Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy

  • 12 Jul. 2023 -
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  • Last updated: 12 Jul. 2023 17:41

(As delivered)

President Zelenskyy, dear Volodymyr,
Welcome to NATO, it is great to see you again. 

Always a pleasure to meet with you. 
And it is a true honour to have you here at the NATO Summit.

When President Putin invaded Ukraine last year,
he underestimated the bravery of the Ukrainian people, the courage of the Ukrainian forces, and the determination of the Ukrainian political leadership. 

But he also underestimated the unity and strength of the NATO Alliance. NATO will continue to stand with you for as long as it takes. 

NATO Allies have provided tens of billions of dollars in support over the past year. And now we have agreed a three part package bringing Ukraine closer to NATO. 

A multi-year programme of practical assistance establishing a new NATO-Ukraine council, and the reaffirming that Ukraine will become a member of NATO and removing the requirement for the Membership Action Plan. 

Our new multi-year programme of assistance for Ukraine will help you transition from Soviet era to NATO equipment and standards. And will make Ukraine’s forces fully interoperable within NATO.

The inaugural meeting of the NATO-Ukraine council will start in a few minutes. This is a forum where Ukraine and NATO Allies will meet as equals, hold crisis consultations and jointly take decisions. 

Ukraine is now closer to NATO than ever before. Allies reaffirmed that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance and agreed to remove the requirement for a Membership Action Plan. 

This will change Ukraine’s membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process. And we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when Allies agree that conditions are met.

This is a strong, united message from Allies on your path to NATO membership.

We must ensure that, when this war ends, there are credible arrangements in place for Ukraine’s security. So that history does not repeat itself. 

I therefore welcome that many Allies will today commit to providing long-term security assistance to Ukraine. This will help deter any future aggression from Russia after this war ends. 

And it complements the support provided by NATO. 

The decisions made here in Vilnius mark the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between NATO and Ukraine. 

Today we meet as equals, I look forward to the day we meet as Allies. 

And again, a very warm welcome to you.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We’ll start with the Ukrainian National Broadcaster. Lady over there.

Roksolana Liskovska, Ukrainian National Broadcaster
Thank you. I have a question for both Secretary General and President Zelenskyy. First of all [question in Ukrainian, as interpreted]: Dear Mr. President, how do you evaluate the conditions with regards to assessment of Ukraine and what are you going to talk about today during the Council? [Question to Secretary General]: What’s the difference from the Commission?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
[Answer in Ukrainian, as interpreted]

Thank you for this question. First and foremost, the assessments. I've already made my assessment in a fairly public manner. What's most important is to have results. We can see some specific points, making us closer to NATO. As I've already said, some of the things, it's difficult to explain to partners, because we are at war. And the partners are truly willing to help us and assist. They are helping us but still, we are living under different conditions, because we are in the conditions where survival matters and partners are willing to support us to live. But before we can live, we need to survive. And that pushes us to some fast processes, the processes that would need to result in the reform of the infrastructure of security in the world. And unfortunately, we pay the ultimate price, the price of our lives. We can see how to fight any aggression. Now, we are an adequate people. We clearly understand that partners are helping us with weapons and this is a moment of survival. This is something that we need. We understand that someone is afraid of talking about our membership now, because nobody is willing to have a world war, which is logical and understandable. I want everyone to understand that we are civilized and adequate people. Ukraine is fighting and it truly understands that Ukraine cannot be a member nation to NATO as long as the war continues in our territory. This is absolutely clear. But those signals are important, those signals that were mentioned in bilateral meetings with Secretary General, with partners, and I had a number of meetings already. Those statements about Ukraine of becoming a member nation of NATO. And already, we can hear some confident statements - when the conditions will be met. My understanding is that when it will be secure on our land on our territory.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The establishment of the NATO Ukraine Council is one of the three elements in the package we agreed today to ensure that Ukraine comes even closer to NATO and to NATO membership. And the purpose of that decision is to strengthen the political ties. It's to strengthen the political interaction between NATO and Ukraine.

The Council is different from the previous Commission. First and foremost, because this is a body that can make decisions and we meet as equals. It is not 31 Allies meeting a partner, it's a Council that actually make decisions where we meet as equals. We can meet at the level of Heads of State and Government, as we will do today; at the Ministerial level, Defence, Foreign Ministers, Ambassadorial level. We can also meet at the military level, with our Chief of Defence and other experts groups can be established. So this is a much stronger, much more important political entity than to just have a partnership. This is something we do together as equals. But again, this is one of the steps we are taking to move towards a membership.

Today we meet as equals. I look forward to the day we meet as Allies. But this is an important step and an important contribution to that process.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Sky, first row here.

