Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Riga

  • 30 Nov. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 30 Nov. 2021 20:10

(As delivered)

Good evening.

We have just had a very good and substantive discussion among NATO’s foreign ministers. 

Ministers addressed three issues:
Russia’s military build-up in and around Ukraine, 
the actions by the regime in Belarus, 
and NATO’s leading role in arms control.

The situation in and around Ukraine remains fluid and unpredictable.

There is no certainty about Russia’s intentions.

We see a significant and unusual concentration of forces, 
which is unjustified and unexplained.
And accompanied by heightened rhetoric and disinformation.
And we know that Russia has used force before against Ukraine and other neighbours.

Today, Ministers discussed the situation. 

We stand united in our aim to deter Russia from any further aggressive actions. 

We call on Russia to be transparent, de-escalate and reduce tensions.

Any future Russian aggression against Ukraine would come at a high price.
And have serious political and economic consequences for Russia.

Ministers were clear that there must be no misunderstanding or miscalculation on NATO’s resolve.
We stand together to defend and protect all Allies.

We will continue to actively assess the situation and ensure we have all necessary plans in place. 

At the same time, we maintain our political and practical support for our partner Ukraine. 
We commend Ukraine for its measured response to Russia’s continued provocations. 
And we will meet both Ukraine and Georgia tomorrow to exchange views on the current developments.

NATO’s dual-track approach to Russia remains unchanged.
We keep our defense and deterrence strong in the face of Russia’s pattern of aggressive actions.

We also believe that dialogue is vital. 
Unfortunately, Russia has recently decided to cut diplomatic ties with NATO.
We call on Russia to reverse this decision. 
And to re-engage in the NATO-Russia Council.
For the benefit of peace and security. 

We also addressed Belarus.
And the Lukashenko regime’s use of vulnerable people to put pressure on Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. 

This is cynical and inhumane. 
And NATO ministers made clear that we stand in full solidarity with the Allies affected.
NATO is also cooperating closely with the European Union to counter this hybrid campaign.
As demonstrated by my visit on Sunday to Vilnius and Riga with the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

Foreign Ministers also discussed arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation.
This is a priority for NATO.

All NATO Allies support a world without nuclear weapons.
Since the end of the Cold War, we have significantly reduced our nuclear arsenals.
And consistently promoted key arms control agreements.

But we see very worrying trends.
Russia and China are significantly increasing their arsenals.
Key treaties are being undermined.
And emerging and disruptive technologies are fundamentally changing the nature of conflict. 

NATO Allies are determined to lead a renewed effort to strengthen arms control.
Because in a more dangerous world, we need more predictability and more transparency.

This evening Ministers will discuss our next Strategic Concept. 
Which will be adopted at the Madrid Summit next year. 

The Strategic Concept will reflect the new security environment.
It will reaffirm our unity and values.
And drive our continued adaptation.

It is the blueprint for the future of our Alliance.

And how Europe and North America will continue to stand strong together in NATO.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.


NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Ok, we will go to Wall Street Journal, second row.

James Marson (The Wall Street Journal): Secretary General, Russia has made it clear, it doesn't want Ukraine to join NATO. It's been 13 years now since NATO said that Ukraine would join NATO. By delaying further, is NATO simply not just giving Putin what he wants?


NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: We stand by the decisions we have made, also on Ukraine and membership. I was actually present at the NATO Summit in Bucharest where we first made the decision. And we support Ukraine on this path towards membership, Euro-Atlantic integration, by supporting reforms, fighting corruption and modernizing the security and defence institutions of Ukraine.

To become a member of NATO, you have to meet NATO standards, and there has to be a decision by 30 Allies. We need consensus in the Alliance to enlarge and to invite a new country to join our Alliance.

The political message is that Russia does have no right whatsoever to interfere in that process. Ukraine is a sovereign, independent nation. And every sovereign, independent nation has the right to choose its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of.

So it is up to Ukraine and 30 Allies to decide when Ukraine is ready to join the Alliance. [Russia] has no veto, no right to interfere in that process. 


NATO Spokesperson: We go to Reuters.


Sabine Siebold (Reuters): Secretary General, would you have a comment for us on the announcement by Belarus yesterday to hold joint military drills with Russia on Ukraine's border?


NATO Secretary General: Russia and Belarus of course have the right to exercise their own forces on their own territory. But if they do so, or when they do so, there has to be transparency. And they have to avoid provocations. What we see now is lack of transparency. We see an unusual concentration of forces, and we see heightened and very aggressive rhetoric.

