by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the start of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius
This Summit is a historic Summit because we have already made an agreement that ensures that Sweden will become a full-fledged member of the Alliance. And this is good for Sweden. It is good for Türkiye. It's good for the whole NATO Alliance and not least it's good for the Baltic region, for Lithuania and the other countries in this region.
At the Summit we will also make important decisions, sending a clear message to Ukraine that we stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes and expect Allies also to reiterate their commitment to provide military support to Ukraine to help them liberate more land. On the membership issue, I also expect that Allies will send a clear and positive message on the path forward towards membership for Ukraine. I have proposed a package of three elements with more practical support, with a multi-year program to ensure full interoperability between the Ukrainian forces and the NATO forces. This will move Ukraine closer to NATO. To strengthen their political ties with the establishment of the NATO Ukraine Council, we will have the inaugural meeting tomorrow with President Zelenskyy and then to remove the requirement for Membership Action Plan. This will turn the membership process for Ukraine from a two-step process into a one-step process. So all of this will send a positive and strong message.
Then Allies will also make important decisions to further strengthen our deterrence and defence with new defence plans and more forces on high readiness. I also expect that Allies will agree a more ambitious Defence Investment Pledge, where 2% of GDP for defence will be a minimum. And then lastly, I look forward to also welcoming our Indo Pacific Partners at this summit. This will demonstrate that security is not regional security is global, and therefore I welcome the partners from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
And with that, I'm ready to take some questions.
Steve Sedgwick [CNBC]: Security guarantees didn't stop Vladimir Putin in 2014. The Budapest Memorandum was a worthless piece of paper to Vladimir Putin. What is concrete about the future security guarantees for Ukraine that will make a difference? And a second point if I may on the same issue. Ukraine has fears that perhaps security guarantees will change over time with different leaderships, perhaps a different presidency in the US. What kind of guarantees are there that security guarantees will outlast any change in presidency in the United States? Thank you sir.
NATO Secretary General: We all agree that the most imminent task now is to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation in Europe. So the most important thing we can do is to continue to provide weapons, ammunition, military support to Ukraine, because unless Ukraine prevails as a nation, as a democratic nation in Europe, there is no issue to be discussed about security guarantees or membership in NATO at all.
Then on the membership issue: we will send a clear message, a positive message on the path forward. The text in that communique will be made public within hours later on today, when all Allies agree on the text. But I expect that Allies will agree on a message which is clear on the need to move Ukraine closer to NATO, making sure that their forces are interoperable, with the NATO Ukraine Council and also removing the requirements for the Membership Action Plan. This is all about moving Ukraine closer to NATO membership, which will be extremely important for Ukraine and also demonstrates the unity and the strength of the message that NATO Allies are sending to Ukraine.
Question 2: Secretary General, nuclear security in the region is worsening. So, we have the Russian forces occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, we have the announcement of Vladimir Putin to put Russian nuclear warheads in Belarus. What will be the reaction of NATO if some nuclear accident happens in Zaporizhzhia or, these nuclear warheads will be really placed in Belarus. What will be the response of NATO countries?
NATO Secretary General: So first of all, the nuclear rhetoric of Russia is dangerous and reckless, and Russia must know that nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought. NATO Allies are of course monitoring closely what Russia is doing. We condemn the announcement that Russia will deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. We are monitoring closely what they are doing; so far we haven't seen any changes in the Russian nuclear deployments posture that requires any changes from our side but we remain vigilant and we will ensure that we of course are ready to protect and defend every NATO Ally against any potential threat. On the situation in Zaporizhzhia, our message to Russia is that they have to withdraw their forces because the way they now behave in Zaporizhzhia is undermining the security of this biggest nuclear power plant in Europe.
Question 3 [ZDF]: On the membership language and the conclusions, will the word “invitation” feature in the conclusions? And the second question: a few days ago Mr. Zelenskyy said there was no point in coming to Vilnius if there was no concrete discussion and concrete thing that NATO could offer. What would that have meant to NATO and now what is your feeling about this? Will he come?
NATO Secretary General: President Zelenskyy will come. I'm glad to welcome him, both at the dinner tonight and at the inaugural meeting of the NATO Ukraine Council tomorrow. NATO Allies will send a strong, united, positive message on the path forward for Ukraine. But I will not go into the exact language now because that will be made public when the communique with the text is agreed and that will happen later on today. But rest assured the message will be positive, the message will be strong, the message will be united from NATO Allies. This is both about the path forward for membership, but also about the most imminent task, and that is military support. Because unless we ensure that Ukraine wins this war, unless we ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign independent nation, there is no membership issue to be discussed. So we have to understand the timelines, the tasks and the first and the most imminent task is to ensure that Ukraine prevails and President Putin does not win this war.
Question 4: Mr. Secretary General, can you say something about the decisive issues in the last moments of the negotiations between Türkiye and Sweden? How important were for example the F16, probably arriving from the United States. And lastly, how relieved are you personally of this result?
