by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint press point with the Prime Minister of Finland, Alexander Stubb (followed by Q&A session)
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): Thank you so much Alex and it’s great to see you again and great to be back in Helsinki. I’ve been here many, many times but this is the first time we meet in your capacity as Prime Minister, my capacity as Secretary General NATO. And for me it’s great to be in Finland because I can underline and confirm very much what you just said, that there is an excellent relationship between Finland and NATO and Finland is one of our most active and closest partners.
You have participated in so many important NATO operations and missions. In Afghanistan, in Kosovo, there you have contributed to peace and security. But you have also contributed to increased interoperability, meaning increased ability to work together with other NATO countries and that has been of great importance for NATO and hopefully also for you. So you are really a close partner and we appreciate very much your contributions and we very much would like to develop that partnership further, especially when it comes to working with other countries both in, to the east with Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine to help them to stabilize, to enable them to be even more able to defend themselves but also to the south with the Jordan, with countries in North Africa. And the idea is to be able to project stability without deploying a high number of forces but by enabling other countries to be more able to take care of their own security. So in all these different efforts and in all these different missions, operations we very much welcome the participation of Finland and we have a great history together in Afghanistan, Kosovo and other operations.
Then of course we also very much welcome and also discussed during the lunch how we can work more closely together when it comes to exercises to make our forces even more able to work together. And when I left Brussels yesterday I left what we call the CMX-15 which is a big exercise taking place in all NATO countries but also several partner countries including Finland, and I was sitting there at the NATO headquarters with 28 allies and some partner countries including Finland. So Finland is part of the exercises, it’s part of the activities we are doing to be able to make our defence forces even more capable and even more, more trained and prepared.
We are of course very concerned about the situation in, in Ukraine and it underlines that we now see a different Russia. I think both NATO and Finland has for many years, since the end of the Cold War, strived for a more co-operative and constructive relationship with, with Russia. And we continue to do so but to be able to have a constructive and co-operative relationship with Russia, Russia has to respect its neighbours and to respect the border of its neighbours. And, and therefore we believe that there is no contradiction between the strong defence and dialogue.
Actually my experience as a Norwegian Prime Minister is that strong defence has created the foundation, the basis for dialogue and co-operation with Russia. We are concerned about the situation in Ukraine, we welcome very much the Minsk Agreement and the cease-fire and now it is important that the, the Minsk Agreement and the cease-fire is respected and fully implemented. And any attempt to further expand the territory held by the separatists would be a clear violation of that Minsk Agreement and this would be an unacceptable action to the international community. And I would also like to underline that all heavy weapons have to be withdrawn from the contact line and the front line and the OSCE has to have full access to be able to monitor the situation on the ground.
Thank you once again, it’s great to be in Finland it’s great to be working so closely with a close and highly valued partner as Finland.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much and now we have time for some questions and please mention your name and the name of your media before making the questions. Helsinki Sanomat.
Q: Petra Doynan [sp?] from Newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. I have a question for both of you gentlemen. First Secretary General, earlier this week US military estimated that there’s 12,000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, 29,000 in Crimea and additional 50,000 across the border. What is your estimate on the Russian troops in the area and can you show us some proof about it? And, do I continue?
ALEXANDER STUBB (Prime Minister of Finland): Go for it.
Q: Prime Minister [continues in Finnish].
ALEXANDER STUBB: [Speaking in Finnish]
Q: [Speaking in Finnish]
MODERATOR: [Speaking in Finnish], please.
JENS STOLTENBERG: So I will not go into specific figures but what I can confirm is that we have seen a substantial increase in the support from Russia to the separatists. And we have seen forces, we have seen training of separatists by Russian forces and we have also seen a substantial increase in the supply of heavy equipment. And there is more than a thousand pieces of heavy equipment which has been supplied to the separatists by Russia and we speak about artillery, armoured vehicles, advanced defence, air defence systems and the, and the, this is equipment which only can originate from Russia and we have very reliable sources both based on our own intelligence but also based on open sources, the OSCE has confirmed that Russia is present in eastern Ukraine and now recently also got a UN report. And also families of soldiers and other open sources have confirmed the same. So I think there is no reason in a way to discuss whether the Russians are in Ukraine, they have annexed Crimea, they try also to deny that they were present in Crimea and then they annexed Crimea and now they are present in eastern part of Ukraine. And we call on Russia to withdraw all its troops from eastern Ukraine and to use all its influence on the separatists to make sure they are respecting the cease-fire and allowing OSCE observers to monitor the cease-fire and the Minsk Agreement.
ALEXANDER STUBB: And as far as the question on Finnish NATO membership and opinion polls is concerned I think it’s very important that in the span of the next government we don’t exclude the possibility of seeking NATO membership, in a similar way in which we excluded it for this government and as the President has put it, it is also a security political decision to keep that option open. Second observation is that it would be useful to have a report on the pros and cons of a possible, possible NATO membership within the span of the next parliament. And the final point I’d like to make is that it’s important that if one day Finland would decide to seek membership in NATO it would have to be supported by the general public. So I think there’s a certain logic in first opening up the possibility and second providing for an analysis but I do not see Finnish NATO membership happening in the near future.
