Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the extraordinary virtual summit of NATO Heads of State and Government:
Allied leaders have just met to address the gravest threat to Euro-Atlantic security in decades. I invited NATO’s close partners Finland, Sweden and the European Union to our summit.
Because this crisis affects us all.
Russia has shattered peace in Europe.
The people of Ukraine are fighting for their freedom in the face of Russia’s unprovoked invasion.
We deplore the tragic loss of life, enormous human suffering and destruction.
Our thoughts are with those killed, injured, and displaced.
We call on Russia to stop this senseless war.
Immediately cease its assault.
Withdraw all its forces from Ukraine.
And turn back to the path of dialogue.
And turn away from aggression.
The Kremlin’s objectives are not limited to Ukraine.
Russia has demanded legally binding agreements to renounce further NATO enlargement.
And to remove troops and infrastructure from Allies that joined after 1997.
We are facing a new normal in European security.
Where Russia openly contests the European security order.
And uses force to pursue its objectives.
The world will hold Russia and Belarus accountable for their actions.
Russia as the aggressor.
Belarus as the enabler.
President Putin’s decision to pursue his aggression against Ukraine is a terrible strategic mistake.
For which Russia will pay a severe price for years to come.
NATO Allies and the European Union have already introduced significant sanctions.
And many of our partners around the globe have joined us.
We must stand ready to do more.
Even if it means we have to pay a price,
Because we are in this for the long haul.
At the same time, the Russian people must know:
that the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine will not make Russia more secure.
It will not make Russia more respected in the world.
It will not lead to a better future for your children.
In response to Russia’s massive military build-up over the past months,
we have already strengthened our deterrence and defence.
Yesterday, NATO Allies activated our defence plans.
And as a result, we are deploying elements of the NATO Response Force.
On land, at sea, and in the air.
To further strengthen our posture.
And to respond quickly to any contingency.
The United States, Canada and European Allies have deployed thousands of more troops to the eastern part of the Alliance.
We have over 100 jets at high alert operating in over 30 different locations.
And over 120 ships from the High North to the Mediterranean.
Including three strike carrier groups.
There must be no space for miscalculation or misunderstanding.
We will do what it takes to protect and defend every Ally.
And every inch of NATO territory.
Leaders today also made clear that we must continue our support to Ukraine.
The Kremlin is trying to make NATO and the EU provide less support to our partners.
So our collective answer must be more support.
To countries like Georgia, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
To help them succeed with their democratic reforms,
and pursue the path that they have freely choosen.
More than ever, this crisis demonstrates the importance of North America and Europe standing together in NATO.
There is no security in Europe without a strong transatlantic bond.
With that, I’m ready to take your questions.
NATO Spokesperson: Al Jazeera.
James Bays (Al Jazeera): How fearful are you about the possible fall of Kyiv? How long in your estimate, in your estimation, can the government of Ukraine last? And if we move to a resistance, insurgency type situation, what support can NATO then give?
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So what we see now is a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine from multiple directions, with air, sea and land capabilities. And this is actually in line with what our intelligence services predicted over a long period of time because we saw the build-up around Ukraine with air, sea and land forces.
We see, of course, that they’re moving towards Kyiv. We also see the rhetoric, the messages, which is strongly indicating that the aim is to change government, to change and remove the democratically elected government in Kyiv. We are in close contact with the government of Ukraine.
We are of course monitoring the situation very closely.
It is still a fluid situation. What we have seen is that the Ukrainian forces are fighting bravely and are actually able to inflict damage on the invading Russian forces.
But again, it is a very fluid and an evolving situation. NATO Allies expressed at the Summit today that they provide support to Ukraine. They are ready to continue to provide support to Ukraine. Military support, financial support, humanitarian support. And then, I think we will have to judge how things evolve. But the message from NATO Leaders, and also from Finland, Sweden, the EU, is that we are there to support Ukraine. We have supported Ukraine for many years and we continue to provide support.
NATO Spokesperson: We go to the National News Agency of Ukraine.
Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine): Secretary General, in the current situation, which we observe now in Ukraine, does NATO preserve its desire to assist Ukraine with defensive equipment? In particular, can we expect that NATO will provide Ukraine with so badly needed anti-aircraft equipment? Thank you so much.
