by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in advance of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
We are less than a hundred days from the Wales Summit. At the Summit, we will strengthen our collective defence. Improve our ability to manage crises. Deepen our partnerships. And demonstrate the strength of the bond between North America and Europe.
Our preparations are well under way. But we are facing a new security landscape because of Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine.
We have already taken immediate steps. In a strong show of solidarity, every single Ally, from both sides of the Atlantic, contributes to bolstering our collective defence, including deployment of ships, aircraft and troops. It really is all for one and one for all.
We will review these steps, and consider what more we need to do.
The crisis has shown that the range of security threats we face is increasing, and becoming more unpredictable. We still have to tackle threats such as terrorism, piracy and cyber crime. But we also have to consider the challenge posed by Russia’s attempt to redraw borders by force.
So we need to make NATO fitter, faster and more flexible. We will do that through a Readiness Action Plan. To make sure our forces are even more responsive, with the right capabilities, the right training and the right resources. This work is already ongoing, but the crisis makes it more urgent.
We will also meet with Ukraine to demonstrate our support and discuss priorities for our cooperation in light of the crisis and following the landmark presidential election. And we will meet with Georgia to assess the development of our partnership and the impact of Russia’s actions in the wider region.
NATO’s collective defence is solid. Our commitment to our partners is strong. And our message to Russia is clear.
As we continue to deal with this crisis on our doorstep, we are just months away from completing our longest combat mission in Afghanistan. At the same time, we are finalising our plan for a new mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces from next year. We can only launch that mission if we have the legal framework in place.
But despite the challenges, I am increasingly confident that we will be able to launch the mission and build on the gains we have made in Afghanistan.
And with that, I am ready to take some questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): We'll start with Reuters in the middle.
Q: Secretary General, could... Adrian Croft from Reuters, could I ask for your reaction to the announcement that has just come from the White House that President Obama is going to ask Congress for a billion dollars to increase US military rotations in Europe, please?
And could you tell us whether the issue of permanent basing in Eastern Europe is on the table for ministers today, despite Russians saying this would violate the 1997 agreement? Thank you.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me emphasize that I really appreciate the American leadership in taking reassurance measures. The United States has reacted swiftly after Russia's illegal military actions in Ukraine.
And I appreciate that other Allies have followed; so we can announce that all 28 Allies are now contributing to reassurance measures. But I look forward to continued American leadership in that regard.
As regards the specifics on which measures we will take in a long-term perspective, it's a bit too early to say anything about that. We have taken immediate measures. And we are now considering more long-term measures to reinforce collective defence. And that might include update of defence plans, development of new defence plans, enhanced exercises and also appropriate deployments. But I would expect such a readiness action plan to be adopted at the summit.
OANA LUNGESCU: ARZU from Afghanistan.
Q: Thank you, Mr Secretary General, I'm from Afghanistan. What we will expect: an important decision on Afghanistan in the ministerial meeting? And any update on SOFA? We heard that one government approved the SOFA the agreement.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I would expect the ISAF meeting tomorrow to decide to continue planning for a resolute support: train-advise-assist mission to be established from the 1st of January 2015.
Of course, we will still have to continue planning in parallel for the situation that we might not be able to deploy a training mission after 2014 in the case that the legal framework will not be in place.
But, as I said in my introduction, I'm increasingly confident that the legal framework will be put in place in due time. So that we can establish the training mission from 1st of January 2015. And that will be the main decision to take tomorrow that we will continue planning for the establishment of such a training mission.
OANA LUNGESCU: Al Jazeera.
Q: Secretary General, most of the measures that you're talking about seemed to be aimed at deterring future Russian action. What about Crimea? Is Crimea now permanently lost? And may I ask you quickly also... I know your focus here is on Ukraine... But Syrians are voting as you speak. What's your view of that election?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on Crimea. The annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation is illegal. We do not recognize it. We still consider Crimea a part of Ukraine. And we call on Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine.
On the Syrian presidential election: The Syrian presidential election is a farce. It doesn't fulfil international standards for free, fair and transparent elections. And I'm sure that no Ally would recognize the outcome of these so-called elections.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question over there.
Q: Oui, Monsieur le Secrétaire général, Monder Emri Al-Rabin (?). J'ai deux questions. Quelles sont les prochaines étapes concernant la situation en Ukraine, surtout que les enjeux sont aussi bien militaires qu'économiques? Et jusqu'où l'OTAN et ses Alliés peuvent-ils résister à la pression russe?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Let me emphasize that we are not discussing military options. We do believe that the right way forward is a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis.
A first, very important step in that direction would be for Russia to de-escalate the situation, first and foremost by a full withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian borders.
We have seen signs of the start of such a withdrawal. But let me add that there are still tens of thousands of Russian troops along the Ukrainian borders. And that massive troop presence is not justified.
Furthermore, it would contribute to a political and peaceful solution to the problems if Russia stops the support for armed gangs in Eastern Ukraine. Armed gangs that occupy government buildings; and as we have seen, also take OSCE observers hostage. And in general, it would contribute to a political solution if Russia would live up to her international obligations. So these are immediate steps to be taken if we are to find a long-term sustainable solution to the crisis.
Let me add to that... but that goes beyond NATO, of course... that it's of utmost importance that the international community assists Ukraine in improving the economic situation.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you, very much colleagues. We'll see you later.