Deborah Haynes, Sky News
Thank you. I'm Deborah Hayes from Sky News. President Zelenskyy, you came here wanting a timeframe for membership. You'll be leaving with warm words, as well as more weapons and new security guarantees. Have the Allies done enough to show their support? Or do you still think that their position on Ukraine joining NATO is absurd? And most crucially, might this lack of an invitation undermine the morale of your forces fighting right now on the front line? And Mr. Secretary General, the Kremlin has just said it would be - the Kremlin has just said it's a dangerous mistake for the West to give security guarantees to Ukraine. Are you worried that the Allies are taking a step closer towards direct war with Russia?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
[Answer in Ukrainian, as interpreted]

Thank you for the question. As for the invitation, I truly understand that this is a technical signal. But if we're not only dealing with techniques and bureaucracy, but should we look at that as a serious factor to contribute to the motivation, to the Ukrainian society, then for me, as a President, that was an important moment. I kind of compare this fact with the candidacy for the membership in the European Union and with the dialogue with other countries. I give the following example: I told that EU candidacy was just this signal. The candidacy means no membership, but it brings a significant mobilization for Ukraine and a powerful signal for Russia that Ukraine is not a member of any type of Alliance, but Ukraine is willing to become a member of the European Union and will be an independent state.

As for the invitation to NATO, this is just the same. It's a signal. But today I can see another important signal that I've already mentioned, and we can have some specifics about this. The specifics, now, if today, they, G7 will agree to the first declaration on security guarantees, that would be a very specific fact. Because the security guarantees says that these guarantees will be valid on our way to NATO. This is very important. This is going to be a very specific signal. As for the rest of the points the Secretary General has already mentioned, as referred to (inaudible) the Alliance. Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
There's a full-fledged war going on in Europe, and there is no risk free option, no risk free option for NATO Allies either. But the biggest risk is if President Putin wins. Because then the message is that when he uses military force, when he violates international law, when invades a neighbour, then he gets what he wants. And that's exactly why it is so important for NATO Allies to support Ukraine.

Because it will be a tragedy for Ukraine if President Putin wins, but it will be dangerous for us. It will make us more vulnerable. And that's also the reason why we have been so very clear on the following:  that Ukraine, of course has the right to choose its own path and what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of. That's the first line in the paragraph we agreed today on membership for Ukraine and the path forward.

And this is a fundamental right for every nation. And therefore we can never allow that Moscow starts to decide who can or who cannot be a member of NATO. Russia has been against every enlargement of NATO. It’s for NATO Allies and for Ukraine to decide when to become a member. Moscow doesn't have a veto on that.

So we are moving Ukraine closer to membership. We make all the decisions today which is the strongest and most united message on the path towards membership NATO has ever issued to Ukraine.

And of course we do that knowing that Moscow will protest, as they did when Finland joined or when Sweden is joining or North Macedonia or all new Allies. So Ukraine has the right to choose its own path, Allies will decide, it's not for Moscow to decide.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Just to add one sentence to the words of the Secretary General. That what is very important about the Council, that it’s not an instrument of participation, that is written there. That is an instrument of integration. And that should also give us should also give us such spirit that we’ll be in NATO.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
ICTV Ukraine.

Volodymyr Runets, ICTV Ukraine
I have two questions, Volodymyr Runets, ICTV.  I have two questions, one for the President of Ukraine and one for the Secretary General of NATO.

[Question in Ukrainian, as interpreted]
Mr. President, what do you expect of today's meeting of the G7? What guarantees do you think might be additionally granted to Ukraine?
[In English]
And Mr. Secretary General, this new Council NATO-Ukraine, how is it going to be different from the Commission of NATO-Ukraine that could be blocked by, say, Hungary or any other members, and had issues functioning? How technically can be… how this can be technically achieved? Thank you.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
[Answer in Ukrainian, as interpreted]

As for today’s meeting, as well as the security guarantees. First, I would like to tell you that these are not auxiliary aspects. We don't have real security guarantees from our partners. I mean, legally, we have actual security guarantees. There is financial, there is guarantees in the form of sanctions, there is assistance and defensive support. And that could be the first legal document that symbolizes the fact that we have a sort of a security umbrella, a first document. And later on Ukraine will have bilateral documents with every security guarantor for Ukraine. And it will cover all those aspects that we already have, or those aspects that we're lacking now. Like air defence, like aircrafts, like military aircrafts; now all those aspects will be considered on a bilateral level. Besides this document, the security umbrella will allow the other countries in addition to the G7 countries to join. So this is, would be, an opportunity for other partners to join as well. And we've already started to have conversations with other partners. They're already friends with us, but they're not part of the G7. Then (inaudible) will join, I think that's a very important next step.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Well, the Council will be chaired by me, the Secretary General of NATO. And I can convene the Council. So that cannot be blocked by individual Allies, or members of the Council. It can also be convened by individual member states for crisis consultations. So if President Zelenskyy wants to convene a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, he can do so, it cannot be blocked. Because we are meeting as equals. We have decided what we are going to address, including crisis consultations; can be a call by any member of this Council.

So this is something new, it's something different, it’s a strong political tool for further political integration, and also for decision-making. So this is one of the elements in the decision we are taking today to move Ukraine closer to NATO and NATO membership, and we should all appreciate that.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
CNBC. Just behind.

