Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra, and the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands Kajsa Ollongren

  • 14 Nov. 2022 -
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  • Last updated 14-Nov-2022 17:51

(As delivered)

It’s great to be here, great to meet you both again. And thank you for your warm welcome, and also thank you to both of you for your strong leadership in critical times for our Alliance.

The Netherlands is a valued and important NATO Ally, making strong contributions to our shared security.

In the air, Dutch jets protect NATO’s eastern flank.
On land, Dutch troops serve in NATO’s battlegroups in Lithuania and in Romania.
And at sea, you are leading one of NATO’s maritime groups.

I also welcome your ambitious plans to increase defence spending in the coming years.

And to keeping our technological edge in a more competitive world.

All these contributions are important as we face a critical moment for European security.

In our meeting we just discussed Russia’s brutal war of aggression and our support for Ukraine.

Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson demonstrates the incredible courage of the Ukrainian armed forces.

But it also shows the importance of our continued support to Ukraine.

We should not make the mistake of underestimating Russia.

The Russian Armed Forces retain significant capabilities, as well as a large number of troops.

And Russia has demonstrated the willingness to bear significant losses.

They have also shown extreme brutality.

We have all seen the horrific scenes from the liberated territories, as well as the indiscriminate attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.

The coming months will be difficult.

Putin’s aim is to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter.

So we must stay the course.

I thank the Netherlands for your generous contributions to NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine.

This will fund urgent support, such as fuel, winter clothing, medical supplies and counter-drone systems.

I also welcome that the Netherlands will provide another 120 million euros of assistance to Ukraine, including for upgraded Czech battle tanks.

The current conflict also shows the importance of diversifying our energy supplies and protecting our critical infrastructure.

The Netherlands plays an important role in contributing to the resilience of other Allies through its ports, transport networks and energy import facilities.

Today in our meeting, we also addressed our preparations for the meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers in Bucharest.

This will be an important opportunity to review our support for Ukraine, as well as other partners facing Russian aggression and pressure – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Moldova. 

I wish to take this opportunity to recognise the victims of the bomb blast in Istanbul yesterday.

My condolences go to all those affected and to the Turkish people.

So Ministers,
Thank you once again for hosting me. It’s always a great pleasure to meet with you and to discuss with you. Thank you.

Anthony Deutsch (Reuters): There's been some suggestions that now might be a good time for Ukraine to enter into talks with Russia. Winter is coming. There's been, they've had some successes on the battlefield. Do you agree that this might be a good time to that? One for Mr. Hoekstra, then you've said in the past that you thought it might be a good idea to have a tribunal for aggression. You've –all three of you mentioned the brutal aggression of Russia in this conflict. Do you think it would be a good idea to have a special tribunal for specifically aggression in the Netherlands and if so, how are you trying to create that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I think we have to remember what this is. This is a war of aggression, where Russia, President Putin has invaded other country and by doing that they have violated international law. And even though they have lost some territory over the last two weeks or months, they still control large parts of Ukraine. Ukraine has stated that they're ready to negotiate, but will also of course, know that the only way to achieve an acceptable outcome for them is that they have the strength on the battlefield. Most wars end at some stage around the negotiating table. But what happens around the table is fundamentally linked to the situation on the battlefield. So what we should do is to support Ukraine to strengthen their hand, so at some stage, there can be negotiations where Ukraine prevail as an independent sovereign nation in Europe. It's for Ukraine to decide. It’s them to pay –they are paying the highest price in terms of lost lives and damage to the country. So it's for Ukraine to decide what kind of terms that are acceptable for them, is for us to support them and maximize the likelihood for an acceptable outcome. And it is as Minister Ollongren, Kajsa said, that if President Zelenskyy and Ukrainians stop fighting, then Ukraine will cease to exist as an independent nation. If President Putin and Russia stops fighting, then we'll have peace, so Russia can end this war tomorrow. They started the war and they can end the war by stop invading a neighbour.

Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra: With that I very much agree with –is strong in the battlefield, is strong at the negotiation table and that is why you know, making sure we enable Ukraine to hold its own, basically trumps all other things that we're doing. But you're very right. There is much more than providing military aid that we need to do, humanitarian aid, sanctions, but also accountability because we all see, read, and hear about the most horrific things that are going on, and therefore we owe it to the victims, we owe it to their families. We owe it to prosperity that we do make sure that justice is done, and justice is being done even though we know that is extremely difficult. If you talk to people who have seen similar cases, it takes years and years, you typically are only able to convict a few of the perpetrators, but still you do need to do it. We very much support also this effort with sending teams as the Ministry of Defense just said, we will continue to do so and we are open and pragmatic in how to make sure that justice is being done. So we're in full support of the ICC. We also see that the crime of aggression should be put to trial as well. So we're open to exploring what further can be done. We do have to acknowledge though is that every single time you set up a new legal vehicle, you do run into quite a complex set of complicated issues because that does need to be acknowledged. But our fundamental position is justice needs to be done. And as a secondary, how we achieve that.

Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren: Not only to say that, looking at the situation in the battlefield, of course Ukraine in a much better place than they were when the war started. And that underlines the point that both Jens and Wopke made, if you have a strong position on the battlefield in the end that will make you stronger at the negotiating table. And at the same time it's very difficult to see that now that the whole Russian strategy has failed, what possible purpose is being served by more losses of lives every day on both sides. And at some point, with winter coming, that must lead to the inevitable conclusion that Russia has to stop fighting this war.

Moderator: Thank you Minister, question here at the front.

Reporter (Deutsch News): Mr. Stoltenberg, as you said in negotiations, negotiations aren't an option right now, and given the fact that the war might still continue for quite a long time, are European NATO allies, and perhaps specifically the Netherlands, doing enough at this point, if we want to continue to support Ukraine, on the long term, as it might be taking, and what more could be doing –could be done by the Netherlands or European NATO allies.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: I think we have to recognize that NATO allies, the Netherlands and others have provided Ukraine with unprecedented support. President Putin made several big strategic mistakes when he invaded Ukraine. One was to underestimate the Ukrainians, the courage, the bravery of Ukrainian armed forces, to political leadership, the Ukrainian people, but the other big mistake he made was to underestimate NATO Allies, partners in our commitment to support Ukraine. And we have supported Ukraine now for several months and there is a clear message from NATO allies that we will continue to provide support to Ukraine. I welcome the new announcements from the Netherlands, showing that allies are ready to continue to provide military support, economic support, humanitarian support, and also to continue to impose sanctions on Russia. So President Putin not only underestimated the Ukrainians, but he also underestimated NATO allies, Netherlands and partners. I also would like to commend to the European Union for the sanctions, the support, everything they do to help and support Ukrainians. Based on what we see, we see actually that there is a continued strong, also public support across Europe and North America for continue to provide support to Ukraine. That was also I think the message from the elections in the United States, the midterm elections that we have strong bipartisan support in United States for continue to provide support to Ukraine for as long as it takes, so the message is yes, we will support and we will also of course, constantly assess what types of weapons we are providing to Ukraine.

Moderator: Thank you, Secretary General. There are two questions and there's not much time. First question here.

Arnaut Brouwers (de Volkskrant): Arnaut Brouwers, with the Volkskrant. My question is to all of you. One of Mr Putin's strategies appears to be to create a second wave of refugees fleeing to Europe by bombing all the civilian infrastructure that he can reach in Ukraine. Are you preparing… Since support from the West is very important for Ukraine to keep its defences up, are you preparing here for such an eventuality? Is my first question, and second, are you preparing us, the people who live here, for what may be in store this winter, since public support from our countries seems to be one of the pillars on which Ukrainian defence also rests?

Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren: Maybe I can start and then you take over? I think well, you stated one of the goals is to create more refugees from Ukraine into the rest of Europe. I think the goal, if there is a goal, is to demoralise the Ukrainians. And I think we can see now that that's not going to succeed, whatever happens. Morale is very high on the Ukrainian side. And I think in general, as we all three stated, that Putin has not achieved any of his goals thus far. He's achieving quite the opposite goal. We are seeing Sweden and Finland entering NATO. We are seeing more unity in the NATO and also within the EU than ever before. And actually Ukraine has friends and allies that you almost cannot count, and the friends and allies of Russia you can count on one hand. So yes, there is a sort of a tactic of the ‘scorched earth’, if you want, by targeting the critical infrastructure, electricity, water, etc, targeting the Ukrainian people directly. But it's not going to break the morale. I'm sure of that.

Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra: I very much agree with what the defence minister said. And this might happen, but if there's one thing that we've seen also in the first wave after February 24, is the tremendous support from governments all across Europe and beyond, by the way, and our citizens to help out and to harbour those basically fleeing from within our region from one place to the next. And that is something I think we should sustain. There is, however, one thing that of course, we do see. We do see that Putin is weaponising food, particularly vis-a-vis the Global South, he is weaponising energy also against us. So the one thing we need to do, in my view, as governments in Europe or North America and across the globe, is make sure that on the one hand, we will continue to support our war effort. And on the other hand, we do provide our own citizens with a shield to make sure that, you know, they can sustain their lives, they can pay the energy bill, they are able to do their shopping, because as long as we maintain their position, I'm sure we can also maintain the broad support that we see all across the streets here in the Netherlands and beyond.

NATO Secretary General: Let me just say that first of all, I agree with what Kajsa and Wopke just said. I can add one more point and that is that I'm confident and sure, certain, that NATO Allies and partners will continue to support Ukraine. Not only because we stand in solidarity with Ukraine, but also because it is in our own interest to ensure that President Putin doesn't win in Ukraine. That will be a catastrophe for the Ukrainians. But it will also make the world more dangerous. We will become more vulnerable, because then the lessons learned from the war in Ukraine for President Putin, but also for other authoritarian leaders, is that when they violate international law, when they invade another country, and when they use brutal force, they achieve what they want. And that will make us all more vulnerable. And that's the reason why it's in our interest, our security interests, to provide support to Ukraine. Yes, we pay a price: higher energy bills, higher inflation, the economic costs of providing support – but the price we will pay if we don't succeed, if President Putin wins, will be much higher because then we'll live in a more dangerous world.

Moderator: Thank you, Secretary General. Last question here.

Reporter (Unspecified Outlet): Mr Stoltenberg, Mr Hoekstra, just to be clear, following up the questions on the war goals of the Ukraine. It’s fully clear that Ukraine is completely dependent on Western aid for military success at the moment. So it's a relevant question, I think, what is for the West, for NATO or for the Dutch government, an acceptable outcome of this war? If you're saying it's OK for Ukraine to reconquer the territories that were lost, does it also include [Crimea] and also Donbass, or would you say that that’s too much because that will risk destabilising Russia in a broader sense?

NATO Secretary General: It is for Ukraine to decide what is an acceptable resolution of this conflict. We will not sit here and decide that on behalf of them. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. And again, we have all made it clear again and again that we support Ukraine's right to self defence. We have to understand that what Ukraine does is to defend their own country against a war of aggression. And NATO, NATO Allies, we're not party to the conflict, but we support Ukraine in their right for self defence. And the right for self defence is a right enshrined in the UN Charter. And we will not sit in Brussels or in any other NATO capital and decide what is acceptable. What we will do is to maximise the likelihood for Ukrainians to achieve an acceptable resolution around the negotiating table. And the way we do that is to strengthen their hand on the battlefield. That's what we do.

Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra: I couldn't agree more. If this whole… The moment this whole horrible war is over, one thing needs to be crystal clear to the Kremlin and to all dictators and would-be dictators across the globe. And that is that, you know, there is no room for this type of imperialism in the 21st century. And that is our aim. Our aim is to help the brave Ukrainians that are fighting for their own country, but it's also making sure that, you know, our whole continents stay safe. And we do make sure that this lesson, that this notion, clearly resonates across the globe. So we will continue to support them. And let's not be naive. This will not be over – in my view – in the next few weeks or months. This might well go on for the foreseeable future, and we will continue to sustain them. Because there is and there will be a lot at stake that is worth helping them for. So we will do so.

Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren: I agree completely and the last thing we heard after the last illegal annexation was that Kherson was to be Russian forever. And now it's back in Ukrainian hands. So we'll have to see how the war goes. But it's up for Ukraine to decide on when it could accept an end of the war and when not. And as long as it takes we will be there to support them.

Moderator: OK, thank you very much. Thank you for attending.