NATO Secretary General: So NATO Allies continue to provide support to Ukraine. And it was actually at the meeting today, at the NATO Summit with EU and Finland and Sweden, Allies announced and also informed all the Allies about the type of weapons, the type of support. And some of that also includes air defence systems. So NATO Allies have and continue to provide support militarily, but also different types of equipment to Ukraine.
Then, we all realize that, of course, in this very evolving and difficult situation, it’s hard to predict what will be the… what are the possibilities in the future. But Allies are providing support and are very committed to continue to provide support.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll go to NBC, just behind the cameras.
Josh Lederman (NBC): Thank you Mr. Secretary General, there’s concern that NATO could get pulled into this conflict if Russia were to shut down electricity or other services in Ukraine that could spill over into Poland or Romania. Can you say explicitly whether a Russian cyber attack of that nature would trigger an Article 5 collective defence?
NATO Secretary General: So we are sending a very clear message to Russia that we provide support to our partner, Ukraine. Allies provide many different types of support. NATO helps Ukraine also with their cyber defences.
But then, for NATO Allies, we provide the absolute security guarantees under the Washington Treaty Article 5. An attack on one will be regarded as an attack on all. And we are clear on this distinction because it is important to make sure that we don’t have an even bigger crisis in Europe where Russia challenge, or is threatening, or attacking any NATO allied country. And that’s reason why we so clearly send the message that we are there to protect all Allies and every inch of NATO territory.
When it comes to cyber attacks and the risk for incidents and accidents, for instance, in the Black Sea, we are pursuing mechanisms of de-confliction to prevent that from happening.
We have, NATO Allies, especially the United States have done that, for instance, in Syria over a long period of time.
And we, of course, are very focused. I spoke with SACEUR, the NATO Supreme Commander on that issue recently. And he is very focused on the need to de-conflict to make sure that we don’t have incidents or accidents that can spiral and get out of control and create a very dangerous situation.
On cyber, well we have stated that cyber attacks can trigger Article 5. But we have never gone into the position where we give a potential adversary the privilege of defining exactly when we trigger Article 5.
We are focused on strengthening our cyber defences. We are very much aware of that that’s a risk. And therefore, we are stepping up. Both the protection of our cyber networks but also providing support to Ukraine. And we are very focused on the need for de-confliction.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll go to NPR/Deutsche Welle
Teri Schultz (NPR/Deutsche Welle):Thank you. I want to know more about the deployment of the NRF forces, please. How many will be sent? Where? From where? How long will it take to get there, thinking about military mobility, as always. And also what has changed in your calculation about the threat to NATO territory that has led Allies to make the decision to deploy this for the first time in history, for the purposes of collective defence? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: Well, what has changed over the last days is of course that there is a full-fledged invasion of a partner, country that borders several NATO allied countries.
And this is the most serious security crisis we have faced in Europe for decades. And therefore, we have the high readiness force, we have the NATO Response Force. And that’s the reason why we are deploying it to, again, prevent any miscalculation and a misunderstanding that we are not ready to protect and defend all Allies.
And of course, this is something all Allies have agreed to do. 30 Allies agreed. But of course, especially those in the eastern part of the Alliance, are extremely concerned. They are close to this, the fighting in Ukraine. And they also border Russia. And they have seen not only the military build-up and the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also seen the very threatening rhetoric. Because this goes far beyond Ukraine. This is about how Russia is actually challenging, contesting core values for security, and demanding that NATO should withdraw all forces and infrastructure from almost half of our members.
And they have stated that if you don’t do that, if we don’t meet their demands, there will be, what they call, military-technical consequences. So we have to take this seriously. And that’s exactly why we are now deploying the NATO Response Force, for the first time in an collective defence context.
And we speak about thousands of troops. We speak about air and maritime capabilities. They are only actually part of the standing naval groups. We have many planes operating in the eastern part of the Alliance. And then, several Allies have partly already assigned troops and forces to the NATO Response Force.
We have the lead elements which are led by France. We have the United States which has assigned thousands of troops to the NATO Response Force. And these will be deployed to different places in eastern part of the Alliance.
[Follow-up question inaudible]
NATO Secretary General: Well, they are, partly, they are coming from the United States, but these are also very much European troops.
