programme for the next year. It includes energy security, innovation and interoperability. We also discussed the situation on the ground.

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 originally seized. In the Black Sea, the Ukrainians have pushed back the Russian fleet, and established routes for grain exports – bolstering global food security.

Most importantly, Ukraine has prevailed as a sovereign, independent, democratic nation. This is a major achievement – a big win.

As Ukraine has moved forward, Russia has fallen backward. It is now weaker politically, militarily, and economically.
Politically, Russia is losing influence in its near abroad. Not only in Ukraine, but in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia is also becoming much more dependent on China.
Year by year, Moscow is mortgaging its future to Beijing.  Militarily, Russia has lost a substantial part of its conventional forces. Hundreds of aircraft. Thousands of tanks. And more than 300,000 casualties.

Economically, Russia is also under pressure. Oil and gas revenues are dropping. Russian banking assets are under sanctions. Over 1,000 foreign companies have stopped or scaled down their operations in the country. And 1.3 million people left Russia last year.
All of this underlines Putin’s strategic mistake in invading Ukraine.

At the same time, we must not underestimate Russia. Russia’s economy is on a war footing. Putin has a high tolerance for casualties. And Russian aims in Ukraine have not changed. Russia has amassed a large missile stockpile ahead of winter. And we see new attempts to strike Ukraine’s power grid and energy infrastructure. Trying to leave Ukraine in the dark and cold.

I welcome that Allies are continuing to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences. Last week 20 NATO Allies agreed to form an air-defence coalition for Ukraine. This will help protect Ukraine’s armed forces and cities. And save Ukrainian lives.

We are now transforming NATO’s comprehensive assistance package into a multi-year programme of assistance. Helping Ukraine to transition from Soviet-era to NATO equipment and standards. And make their forces fully interoperable with ours.

We also discussed Ukraine’s path to membership. Allies agree that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.
We have now provided recommendations on Ukraine’s priority reforms. Including the fight against corruption,
Strengthening the rule of law, and supporting human rights and minority rights.

Ukraine is closer to NATO than ever before.
We will continue to support them on the path to membership. And we will continue to support Ukraine’s fight for freedom.

With that, I am ready to take some questions.


NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White: We'll start with the New York Times, please in the fourth row.

Lara Jakes (New York Times): Good morning. Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary General, could you please be a little more specific on what reforms the Allies asked Ukraine to undertake on its path to NATO membership? Fighting corruption, strengthening rule of law and human rights, these are all things that Allies have demanded for years with missed success at the very best. Why would Ukraine be able to implement these now when it focuses on fighting a war? And what if any timeline was decided on these reforms to be enacted?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I'm actually impressed by Ukraine's commitment to implement reforms to modernise their society in the midst of a full-scale war. And we have seen that they have implemented changes in the legislation. They have made concrete changes, not least in the fight against [corruption]. They’re in the process of setting up and overhauling the system for defence procurement in close coordination with NATO and also modernising their intelligence services. These are just a couple or three examples of how actually Ukraine is changing, adapting and stepping up not least in the fight against corruption, but also in overhauling their system for procurement of defence equipment.

This is important for Ukraine, because it helps them to be a stronger country, fighting Russia as an aggressor, but it also helps them to move closer to NATO membership. And therefore one of the messages, one of the important topics we addressed at the meeting today was how could NATO Allies work even more closely with Ukraine on these reforms? And also how we can use the NATO-Ukraine Council to ensure the full implementation, and we agreed on the work program and sub-structure under committees under the NATO-Ukraine Council to ensure that we follow up concretely on the reforms and the monetisation of the Ukrainian society.

Lara Jakes (New York Times): And the timeline, sir? [inaudible]

NATO Secretary General: Many of them are already implemented and this is an ongoing effort. We have seen concrete steps from the Ukrainian authorities in the fight against corruption. Decisions have been taken. So this is ongoing and things that are in the process of implementing.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We’ll go to Ukrainian media in the second row here please.