So there are actually international agreements, the Vienna document, that regulate how countries in Europe should be transparent on military posture and military activities, including military exercises. So that is the challenge, it is that we see this unusual military build-up of Russia, we see the rhetoric, and of course we see the inhumane and cynical use of vulnerable people, migrants, by the Belarusian regime, by the Lukashenko regime, to put pressure on other countries.


NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we have Deutsche Welle/NPR.

Teri Schultz (NPR/DW): Mr. Secretary General, could you give us more idea about what concrete measures are in the toolbox for all of this aggression? I mean, we've asked you before but I understand Allies are considering a range of options, Secretary Blinken said this is under discussion. Other than the VJTF, what can you do? And what kind of economic measures are you thinking that NATO governments could take, since you don't have sanctions at your disposal? Thanks.


NATO Secretary General: NATO is a platform to make decisions, but also to consult and coordinate efforts by NATO allied countries.

So for instance, on economic sanctions, political reactions, even though NATO does not necessarily make the decisions to impose sanctions, that is for individual Allies to do, and for the European Union. Of course, NATO is a platform where European Allies, the European members of the European Union, and Canada, and North America come together.

And therefore, the coordination, the political discussions we have here, is actually shaping the decisions we take as individual Allies. And therefore, also economic sanctions and political reactions are part of what we have discussed today, also with the United States.

We represent 50% of the world's GDP. And of course, it matters when NATO Allies discuss also the use of economic sanctions against the behaviour of Russia. And we have seen our resolve, and our willingness, and our ability to actually maintain, sustain such economic sanctions when needed.

I think that actually Russia underestimated the resolve of NATO Allies to impose sanctions and sustain sanctions after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

We have also imposed political measures, including by NATO, suspending practical cooperation with Russia. And then, NATO, as an Alliance, made important decisions on increasing the readiness of our forces, of increased presence in eastern part of the Alliance, more air policing, naval presence. And all that together sent a very clear message after the illegal annexation back in 2014. And of course, there are similar measures that are possible options, we will look into also this time, without going into detail or speculating exactly about what the decisions will be. Economic sanctions, financial sanctions, political reactions, but also as you have seen the readiness of NATO to protect and defend all Allies, as we have done with increased presence in eastern part of the Alliance.


NATO Spokesperson: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Thomas Gutschker (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung): Thanks a lot. Secretary General, Allies have decided today to activate the NATO crisis response mechanism and move to a common assessment and possible options to respond to the crisis. How important is that for NATO? And what will it mean in practical terms?


NATO Secretary General: The Allies agree that we need to have the plans in place to be sure that we are always able to protect all Allies against any potential threat. And that's just to demonstrate the resolve and also that NATO lives up to our core commitment. And when we see more threats, more challenges, we see the fluid situation in and around Ukraine. And we also see this combined with the rhetoric and the track record of Russia. Russia has used force before, against European neighbors: Georgia, Ukraine, and they had troop forces in Moldova.

And then, of course, it is necessary to also look into the possibilities that Russia may consider once again to use force.

We can of course hope for the best, but we need to be prepared for the worst. And NATO is always prepared. And we always demonstrate the resolve and the willingness to protect all Allies, partly by clearly communicating that message, but also by actually implementing the biggest reinforcement or our collective defence since the end of the Cold War, including by developing the plans, increasing the readiness, reforming the command structure. And as you all know, for the first time in our history, deploying combat ready troops to the eastern part of the Alliance. And this deployment of troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, including the Black Sea, not only in the Baltic region, was a direct response to Russia's aggressive actions against Ukraine.


NATO Spokesperson: We'll try to take a couple of questions online now. I see Jonathan Beale from the BBC. Johnny, go ahead.


Jonathan Beale (BBC): Thank you very much, Secretary General. You warned of a high price Russia would pay if it did carry out an incursion into Ukraine. But then you talk about economic and political consequences. So is it right to assume there would be no military response? If, and I know that Ukraine is not a member of NATO. But is it right to assume that there would be no military response at all if Russia did that? And the other question I'd like to ask is that you know, you've been warning about this for a number of weeks now. A warning of serious consequences. Have you ever seen any effect that has had on the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine's border? Thank you very much.


