Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the Prime Minister of Slovakia, Robert Fico

  • 14 Dec. 2023 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 14 Dec. 2023 12:10

(As delivered)

Prime Minister Fico,
Dear Robert,
Welcome to NATO Headquarters. It’s great to see you again. And congratulations on your appointment as Prime Minister. It's great to work together with you again. We actually met for the first time when you and I were both Prime Ministers in our two countries back in 2006. And since then, we have worked together in different capacities, and it's great to then be able to work together with you again.

Slovakia is a strong Ally. You host one of our multinational NATO battlegroups. You have deployed forces to Latvia. And you will invest 2% of GDP in defence this year. This shows Slovakia’s clear commitment to NATO. And NATO is deeply committed to Slovakia’s security.

Today, in our meeting, we discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and the situation on the battlefield. There are no signs that Putin is preparing for peace. Instead, the Kremlin is preparing for a long and grinding war. Putin has put the Russian economy on a war footing. He is ramping up weapons production. And he is becoming more reliant on China, Iran and North Korea for weapons.

NATO is not party to the conflict. But we are supporting Ukraine’s right to self-defence. Enshrined in the UN Charter. I welcome Slovakia’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Prime Minister, I am pleased that you have confirmed that your important humanitarian aid will continue. And that you will keep contributing to NATO’s comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine.
I also welcome that defence industry cooperation on a commercial basis between Slovakia and Ukraine will continue. And that the crucial repair hub in Slovakia will remain operational. Stopping military assistance to Kyiv would prolong the war, not end it.

I welcome President Biden’s clear commitment to Ukraine and his administration’s urgent effort to provide Ukraine with much needed aid. European Union leaders will today also discuss launching membership negotiations with Kyiv and additional economic support for Ukraine. If Putin wins in Ukraine, there is a real risk that his aggression will not end there. Our support is not charity. It is an investment in our security.

In our meeting today, we also discussed further bolstering our own deterrence and defence. Tomorrow, a long-planned US missile defence base in Poland will become operational. It will boost Allies’ ability to defend against the threats of ballistic missiles, particularly from the Middle East. We look forward to integrating the facility into NATO’s ballistic missile defence shield in the near future. This is an important step for transatlantic security.

So once again, Prime Minister, welcome. Dear Robert, it’s great to have you here at NATO Headquarters.

Please, you have the floor.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
Thank you. We have time for just a couple of questions. We'll start with Pravda in the second row here please.

Andrej Matisak (Pravda)
Thank you very much. Andrej Matisak, Pravda. Mr. Secretary General, it was said and Mr. Prime Minister said that Slovakia stopped the state military aid for Ukraine. You said that stopping military aid means that the war will be prolonged. So of course every country definitely like Slovakia has a right for a sovereign decision. But from your perspective, if every member state of NATO would stop sending state military aid to Ukraine, would it mean that you kind of –would lose and Russia would win? And the question is for Mr. Prime Minister, you said that you are going to meet Prime Minister Shmyhal in January, as I'm correct. So are you going to visit Ukraine or Mr. Shmyhal will visit Slovakia? Thank you.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
So NATO Allies are providing an unprecedented level of military support to Ukraine and I'm confident that that will continue. I'm also confident that the United States will reach a conclusion, the process, the discussions which are going on in the Congress that they will end with a conclusion where the United States continues to provide military support to Ukraine, as also European Allies are doing in different ways bilaterally. And so through the European Union, then of course, different Allies provide different types of support, and I welcome that the Prime Minister has stated that humanitarian aid will continue, the support for NATO's comprehensive assistance package will continue. And also, that of course, the Slovak defence industry is important in providing on commercial basis supplies to Ukraine, which is vital for Ukraine, and then also Slovakia plays a key role in hosting a hub for maintenance of equipment, which is used by the Ukrainian forces to fight against the invading Russian Army. So the most important issue is that NATO Allies will continue to provide support and Allies provide different types of support and Slovakia will do their part in supporting the comprehensive assistance package and through cooperation between the defence industries.

Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico
Thank you for your question. First of all, I like to add something that I informed the Secretary General that we urgently need in Slovakia. A new anti-missile system after S-300 was sent to Ukraine. At this moment, we have on the territory of Slovakia only two systems, one from Italy and one from Germany. But those systems are not enough effective to protect what we need to protect. I understand that the answer of Secretary General that this is issue that is very urgent not only for Slovakia but for whole NATO for all member states of NATO anyway. I need to point out this once again we need cooperation in this field. Otherwise, we cannot guarantee what we should guarantee on the territory of Slovakia. As far as the meeting with the Prime Minister Shmyhal is concerned. There is the agreement that there will be the session of the government in the eastern part of Slovakia. It will be the last week in January and we will meet with the Prime Minister on the borders, directly on the borders between Slovakia and Ukraine. I think that there are topics that are relevant to the place we are going to meet because there is plan to open, I mean new possibilities to cross borders between Ukraine and Slovakia. There are some plans how to cooperate in an energetic system. So I think this is the best place to meet directly on borders.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
Thank you, last question to TA 3 – I'm sorry.

Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico
[inaudible] Ukraine inside because this is our proposal, but as I understand from the content of the discussion with the Prime Minister Shmyhal he is ready to meet me in January. So we are proposing the end of January.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
Thank you. Last question for TA3 in the second row as well, please, coming to the other side.

Tomas Vernicek (TA3)
Sorry. Good morning, Secretary General, Prime Minister, thank you very much for your remarks. I have a follow up question to Secretary General. Basically, what do you expect to happen in Ukraine in next year? You have mentioned President Joe Biden, we know that financial and military aid in American Congress is kind of stuck right now. So it's kind of stressful to Ukrainian people. And also, I know that you have conducted a trip to Saudi Arabia. So was that also a part of solution or something that could help Ukraine or if you could just elaborate, what was that trip about? Thank you very much.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
I can start by saying a few words about my visit to Saudi Arabia. And then I will say some words about Ukraine. So first, I just returned from a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That's the first visit ever of a NATO Secretary General to the kingdom and it was an important visit because Saudi Arabia is a leading nation in the Arabic world, in the Muslim world. And there is a potential, a great, a huge potential for increased cooperation between NATO and Saudi Arabia on issues like maritime security, freedom of navigation. We have seen the attacks on commercial vessels of last days and weeks outside the coast of Yemen, then I believe we can work more together in fighting terrorism and also on other issues, like for instance, protecting critical undersea infrastructure. So there are different areas where we should explore and look into how Saudi Arabia and NATO can work more closely together to address common challenges and threats. So therefore, I'm also pleased that His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman, the defence minister, accepted my invitation to come to NATO early next year, we will sit down and talk more in detail about how we can further strengthen the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and NATO. In addition to my talks with the defence minister, I also had useful meetings in the Foreign Ministry with the Chief of Defence, with the Saudi Arabian military industries and the National Defence University. I also had a good discussion with the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation [Council]. So this was a productive and useful meeting and shows that for NATO it's important to address a wide range of challenges and work with partners and friends in different parts of the world.

Then on Ukraine, I think we have to just accept that wars are by nature, unpredictable. So no one can tell exactly where we are in the year from now. But what we can say is that the only way to reach a just and lasting solution is to convince President Putin that he will not win on the battlefield. And the only way to ensure that President Putin realizes that he is not winning on the battlefield is to continue to support Ukraine. Because you have to remember what he says, this is a war of aggression. One Nation Russia invades another nation in blatant violation of international law, but also in blatant violation of an agreement that Russia signed in 1994 when Ukraine accepted to give up all its nuclear weapons, Ukraine was a big nuclear power, and they accepted to give up all those weapons. But as part of that agreement, Russia and other countries signed that they were guaranteeing Ukraine's international recognised borders, these borders are now violated, NATO is not party to the conflict, but we help Ukraine to uphold the right to self defence, right which is enshrined in the UN Charter. I think also we need to realise that yes, we all wanted more progress. We hoped for more territorial gains by the Ukrainians through the summer and through the offensive they launched early in the summer. But at the same time, we need to remember where we started, when this war started in February last year. Most experts believed that Kyiv would be under Russian control within days, and the Russian actually landed special forces on the airport just outside Kyiv with the aim of taking Kyiv. They also believe that Ukraine would collapse within weeks. That didn't happen. First, Ukrainians were able to push back and defend and they liberated the north, around Kyiv, the East, in Kharkiv, and then the south around Kherson. So Ukraine has already liberated 50% of the territory that Russia controlled in the beginning of the war. That's a huge achievement. Ukraine has prevailed as a sovereign independent nation in Europe, and they have inflicted heavy losses on Russia. More than 300,000 casualties, thousands of armoured vehicles and hundreds of planes and Ukrainians have been able to push the Ukrainian Navy [Russian] away from the eastern part of –the western part of the Black Sea. So they’re now able to export grain throughout the Black Sea. These are big and important achievements and they are actually imposing heavy costs on Russia, which I continue to believe is the only way to create the conditions for a lasting negotiated solution. I would like to have a lasting just negotiated solution. But the only way to get there is to strengthen the Ukrainians on the battlefield, the stronger the position of Ukrainians is on the battlefield, the stronger negotiating hand will be at the negotiating table.

NATO Acting Spokesperson Dylan White
That's all we have time for. Thank you very much.