by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the first day of the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence
Defence Ministers have just met to address Russia’s continued military build-up in and around Ukraine.
This was a substantive discussion on the most serious security crisis in Europe in decades.
Allies welcome all diplomatic efforts.
And there are signs from Moscow that diplomacy could continue.
But so far, we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground.
No withdrawals of troops or equipment.
This may of course change.
However, what we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack.
With high-end capabilities.
From Crimea to Belarus.
This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War.
From the start, NATO Allies have made clear that further Russian aggression against Ukraine would have a high cost. And we have called out Russia’s actions, plans and disinformation.
At the same time, NATO remains prepared for dialogue.
It is not too late for Russia to step back from the brink of conflict.
And choose the path of peace.
NATO has sent concrete written proposals to Russia.
On transparency, risk reduction and arms control.
We have yet to receive a response.
I reiterate my invitation to Russia to meet again in the NATO-Russia Council.
NATO will not compromise on core principles.
The right of each nation to choose its own path.
And our ability to protect and defend all Allies.
We have already enhanced our deterrence and defence.
With more troops, planes and ships.
And higher readiness of the NATO Response Force.
These steps are defensive.
NATO is not a threat to Russia.
We do not know what will happen in Ukraine.
But the situation has already demonstrated we face a crisis in European security.
Moscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades.
And to do so by using force.
I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe.
Therefore today, Ministers decided to develop options for further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence.
Including to consider establishing new NATO battlegroups in central and eastern, south-eastern Europe.
And I welcomed the offer by France to lead such a battlegroup in Romania.
Our military commanders will now work on the details and report back within weeks.
Earlier today, we also held a regular meeting of the Nuclear Planning Group.
Ministers considered worrying developments across the globe.
Including Russia’s and China’s modernisation of their nuclear arsenals.
And the continued risk of nuclear proliferation.
Allies consulted on how to keep our nuclear deterrent safe, secure and effective.
So NATO’s deterrence and defence remains strong.
Ministers also welcomed the progress made on burden-sharing.
With the seventh consecutive year of increased defence spending by European Allies and Canada.
This means 270 billion US dollars in additional spending on defence since 2014.
And we welcome that a large majority of Allies are now allocating at least 20 percent of defence investment to major equipment, research and development.
This evening we will discuss NATO’s next Strategic Concept.
I am confident that when leaders meet in Madrid in June, they will reaffirm that Europe and North America must continue to stand strong together in NATO.
Because NATO is the unique, essential, and indispensable transatlantic forum for our defence and security.
And with that, I am ready to take your questions.