Olha Kyrylova (VCHASNO, Ukraine): Olha Kyrylova, VCHASNO News Agency, Ukraine.  Secretary General, currently Ukrainian pilots trained in Romania to operate and maintain F-16 fighter jets. Is it possible now to outline the timeframe of the actual supply of fighter jets to Ukraine and what factors or obstacles effect this process at this point? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Well, I welcome of course the decision by NATO Allies, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway to deliver F-16’s. I welcome the fact that training of F-16 pilots have already started and just a few weeks ago, a centre for training pilots also [was] established in Romania. I’m not able to give you an exact date, but I hope the delivery can start as soon as possible. The planes are there. But what needs to be done is to train the pilots and that's ongoing. And the centre has been established in Romania and the United States has also made it clear that NATO Allies are allowed to deliver F-16’s to Ukraine. Then I think it is important that of course F-16’s will make a difference. They will strengthen Ukraine's capacity to inflict losses on the Russian invading forces. And F-16’s will also help to further strengthen Ukraine's air defences.

At the same time, I think we need to now realise that there is not a silver bullet, not a single system that by itself will change fundamentally the situation on the battlefield. This is a question of many different capabilities are working together at the same time that will push the Russians back. We have to be prepared for a long and hard fight.

I welcome of course the delivery of modern battle tanks, HIMARS, cruise missiles, and advanced air defence systems and also the delivery of F-16’s. But again, there is no silver bullet. There's no single system that fundamentally would change the situational battlefield by itself.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We'll take a couple from further up. We'll go to NTB there and please.

Bibiana Piene (NTB): Thank you, Bibiana Piene from a Norwegian news agency. I'd like to change the focus a little bit to Gaza. Mr. General Secretary, yesterday you stated that international humanitarian law must be respected in every context. Lately, several countries, Norway among them, have condemned both Hamas and Israel for breaching of international humanitarian law. In your opinion, is Israel breaching humanitarian law in its fight against Hamas on the Gaza Strip? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: I have said that again, and again, that it is important that the international law is respected and that civilians are protected. And therefore I also called for a pause in the hostilities and I welcome the pause that has been agreed. And I also welcome the extension of the pause agreed, couple of days ago. And I also hope that the conditions could be in place to agree a further extension of the pause in the hostilities. Yes, it is important that humanitarian law applies to all conflicts. And that has been and continues to be my message. And we also seen clear statements from many other Allies on this issue.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Go next to the Washington Post also back here please.

Michael Birnbaum (Washington Post): Thanks very much, Michael Birnbaum from the Washington Post. General Zaluzhnyi has talked about the stalemate. And you said that Allies all agree that a full NATO membership for Ukraine is not possible in the middle of a war. So, I was wondering if you talked today or yesterday about the mechanisms by which Ukraine in a stalemated war might be admitted to NATO and how that would work. And you just mentioned that Russia is mortgaging its future to China. Could you tell us a bit more in detail what evidence you have of Russian reliance on Beijing in this work? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: We see the economic lines. We see how Russia becomes more and more dependent on China. For financing, for commodities, and also for key commodities for the defence industry. And also the fact that Russia has not [been] able to export energy in the same way they did before to Europe, which was the main and most important market, not least for natural gas. That makes them even more dependent on China. So yes, year by year, Moscow is mortgaging their future to Beijing and this is one of the examples on how Russia is becoming more and more weak economically as a result of this war.

Then, I think we need to realise that yes, we haven't seen significant changes in the frontline over the last months. But there is intense fighting going on. And of course, military achievements can be measured in many different ways. It can be measured in square meters. And of course then what we saw last year was that Ukrainians were able to liberate enormous or big, significant parts of their territory pushing back the Russians from roughly 50% of what they occupied at the beginning of the war. That was a big gain, measured in square kilometres or square meters.

But there are other ways also [of] measuring military gains for Ukrainians. The fact that they've been able to have deep strikes, destroying key Russian capabilities, including fighter jets, heavy bombers, helicopters. The fact that they have been able, without actually a real navy, to push back the Russian Black Sea Fleet all the way to Novorossiysk and thereby also enabling the fact that they now can transport grain on ships out from Odessa and through the Black Sea. That's a huge gain, without that cannot be measured in square meters, but it's measured in destroying Russian capabilities, pushing back the Black Sea Fleet and enabling them to move grain out of Ukraine on the Black Sea.

