Pre-ministerial press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 13 Feb. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 14 Feb. 2023 08:09

(As delivered)

Good afternoon.

Our thoughts remain with the Turkish people following last week's devastating earthquakes.

Thousands of emergency response personnel from NATO Allies have been supporting the relief efforts.
Including with search and rescue teams, firefighters, medical personnel and seismic experts.

Moreover, NATO Allies and NATO has agreed to deploy shelter facilities to help accommodate people displaced by the earthquakes.

We stand in strong solidarity with our Ally Türkiye.

NATO Defence Ministers will meet this week at an important moment for transatlantic security.

We will take decisions to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence.
We will address our industrial capacity, and increase the protection of our critical undersea infrastructure.
And we will step up and sustain our support for Ukraine.

Almost one year since the invasion, President Putin is not preparing for peace.
He is launching new offensives.

So we must continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs to win.
And to achieve a just and sustainable peace.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, will join us tomorrow.
Both for the US-led Contact Group for Ukraine and for a meeting with NATO Ministers.

Together, we will address Ukraine’s urgent needs.

It is clear that we are in a race of logistics.

Key capabilities like ammunition, fuel, and spare parts must reach Ukraine before Russia can seize the initiative on the battlefield.

Speed will save lives.

If Putin wins in Ukraine, the message to him and other authoritarian regimes is that force is rewarded.
That would make the world more dangerous.
And all of us more vulnerable.

So I welcome the recent announcements by Allies on new tanks, heavy weaponry, and training for Ukraine. 
And I look forward to further deliveries.

Our message is clear.
NATO stands with Ukraine.
For as long as it takes.

Ministers will also address how to step up our practical support for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Moldova.

Three valued NATO partners, which face Russian threats.

On Wednesday, Allies will take decisions to further strengthen our deterrence and defence.

We have already done a lot.
Placing 40,000 troops under NATO command in the eastern part of the Alliance.
Backed by major air and naval power.
And doubling the number of battlegroups from four to eight. 

Now we need to ensure we have the right forces and capabilities for the longer-term.
So I expect Allies will agree new guidance for NATO defence planning.

This will be a key driver of capability changes.
And ensure credible deterrence and defence in the years to come.

Ministers will also focus on ways to increase our defence industrial capacity and replenish stockpiles.

The war in Ukraine is consuming an enormous amount of munitions, and depleting Allied stockpiles.

The current rate of Ukraine’s ammunition expenditure is many times higher than our current rate of production.
This puts our defence industries under strain. 

For example, the waiting time for large-calibre ammunition has increased from 12 to 28 months.
Orders placed today would only be delivered two-and-a-half years later.

So we need to ramp up production.
And invest in our production capacity.

NATO has just completed an extraordinary survey of our munitions stockpiles.
And we plan to increase our targets for munitions stockpiles through the NATO Defence Planning Process.

The good news is that several Allies, including the United States and France, have already signed new multi-year contracts with the defence industry.

Enabling them to invest in increased production capacity.

I look forward to further progress.

This is essential to ensure we can keep supporting Ukraine, while protecting every inch of Allied territory.

The protection of critical   undersea infrastructure will also be high on our agenda.
NATO has been working on this for many years.
And we are now taking it to the next level.

We  have decided to establish a new coordination cell at NATO Headquarters, to map our vulnerabilities, and engage with industry.
This will support our efforts to prevent and counter threats to critical infrastructure, including undersea cables and pipelines.

And leaders at the Vilnius Summit will take further decisions to step up our efforts in this area.
We will also work closely with the European Union, through the NATO-EU task force on resilience and critical infrastructure.

NATO continues to adapt in all domains.
Including in space, which is becoming more crowded and competitive.

This week, I expect Allies will agree to establish a new virtual network of national and commercial satellites.

This will improve our intelligence and surveillance.
And support NATO missions and operations.