Steve Sedgwick, CNBC
Steve Sedgwick from CNBC. President Zelenskyy, can I just follow on, on the security guarantees issue, because security guarantees have been in place for the best part of the last 30 years. They didn't prevent 2014, Crimea, they didn't prevent 2022. What is it about security guarantees that will make a difference this time, firstly to yourself, so in your country, but also to the attitude of the Russians and to Vladimir Putin. He’s looked at previous security guarantees and he's ignored them, and he's invaded anyway.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
[Answer in Ukrainian, as interpreted]
Thank you for the question. I'm not willing to reiterate, but I can tell you one thing, I don't believe the Budapest Memorandum  as security guarantee, because I don't understand any responsibility provided under the memorandum. There were no specifics, except for the fact that Ukraine had this document and was left alone with it. We don't see the consequences for violating this document.

As for the new document -  now, it should remain valid as long as Ukraine is not in NATO. And we understand that the best guarantees for Ukraine and for Ukrainians is to be in NATO. This is clear because there's already the examples. And I would like to underline once again: we don't see any member nations of NATO that are at war now, that are dying, that are suffering, that are defending their own country. That is why we understand that the best guarantees for Ukraine is to be in NATO. On our way to NATO, we would like to have the security guarantees. And to have them permanently, so that they would make our relationship to other countries even more powerful. We would like to have a document so that the assistance wouldn’t be based only on our personal relationship, but to have it written in the document. And today’s framework  declaration and security guarantees will open up the possibilities for the strong bilateral documents.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
We'll take one last question. USA Today, lady here in second row.

USA Today
President Zelenskyy, later this afternoon you'll meet with President Biden. What are you hoping to accomplish in the meeting? And how do you plan to convince him that Ukraine is ready for NATO membership? When you meet with President Biden, also, beyond the cluster munitions that the US has said it will provide Ukraine, what other military assistance are you seeking from the Biden administration that you have not yet received? And for Secretary General Stoltenberg, how quickly do you expect NATO nations to be able to provide the F16s that President Zelenskyy has been requesting?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
About F16… or is it also to me? You address to me the question, or…? No, no, no, no, no, answer please. [Laughs] Okay, okay. You can also, Jens, answer on all these three questions about NATO, when it will be… Okay.

[Answer in Ukrainian, as interpreted]
Thank you. First, I am grateful to President Biden and to the Congress, and to the people of the United States that are truly the leaders in support and assistance to Ukraine. We highly appreciate this. I am not planning to find any arguments for making sure that President Biden would see us in the NATO.

I believe that those arguments, they should be mutual. Because it is all about the security in the East, the European continent, the Eastern flank of NATO. And I believe that NATO needs us just as we need NATO. And I believe that this is absolutely fair.  I am confident that after the war Ukraine will be in NATO, we will be doing everything possible to make it happen, so that we would, with the United States, we would have the same understanding and the same vision.

As for the cluster munitions as you call it: look, there are moments when we have slight disagreements in small details with our US partners. But I would like to extend words of gratitude to the President. I know it was a challenge in the United States. It was a challenge in the US Congress, and there are people who are not sharing the support with regards to the cluster munitions.

But I want us to look at this from a different perspective, from a perspective of fairness. Russia is constantly using cluster munitions on our territory. They're fighting only on our land, they are killing our people, they are using long range missiles, cluster munitions on a regular basis. The assistance that we can receive from the United States with regards to the decision on the cluster munitions, we are talking about the use of those munitions only against military targets, only against the occupied territory of Ukraine. So this is something that is under control, and it is not going to be used anywhere else. 

There has to be fairness. And it is not fair that the aggressor has occupied us, has been occupying parts of our territory for nine years and killing our people. How can we defend?  It is all about fairness. We are defending ourselves; we are defending ourselves by not using weapons against the territory of other states. As for the other support and assistance, we do need long-range weapons. This deficit remains, and I will raise this issue.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Yesterday, a group of NATO Allies established a coalition to provide  training for F-16 fighter pilots from Ukraine. This is an initiative originally initiated by the Netherlands and Denmark. I welcome that several other Allies have now joined in. Some preparations have already taken place. And training will start as soon as possible. What Allies have informed us is that training will actually start this summer. So this is something which is now happening. Last time I saw at least, I think it was 10 or perhaps even a bit more Allies, which are now part of this coalition, and they are eager to start as soon as possible. And of course, this will then enable a later decision also to provide F-16s. So training starts as soon as possible and based on that, decisions will be made on providing fighter jets.

Let me just add that of course, guarantees, documents, councils, meetings are important. But the most urgent task now is to ensure enough weapons to Ukraine, to President Zelenskyy and his armed forces. And, therefore, it has been extremely important that under this meeting, we have seen new announcements from NATO Allies. France has decided to deliver long-range cruise missiles. Germany just announced yesterday a new big package of more air defense systems, more armored vehicles. The United States announced a big new package of ammunition, of weapons – and many other Allies have also made new announcements.

So the most urgent task is, of course, to ensure that Ukraine prevails. Because unless Ukraine prevails, then there is no membership issue to be discussed at all. So the message is that we stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes, and the urgent need is to provide the weapons they need. 

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu
Thank you very much, this concludes this press conference. The Secretary General and the President will now proceed to the inaugural meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council.