So the fact that Ukraine continues to inflict heavy losses on Russia is a way or demonstrates that [this] demonic war, this intense war going on where the Ukrainians, because of their bravery and their skill but also of course with modern weapons from NATO Allies, the Storm Shadows, the cruise missiles from the United Kingdom, advanced air defence systems and many other types of weapons, are able actually to inflict heavy losses and then achieve military gains in the fight against the Russian invaders.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: We’ll go to ATV in the middle of the fourth row please.

Flaka Vitaku (ATV Media): Thank you, Flaka Vitaku from ATV Kosovo. So what is NATO's message on peace and stability after the incident in Banjska Zvečan where a Kosovar police officer was killed. And do you see the association of Serb majority municipalities as the right step for Kosovo to feel secure from future possible attacks like the other one during September, but also the stability and security in the entire Western Balkans. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Over the last few months, also last year, we have seen some serious incidents of violence in Kosovo. I just visited Kosovo. And what we saw this spring was an attack on NATO peacekeepers - 93 NATO soldiers were wounded, some of them [with] life changing wounds, and that's totally unacceptable. And then you also saw the Banjska incident where actually people were killed. And of course, this is serious. This highlights the challenges we face in Kosovo and the importance of all sides to de-escalate, to refrain from actions that can further increase tensions, and refrain from any inflammatory rhetoric that can increase tensions.

This is my message. This was my message also in my meetings in Priština and in Belgrade. The message is that Priština and Belgrade have to engage in good faith in the EU-facilitated dialogue. Kosovo is an example of how NATO and the European Union are working very closely together. The EU is in charge of the diplomatic efforts. We are present with thousands of troops on the ground and actually as a result of this, we have added 1,000 more NATO troops to our presence in Kosovo to roughly 5,000.

I believe that the proposal of an association of Serb majority municipalities could be a way forward to try to define the solution and to make progress within the EU-facilitated dialogue. So yes, that's absolutely something that should be looked into.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Time for one more; we'll go to Buka here in the front place in the middle.

Sladan Tomić (BUKA Magazin): Thank you, Sladan Tomić, BUKA Magazine, Bosnia. Are you going to send more troops to Bosnia? If yes, when? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: So, NATO has a presence of 5,000 troops in Kosovo, we have a military headquarters in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So I visited the headquarters, but there we are working with and supporting the efforts of EUFOR, the EU force. And again, an example of how NATO and the EU are working very closely together. And, of course, to the larger extent we’ll also speak about the same nations EU and NATO Allies.

I welcome the fact that the EUFOR force, the mandate, the UN mandate for that force was renewed. If that hadn't happened, of course, then we had to consider what NATO should do. But I'm glad that the mandate for this EU force was renewed. We have made it clear that we cannot allow a security vacuum in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That's also the reason why we strongly supported the renewal of the UN mandate for the EU force – EUFOR Althea. And with this support from NATO, we have something called the “Berlin Plus” arrangements, which allows NATO to help and support with command and control for this force.

NATO Acting Spokesperson: I’m afraid that's all we have time for. Thank you very much.

[inaudible]: What about Sweden, any presents for Christmas?

NATO Secretary General: So, we had a good discussion on that. And the message from NATO Allies was very clear that we’ll see ratification finalise as soon as possible. We agreed in Vilnius on the importance of concluding the ratification process for Sweden. Therefore, I welcome that President Erdoğan some weeks ago, submitted the papers for ratification to the Turkish parliament, and that the Turkish parliament, the foreign relations committee has started the deliberations on that document. The fact that President Erdoğan submitted the papers also means that he actually recommended ratification, because that's part of this proposal for the parliament, and therefore also in line with what we agreed in Vilnius. I also expect that they will now work with the parliament to ensure ratification because the agreement in Vilnius is actually two steps. One, to submit the papers for ratification that has happened and second to work with the parliament to ensure ratification. So we will continue to work on this and the sooner the better. Because it will be good for Sweden. It will be good for NATO and good for all NATO Allies to have Sweden as a full member

NATO Acting Spokesperson: Thank you very much.