NATO Press Briefing on De-escalation Proposals for Russian Aggression Against Ukraine
delivered 26 January 2022, Brussels, Belgium
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
We face a critical moment for Euro-Atlantic security.
Russia’s military build-up in and around Ukraine continues, with more than 100,000 troops in position, and more on the way, including significant deployments in Belarus.
We call on Russia once again to immediately de-escalate the situation.
NATO firmly believes that tensions and disagreements must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not through force or the threat of force.
So today, NATO has conveyed our written proposals to Russia. We have done so...in parallel with the United States. And let me outline the three main areas where we see room for progress.
First, NATO-Russia relations.
Russia has cut diplomatic ties with NATO, which makes our dialogue more difficult. So we should re-establish our respective offices in Moscow and in Brussels. We should also make full use of our existing military-to-military channels of communications, to promote transparency and reduce risks, and look also into setting up a civilian hotline for emergency use.
Second, European security, including the situation in and around Ukraine.
We are prepared to listen to Russia’s concerns, and engage in a real conversation on how to uphold and strengthen the fundamental principles of European security that we have all signed up to, starting with the Helsinki Final Act. This includes the right of each nation to choose its own security arrangements.
Russia should refrain from coercive force posturing, aggressive rhetoric, and malign activities directed against Allies and other nations.
Russia should also withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, where they are deployed without these countries’ consent; and all parties should engage constructively in efforts to settle conflicts, including in the Normandy format.
Third, risk reduction, transparency, and arms control.
History has shown that engagement on these issues can provide real security for everyone. So we need practical measures that will make a real difference.
As a first step, we are proposing mutual briefings on exercises and nuclear policies in the NATO-Russia Council.
We should also modernize the Vienna Document on military transparency, and work to reduce space and cyber threats.
We should consult on ways to prevent incidents in the air and at sea, and recommit to full compliance with international commitments on chemical and biological weapons.
Finally, we need to have a serious conversation on arms control, including nuclear weapons and ground-based intermediate and shorter range missiles.
These areas represent an agenda for meaningful dialogue, and I have invited Allies and Russia to a series of meetings to address all of these issues in greater detail in the NATO-Russia Council.
Allies are ready to meet as soon as possible. In all our efforts, we will continue to coordinate closely with Ukraine, as well as with other NATO partners, including Finland, Sweden, Georgia, and of course, the European Union.
NATO is a defensive Alliance, and we do not seek confrontation. But we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which the security of our Alliance and security in Europe and North America rest. We remain fully committed to our founding treaty, and our collective defense pledge enshrined in Article 5. We will take all necessary measures to defend and protect all Allies.
And with that I am ready to take your questions.
NATO Spokesperson Oana Lungescu: And we'll start with POLITICO, David Herszenhorn.
David Herszenhorn: Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary General. I wonder if you tell us if there are any plans for renewed talks, for further diplomatic talks [inaudible] in written responses. Do you think will provide basis for more conversation, the kind of conversation described going forward?
NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg: We have invited, I have, as Chairman of the NATO-Russia Council, invited all 30 Allies and Russia to a series of meetings where we are ready to sit down and to have substantive discussions on a wide range of issues.
I mentioned main issues in the NATO written proposals we have sent to Russia today. We also had to sit down and listen to the Russian concerns.
And we also strongly believe that these issues represent topics where we both can benefit: arms control, reducing the threats from nuclear weapons, from short range and medium range missiles, addressing the threats and reducing the threat from cyber space, but also from space based weapons systems, more transparency on military activities. All of these issues represented, in different ways, areas where actually we can improve the security, both for NATO Allies and for Russia.
So at the end of the day, this is about whether it's a will to engage in good faith and to try to sit down and find common ground.
NATO Spokesperson: Will now go to Natalia Drozdiak from Bloomberg.
Natalia Drozdiak: Thank you so much for my question. I just [inaudible]… that NATO wants to keep an open door policy with Ukraine, but could it not in either of these responses or in responses going forward to Russia, would NATO consider, in writing, saying that you Ukraine is not on track for membership anytime soon? Depending on the wording, this wouldn't necessarily close the door to membership, but it would simply state the reality of the situation.