It will allow Allies to increase the sharing of space-based data with the NATO command structure.
Facilitating better navigation, communication and early warning of missile launches.

All of this work requires continued investment in our defence.
So Ministers will discuss ways to maintain and step up defence spending across the Alliance.
We are on the right track, with eight consecutive years of increases by European Allies and Canada.
And an additional $350 billion extra spent so far.

I expect that we will see further increases in defence spending this year.
But we need to keep up the momentum.

Our decisions this week will pave the way for our Summit in Vilnius in July.
And help keep our people safe in a more dangerous world.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
We will start with Agence France-Press.

Max Delany, AFP:
Secretary General, thank you very much. Max Delany, AFP. Just two issues: you mentioned that Putin is starting new offensives in Ukraine. Do you believe that this is the beginning of the Big Spring Offensive that you've been warning about for a while? And then connected to the munitions, how can you be so confident that NATO will be able to keep up supplies to Ukraine and have the ammunition it needs to face some a major offensive? And then another question on the balloons that we've seen:  is NATO's stepping up its own surveillance elsewhere in Europe and other places of the balloons and the unidentified objects that we've seen over North America? Thanks.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First, on the ammunition. Well, this is an issue we started to address last year, because we saw that an enormous amount of support for Ukraine, the only way to deliver that was to dig into our existing stocks. But of course, in the long run, we cannot continue to do that we need to produce more, to be able to deliver sufficient ammunition to Ukraine, but at the same time, ensure that we have enough ammunition to protect and defend all NATO Allies, every inch of Allied territory.

So that's also the reason why we, several months ago, started this extraordinary ‘out-of-cycle’ review of our stocks and the need to increase our level of stocks, meaning by increasing the guidelines for capability targets related to ammunition stocks, and also why Allies has wanted to engage with the industry. And several Allies have already made decisions and agreed long term contracts with the industry so they can ramp up production making investments to increase investments.

So I'm confident that we are now on track, on a path, that will enable us both to continue to support Ukraine, but also to replenish our own stocks. And it just shows the importance of increased defense spending. Because all of this, of course, requires more defense expenditure by NATO Allies.
Then, on the balloons. Well, I think what we saw over the United States - I was in the United States last week – is part of a pattern, where China but also Russia are increasing their intelligence and surveillance activities against NATO Allies with many different platforms. We see it in cyber. We see it with satellites, more and more satellites, and we see with balloons.

That highlights the importance of our vigilance, our increased presence, and also that we ramp up and step up how we share intelligence and how we monitor and protect our airspace. And actually, one of the issues we are going to address on the side of the Ministers’ meeting tomorrow is increased cooperation between Allies in space. Sharing more data, collecting more data also from commercial satellites, and then sharing that with the NATO command structure. So that's part of the overall picture, how we do more to monitor and have sufficient surveillance. This protects all our airspace. The first question was?

Max Delany, AFP:
Do you believe that this is the start of the major Russian offensive that..?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
I think the reality that we're seeing the start already, because we’re seeing what Russia is just now, what President Putin do now, is sending thousands and thousands of more troops, accepting a very high rate of casualty, taking big losses, but putting pressure on the Ukrainians. And what Russia lacks in quality, they try to compensate in quantity, meaning that the leadership, the logistics, the equipment, the training, don't have the same level as the Ukrainian forces, but they have more forces.

And the Russians are willing to sending those forces and take a high number of casualties. So for me, this just highlights the importance of timing. It's urgent to provide Ukraine with more weapons. The faster we can deliver weapons, ammunition, spare parts, fuel to the Ukrainian front the more lives we save, and the better we support efforts to find a peaceful, negotiated solution to this conflict.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu
Ok. Reuters.

Sabine Siebold, Reuters:
Thank you. Secretary General, as we're approaching the first anniversary of the invasion, what actions do you expect Russia to take to mark that date on the battlefield in Ukraine and beyond?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The most important message is that we see no sign whatsoever that President Putin is preparing for peace, or ready to negotiate something, which will respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. What we see is that President Putin and Russia still wants to control Ukraine. And therefore, the only way to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign nation is to continue to provide military support to Ukraine.