For instance, the lead element, the VJTF – the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, is now led by France, there is a strong German component there and other Allies also part of that.
NATO Spokesperson: Associated Press.
Lorne Cook (Associated Press): Just to follow up on that, Secretary General. The VJTF can only go to one place and you have eight Allies that are extremely nervous. I mean, where might you send it? Have you identified a particular weakness on that eastern flank? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: Well, I think we have to understand that we have many elements, components, of the NATO Response Force. We have increased the readiness of the NATO Response Force. And then, I don’t speak only about that lead element, or the VJTF – the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, but we speak about more elements than just that one.
Second, we have Allies, the United States, but also United Kingdom and other Allies that have increased readiness or forces that are assigned to NATO and the NATO Response Force.
So of course these are additional forces that we can deploy as part of the broader deployment of the NATO Response Force. I’m not saying that we are deploying the whole force. The size of the NATO Response Force has been tripled since 2014, to roughly 40,000 troops.
I’m not saying we’re deploying the whole thing. I’m saying that we are deploying elements, elements of the lead…, the VJTF, and elements of the rest of the NATO Response Force.
And then, it is for SACEUR to make final decisions exactly where the different elements are deployed. But we activated the defence plans yesterday. And now the elements of this force will be deployed, or is being deployed.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay. We’ll go to TV2. Lady in white, over there.
Elin Sørsdahl (TV2 Norway): Thanks. I’ll just follow up on AP and what Teri from NPR said, how quick can these troops and this force be deployed?
NATO Secretary General: Well, some of these forces are already operating, because we have sea and air forces, which are also already part of the NATO maritime forces operating from the Barents Sea down to the Mediterranean. Some are air forces, the air component of the NATO Response Force. And then some of the land forces are… also can move within a few days. Because they’re part of either the lead element, which has already high readiness, or the other elements that has been put on high readiness. So we speak about days and some are already operating, because we have increased our presence already.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll try to take a couple of questions online. We’ll go first to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Thomas Gutschker.
Thomas Gutschker (FAZ): Thanks a lot. Good afternoon. Secretary General, in the statement that has just been released, it is said that Russia’s actions are a flagrant rejection of the principles enshrined in the NATO-Russia Founding Act. And then, it continues it is Russia that has walked away from its commitments under the Act. Does that mean that NATO now considers the NATO-Russia Founding Act as obsolete? Or do NATO member states still, are they still bound, do they still feel bound by this document? Thanks a lot.
NATO Secretary General: NATO leaders decided today a statement where it clearly states the fact that Russia has walked away. The NATO-Russia Founding Act is based on some core principles enshrined in the Founding Act. And that is the respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries, including, of course, Ukraine. And this has been violated not once, but twice. And actually it has been constantly violated since 2014, with the illegal annexation of Crimea, and the continued presence of Russian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in Donbass. And this is further violated with the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine that we have seen over the last couple of days.
So what we have, what we see is that Russia shows no respect for the NATO-Russia Founding Act. And, of course, if you have a Founding Act between two partners, NATO and Russia, and one part doesn’t respect that agreement, the agreement doesn’t work. It doesn’t function. It doesn’t help us to improve our relationship with Russia. Because even if the Founding Act has good provisions and good intentions, if these intentions and the provisions under the Founding Act is not respected, it doesn’t work. So that’s the reality. The NATO-Russia Founding Act doesn’t work, because one side, Russia, has violated over many years. But now we see an extremely blatant and flagrant violation of the Founding Act with the invasion of Ukraine.
NATO Spokesperson: We’ll take the next question online also from Greg Palkot from FOX.
