Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg folowing the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers

  • 24 Mar. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 24 Mar. 2021 15:54

(As delivered)

So, good afternoon.

NATO Foreign Ministers have just concluded a discussion on Russia.

We were joined by our close partners Finland and Sweden, as well as by EU High Representative Vice President Borrell.

While our relationship with Russia remains very difficult, our meeting today demonstrates strong agreement among Allies and with our partners.

Despite years of pressure and efforts to engage in a meaningful dialogue, Russia has increased its pattern of repressive behaviour at home and aggressive behaviour abroad.

In Russia, we still see violent oppression of political dissent.

And we call for the immediate release of Alexei Navalny and other peaceful demonstrators who have been arrested.

Abroad, Russia undermines and destabilizes its neighbours, including Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova. It supports the crackdown on Belarus, and tries to interfere in the Western Balkans region.

Russia continues its wide-ranging military build-up.
From the Baltic to the Black Sea.
In the Middle East and North Africa.
And from the Mediterranean to the Arctic.

Allies have called out Russia’s disinformation and propaganda.

Its efforts to influence elections.

Cyber attacks.

And its use of chemical weapons against political opponents, both at home and on our territory.

NATO’s response is firm and consistent.

In response to Russia’s actions, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation.

We have stepped up our hybrid and cyber defences.

We will remain vigilant.

And we will continue to work with the EU and our close partners, to make sure that we respond to Russia’s actions together.

Allies agree we should continue to review and adapt our deterrence and defence.
Including when it comes to the growing Russian missile threat.

Our dual-track approach combines strong deterrence and defence, with openness to dialogue.

All Allies remain firmly committed to nuclear arms control. 

And all Allies welcome the recent decision to extend the New START Treaty.

This must be the beginning of an effort to further strengthen international nuclear arms control.
We see that Russia continues to deploy new and destabilising nuclear weapons.

We need agreements that cover more weapons and more nations like China.

So the arms control regime must take account of new realities.

NATO has a strong and long-standing commitment to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, and we remain a unique platform for Europe and North America to consult on the future of arms control, because it helps to preserve peace.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
And for the first question, with the first question will be remote and then we'll come back here to the press room. So the first question will go to Berlin to Sabine Siebold from Reuters.

Sabine Siebold (Reuters)
Thank you. Mr. Secretary General, I have a question regarding the NATO-Russia Council. Could you tell us if you expect to see any meeting of the Council anytime soon, and what would be the conditions for the council to meet again.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
It was a bit hard to hear the question but my understanding was that it’s about the NATO-Russia Council. And the NATO-Russia Council is a platform for dialogue between all countries being part of that, the 30 allies, and Russia. And we have been able to convene the council 10 times since 2016, since summer 2016.

But since the summer of 2019, there have been no meetings of the NATO-Russia Council. And that's because Russia has not responded positively to our invitation to convene the NATO-Russia Council. I regret that because I think that dialogue is important, especially when times are difficult as they are now, then it is important that we sit down, discuss also difficult issues. I believe in dialogue with Russia partly to strive for a better relationship with Russia. But even without an improvement in the relationship between NATO allies and Russia. I believe that at least we have to manage a difficult relationship on transparency, risk reduction, and also addressing arms control.

So we will continue to work for a dialogue with Russia. We will continue to open and have an opening, and an invitation to Russia to be part of the meeting, participate in the meeting on NATO-Russia Council, but of course they have to respond positively to such a meeting to take place.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
Okay, we will now go up there to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Thomas Gutschker right in the middle there, third row. And the next question will also come from here in the press room.

Thomas Gutschker (FAZ)
Thanks a lot. Secretary General, I have a question on China. This week, the European Union has taken human rights sanctions, for the first time since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989, against China. And these measures have been mirrored by the US, Canada and the UK, so almost all NATO allies have taken part in that. Of course, it's not been a NATO action. But does NATO have a view on this? That's my first question. And more generally, do you consider China to be a strategic rival, as the EU has put it? Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So NATO allies have supported these sanctions in different ways because many of them are members of the European Union, and then of course, other allies have supported sanctions and imposed sanctions, like for instance the United States that has also imposed sanctions. So NATO as the institution has not made the formal decision but NATO Allies support sanctions and have actually implemented sanctions themselves as individual nations or through the European Union.