And I welcome what many Allies or Allies do and have done for months, stepping up providing support to Ukraine. I'm not speculating what Russia will or President Putin will do on the 24th. But more importantly, is that we see how they are sending in more troops, more weapons, more capabilities, to try to pressure the Ukrainians. And we see also how Ukrainians are able to resist and stand up against the Russian aggression.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Deutsche Welle, NPR.

Teri Schultz, Deutsche Welle/NPR:
Thank you, Max, sort of took all the questions, the top questions, but to follow up on a couple of things. On the balloons, have other NATO countries started looking at whether in fact these balloons have been flown over other areas, because they weren't necessarily detected in the beginning? So is this something that you think would require more research, and what kind of threat does it pose to NATO other than potential intelligence gathering? And also on ammunition, industry says that aside from a few large contracts, all of the work on increasing the speed of procurement has not actually resulted in a lot more contracts given to them at this point. So, if the delay has been extended - even doubled in some cases -, if you don't conclude a contract, even that period doesn't start. So what can you say about that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So, first of all, we are in close dialogue, contact with the defense industry at the NATO level. I met with them and NATO Allies have met and engaged with the defense industry. And there are several contracts, which are now signed. And you're absolutely right what matters at the end of the day is actually signing or contracts, concrete commitments to buy more ammunition. And that has started to happen in United States, France, but also other Allies. For instance, Norway has signed a contract with their ammunition industry to ramp up production.

Of course, in the short run, the industry can increase production by having more shifts, by using existing production facilities more. But really to have a significant increase, they need to invest and build new plans. And we see a combination both of utilizing existing capacity more and also by making decisions to invest in increased capacity. This has started but we need more. And that's one of the reasons why we are going to agree new guidelines for stockpiles, NATO guidelines, and also why we continue to engage so closely with the defense industry to ensure that we get to increase the production of ammunition.

On the balloons. Well, as I said, I was last week in the United States. In August last year, I was actually in Canada in the High North as the first Secretary General ever to visit a NORAD facility up in the High North. And these are those radar facilities that monitor and track all the airspace between Russia or the North Pole into North America. And this is actually protecting NATO. This is vital capabilities for NATO.

And NORAD, which is a joint capability that United States and Canada deliver together, they have decided to invest heavily in modernizing that with more advanced radars, with better defence capabilities and also with a Canadian airbase at Cold [Lake], where they have the planes that actually intercept and help to protect Canadian and North American airspace.

So, it just highlights the importance of that we are ramping up, strengthening and improving our ability to defend airspace both over North America but also in Europe. And that's exactly what we have done over the last years with more air policing, with better space facilities, and also that we will do at the defence ministerial meeting now, where Allies will come together and strengthen what they do in space to be able to better monitor, better detect any violation of NATO airspace.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:

Dmytro Shkurko, Ukrinform:
Thank you for floor. Dmytro Shkurko from News Agency of Ukraine. We have seen the reaction of Moldova and Romania on the missile incident happened in the sky of Moldova and approaching to Romanian borders. But anyway, you know, when a Russian missile’s approaching to the NATO airspace, this is some kind of testing of the air defence of NATO.  Do you see that like some kind of warning from Russian side? And in other parts of the question, do you see any threats to the supply routes, NATO and NATO countries delivering military support to Ukraine? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Wars are dangerous. Dangerous things happen every day. And of course, it's also dangerous because incidents and accidents may happen. And that's exactly why we are so vigilant in NATO to prevent any escalation beyond Ukraine. And that's also why we actually, before the invasion during last fall - or the fall 2021 -, we increased our military presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance, also in the Black Sea region.

