Press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

following the first day of meetings of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs

  • 01 Apr. 2014
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  • Last updated: 01 Apr. 2014 22:24

Good evening.

We have just discussed the crisis in Ukraine with NATO foreign ministers, and the foreign minister of Ukraine.

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is the gravest threat to European security in a generation. And it challenges our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace; a vision that we have built since the end of the Cold War. But we remain as committed as ever to this vision.

NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people. And make no mistake, this is what we will do.

Today, we reaffirm our commitment to collective defence. We will deter and defend against any threat. We remain vigilant, ready and able to defend our Allies.

We have already reinforced NATO’s presence on the eastern borders of the Alliance.

We are flying AWACS surveillance patrols over Poland and Romania.

We have more than doubled the number of fighter aircraft allocated to the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States, thanks to the United States. And many European Allies have also offered additional planes and air-to-air refuelling tankers and other capabilities. I welcome this demonstration of strong solidarity.

Today, we directed our military commanders to develop additional measures to enhance our collective defence and deterrence against any threat of aggression to the Alliance. We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.

Today we also agreed on further support to Ukraine.

We will intensify our efforts to support Ukraine’s defence reforms, to make the Ukrainian forces more professional and more effective.

And we will provide advice on Ukraine’s protection of critical infrastructure.

We have also agreed to suspend all of NATO’s practical cooperation with Russia.

Through its actions, Russia has chosen to undermine the very foundations upon which our cooperation is built. The military action against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory constitute a flagrant breach of Russia’s international commitments.

In light of this, there can be no business as usual. So today, we are suspending all practical cooperation with Russia, military and civilian. In the NATO-Russia Council, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the Partnership for Peace. At the same time we keep our diplomatic lines of communication open, and we are ready for ambassadorial or ministerial meetings in the NATO-Russia Council.

We will continue to review our relationship in view of Russia’s actions.

NATO’s message is clear. We stand by our Allies. We stand by Ukraine. And we stand by the international system of rules that we have made so much effort to build together over the last decades. And we urge Russia to engage in dialogue towards a political and diplomatic solution that respects international law and Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.

In light of this new reality, preparations for our Summit in Wales are even more important. Let me stress, we remain committed to all our core missions. We will further develop our partnerships through defence capacity building and by building upon our experience in operations in order to further promote security and stability together. And we will continue to invest in our readiness, so that we stay strong and prepared for any challenge.

And with that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):  We'll start with Interfax Ukraine, in the second row.

Q:  Thank you, Secretary General, News Agency Interfax Ukraine Ivana Sumar.  I have a question on the statement on...in NATO-Ukraine Commission where ministers said that they agreed on the concrete measures to help Ukraine to enhance the ability for its own security.  What it's mean?  What in these words we can what kind of concrete measures?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  You will see that worked out in the coming weeks, months, years. But in concrete terms we are speaking about supporting transformation of Ukrainian Armed Forces into modern and effective organizations able to provide a credible deterrence and defence against military threats. 

We will enhance the ability of Ukrainian Armed Forces to work and operate together with armed forces from NATO Allies. 

In that respect, we will offer greater access to NATO exercises. We will invite Ukraine to participate in development of military capabilities.  We will provide capacity-building of Ukrainian armed forces.  And a possibility is also deployment of mobile training teams as and when appropriate, just to mention some examples.

Oana Lungescu:  German News Agency. DPA.

Q:  Dieter Eberling from DPA.  It's a German Press Agency.  Secretary General, is my understanding correct that in case of a military recommendation to deploy and reinforce military assets in the Eastern parts of the Alliance, this would require another consent and agreement of the North Atlantic Council?  Or is that something that could just go ahead since it has... there has been some decision today?

And given the fact that some member countries were very much in favour of a, let's say, low-key approach to the whole problem, how confident are you that all member States would, for example, back the deployment of military assets in Eastern countries?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  First of all, let me stress that all Allies have expressed a very, very strong commitment to collective defence.  And I feel confident that NATO Allies are ready to take the necessary steps to make sure that we can provide effective defence and protection of all Allies against any threat.  That's a first point to make. 

Next, today we have tasked our military authorities to come forward with proposals and give advice as to how we can further strengthen our collective defence.  In my introduction, I indicated in which direction.  It includes update and further development of defence plans, enhanced exercises, and also appropriate deployments. 