SecGen Stoltenberg: What we have made clear is that we will not compromise on some core principles. And one of them is, of course, that every nation has the right to choose its own path. So NATO respects a country or a nation when they decide to apply for NATO membership, as for instance, Ukraine, or when they decide to not apply for a NATO membership as Finland and Sweden have done.
So, this is about respecting the right for self-determination. And then, at the end of the day, decisions on membership will have to be made by consensus among the 30 Allies and, of course, the country that applies for a membership. And that is, fundamental principles and that is also, of course, reflected in the NATO positions.
NATO Spokesperson: Next question, we'll go to Courtney Kube from NBC.
Courtney Kube: Thank you. I want to ask you about the NATO Response Force. Mr. Secretary General, can you give us your assessment over whether you think that is going to actually be activated and when? There's a lot of talk here in the US that it could be activated in advance of some sort of movement by Russia as more of a deterrent? And then, can you give us a sense of what you think the ultimate size could grow to, the number of troops and any special capabilities, any kind of insight into that?
SecGen Stoltenberg: We are now reaching out to Russia once again to try to pursue a path of dialogue and to find a political solution. That's the reason why we sent them this evening the written proposals from 30 NATO Allies covering a wide range of different issues.
But of course while we are hoping for, and working for, a good solution, de-escalation, we are also prepared for the worst. And therefore, in parallel with our efforts on the dialogue track, we are also increasing the readiness of our forces. And NATO Allies have also increased the presence including in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea region, with more ships and more planes, partly to conduct surveillance, to monitor, to have the best possible picture of the developments in and around Ukraine, but also to provide reassurance to Allies.
And then, part of that is that we actually some weeks ago increased the readiness of the NATO Response Force. This response force it's composed of different elements and the lead element of the NATO Response Force consists of around 5000 troops. It's currently led by France. But also other Allies contribute troops to this lead element, and it can be deployed within days.
And then, we have additional follow-on troops that can also be deployed on short notice. And to deploy the NATO Response Force, or any element of the NATO Response Force, we need the decision by the North Atlantic Council, by NATO. And that decision will be made, if necessary, and we will deploy, if necessary. We have plans in place that we can activate, execute on very short notice. So what we have done over the last two weeks is to increase readiness.
And then, what we've done over the last years, since Russia used force against Ukraine the last time, we have increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, with battlegroups in the Baltic countries and Poland, and also more air policing and naval presence.
I welcome the US decision to assign  troops on high readiness to the NATO Response Force, just demonstrating the very strong commitment from the United States to European security and demonstrating the strength of NATO, bringing NATO Allies together and having a multinational force like the NATO Response Force.
NATO Spokesperson: We’ll take the next question from Denis Dubrovin from TASS.
Denis Dubrovin: Thank you very much, good evening. My question is about the possibility for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. As NATO has said that there will be no compromise on this. Should we understand that the decision of Bucharest Summit will not be dismissed? As of now, many politicians in Ukraine and Georgia are using this statement to show to its people that their countries will become members of NATO and the European Union very soon. It was the case, for example, in Maidan in 2014. Don't you feel that you are lying or gets the wrong signal to those countries? Thank you very much.
SecGen Stoltenberg: We are standing by the core principles on which European security has been based for many years, for decades. And that is that we respect the sovereign right of every nation to choose what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of, or [doesn’t] want to be a part of. And that's the reason why we, of course, respect decisions by Georgia and Ukraine to apply for membership and also, the reason why we have engaged in a very strong and close partnership with both these countries.
Our focus now is on the reforms, is to help to modernize and strengthen the defense and security institutions, and to meet NATO standards. But also while we respect decisions of countries not to apply for membership, for instance, as Finland and Sweden, but also with them, we have very close partnership, politically strong and close consultations, and also our forces exercise together, train together, and we have achieved very high degree of interoperability.
So this is about respecting nations and their right to choose their own path. And that has not changed. And that is actually a principle that also Russia has subscribed to many times, starting with the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, but also the Paris Accord in 1990, and many other documents where this principle has been clearly stated.
