Secretary General: NATO Stands with Ukraine Amid Russian Saber Rattling

Brussels, Belgium…NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at NATO Headquarters on Monday (15 November 2021) to discuss the security situation in and around Ukraine. ‘In recent weeks, we have seen large and unusual concentrations of Russian forces close to Ukraine’s borders,’ said the Secretary General. He underlined that NATO remains vigilant and called on Russia to be transparent about its military activities. ”Any further provocation or aggressive actions by Russia would be of serious concern,’ he said. The Secretary General and Foreign Minister Kuleba also discussed NATO’s strong political and practical support for Ukraine.

Press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba

Their press conference is below…

Foreign Minister Kuleba, dear Dmytro,

Welcome to NATO.
It is great to see you here again.

And thank you for the strong and highly valued partnership between NATO and Ukraine.

We have just discussed the security situation in and around Ukraine.

In recent weeks, we have seen large and unusual concentrations of Russian forces close to Ukraine’s borders.

Similar to Russia’s build-up in Crimea and the Black Sea region earlier this year.

NATO remains vigilant.
We are monitoring the situation very closely.
And we continue to consult among Allies and with partners such as Ukraine and the European Union.

Any further provocation or aggressive actions by Russia would be of serious concern.

We call on Russia to be transparent about its military activities.

It is important to prevent escalations and reduce tensions.

NATO stands with Ukraine.

We do not, and will not, accept Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.

And we call on Russia to end its support for militants in the Donbas.

All NATO Allies are united in their condemnation of Russia’s behaviour.

NATO and Allies continue to provide significant political and practical support to Ukraine.

We are helping to strengthen your capabilities, including with training for your armed forces.

And we support your wide-ranging reform agenda, which will help advance Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

NATO’s support to Ukraine is not a threat to Russia.

NATO and Allied exercises in the Black Sea region are defensive and transparent.

Minister Kuleba, we will remain in close touch on this situation.
And I look forward to welcoming you to Riga to participate in the NATO foreign ministerial meeting there next month.

Oana Lungescu (NATO spokesperson):
We will take the first question online from Johnson Beale from the BBC.

Jonathan Beale (BBC):
Thank you very much. Can I first of all ask Ukraine’s foreign minister? His deputy defence minister is quoted to say Western intelligence suggests as a high probability of destabilization by Russia in Ukraine before Christmas. Can you just spell out what that is?
And then I would also like to ask Secretary General Stoltenberg what is his assessment of what Russia’s intentions are at the moment, given that there is a significant build-up, Russian military build-up in the region.
Thank you very much.

Dmytro Kuleba (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine):
It is premature to say what exactly will direct will be the Russian scenario, whether the military build-up is the main plan, and it will be accompanied by efforts to destabilize Ukraine from the inside, or whether the military build-up will serve as a background force, as a background argument for destabilizing efforts undertaken by Russia domestically.
We have to be ready for all scenarios, for all options, but more importantly, and we have to strengthen the resilience of Ukraine towards against these scenarios, but what is more important is that all of us have to, Ukraine and the Allies, have to closely coordinate and take any measures which can help to deter Russia and to prevent the worst case scenarios. Because whatever the price of these deterrence measures is, the price of actually stopping the hidden face of the conflict will be much higher.

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General):
So what we see in around Ukraine now is a large Russian military build-up. We see an unusual concentration of forces. And we also know that Russia has demonstrated both the will and the capability to use military force against Ukraine before. We saw that when they illegally annexed Crimea, and we have seen it over many years in the way they operate support the separatists in Donbas. So therefore, of course, I think none of us should speculate too much. But the fact is that we see an unusual concentration of forces of military Russian capabilities, and that we have seen that Russia has demonstrated the will to use these forces against the neighbours Ukraine, Georgia, and also the course they have demonstrated against Moldova over many years. Therefore, we call on Russia to be transparent on their military activities, to reduce tensions, and to prevent any escalation. This is a clear message from all NATO Allies, and also discussed the situation with the Foreign Minister Kuleba during our meeting today.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):
We will go to the National News Agency of Ukraine.

Dmytro Shkurko (National News Agency of Ukraine):
Dmytro Shkurko from National News Agency of Ukraine. Secretary General as known NATO have a forward presence in the Baltic States, and in Poland. So that how NATO troops are involved in the current crisis situation in our border so far with NATO.
And to Minister Kuleba, if it’s possible. Currently, Ukraine is reinforcing the border with Belarus. Is it enough forces for, in Ukraine to cover both Belorussian and Eastern direction? In fact, that manoeuvre could be like considered like a destructive move. Thank you so much.

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General):
NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region, in the Baltic region is a defensive presence. We have increased our military presence in Eastern part of Alliance since 2014 as a result of Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine. But these deployments, these presence is defensive. Of course, NATO also has presence in the Black Sea region. Partly also because three of the Black Sea states are NATO Members – Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey -, and two are close partners – Georgia and Ukraine. So of course, we exercise, we operate, we are present in this region, but this is not threat to Russia. This is entirely defensive military presence. And it also sends a signal that NATO is there to defend all Allies against any threat. And this is important to demonstrate the strength and readiness of NATO in a more unpredictable security environment.