But the important thing is that we need to take into consideration when we now, adapt, and adapt NATO to more challenging and difficult security environment, the security implications of the rise of China. We don't regard China as an adversary. But of course the rise of China has direct consequences to our security. They will soon have the biggest economy in the world, they already have the second largest defense budget, they are investing heavily in new modern military capabilities, including nuclear capabilities, they are modernizing their armed forces, and we also see that China is a country which used coercion against the neighbors in the region, we see their behavior in the, in the South China Sea. And perhaps most importantly, China is a country that doesn't share our values. We see that in the way they deal with democratic protests in Hong Kong, how they suppress minorities in their own country, the Uighurs, and also how they actually try to undermine the international rules based order. So, one of the challenges we face as we now have this forward looking process with NATO 2030 is how to strengthen and how to work more closely together as allies, responding to the rise of China.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
And we will go to Wall Street Journal Dan Michaels.

Dan Michaels (Wall Street Journal)
Thank you very much, Dan Michaels with the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Secretary, in your discussions on Russia today did Nord Stream 2 come up? And more broadly, given the very open differences between two of your largest members, do you play a role in negotiating that and how do you see it from a NATO perspective? Thank you very much.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
First of all, what I saw today was a very high degree of agreement and unity on how to deal with Russia and how to assess and respond to Russia's aggressive actions in cyberspace, how they violate international law, and the military buildup by Russia, also by deploying new nuclear weapons, including weapons which led to the demise of the INF Treaty. So this was a message of unity, not only between NATO allies, but also NATO allies and our close partners European Union and Finland and Sweden. Then you're right that on the issue of North Stream 2, there are differences, and there is no reason to hide that because that is out in the public.

There are differences among NATO allies and then I think that NATO is a platform where we also can address and discuss these issues and during - I'm not going to do specific sessions - but the issue of North Stream 2 has been raised over these two days, and I think that when we see different views among allies on issues like Nord Stream 2 I think at least NATO is a platform for bringing those allies together and then to sit down and have discussions about them.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
Okay, for the next three questions we'll go online again. and we'll start in Finland with the Jyrki Karvinen from the Finnish media.

Jyrki Karvinen
Secretary General, my question is on partners, partnerships. We have been following the development since 1994, and my question is, especially on the situation with partners, Sweden, Finland, and then Ukraine. Do you see any - What is the situation about this and do you see any kind of new development with the partners for this partnership [inaudible] at NATO?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
We very much appreciate the very close partnership NATO has with partners, including with Finland and Sweden, they both joined us in the meeting today.

Finland is an important partner for many reasons so Finland contributes to NATO missions and operations, we exercise together with Finland, we have different agreements with Finland and all of that together makes that a very strong partnership and we have what we call an enhanced opportunity partnership with Finland.
We, as I said, we also exercise together with Finland. They participate, for instance, in our Trident Juncture exercise and we work together in many different ways. Finland is the border, Finland has with Russia, is actually longer than the combined border all NATO allies together with Russia. So Finland is also important just because of its location in the Baltic or the Nordic Baltic region, and Finland is an important partner also in the way when we have discussions and how we address Russia as we as we did in the meeting today.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
For the next question we go the Voice of America Russian Service, Danila Galperovich.

Danila Galperovich (VOA Russian Service)
Thank you very much, Oana, and thank you very much Secretary General for doing this.

I'd like to ask a question if any specific efforts need to take some in connection with visible chemical weapons threat from Russia, which wasn't clear until Skripal and Navalny poisoning. And another question, we see that Russian military intelligence is very much involved in political processes and political meddling in Europe and USA. Again, does NATO take any specific actions in connection with this military intelligence of Russian involvement in politics? Thank you very much.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Well, what we see is that Russia is responsible for aggressive actions in cyberspace, we have seen the use of a chemical nerve agent against the dissident in Alexei Navalny and also seen that's been used on NATO territory, in Salisbury. And this is part of a pattern, we have seen over many years, and NATO and NATO allies are also of course responding, partly by strengthening our intelligence, sharing intelligence, and working more closely on intelligence. Partly by strengthening our cyber defenses, which is a key issue for NATO and NATO allies. And also by sending very clear political messages, as we have done, again and again. For instance, calling for an independent, impartial investigations into the Navalny case and also for the immediate release of Alexei Navalny and other peaceful demonstrators that have been arrested. So this is a clear message which has which has been restated also in the meeting today, and the strength is that we speak with one voice 30 allies but those now together with Finland, Sweden and the European Union.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
And before we come back for the to the press room, we'll take another third question online, and that's from Brooks Tigner, Jane’s Defence Weekly.

