Press briefing

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission

  • 22 Feb. 2022 -
  • |
  • Mis à jour le: 22 Feb. 2022 19:39

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

We have just finished an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

We condemn Moscow’s decision to recognise the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

We also condemn the further Russian incursion into Ukraine.
Moscow has now moved from covert attempts to destabilise Ukraine, to overt military action. 

This is a serious escalation by Russia.
And a flagrant violation of international law. 

It further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
It damages efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
And it has grave consequences for European security.

This is a crisis created by Russia alone.
We commend Ukraine for its restraint in not responding to Russia’s repeated provocations.

We stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and its government.

Allies are united in their full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.

We will continue to provide Ukraine with strong political support and Allies are providing equipment to help Ukraine defend itself, as well as sustained financial support.

For months, Russia has been building up a massive military force in and around Ukraine. Including in Belarus.
With well over 150,000 troops and fighter jets and attack helicopters.

Many units are now forward deployed in combat formations.
They are out of their camps, in the field and ready to strike.

NATO is resolute and united in its determination to protect and defend all Allies.

In the last weeks, Allies have deployed thousands of more troops to eastern part of the Alliance.
And placed more on standby.
We have over 100 jets at high alert.
And there are more than 120 Allied ships at the sea, from the High North to the Mediterranean.

We will continue to do whatever is necessary to shield the Alliance from aggression.

NATO Allies and the rest of the international community warned there would be a high cost if Russia carried out further aggressive actions against Ukraine.

I welcome the economic sanctions announced today by many NATO Allies and
the decision by the German Government that it cannot certify the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

We urge Russia, in the strongest possible terms, to choose the path of diplomacy.

This is the most dangerous moment in European security for a generation.

But Europe and North America continue to stand strong together in NATO.
United and committed to defend and protect each other.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: Ok, we will go to Ukraine news, here.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): As NATO has quite transparent policy in the situational assessment, could you please share the vision? Have you discussed with Ukrainian side the possibility that Russian troops will not stop on the contact line and we'll be moving deeper, at least to the administrative borders of the Luhansk and Donetsk areas? And what will be the reaction of NATO in that regard? And the follow up question, if I may. What is your assessment? How high is still the risk of a false flag operation from Russian side? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: Every indication is that Russia continues to plan for a full scale attack on Ukraine. We see the ongoing military build-up. They promised to step back but they had continued to step up. We see that more and more of the forces are moving out of the camps and are in combat formations and ready to strike. And we see the ongoing provocations in Donbass and the different false flag operations where they try to create a pretext for an attack.

And then, of course, we saw last night that further Russian troops moved into Donbass, into parts of Donetsk and Luhansk. And then, we have the threatening rhetoric which was actually confirmed in the speech of President Putin yesterday.

At the same time, it's never too late. It's never too late to not attack. And that's reason why we continue to call on Russia to step back, to de-escalate, and to engage in good faith in diplomatic efforts to find a political solution.

If Russia decides, once again, to use force against Ukraine, there will be even stronger sanctions, even a higher price to pay. Allies continued to provide support to Ukraine. And in the meeting with Ukraine today, many Allies pledged to continue support, financial support, military support, and also NATO provides critical support to help Ukraine strengthen its cyber defences.

And of course, NATO's main responsibility is to make sure that there is no aggression against any NATO allied countries. So we have already increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. And we're ready to further increase our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, if necessary.

NATO Spokesperson: Associated Press.

Mark Carlson (Associated Press): Thank you. You consider Russia's latest movements an invasion of Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General: I think we have to recall that Russia has already invaded Ukraine. They invaded Ukraine back in 2014. They annexed the part of Ukraine - Crimea. And since 2014, there have been Russian military units, forces in Donbass - in Donetsk and Luhansk. So what we see now is that a country which is already invaded is suffering further invasion. And with more Russian military presence.

And this is, of course, even more serious because this comes on top of the recognition of the so-called “People's Republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk. So what we see is further invasion of a country which is already invaded.

NATO Spokesperson: We’ll now go online to Greg Palkot from Fox News.