Dmytro Kuleba (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine):
I wish Russian leadership was friendly towards Ukraine. I wish we could consider our Northern flank as a safe place. But unfortunately, this is not the case. From a military perspective, of course, the more directions of threat you have, the more dangerous your situation is. But I would like to reassure you that the Ukrainian government is taking every measure, also in cooperation with our closest partners, to reinforce our Northern flank to ensure that our country is protected from all sides. Thank you.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):
We’ll take a question from Sky News, Deborah Haynes, also online.

Deborah Haynes (Sky News):
Hi, thank you very much for this opportunity. It is the question for the Secretary General.
Do you agree with what the Ukrainian foreign minister said when he said that the activities of the build-up of Russian troops around Ukraine, and then the migrant situation, the sort of so called weaponization of migrants by Belarus across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia’s borders, are all part of the same, all part of one single hybrid operation by Russia against NATO.
And how concerned are you, – if you could put it into context because obviously like you said that there have been these build ups before -, how concerned are you that this flashpoint could escalate into a real military conflict, either by mistake or by design?
Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General):
The important thing now is to prevent escalation, is to prevent these situations spiralling and coming out of control.
And that’s partly why NATO is consulting closely with Ukraine.
Why, of course, we work closely with Allies, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia bordering Belarus.
Why we have expressed our strong solidarity to those NATO Allies started involved in the situation we see evolving along the border between Poland, but also a Latvia and Lithuania to Belarus.
We condemn the instrumentalisation by the Lukashenko regime of vulnerable migrants. We, of course, are deeply concerned about the situation and we follow that very closely. As we follow the developments in and around Ukraine. And these are events which are taking place at the same time.
We also see extra tensions, increasing in parts of the Western Balkans.
So there are many things happening at the same time and NATO has to be vigilant, has to follow these closely. And we again, call on Russia to de-escalate, to reduce tensions, and be transparent on their military activities in and around Ukraine.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):
Next question to Sabina Siebold from Reuters, also online.

Sabine Siebold ( Reuters)
Hello and thank you, Secretary General and Foreign Minister Kuleba I have a question. Could you give us some details on the size and composition of the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s border? And how close are the troops to Ukraine’s border at the moment? And exactly what is the difference to the military build-up that we saw in spring? Do you think there might be an invasion imminent, Secretary General?

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General):
I cannot go into details about our intelligence. And I think it’s important also that we don’t now increase tensions, but we have to be clear eyed, we need to be realistic about the challenges we face. And what we see is significant large Russian military build-up. We see an unusual concentration of troops. And we know that Russia has been willing to use these types of military capabilities before to conduct aggressive actions against Ukraine.
And this is partly forces close to the border between Russia and Ukraine. But it’s also partly troops and capabilities which are inside Ukraine, meaning that they are in Crimea, which is illegally annexed. And also we see the militants, the separatists and Donbas, which is also part of Ukraine, supported and helped by Russia.
So, the fact that we see this military build-up also reduces any warning time between a decision in Russia, before they’re able to actually conduct a military aggressive action against Ukraine.
I don’t want to speculate but I just…, we need to be honest, I need to be clear eyed about potential capabilities, or the capabilities that Russia has to conduct potential aggressive actions against Ukraine.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):
Final question. Teri Schultz NPR/Deutsche Welle.

Teri Schultz (NRP/Deutche Welle):
Thank you very much, trying to scrounge for details that are left. Thank you very much.
Let me just ask both of you, what can NATO do in both of these situations? The situation on the border with Ukraine and on the border of Belarus and NATO countries. For example, Mr. Secretary General, if Allies do call Article 4 consultations, what are NATO’s options? Do you feel it is rapidly reaching that level that this is a threat to NATO’s, to the security of NATO countries?
And Mr. Kuleba. Do you, what do you think NATO can do for you practically? Has NATO spent the time since the threats in April to come up with a plan for just this kind of situation?
Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg (NATO Secretary General):
We don’t see any imminent threat of any military aggression against any NATO country.
But we see a very difficult situation evolving on the border between the NATO Ally Poland and Belarus. And we also see similar situations also in Lithuania and Latvia, at least we saw them earlier on the border between those two countries and Russia. And of course then we stand in solidarity with these NATO Allies.
We condemn what the Lukashenko regime is doing, and also using vulnerable migrants, including children and families, to conduct hybrid actions against NATO Allies.
It’s up to any Ally to invoke Article 4.
I think the important thing is that we consult closely already between NATO Allies. And we also work closely with, I consult with, the European Union. I will meet the European Union Defence Ministers tomorrow. And I am in constant and close contact with the leadership of the European Union.

Dmytro Kuleba (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine):
Three things.
First, clear and strong messaging to all, to Russia, to the people of Ukraine, to partners in the European Union, to Allies coming from NATO against and demotivating Russia from further aggressive actions, and motivating Ukrainians to stay resilient and strong.
Second, in spring, I shared 10 points, 10 very specific proposals how NATO can support Ukraine. Progress has been made on a number of these 10 points, and my request today would be to speed up this work and to proceed accordingly. They, these points are related to specific areas of cooperation between Ukraine and NATO.
And third, we have, we talked a lot about the fragile security situation in Belarus, but we should always remember about very tense and dangerous situation in the Black Sea region. And an encouragement to Black Sea Allies to cooperate more closely with Ukraine and Georgia. And also with Moldova on security in the Black Sea region. And joining efforts in the Black Sea between NATO and non-NATO members, is something that would be extremely timely and helpful.
Thank you.

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):
Thank you very much, I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. Thank you.

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