But finally, of course, in NATO, as well as in all member States, we exercise political control of military decisions and military proposals.  So at the end of the day, pending of course the outcome of the military advice it will be subject to political discussions and political decisions.

Oana Lungescu: Radio Free Europe.

Q:  Secretary General, you have made a statement saying that you agree to package...  as much of the same, the deepening your relation... your cooperation with other NATO partners in Eastern Europe.  Does that mean Moldova, Azerbaijan and Armenia?  And if so, what sort of packages or measures?  What does it mean concretely?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, it means Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan.  But let me stress that this is actually not anything new.  We have already well-established partnerships with all of these three partners.  And actually, we have been working on enhancing our partnerships for quite some time with a view to our summit in Wales, in September.  So we are speaking about enhancing our cooperation within the framework of the existing partnerships. And that includes the usual messages such as assisting these countries in promoting defence reforms.

As regards Moldova, we have also assisted Moldova in the destruction of dangerous pesticides, just to mention an example.  So it's a very broad range of cooperation activities. And today, we have adopted a document that will further enhance that cooperation with these partners.

Oana Lungescu: Reuters.

Q:  (...inaudible...) Reuters.  We're trying to get a sense of what exactly does this suspension of cooperation, of all practical cooperation with Russia means? Does this mean the Alliance will no longer cooperate in areas such counter-narcotics in Afghanistan or the helicopter project or other areas of cooperation in Afghanistan for example?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  I would expect the counter-narcotics projects to continue.  It also involves other countries than Russia.  And I think Russia has a very strong interest in continuing our joined efforts in countering drugs trafficking. 

I would also expect the Afghanistan-related cooperation projects to continue.  The transit arrangements as well as the helicopter project, also because we have a joint interest in ensuring success of our mission in Afghanistan.

Oana Lungescu:  NPR.

Q:  Hi, Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS.  Could I clarify your suspension of practical cooperation will then not mean all projects, if what you're saying is correct, that counter... some programmes will continue?  But that wasn't my main question.  That was just sparked by your last... by your last answer.  Hum...  you, you... the NAC already threatened this kind of suspension or suspended most working-level cooperation.  And that did nothing to sway President Putin.  I mean doesn't really come down to Russian knowing how far you are willing to go militarily?  What assets are you talking about possibly deploying in the frontline States?

What's the bottom-line on how far NATO's planning is going to go in terms of military contingencies? Thanks.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  First, on the range of the suspension, yes, the NATO Council decided some weeks ago to suspend practical level of cooperation within the NATO-Russia Council.  Today, we have broadened it to also covering the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace.  And the second...?

Q:  The military assessment...?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  Yes, but that's premature to make any announcements in that respect; because what we decided today was to task our military authorities to come forward with the concrete proposals and concrete advice, as regards enhancement of collective defence

As you know, we have already taken steps. We have enhanced air policing.  We have improved surveillance, just to mention a couple of examples.  And now we ask our military to come forward with proposals as to how we could possibly further enhance our collective defence and until they have presented their concrete proposals, I think it would be a bit premature to make any announcements.

Oana Lungescu:  BBC, last question.

Q:  John Markus, BBC, just to clarify because with respect, there's a lot of NATO-speak here.  For ordinary people - you talk about making the Ukraine military more effective, more able to defend itself.  Do you rule out the supply of weaponry to Ukraine?  That's one question.  And the second question, I was very struck by the Polish foreign minister's comment that the only NATO installation in his country was a conference centre.  Do you foresee NATO's footprint in many of these countries becoming more significant in the years to come?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  Yes.  One of the examples we have presented is that we will enhance exercises.  And you saw a very concrete demonstration of that last year in November. We organized the so-called Steadfast Jazz exercise. And it took place in Poland.  That's an example of more visible NATO presence in parts of NATO territory, where we didn't conduct such exercises previously.  And I think you will see more of that in the future.

Actually, as part of our preparations for the Summit we have prepared a so-called Connected Forces Initiative which includes enhancement of exercises in the future.  And that might also include exercises that will take place on territory of what you still might call new member States.

Q: ... (Inaudible) to Ukraine. 

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: On weaponry, I can tell you that NATO as an organization does not possess weapons, generally speaking.  We have certain capabilities such as the AWACS Aircraft.  But military equipment is owned by NATO member States.  So delivery or a possible delivery of equipment is a bilateral arrangement between NATO Allies and their partners.

Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much indeed. Good evening.