Greg Palkot (FOX News):  Thanks very much, Oana. And thank you, Secretary General. I really have to be precise about this because there's been a bit of confusion. You say: Last night, further Russian troops entered the Donbass. Do you have evidence that Russian troops, vehicles, men, gear have moved from Russian territory into, well, it's really Ukrainian territory, but it’s the occupied Donbass. Do you have evidence of that? And if so, that is an invasion, correct? And if so, have you changed your posture at all? But specifically about that point, do you have evidence that new Russian troops have moved from Russia into the Donbass that is the occupied territory of Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General: Yes. And I think, again, we have to understand that Russia has been in Donbass for many years since 2014. But that has been in a covert operation where they have denied their presence. But the so-called separatists have been controlled by, and supported by, Russian troops, the Russian special operation personnel for many, many years. So Russia has been present in different covert operations in Donetsk and Luhansk for many, many years.

What we see now is additional Russian forces and troops moving in. And this makes the whole situation even more serious. This is a step change. And then, this is combined with the recognition of these territories, which are inside the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, as independent states. So this is adding fuel. This is making it more dangerous and more serious. And then, on top of that we also see the continued Russian military build-up and preparation for a larger scale attack on Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson: Ok. We will go to Nicolas Barotte from Le Figaro.

Nicolas Barotte (Le Figaro): Can you give us a precise view on the military forces and assets that are deployed by Russia near the border and in Donbass and the forces from the separatists? You’ve talked about 150,000 troops but to be more precise, thanks.

NATO Secretary General: Well, what I can say is that Russia has well over 150,000 troops. In addition to that, of course, there are air forces and naval forces also close to Ukraine. And these forces are partly inside Ukraine already, in Crimea and in Donbass, and partly close to Ukraine's borders, both in the east, but also in the south, and also in the north, partly in Russia, and partly in Belarus.

And these forces are combat ready, tens of thousands of combat troops. But also all kinds of enablers: missiles, armoured vehicles, battle tanks, drones, systems for electronic warfare, air defence, Iskander missiles, which are actually dual capable missiles, and a wide range of different military capabilities. So this is force which is not only strong, and well equipped, and have a lot of high-end capabilities, but it is also force which is now fully resourced with ammunition and fuel. And then, more and more of the troops have moved out of their camps and are now in a position where they can attack without any warning time.

So of course, this makes the whole situation very dangerous. But as we have stated again, and again, Russia still has the choice to choose diplomacy, to step back, and to engage in a political dialogue with NATO Allies. And we have demonstrated over a long period of time that we are ready to sit down, to talk to Russia in good faith on issues which also matters for their security: arms control, transparency, and then the other issues.

NATO Spokesperson: We will go to Teri Schultz from National Public Radio.

Teri Schultz (NPR): Hi, thank you very much for taking our remote questions. Mr. Secretary General,  do you worry that Russia is declaring that it will also recognize this sovereignty over parts of  Ukraine that are currently controlled by Ukrainian forces? That seems that it would make the probability of conflict a lot higher. And with the Baltic states, and other neighbouring Allies, calling for yet more support, even more than NATO has done so far, what more can you do, right now, practically? Not what you've done so far, but what more can you do in the very near future, in the next days, to reassure those nervous Allies?

NATO Secretary General: What we have seen is a bit of mixed signals from Moscow on whether they have recognized the territory between the Russian border and the contact line, or recognized as “Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics”, the whole territory of the two oblasts.
But anyway, this is a step change. This is further increasing the threats and the violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, just the fact that they have recognize these entities as independent states.

And that's the reason why we condemn it so clearly. And also the reason why we welcome the sanctions that NATO Allies today, in different formats, have decided to impose. And also why welcome the decision by Germany to stop the approval of the Nord Stream 2 project.

We have already increased our presence in the Baltic states. We did so after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. And we've also done it over the last weeks and months.

Then, we have plans in place. We have forces available to reinforce further, if needed. We will do that in a defensive way. Our purpose is to prevent the conflict, is to reassure Allies. And of course NATO's core responsibility is to make sure that there is no room for any miscalculation about our commitment to protect and defend Allies. And by that also prevent any attack on any allied country.

NATO Spokesperson: For the next question, we'll go to Jeff Schogol from Task & Purpose.

Jeff Schogol (Task & Purpose): Thank you, Mr. Secretary General, has the NATO Response Force been activated? If so, how many troops are deploying to Europe? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General: The NATO Response Force has been put on higher readiness. We did that several weeks ago. But it has not been deployed.

