Doorstep statement

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union in Defence Ministers’ format

  • 28 May. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 28 May. 2024 14:06

(As delivered)

Good morning.
I'm looking forward to meeting the EU Defence Ministers and to discuss our support for Ukraine. Since day one of this war, NATO and the European Union have worked very closely together to provide unprecedented military, economic, and financial support to Ukraine. And therefore, it's always useful to sit down with the ministers and discuss how to sustain our support and step up what we do.

The most urgent need now is more air defence. And we are working with NATO Allies, and many of them also of course EU members, on stepping up the delivery of ammunition, air defence systems, and in particular the most advanced ones, the Patriot systems.

So, we have seen some progress. But more progress and more air defence systems are urgently needed in Ukraine. And this is also the message from the NATO-Ukraine Council, which is meeting at NATO today.

Then, at NATO, we are now working on how NATO can coordinate the provision of equipment and training. We have received a proposal from our Supreme Allied Commander, SACEUR, on how to organise this. So, NATO coordinates the support of military equipment and training to Ukraine.

I have also proposed a multi-year financial pledge, meaning that we should agree as NATO Allies, a financial pledge to Ukraine over several years to ensure that we prevent gaps and delays as we have seen recently, and that Ukraine get predictable, accountable support for the long haul. And that's what they need to prevail as a sovereign independent nation.

Lastly, we are also working with industry to ramp up production. We have seen some important decisions lately on more investments, more production. But we need more and we are working closely with the transatlantic defence industrial base to ramp up production. Then I'm ready for questions.

Are you meeting with President Zelenskyy who is in Brussels today?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
No, I met him recently in Kyiv. He is here to meet with the Belgian Prime Minister.

Secretary General, why is it right to lift restrictions on Western weapons to hit targets inside Russia now?

NATO Secretary General
We have to remember what this is. This is a war of aggression. Russia has attacked another country, invaded another country. And Ukraine has according to international law, the right to self-defence, to defend themselves. And the right of self-defence includes also striking targets outside Ukraine, legitimate military targets inside Russia. And this is in particular, relevant now. Because the most heavy fighting is now taking place in the Kharkiv region, close to the Ukrainian Russian border. And part of the border is actually the front line.
Therefore, of course it will be very hard and difficult for the Ukrainians to defend themselves if they cannot hit military targets just on the other side of the border. These may be missile launchers. It may be artillery. It may be airfields which are used to attack Ukraine. And if Ukraine cannot hit those military targets, it will be much harder for them to defend themselves.
These are national decisions. It's not that NATO decisions on restrictions. Some Allies have not imposed restrictions on the weapons they have delivered. Others have. I believe the time now has come to consider those restrictions, not least in light of the development in the war, which now is actually taking place along the border. And that makes it even harder for them to defend themselves.
And also we have to remember that doesn't make NATO Allies party to the conflict. We have the right to provide support to Ukraine, to help them uphold the right for self-defence.

Why do you don't see the risk of escalation like Germany, like US President Joe Biden?

NATO Secretary General
NATO has two tasks in this war. One is to support Ukraine, to ensure that Ukraine prevails. And we do that by providing military support equipment training. The other task is to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine, to become a full-fledged conflict between NATO and Russia. And we do that partly by not sending in NATO troops. We're don't have any plans of sending NATO combat troops into Ukraine or to be directly involved in the fight.
And we also prevent escalation by increasing our military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, and Baltic countries, in Romania, and Poland, to remove any room for miscalculation in Moscow about our willingness to defend all Allies and by that preventing escalation beyond Ukraine.
The fact that that we are delivering equipment to Ukraine doesn’t make NATO party to the conflict. We have the right to support Ukraine without becoming a party to the conflict because we're helping Ukraine to uphold the right for self-defence. Some Allies have never imposed restrictions on how to use weapons that are provided to Ukraine. And actually, when they delivered the weapons to Ukraine, they are Ukrainian weapons. Again, these are national decisions. Different considerations have been made. But I strongly believe that those Allies who have decided to not have restrictions, they don't make NATO party to the conflict and that will of course also be the case for other Allies.

What can you tell us about recent arson and sabotage attacks across NATO countries including Poland, Sweden, the UK, Germany? And we had the Dutch National Security Agency warning about vulnerability and the possibility that Russia is orchestrating these. Some ministers have told us that they think that this is an attack on within NATO countries, and may present you with an excuse to escalate.

NATO Secretary General
We have seen several arrests across the Alliance in different NATO Allied countries of people who are accused of arson, of sabotage. These are of course ongoing legal processes. But what I can say is that we have seen increased Russian intelligence activity across the Alliance. Therefore we have increased our vigilance. We have our own services who are very closely monitoring what the Russians are doing. And it is important that also nations are taking actions by the arrests and the legal processes which have now started in the UK, in Germany, in Poland and in other countries.
It just demonstrates that we need to be prepared. We need to be ready. And we need to share intelligence. We need to exchange information to counter these different types of hybrid activities, aiming at undermining the ability of NATO Allies to provide support to Ukraine.
And it demonstrates also how serious the situation is and how important it is that we continue to have a strong NATO Alliance deterring a military attack against NATO Allies.

The Netherlands has taken command of the NATO Mission to Iraq last week. Do you think anything will be changed?

NATO Secretary General
It will be the same mission with the same mandate. But of course, I welcome that the Netherlands is taking on the responsibility of leading the NATO Mission in Iraq. The NATO Mission in Iraq is important too. We welcome the close cooperation with the Iraqi government. Everything we do in Iraq is based on an invitation from the Iraqi government. But we help the Iraqi security institutions, security forces to ensure that ISIS does not return as a big, dangerous power in Iraq, which is dangerous for Iraq but also for NATO Allies.

Putin is asking for peace negotiations. What would you tell him? What's your reply to this?

NATO Secretary General
This war can end tomorrow if the government, the country that started the war, President Putin stops to attack Ukraine. The challenge is that we see no signs that President Putin, Russia is planning to end this war. On the opposite, we’re seeing that they’re stepping up.
So it's for the Ukrainians to decide what are acceptable conditions for an agreement. What we know as NATO Allies is that what happens around the negotiating table is closely linked to the strength on the battlefield. So, if we want a negotiated solution where Russia accepts that Ukraine has to prevail as a sovereign independent nation in Europe, then the only way to get there is to give military support to Ukraine so they can demonstrate for President Putin that he will not win on the battlefield. He will not get control over Ukraine by using military force, but has to sit down and accept the sovereign independent Ukraine also in the future. Thank you so much.