NATO Secretary General: The main purpose is to deter Russia from conducting aggressive military actions against Ukraine. And that's a message from all Allies, to call on them to not use force once again and not to violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, as they have done before, and actually continue to do by occupying Crimea, and continue to destabilizing eastern Ukraine.

What Allies do, and that was also addressed during the meeting today, is of course that we share information, we share intelligence, and we monitor very closely what is going on, and we have assets that provides us with vital and important and very detailed information. And we are actively assessing the situation.

And then, we provide support to Ukraine. Political support, practical support, Allies provide training, capacity building, and also military capabilities, equipment. And this is real support. And this increases the threshold for Russia to conduct military aggressive actions against Ukraine, to once again conduct an incursion into Ukraine. Because to strengthen the armed forces of Ukraine is a way to help them to conduct their sovereign right for self-defence. That’s the right of every sovereign nation. And that includes also Ukraine. And we support Ukraine in upholding that sovereign right for self-defence.
And NATO is also participating. I visited Odessa where NATO trainers, experts help them with building the naval capabilities of the Naval Academy. There are different kinds of support, and trust funds, and activities by NATO and NATO Allies to strengthen the armed forces of Ukraine.

Then, I think it's important to understand that there is a difference between what we do to support our partner Ukraine. And we're constantly seeing, looking into what should we do as Allies, or as an Alliance. And then what to do to live up to our main responsibility to protect NATO Allies. In this region, in the Black Sea region. And there we have already done a lot, and we are constantly assessing what more we should do, and then we ensure that we have all the plans and the capabilities in place to be able to react to any possible situation and threat against any NATO Ally. That's the collective defence clause that applies for NATO Allies, and then, we provide support to our partner, Ukraine.


NATO Spokesperson: We’ll go to Lorne Cook from the Associated Press next.


Lorne Cook (AP): Secretary General, coming into this meeting, I had the impression that there was a slightly different assessment between certain Allies about the threat posed to Ukraine. And what we can see now, though, I mean, you've said today, there's no certainty about Russia's intentions, at the same time a crisis response mechanism has been activated. How do we, how should we understand this? Are we talking about a serious threat or is this an unjustified fear? Is there is there a common assessment?


NATO Secretary General: There is a common assessment that we are concerned about the situation in and around Ukraine. And Allies share intelligence. Then, of course, there is no certainty, no clarity about exactly what are the Russian intentions. And they may actually evolve and change.

So the thing is that you can discuss whether the likelihood for incursion is 20% or 80%. It doesn't matter. We need to be prepared for the worst. And we need to convey a message to Russia that they should not conduct a military incursion into Ukraine. They have done it before. They continue to support the separatists in Donbass. And we should deter, send the message, that they should not do that again. And hopefully they will not do it. But as I said, we also need to be prepared for the other scenario, that Russia actually, once again, use military force, and we are prepared for that.

NATO Spokesperson: Final question, will go to the National News Agency of Ukraine and Dmytro Shkurko.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): Thank you so much for that opportunity, Secretary General. I have one question. NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea area, in response of the aggressive actions of Russia. But still, it was some kind of reactive move. My question is if ministers and [inaudible] future Madrid Summit will consider some kind of independent, or maybe self-sufficient, [inaudible] strategy for NATO, which will be would be proactive. And another part of that same question: how that could be reflected in the new Strategic Concept of NATO? Thank you so much.


NATO Secretary General: Yes, NATO has increased its military presence in the Black Sea area, on land, at sea, and in the air. And we did that as part of the big reinforcement of our Alliance that has taken place since 2014. And we continue to assess and analyse further adjustments in our posture in the area.

We have to understand that three NATO Allies are littoral states to the Black Sea. Two close NATO partners, Ukraine and Georgia, are littoral states. So, of course, this region is of great strategic importance for NATO.

And then, in the same region, the Black Sea region, is exactly where we are seeing the unusual concentration of Russian forces, and where we are seeing that Russia continues to undermine, to be responsible for aggressive actions, including cyber, hybrid, aggressive actions against Ukraine. And now have this really threatening rhetoric against a sovereign independent state, which is a close partner of NATO.

So all of these are reasons for NATO to be vigilant to, to be present. And also, the reason why we have already stepped up and continue to assess what more it is needed to do.

I'm looking forward to meet the Foreign Minister of Ukraine tomorrow. We will meet him, and also the Foreign Minister of Georgia. And that will also be a sign and demonstration of our solidarity with the two close partners in this region.


NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. Wishing you a good evening and see you tomorrow. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.