And also on the day of the invasion, we met here in a NATO Headquarters, we invoked NATO's defence plans, and we decided to further increase our military presence in the Eastern part of the alliance with air, naval and land capabilities. We did that, partly to be able to monitor, to protect, to ensure no escalation beyond Ukraine and also to be able to manage incidents or accidents that may occur when there is a full-fledged war going on in our neighbourhood, in Ukraine.

But of course, this military presence of NATO troops, NATO forces in Poland, in Romania, in Slovakia, in other countries in the Eastern part of the Alliance, also protects the space for NATO Allies to support Ukraine. And that makes it even more important that we have increased our presence in the Eastern part of the Alliance. NATO is not party to the conflict, but we support Ukraine. We support Ukraine in upholding the right to self-defense that a right that is enshrined in the UN charter. And we have the right to support Ukraine.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
Thank you very much. Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Secretary General, after President Zelenskyy’s visit to Brussels last week, there is clearly a reinvigorated debate now about building a coalition that could send fighter airplanes to Ukraine. When this debate started almost a year ago, you were quite concerned and you said that NATO would not be sending our planes because it would not be interfering into the war. So my question today is, do you still share these concerns that it might be seen as an interference? And if not, how would a coalition have to be built, what would be the requirements to make this really work? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So first, I think we need to distinguish between two things. One thing is what we also discussed very much last year and that was the issue of whether NATO should establish a no fly zone over Ukraine and sending NATO planes to enforce no fly zone. That's a very different thing than what is discussed now, and that is the possibility of NATO Allies delivering aircraft to Ukraine so they can use themselves.

That's two very, very different things. Because if NATO was going to send NATO planes to enforce with a NATO presence in the airspace of Ukraine, and no fly zone, that will be direct NATO involvement. It's a very different thing to provide the Ukrainians with different types of military capabilities that will not make us party to the conflict.

Of course, the support to Ukraine has evolved as the war has evolved. In the beginning there was enormous focus on javelins, on anti-tank, light anti-tank weapons, and then we saw the urgent need for artillery and Allies started to step up the delivery of advanced modern artillery. Then air defence has been a main focus and now heavy weaponry; Strykers, Bradleys, infantry fighting vehicles, mortars from Germany, and also main battle tanks.
And there's a constant conversation, consultation process, within the Alliance on what types of weapon systems we should deliver. And as you have seen from media, there is now a discussion going on also on the question of aircraft, and I expect that also to be addressed tomorrow at the meetings here in Brussels.
But let me add two things and that is that one is speed, urgency. Because whatever the opinion may be about aircraft, that will take time. What is needed now is urgent support for Ukraine. So my top priority is to ensure that the pledges Allies have made for infantry fighting vehicles, for armor, for battle tanks, that are delivered as soon as possible because every day counts.

The other thing is that yes, it is important to have a constant consultation among Allies on what new platforms we should provide. And of course, this is evolving. But in addition to discussing new platforms, we need to be extremely focused on ensuring that the platforms already delivered are working as they should. Just ensure that the air defence systems we have delivered, the artillery we have delivered, has the ammunition, has the spare parts, has the maintenance, has the logistics, has all the sustainment they need to function, is an enormous logistical task that requires enormous amount of over of deliveries every day.

So yes, of course it is important to discuss new systems, but the most urgent need is to ensure that all the systems which are already there, or have been pledged, are delivered and work as they should.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:

Sonumut Güldener, NTV:
Secretary General, Sonumut from NTV Türkiye. First the issue is the earthquake in Türkiye. After the devastating earthquake, Türkiye requested the assistance of EADRCC and the EADRCC moved rather quickly. They have decided to deploy shelters in Türkiye. So my question is, when will these be operational in Türkiye, and apparently the list of what Türkiye needs is rather very long because it's really devastating. And to that end, what is the additional support you might be in a situation to send to Türkiye? And there's also the question of the security, the raising security concern from the Southern flank between Syria and Türkiye. And to that end, is there anything that NATO could do in order to deliver fully these tailored [inaudible] measures to Türkiye? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
As you said, Türkiye asked for help through our Euro Atlantic disaster response mechanism very early and hours after the earthquake we sent out a call to all Allies and partners to provide support and help to Türkiye after the earthquake. And that's exactly what Allies have done bilaterally, partly through NATO and of course, also through the European Union and in different ways. And I welcome all those efforts. That's something which is extremely important. And NATO will deliver shelters.