What we have deployed are other units from NATO allied countries. The United States has deployed troops and forces in Europe. I met some of them in Romania a few days ago. Germany has deployed more troops to Lithuania. The United Kingdom has doubled its presence in Estonia with the battlegroup there. And other Allies including Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and many others have decided to send in troops, ships, and planes to reinforce our presence. And France has also made it clear that they are ready to lead a battlegroup in Romania. So, so far we have increased the readiness of the NATO Response Force, but we have not deployed the NATO Response Force.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you. For the next question, we'll go to Ketevan Kardava from Imedi TV. 

Ketevan Kardava (TV Imedi): Hello, good evening. Thank you, Oana. Mr. Secretary General, latest news from Russia, Putin asked lawmakers for permission to use force outside Russia could pave the way for a broader attack on Ukraine. How would you comment on this issue? And also yesterday Putin spoke a lot about NATO’s expansion. And you know that with Ukraine, Georgia is also waiting for future membership and such statements are so worried for us. What is your comment? And is it possible and acceptable about what Putin was talking two days ago, so called moratorium on NATO expansion? Thank you so much.

NATO Secretary General: A request to get permission to use force outside the Russian territory just adds to the pattern of decisions and actions by Russia over the last months, which has led to the most dangerous moment for our security in decades. And this is just another step.
I think we had to recall that, actually, NATO and NATO Allies warned this fall that we saw a military build-up by Russia and plans to reach a level of Russian forces in and around Ukraine, which is very much where we are today. So this is something that has been predicted many months ago.

And then, Russia has done what we expected and what we warned against. They have significantly increased their military presence in and around Ukraine. And then combined with the rhetoric and all the false flag operations, the attempts to create a pretext. And now, yesterday, the recognition of the “People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk”, all of that adds into this pattern of threatening and aggressive behaviour. And any permission to use force outside Russian territory just adds to the that pattern.
[This] fundamentally doesn't change our message. And that is that we continue to call on Russia to step back, not to continue to step up, as we've seen over the last weeks. But also that they engage in real diplomatic efforts.
NATO has made it clear that we are ready to talk. And we have listed in letters or in the letter we have sent to Russia, but also the United States has conveyed a document to Russia in parallel with NATO, where we list many areas we were ready to sit down, discuss and try to find a political path forward.

But in that document, we also made it clear that we will not compromise on core values. And one of them is of course, the right for every nation to choose its own path. NATO enlargement has been extremely important for Europe over many decades. It has helped to spread democracy, freedom across Europe for decades after the end of the Cold War. And we will neither compromise our right to protect and defend all Allies, when Russia is demanding that we should sign a legally binding agreement to remove all NATO infrastructure, all NATO forces from the territories of those Allies that joined the Alliance after 1997. We cannot accept that. Because that will be the same as to say that we will introduce some kind of first and second class NATO membership where we don't have the same right to protect those Allies that joined after 1997.
So we will not compromise on those principles. But we are ready to engage in political dialogue on many important issues, which are also important for the security of Russia.

NATO Spokesperson: For the last question, we'll go to Dagbladet and Brage Lie Jor.

Brage Lie Jor (Dagbladet): Hi. People around the world, and especially in Europe right now are afraid of a full on war. What do you think of that fear? And how far away are we?

NATO Secretary General: There is a real risk. And that's exactly why we have been warning against this for months. And regrettably, what we have seen over the last months is that exactly what we predicted has happened. But it's still possible for Russia to change course, and to not continue the military build-up, and not invade further Ukraine.

I think also that we need to realize that Ukraine is a highly valued partner. We support them with military support, with political support, with the cyber defences, with equipment. Different Allies provide different types of support.
But when it comes to NATO Allies, we provide absolute security guarantees. Meaning that we make it absolutely clear that an attack on one Ally will trigger a response from the whole Alliance. One-for-all. All-for-one. And that's also the reason why NATO has increased its presence in eastern part of the Alliance, in a defensive manner, to make sure that there is no room for miscalculation about our ability to defend all Allies. And as long as we do that, we will prevent an attack on the NATO allied countries.

NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.

NATO Secretary General: Thank you.