Brooks Tigner (Jane’s Defence Weekly)
Hi Mr. Stoltenberg, yesterday you told us that you wanted to increase common funding for deterrence and defense spending, which is a good idea.

So I wanted to ask you about that, not the amounts because we know that it's still being negotiated, but rather how the money might be spent, and the way it would be decided. For instance, NATO's decision making rules for common funding, as we all know are rigid and slow, they're subject to multiple committee reviews, and most important unanimous voting among the allies.

So my question to you, very specific. Do you consider that these approval procedures for common fund spending need to be reformed in a serious way in order to spend, speed up, defense and deterrence spending. And if you do think that will you propose that at the summit? Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
First of all, common funding is one among several proposals that are now discussed as part of the NATO 2030 agenda, and we had a very positive and very good discussions over the last two days on the NATO 2030 initiative. And I'm very confident that when our heads of state and government meet later on this year, they will agree, a forward looking ambitious agenda for how to make NATO future proof, and how to continue to adapt the most successful alliance in history to become even stronger and even more able to cope with a wide range of threats and challenges.
And I'm also confident because when we had the discussion yesterday on NATO 2030 I also sense very broad support for the idea that we need to agree, substantive and concrete measures, when it comes to for instance how to maintain our technological edge, how to make sure that we are responding to the security impact or consequences of climate change, how to make sure that we step up and are more concrete when it comes to resilience, making sure that we have reliable infrastructure, telecommunications, energy grids. And how we can step up and work even more closely with partners, both in our neighborhood but also in the Asia Pacific, also to address the rise of China. We work with like-minded democracies, to protect the rules based order, and of course, also how to strengthen political consultation within the Alliance to strengthen the political dimension.

To do all of this and many more things we need more resources. And that's the reason why I proposed increased common funding. There are different budgets in NATO, there is civil budget, investment budget and the military budget. I think now the most important is to agree that we need more resources to do more, then I think we need to come back to both the exact amounts and any specific details about how we make decisions.

Consensus will always be the base for decisions in NATO, but I am confident and I'm encouraged by the strong support for a NATO 2030 agenda, and for having an ambitious forward looking agreement when heads of state and government meet later on this year.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
Okay the next three questions will come from here in the room, and we'll go first to Steven Erlanger from New York Times.

Steven Erlanger (NYT)
Thank you very much Secretary General. It’s nice to see you in the flesh. For a change, it's nice.
Given your discussion on Russia, the British have just published an integrative review and a military white paper of ambitious goals and modest resources, and they will have a military now of only 72,000 troops, which is the smallest in over 200 years, certainly smaller than Waterloo, and they're going to go into a long transition to become a different kind of force. Is this the UK that NATO wants it didn't used to want this from the UK it wanted more land base forces, or is this the UK NATO will have to live with? And will that long transition, create vulnerabilities, given the new threats you've just cited from Russia? Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The United Kingdom is a leading NATO ally, and they have a full spectrum of defense, conventional nuclear, cyber, and many capabilities in all domains. Second, the United Kingdom is one of the allies which are spending now more than 2% and actually increasing significantly defense spending going above 2%. I spoke with the Prime Minister Johnson earlier this week, I also spoke with the Secretary for Defense Wallace and Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, and they all convey the same message that the United Kingdom is really committed and is ready to not only continue to be a strong and reliable NATO ally, but to step up and do more. On land, at sea, in the air, in cyberspace, and providing more advanced capabilities for NATO.

I welcome that significant modernization. I welcome the increased investments. I also welcome the fact that NATO allies, and the United Kingdom are working closer together when it comes to what we call capability targets, identifying what kinds of capabilities different allies should provide and also the United Kingdom. So, I'm actually encouraged by the integrated review, and the messages coming out from United Kingdom because it demonstrates a will to step up and do even more.
And that's what we see. I think any comparison with Waterloo is absolutely meaningless because the equipment and the investment that the soldiers today are totally different. So I really feel that the United Kingdom has demonstrated not only in words but also in deeds, a commitment to be strong, strongly to ally with modern extremely important capabilities for our lines.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
The next question will be all the way there. DPA Ansgar Haase.