We will do that as soon as possible. I'm not able to give you an exact date but Allies and NATO are working hard to deliver as much support as quickly as possible. NATO has also provided some transportation. And I think it's important both to make sure that we get support quickly, but also to ensure that we actually are able to stay. Because this earthquake will have consequences for a long time, and therefore Türkiye and the people in the region will need support for a long time. Let me just reiterate my condolences, which also have expressed directly to President Erdogan, for the loss of lives and the devastating consequences of the earthquake we have seen in Türkiye and Syria.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
Associated Press.

Lorne Cook, AP:
The Associated Press. The war is coming up to virtually it's one year mark, and I wonder if you have any thoughts on how that's changed NATO and in particular your job, and is this a job that you want to keep doing as we come into the next summit in Vilnius.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
In one way, it has not changed NATO. It has just demonstrated the importance of NATO and how important it has been. Actually since 2014, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcements of collective defense in a generation, because the war didn't start in February last year. It started in 2014. And that triggered a big adaptation of our Alliance with higher readiness of forces, with more presence in eastern part of the Alliance, with more exercises.

And also, for the first time in many, many years, all Allies started to increase defense spending. So fundamentally, it hasn't changed NATO. It has only demonstrated the importance of Allies standing together, both in providing support to Ukraine, but also in protecting each other, ensuring that the war doesn't escalate beyond Ukraine. And when we decided on the morning of the invasion to increase our presence, then we were able to build on the increased presence we have already implemented over the last years.

We decided the battlegroups in 2016. And we actually increased our presence also in the months ahead of the invasion because the invasion was no surprise. This was an invasion we knew was coming and therefore we were prepared when it happened. For me, it is extremely important to focus on my task as Secretary General in demanding and challenging times for the Alliance and that's what I have to say about that.

NATO Spokesperson, Oana Lungescu:
We'll go to ZDF.

Florian Neuhann, ZDF:
Thank you very much. Florian Neuhann from ZDF, German TV. Mr. Stoltenberg, just a quick follow up on the question with regards to fighter jets. Do I understand you correctly that you do not rule out the delivery of fighter jets? Because there are some member states, especially the German chancellor has said that this is a no go, due to the risk of escalation. And the second question, I'm sure you're aware of the concept that your predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has developed for Ukraine. He promotes the idea of security guarantees for Ukraine, the midterm, as an alternative to NATO membership. What do you think of this? Do you think this is realistic and a possibility to secure the future of Ukraine?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Yes it is possible, of course, to secure the future of Ukraine. The first thing we need to do then is to help them to win this war. And that's exactly the main focus of everything we do. To ensure sufficient supplies, of everything from heavy armor to, to drones, to fuel and non-military support in all forms and shapes. So that's exactly what we do. So that's precondition number one.

The second main focus should be that when this war ends in one way or another, we should ensure that Ukraine is able to deter and defend itself. Because what we saw after 2014 is that Ukraine was not in a position to deter a second attack. Russia went in and illegally annexed Crimea and, and then a few weeks or months after they went into eastern Donbass. And then we had the war going up and down for many years until the full-fledged invasion.
What we need now is that we are able to strengthen Ukraine. With support, with training, and NATO also looks into the more long term transformation of, or transition, of the Ukrainian Armed Forces – from Soviet era doctrines and equipment, which is still very important part of the armed forces – to modern NATO capabilities interoperable with NATO Allies. So Ukraine can be in position to deter any further aggression. That's perhaps the most important thing to secure Ukraine in the future, and that is to enable them to have an even stronger armed forces after some kind of peace arrangement that may be agreed at the end of the war in Ukraine, to prevent a third big attack on Ukraine after 2014, after what happened last year, and then and then a potential new one.