NATO Spokesperson: We'll now go to Thomas Gutschker from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Thomas Gutschker: Thanks a lot. Secretary General, my first question is: is there anything new in your, in the answer that has been transmitted to Russia that did not come up when Russian officials were at NATO for the last NATO-Russia Council? And the second question: there clearly is risk that Russia takes this written response as a pretext to attack Ukraine because its requests have not been fulfilled, obviously. So why did you still decide to reply in written form? Thanks.
SecGen Stoltenberg: We decided to reply in written form because we take it very seriously, the efforts to try to make progress in our political dialogue with Russia. And we have listened to Russian concerns, we have listened also to the Russian call for a written response.
And I also think it's helpful not only to meet in the NATO-Russia Council, as we did a couple of weeks ago, having an oral, and open, and frank discussion on many of these issues, but also actually to go one step further, and to write down and agree, among 30 Allies, proposals, ideas, topics, where we believe it is possible to make progress, to find a way forward and to find areas where we can actually agree.
And that's a reason why we have put all this into a written document. We, of course, many of these positions and views were also reflected in the discussion we had in the NATO-Russia Council. But the fact that we now are submitting a written document provides us with the opportunity to be more specific, to go more into the detail, and to be more concrete on everything from how to reduce the risks from missiles, short range, medium range missiles, reduce the risk of nuclear weapons, arms control, to transparency on military activities, or cyber threats, and how to reduce threats from, for instance, space based weapons.
We strongly believe that within these areas there is actually plenty of room also for Russia, to see benefits and something that can be mutually reinforcing the security both for Russia and for NATO Allies. And that's the reason we have conveyed the proposals and that's the reason why we really hope that Russia will read through them, the proposals and the documents from NATO and from the United States, and then be ready to continue in further dialogue.
Let me also add that there's no secret that we are far apart, and that there are some serious differences between NATO and Russia. But at the same time, that makes it just even more important that we look into the proposals, listen in reciprocal way to our concerns, and try to identify political solutions where we can agree to prevent new armed conflict in Europe which will, of course, be extremely serious, and something we all have to try to prevent.
NATO Spokesperson: The next question, we'll go to Greg Palkot from FOX News.
Greg Palkot: Thank you, Oana and good evening Secretary General. Thank you for allowing us to ask these questions. I've got to ask the question that I asked you two weeks ago, frankly. Are we closer to war with Russia now than we were two weeks ago, considering the developments of recent days?
SecGen Stoltenberg: Tensions are increasing. Russia continues its military build-up. And we see also more troops not only in and around Ukraine, but also now in Belarus, where Russia is in the process of deploying thousands of combat troops, [dozens] of aircraft, S-400 air defence systems and a lot of other very advanced capabilities. And this takes place under the disguise of an exercise, but it integrates very much the Russian forces and the Belarusian forces. And these are highly capable, combat ready troops, and that there is no transparency on these deployments. So of course, this adds to our concerns. It adds to the tensions and it shows that there is no de-escalation. On the contrary, it's actually more troops, more capabilities in more countries. But at the same time, that makes it just even more important to engage in political effort to find a political solution.
NATO Spokesperson: Will now go to Beata Plomecka from Polish Radio.
Beata Plomecka: Hello, Secretary General. Beata Plomecka, Polish Radio. On the more transparency on the military exercises. What do you mean by this? Do you envisage the reduction of military exercises? Because if you reduce exercises, then what do you need the forces, for example? And the second thing is, do you have all Allies on board? Because in recent days we had some doubts about, for example, the German solidarity. Thank you.
SecGen Stoltenberg: All Allies are on board. All Allies have agreed. This is a document that all Allies have negotiated and agreed, and that I have now on behalf of 30 Allies sent to Russia. So all Allies are behind these positions, these proposals. And all Allies also support what I would call the dual-track approach, deterrence and defence combined with dialogue.
It's not possible for me to go into the specifics of each and every proposal, but what I can say is that we have actually proved before that transparency on exercises can be very helpful.
We have something called the Vienna document, which is agreed in the OSCE framework. And we strongly believe that we should re-invigorate that dialogue, that process, and to try to modernize the document to allow, for instance, observation, inspection of military exercises, and also to address a loophole in the existing agreements where snap exercises had not allowed for any kind of inspection. So this is partly about adhering to existing agreements and partly modernizing developing and strengthening the agreements on how to provide transparency on military activities, including exercises.