Ansgar Haase (DPA)
Secretary General. Poland will supply more than 3000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to vaccinate all NATO Headquarters staff in the coming days. Can you please tell us why you have accepted Poland's offer to provide these vaccines, despite the fact that this decision could risk the lives of people in Poland, that are still not vaccinated. And can you please tell us also why these vaccines are not provided by countries that have already vaccinated larger parts of their population like UK or the United States. Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So I welcome the Polish decision to provide the vaccines to NATO staff here at the NATO headquarters. I think that demonstrates Poland’s commitment to NATO. It is an expression of solidarity and resilience, and solidarity and resilience is at the heart of our alliance. And it will, of course, help us in our work here at the NATO headquarters. But of course this is a Polish decision. I welcome the decision and we look forward to start the immunization of the vaccination of staff here at the headquarters.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
Next question is the Desislava Apostolova from Bulgarian TV all the way there the lady in green. Thank you.

Desislava Apostolova (Bulgarian TV)
Mr. Secretary General, did the ministers discuss today the tensions between Bulgaria and Russia after Bulgaria has expelled two Russian diplomats, and what is the message of the ministers in regards with this case? The message to Bulgaria and to Russia. Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
First of all, I think that the message from NATO allies and also from me as Secretary General is a message of solidarity. And I spoke with the Bulgarian Prime Minister yesterday and Foreign Minister she attended the foreign ministers’ meeting today, and she raised the issue and briefed the allies, and of course we are closely following the investigation by the Bulgarian authorities, into an alleged Russian spy ring. NATO takes protection of classified information, very, very seriously, and we fully support the efforts by Bulgaria to tackle Russia's malign activities on its territory.

And I think what we see in Bulgaria is a pattern of Russian behavior, where they tried to undermine our democratic institutions, try to interfere in domestic politics, and also are stepping up within the intelligence domain. So this is part of a pattern and that's also one of the reasons why it is important that we stand together, that we express solidarity, and that we work together, also when it comes to intelligence, sharing information and helping each other.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
We'll take one question online now, from Andrej Matisak from Pravda. And I know there are probably more in the room so Andrej, go ahead.

Andrej Matisak (Pravda)
Yeah, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary General, we have seen Russia and China complaining about the sanctions that were mentioned in one of the questions previously asked. How this is perceived in NATO? Is this something like China and Russia trying to coordinate better their positions on the global scale, and what would it mean for NATO? And in this context, would you say that NATO also needs to strengthen the co-cooperation with the EU? We just had a conversation also with the EU partners. Thank you.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So, yes, I think that we should do more, work more closely with the European Union. We have been able to really strengthen the cooperation between the European Union and NATO over the last years, especially since 2014. And that's something I really really welcome.

Because neither NATO nor the European Union has all the tools needed to respond to malign activities by Russia or when we see also challenges coming from China. But together we can complement each other and support each other, and economic sanctions are an example of that, of course, NATO does not agree economic sanctions. This is something that the EU and NATO allies like the United States and all the allies do as individual nations.

But of course, what NATO does is that we make sure that we are always delivering credible deterrence and defense, which is sending a very clear message to any potential adversary. And we are stepping up when it comes to resilience to technology, cyber defense and so on. So we are working together, and that has always been important. But in one way we are now faced with more nonmilitary threats. Where we see that there's not only the threat of a classical military attack, which is the only challenge, but cyber, economic coercion, disinformation, what we all is often referred to as hybrid warfare, when we are faced with all these different kinds of threats at the same time, then of course the need to work together and have many tools, political, diplomatic, economic, military together, that becomes even more important.

Again, that's part of the NATO 2030 agenda on resilience on technology on partnerships, but also on the reasons why we also need to continue to strengthen the cooperation with the European Union.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)
I see one hand raised Mark Carlson from Associated Press.

Mark Carlson (AP)
Mr. Secretary General, have you asked the US to show Article 5 like solidarity and export vaccines to its allies?

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
There is a dialogue between allies on vaccines. NATO has not issued any formal request to allies because this is also for export of vaccines, because this is an issue, which is dealt with bilaterally or in discussions, for instance, with the European Union. What I welcome, is that what I've seen over all allied countries is that across the whole of NATO, is that our military armed forces, they are helping and supporting the civilian efforts to cope and deal with the pandemic. The United States, Canada, across Europe, we have seen how armed forces have helped to set up military field hospitals, transport equipment, medical personnel, patients, but also help to support the rollout of the vaccine. NATO is coordinating some of these efforts. We have helped to provide support to NATO allies and partners, so, our armed forces, NATO, they are helping the civilian efforts in fighting the pandemic. But when it comes to the export and import of vaccines that's not an issue that has been discussed within the NATO framework.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson)

Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference, and hope to see you soon. Stay safe. Thank you.