Greg Palkot (FOX News): Thank you, Oana. Thank you, Mr Secretary General. Two quick questions. One about war. One about peace. Do you agree with some reports of intelligence officials, that Kyiv could fall within the next say, day or two? And despite the bravery of the fighting that you have cited among Ukrainian soldiers, do you see a defeat inevitable if war goes on? And the quick question about peace, there is discussion, President Zelenskyy offering to discuss with Russia an approach to peace that might include neutrality for Ukraine. Would you agree to something like that? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: So first, on the situation on the ground, it is a full invasion of Ukraine. They are moving towards Kyiv. And the stated goal is to change the government of Ukraine. It is a very unpredictable situation. Therefore, I will not speculate, but I will pay my respect to the Ukrainian armed forces, which are really proving their bravery and their courage by fighting and standing up against the much larger invading Russian force. On potential talks between the government of Ukraine, President Zelenskyy and Russia, my main message is that this is for President Zelenskyy and the government of Ukraine to decide. What we need to see now is that Russia stop the attack against Ukraine. That they withdraw their forces and cease all the attacks on Ukraine. That’s the easiest, the fastest, and the best way to peace. So if they want peace, then, it is just stop to attack Ukraine. And, therefore, we call on Russia to do exactly that.
NATO Spokesperson: Okay we’ll go to NTV.
Gul Sonomut (NTV): Secretary General two short questions. First, you are a statistician and so far with regard the risk, you have already evaluate the risk and the threat against NATO coming from Russia. Particularly you foresee the playbook of Russia. And so, my first question is, what is the risk that this conflict spread? Where and what might be the end goal of Russia?
And my second question is, you have at the top of your… the tip of your fingers, the security of one billion citizen in the transatlantic area. So you met with, on VTC with all the leaders, can you reassure the public opinion that if there is a genuine threat coming from… because the rhetoric… the aggressive rhetoric of Russia, its behaviour isn’t acceptable that all member states are committed to defend and protect every single centimetre of NATO. Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: In the meeting today with NATO leaders, it was a very strong message of unity. A very strong message of resolve, that we need to stand together not only in words, but also in deeds. So we agreed a strong statement, calling on Russia to stop the attacks on Ukraine, to withdraw its forces. But, also, we agreed to continue to provide support to Ukraine, and also continue to strengthen our presence in eastern part Alliance, to prevent any attack on any NATO allied country. We have a defensive presence in the East. We are increasing our presence. Not to provoke a conflict, but to prevent a conflict. And as long as there is no doubt about NATO’s readiness to protect and defend all Allies. And our commitment to the core message, the core task of NATO, one for all, all for one. An attack on one Ally will be regarded as an attack on all, then no Ally will be attacked. And that will prevent a conflict, and that will preserve peace for NATO Allies, and for one billion people.
And that’s the reason why we communicate so clearly. And that’s reason why we are deploying more troops in the eastern part Alliance, to make sure that there is no possibility to misunderstand our readiness to protect and defend all Allies. And, again, this is to preserve peace, to prevent an attack. And to prevent that the war which is going on in Ukraine spill over to any NATO allied country. And that was the message from NATO leaders today. And that was also the message when I met with many of them in the G7 yesterday. And that is also of course the message when we speak to close partners, Finland, Sweden, and the European Union. Because we all are concerned and Russia’s attack on Ukraine is more than an attack on Ukraine. It’s a devastating horrendous attack on innocent people in Ukraine. But it’s also an attack on the whole European security order. And that’s the reason why we take it so extremely seriously.
NATO Spokesperson: Deutsche Welle.
Alexandra von Nahmen (Deutsche Welle): Thank you. Secretary General, one question on Ukraine’s request for Turkey to close the Bosphorus for Russian warships. Is that… was that discussed today? And one follow-up on the question just asked, we heard today from the Lithuanian Foreign Minister saying that when we lose Ukraine today we will be fighting for NATO later. Would you say that statement is exaggerated? Thank you.
NATO Secretary General: On the Bosphorus, that was not an issue. On the potential attack, or any potential attack on a NATO allied country, well that has been my message throughout the whole day. That was the message from the NATO leaders in the Summit today, is that we are there to protect and defend all Allies. NATO is the strongest military Alliance in the world. And make no mistake, we are there to protect and defend all Allies, and every inch of NATO territory. And we convey that message again and again. Both in words, but also in deeds. And that’s the way to prevent war. That’s the way to prevent an attack, to preserve peace. And we have done so for more than 70 years. And we will continue to do it also in the light of the attack on Ukraine.
NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.
NATO Secretary General: Thank you so much.
NATO leaders meeting virtually called on Russia “to stop this senseless war, immediately cease its assault, withdraw all its forces from Ukraine, and turn back to the path of dialogue and turn away from aggression,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.