And I think the importance of this is demonstrated, illustrated as we speak. Because with the significantly increased Russian deployment of combat ready troops in Belarus, and aircraft and advanced systems like S-400, and fighter aircraft that is taking place now as an exercise.
And of course, that is exactly why we need inspection and transparency on exercises. Because we have seen before, we saw that in Crimea in 2014, we've seen it many times before, that exercises, high readiness of forces as part of an exercise, is used as a disguise to launch an attack.
So anything that can improve predictability, transparency on exercises will also help to reduce tensions and prevent exercises being used as a pretext, as a disguise for aggressive military reactions.
NATO Spokesperson: We have time for two last questions and we'll go to Ketevan Kardava from TV Imedi, Georgia.
Ketevan Kardava: Good evening to everybody. Mr. Secretary General, Blinken says that US offers path forward in response to Russian demands. Do you really believe that it is possible when talking about Russia? And second question does the written reply sent to Russia includes the position of NATO on Georgia's future membership? And the final point, do things that so far empty dialogue, give aggressor the chance to occupy and annex the neighbors? Thank you so much.
SecGen Stoltenberg: A political solution is still possible. But then of course, Russia has to engage in good faith, to de-escalate and to sit down and really make a real effort to find a way forward, where we can find a political solution. We have made our proposals. We are listening, we are ready to listen to Russian concerns and engage in reciprocal efforts to find our way forward.
On a membership, well, we have stated clearly, that we of course, respect and not compromise on the right of any nation to apply for membership. That's a core principle for European security.
Then, I think it is important to also understand that we have proven before that it is possible to make agreements with Russia that is of mutual benefit both for Russia and NATO Allies. We have decades of arms control, which has actually reduced the number of nuclear weapons in Europe by, on the NATO side with roughly 90%, and banned different types of nuclear weapons, and also limited the number of strategic warheads in Russia and in the United States. So arms control has proven effective before. And that's one of the reasons why we think is important to re-engage once again in real efforts to strengthen and agree on arms control.
But we are not naïve. And we need to make sure that whatever we agree in different formats, this can be bilateral agreements Russia - the United States, it can be agreements in the OSCE, can be also things we agree in different formats, it has to be balanced, it has to be reciprocal, and it has to be of course, verifiable.
And therefore, at the same time as we are engaging in a serious effort to engage with Russia in a political effort, political dialogue, we are also stepping up when it comes to readiness of forces, sending a clear message to Russia that if they use force against Ukraine or another country, once again, it will have serious consequences.
And, of course, there's absolutely security guarantees for all NATO Allies. And that's also a reason why we have increased the readiness of the NATO Response Force.
NATO Spokesperson: And for the final question, we'll go to Eirini Zarkadoula from ERT/ ANA.
Eirini Zarkadoula: Thank you Oana for the floor. Mr. Secretary General, a while ago, Secretary Blinken told that whether Russia choose the path of diplomacy, whether they are they choose the path of aggression, we are prepared. Do you feel that we can still choose the path of diplomacy? Or are you scared that we are moving towards the path of further escalation with regarding the fact that the United States have mentioned that clearly our favour of open door policy that NATO, of course, is in favour of as well. Thank you.
SecGen Stoltenberg: So NATO decides on NATO's open door policy and all NATO Allies, including United States, they stand by NATO's open door policy. But also of course, we stand by the core principle, which is linked to that open door policy that every nation has the right to choose its own path.
We are concerned because we see that the military build-up continues. But for me that's not an argument against dialogue. For me, that's an argument in favour of engaging in dialogue, to prevent a new armed conflict. So we are prepared both, to engage in serious dialogue, that's reason why I put forward the proposals today. But we're also of course prepared for an eventuality, or a situation, where Russia once again decides to use force.
And we are conveying a message of that that will have severe consequences, sanctions. NATO Allies provide support to Ukraine. That will also increase the cost [for] Russia if they decide to use force, to conduct aggressive actions against one way or another against Ukraine. And we are removing any question about our ability to defend and protect all Allies by increasing the presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, and also increasing the readiness of our NATO response force and being ready to respond if needed.
NATO Spokesperson: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference from NATO Headquarters. Good evening.
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