NATO Secretary General: Well, the agreement is public. You can see the statement and that statement addresses the same issues that we agreed in Madrid. So the agreement yesterday it builds on, and is implementing the agreement that we reached last year in Madrid. So this is about stepping up the cooperation to fight terrorism, which is extremely important for Türkiye, but also for all NATO Allies. It's about lifting restrictions on arms exports, and it's also about ensuring that this is a long term continued cooperation between Sweden and Türkiye also after accession, so there are no other agreements. The agreement is public as the agreement was in Madrid. And the good news is that we have then paved the way for Sweden to become a full member. And I will thank President Erdogan, I also thank Prime Minister Kristersson for their constructive approach that enabled the decision yesterday to allow Sweden to become a full member and for Türkiye then to ratify the accession protocols for Sweden.
Question 5 [Anadolu]: Regarding the agreement reached by Türkiye and Sweden yesterday, I'd like to ask: will NATO act as a guarantor, especially for promises made by Swedish side, new promises made, to be fulfilled, not only before but after the ratification as well.
NATO Secretary General: I am absolutely confident that both Sweden and Türkiye will adhere to the agreement and also that this will continue after accession, and to ensure that we actually established last year in Madrid, what we call the Permanent [Joint] Mechanism to ensure the continued cooperation on fighting terrorism. And just the fact that we have met many times since Madrid to step up our cooperation in the fight against terrorism demonstrates that this is a lasting agreement and a lasting commitment that will also be there after Sweden joins the Alliance.
Question 6 [ARD]: Question on the bilateral or multilateral security guarantees, which are not part of NATO, as I understand: can you elaborate a little bit what they will contain, which countries will participate, and as of what time they will be valid, so is it only when there's a ceasefire, when the war is over? And will it be concluded here, at the Summit? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: At the NATO Summit, we will agree a package for Ukraine with more practical support with stronger political ties and also decisions to move Ukraine closer to NATO membership. And exact language will be available later today. Then, some Allies are also having a bilateral or multilateral dialogue with Ukraine on a framework to have in place, to ensure continued support for Ukraine. I think it would be wrong if I go into the exact language of that and also exactly how that will be made public, but of course this will complement and supplement the decisions made at the NATO summit.
Question 7: Secretary General, the question about potential Wagner mercenaries in Belarus: are there any traces of their presence seen by NATO? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: The answer is no. So far we haven't seen any deployment or movement of any Wagner forces into Belarus. But of course again, we follow closely what's happening. And of course, for Lithuania neighbourhood matters. NATO is here we are ready to defend against any potential threat but so far we haven't seen the deployment of Wagner forces to Belarus.
Question 8 (Finnish outlet): Thank you. […] How do you feel: was Finland’s and Sweden’s ratification process too slow and what kind of message will their membership sent to Russia? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: This sends a very clear message to Russia, to President Putin, that NATO's door remains open, and that it is for NATO Allies to decide on enlargement. Moscow, President Putin doesn't have a veto on NATO enlargement. And this is demonstrated by the fact that Finland is now already a full-fledged member and that we yesterday agreed to also make Sweden full member, that Türkiye will ratify the accession protocols for Sweden. So this sends a clear and strong message and also demonstrates that President Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine was a big strategic mistake. He totally underestimated the Ukrainians, he underestimated the unity of NATO Allies, but he also underestimated the political consequences in countries like Sweden and Finland. He went to war because he wanted less NATO. He's getting more NATO. More NATO military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance and two new members, Finland already a member and then Sweden soon to become a member. So that just highlights the big strategic mistake that President Putin made when he invaded Ukraine.
Let me also add that this has been the fastest accession process in NATO’s modern history. That's obviously the case for Finland, which is already a member, but also for Sweden. So this has actually gone fast. You have to remember that Sweden and Finland applied for membership in May last year. Already in June, all Allies invited both Finland and Sweden to become members, then Finland was ratified a few months later, and Sweden obtained this Invitee status after the decision in Madrid, and now also their accession will be ratified. So this has been fast and that demonstrates the unity and the resolve, and the commitment of NATO Allies to demonstrate that NATO's door remains open.
Question 9 (Tanjug, Serbian outlet): Mr. Stoltenberg, President Vučić say that he will ask for a meeting with you. Will you meet and when? And why KFOR allows special units for Pristina in the north of Kosovo and Metohija despite Serbians, and can you do anything with that?
NATO Secretary General: I am in regular contact with President Alexandar Vučić and of course I am ready to meet. We are concerned about the increased tensions in Kosovo, and we call on both parties to de-escalate and to refrain from an action that can further increase tensions in the region. NATO is present in Kosovo, we have the KFOR forces there that are there to ensure security and stability for Kosovo and the people living in Kosovo. We execute our UN mandate in an impartial way. And NATO has increased its presence in Kosovo, added some hundred extra KFOR troops because of the instability and the violence and the tensions we have seen over the last week's.
Thank you so much.