Q: [Speaking foreign language]. The next one I’ll do in English. You said that any efforts to expand the territory would be unacceptable. Everybody is talking about that there is no military solution to the crisis in Ukraine which everybody can agree upon, but it seems that there is no diplomatic solution either, so what to do if they try to expand? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: I haven’t met Federica Mogherini here in Helsinki. I met her a few days ago in Brussels and it’s easy to meet her in Brussels where we both are working.
ALEXANDER STUBB: You missed each other by 15 minutes.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Yeah, okay. But we have an excellent co-operation with the European Union and we are very much eager to expand and to develop the co-operation with the European Union. I think the focus now should be on supporting the peace process and the Minsk Agreement and the cease-fire and therefore we should do everything to support all efforts to make sure that the cease-fire is respected. It’s a fragile cease-fire, there has been some violations but the overall picture is that the cease-fire is holding and that is, that is extremely important. And now the next step is to see the withdrawal of heavy weapons. So our main focus now is to support that. At the same time we have very much supported the economic sanctions by the European Union. NATO does not impose economic sanctions, that’s something which the European Union does and the United States and other allies but we support the sanctions because we very much believe that it must have some consequences, it must have a cost when Russia is violating international law and using force to change borders. I have just noted that several of the European leaders have underlined that if the cease-fire is not respected and if the separatists supported by Russia is trying to move westwards and, and take control over even more territory then the issue of expanding or increasing the sanctions is, is on the table. So we will support that because we think it’s important that it has consequences when Russia is behaving as they’re doing in eastern Ukraine.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for one very quick one, please go ahead.
Q: I’m Matts Unaberry [sp?], freelance journalists. Mr. Stoltenberg can you imagine any negative consequences if Finland was to apply for and eventually gain NATO membership?
JENS STOLTENBERG: I will completely leave it to Finland to decide whether Finland want to be a member of NATO or not. As long as Finland is not a member we warmly welcome close co-operation, close partnership as we have with Finland and we are discussed, the Prime Minister and I today how we can expand and develop that partnership. But whether Finland wants to apply for membership it’s up to Finland to decide. And if I now started to speculate on the disadvantages of applying I think it will very easy to interrupt me or to, to understand in a way that I’m going into a domestic Finnish debate and I will not do so.
MODERATOR: Okay and we’ll still take one more, [inaudible].
ALEXANDER STUBB: Or take both.
Q: Yes my name is Yonah Russa [Sp?] with the Wall Street Journal. Two weeks ago Finland’s President said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that some of Finland’s unidentified friends in the west have counselled that Finland shouldn’t seek membership in NATO as long as the tensions between the west and Russia remain elevated due to Ukraine crisis and also Russia’s confrontational attitude in the Baltic region. Do you share this appraisal? That, do you think that it would be a poor choice that Finland shouldn’t be seeking membership with NATO as long as the security situation remains elevated?
JENS STOLTENBERG: So I think the important thing is that we leave it to the Finns to decide. And, and it is extremely important for NATO that we really respect the decision by Finland. Being it not to apply or being it to apply. And I will not go into the business of trying to give advice to Finland, I have so great respect for Finland and the Finns but I think that’s the last thing I should do, both as Secretary General of NATO but also as a former Norwegian Prime Minister I will stay out. And, and I think that I know something as a Norwegian politician about how important these kind of discussions are, because I think that Finland’s relationship to NATO is some way similar to Norway’s relationship to the European Union. Norway is extremely close to European Union but we have never been able to join and this has been a big issue in Norway for decades and then I learn from our Norwegian experience that to have a foreigner and a Secretary General coming to Helsinki and start to give advice in one way or another is wrong.
ALEXANDER STUBB: May I add that co-operation with NATO has of course been facilitated in the past years by the fact that the Secretary General of NATO has first come from a close ally and Nordic friend Denmark and now from a close ally and Nordic friend Norway.
Q: My turn, okay. Hello I’m Minah Hulaire [sp?] from NTV News Finland. I try to be quick. Finland would like to, especially our President Mr. Sauli Niinisto would like to strengthen the defence co-operation in the European Union. How NATO see this kind of plans and this kind of development?
JENS STOLTENBERG: We very much support and welcome increased defence co-operation within the European Union because we share the same values, we share the same security environment, both the threats and the challenges to the east and to the south. And we share very many of the same members, 22 of our members are also members of the European Union and vice versa. So, so increased defence co-operation in Europe is good for the European Union but is also good for NATO.
MODERATOR: Okay there would be definitely hundreds of more questions but we really have to finish. Thank you very much, thank you very much, have a nice day.