So that's the second thing, to ensure that we work with Ukraine on long term reforms, long term interoperability, long term transition to NATO standards and help them to build up their armed forces even more. And then the third issue will be the issue of whether there will be some international arrangements, agreements, assurances. Well, that may be part of some kind of negotiated solution where Allies also participate.

I'm careful in speculating exactly how they will be formulated and what kind of framework they will be issued. But I'm saying that of course, some kind of arrangements where NATO Allies provide also some assurances in different ways to Ukraine, absolutely possible that will be part of the overall solution to the conflict in in Ukraine. To maximize the likelihood of Ukraine being able to deter any further attacks or new Russian attacks against the country.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Financial Times.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
The Fighter, well, well, I have nothing more to say that what we have seen over one year or close to one year, this war, is that what type of support we provide evolves. And there is a discussion as there's been discussions about every step. We had a discussion about Patriots. We had a discussion about armour, we had a discussion about battle tanks, we had the discussion of long range HIMARS, and this is an important discussion.

The important thing is that NATO is not a part of the conflict, even though NATO Allies provide advanced weapons systems to Ukraine. We have the right to provide support for them because Ukraine defend themselves against the war of aggression. And then regardless of what you think about aircraft that will take time, so we need to now at least ensure that we deliver what we can deliver in the short term, because that can really make a difference on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Financial Times.

Henry Foy, Financial Times:
Thank you so much, sorry to be a pain. I wanted to ask about the ammunition. From what you've said. It doesn't sound like this is a solvable problem if they are using it faster than we can build it. Delivery times are doubling as you've just said, and we can't just invent new factories. How do we solve that then? Or are we at a point now where Ukraine is at a ceiling of what can be provided month by month by NATO Allies and non NATO Allies in the larger coalition of Ramstein? Are we at that point already now where Ukraine has a limit of what it can use every month? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
So what I said was that the current rate of ammunition consumption is higher, bigger than the current rate of production. That's a factual thing. But since we have been aware of that for some time, we have started to do something. We're not just sitting there idle and watching this happening. So that's the reason why we always –several months have worked hard at NATO, and also within the Ramstein format to ramp up production.

That's the reason why we launched this outer of cycle extraordinary review of our stockpiles, why we have collected the data and now we are using this data to go to individual Allies and work with them to sign contracts with the industry and that's exactly what they do. And of course the industry has the capability to increase the production also short term, sometimes this on some non-used or not utilized capability there. But even when you have a factory running, you can have more shifts. You can even work during weekends.

This is an issue of cost and price and then you need of course to invest in your production capability and that's also what they do, especially when the air defence industry can have multi-year contracts. And we have seen several examples of Allies now signing multi-year contracts and then the industry have the demand signal they need to make the investments. So yes, we have a challenge. Yes, we have a problem. But problems are there to be solved and we are addressing that problem and we have strategies to solve it both in the short term and also longer term to as a mobilized defense industry.

And if there's anything NATO Allies, and our economies and our societies have proved over decades, is that we are dynamic, we are adaptable, we can change when needed. So if you just send a clear signal and also mobilize the financial resources, as we are doing with our pledge to invest more, then the industry have proven extremely capable of producing more. And let me also add, of course this is –the challenge of having enough ammunition is also a big challenge for Russia. So it just shows that this is a war of attrition, and the war to attrition becomes a battle of logistics and we focus on the logistical part of the defence capacity, defence industry capacity to ramp up production.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Belsat, here, second row.

Siarhei Pelesa, Belsat TV:
My name is Siarhei Pelesa, I'm from Belsat TV. Secretary General, most of the Belarusian nation does not support Russia's aggression against Ukraine, which is why Lukashenko's regime did not decide to openly participate in the aggression, but only supports it. What is NATO's position on this complicity of the Lukashenko regime, does NATO separate the political regime from Belarusian society?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
Yes, we are aware that Belarus is not a democracy. We are aware that the regime in Minsk does not represent the people of Belarus, because we have also seen how the elections were totally manipulated and the elections also were not respected. So we are aware that the people of Belarus have a very different opinion about the war than the regime.

And of course, their regime is complicit in Russia's illegal war. Because even though Belarus has not sent in their own troops, they have allowed President Putin and Russia to use Belarus as a platform to launch attacks against Ukraine. We can remember at the beginning of the war, the day the invasion started, actually many of the forces came in from the North, from Belarus, trying to take Kyiv and the territory in the North.

Belarusian territory continues to be used for air and missile attacks. And also the joint exercises: Of course, it is a challenge for the Ukrainians as the exercises between Belarussian and Russian forces. So the Belarusian regime should not be complicit, should not support Russia's illegal war efforts. This is a blatant violation of international law and something that also Belarus should, of course, condemn.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
[inaudible] just behind.

Alf Bjarne Johnsen, VG:
Thank you Oana. I understand that the support of fighter aircrafts to Ukraine is not the highest priority, but the discussion is ongoing: The Brits will start training pilots and there are countries that are not ruling it out. So Mr. Secretary General, will you speak in favor of it or will you warn against it?

And my second question is about the NATO websites that were taken down over the weekend. Has NATO been target of a cyberattack over the weekend? Can you give a status on that? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
As the cyberspace is contested in all times, and we face at NATO malicious cyber activities on a daily basis, and we are strengthening our cyber defences, so this is something we have responded to over many years, because we have seen more and more different types of cyberattacks, malicious cyber activities against our networks, and we have seen some attempted denial of service instances against a number of NATO websites since Sunday. Additional protective measures have been put in place, and the majority of NATO websites are functioning now as normal.
Some NATO websites are still experiencing availability issues, but our technical teams are now working to restore full access, then it is extremely important to understand the following: Our classified networks, the networks we use to communicate between NATO Missions and Operations and within the NATO Command structure were not affected and there is currently no evidence of impact on NATO Operations.
So one thing, [inaudible], public pages or sites where we actually share information with the world outside NATO, there have been attempts to have [inaudible] activities against those pages, but NATO's classified network has not been attacked.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Final question, Ansa.

Mattia Bagnoli, Ansa:
Okay, thank you for the floor. Mr. Secretary General, the words of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have caused an earthquake in Italy. He said he would not go to Zelenskyy if he were Prime Minister now because he attacked the independent Republics of the Donbass and that Biden should force him to a truce. In Italy, some commentators see these statements as pure Kremlin’s propaganda. And the problem is that Silvio Berlusconi is part of the governing coalition. So are you afraid that Italy could be or could be seen as the coalition’s soft underbelly? And are you satisfied with the military aid provided to Kyiv or could Rome do more?

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:
First of all, I met with the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni just after she took office some months ago and the message from her was very clear. I also met with the Foreign Minister, the Defence Minister: The Defence Minister of Italy will be here tomorrow. And the message from the Italian government is absolute support to Ukraine for the NATO efforts to provide support to Ukraine, so all NATO Allies including Italy, of course, agree and continue to provide support. Italy has provided a significant support.

We welcome of course more support from all Allies, including Italy. And I also welcome the fact that Italy and France are now working together to deliver the advanced air-defence system SAMP/T, which is an Italian-French joint effort. I am absolutely confident that Italy will remain a strong supporter of NATO's strong support to Ukraine, not least because Italy understands as all other Allies understand, that this is about our security.

It will be a tragedy for Ukrainians if President Putin wins but it will also be dangerous for us. It will make us more vulnerable because the message to him would then be that when he uses military force or violates the international law, he gets what he wants.

NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu:
Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference. We will see you tomorrow. Thank you.