July 13, 2016: Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Following a Meeting of the NATO-Russia Council

Press Conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Following a Meeting of the NATO-Russia Council

July 13, 2016

Good afternoon.

We just conducted a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.

It was a useful meeting with frank and open discussions.

Ukraine was the first item on our agenda. And this is important because Russia’s actions in Ukraine have undermined Euro-Atlantic security.

Allies and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements on the crisis.

There was not a meeting of minds today.

But it was an opportunity to clarify our positions and to exchange views on the crisis in Ukraine.

Allies expressed the views that they set out at the Summit in Warsaw.

NATO Allies do not and will not recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea.

We should all work towards the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine by diplomatic and peaceful means.

Doing this would allow Ukraine to develop free from violent outside interference.

And it would contribute to an overall improvement in relations between NATO and Russia.

We then discussed military activities, transparency and risk reduction.

Everyone around the table today has a responsibility to ensure that our relations are characterised by predictability, confidence and stability.

We have rules for military activities, both bilateral and multilateral.

We have all worked hard to develop them over the years.

We should respect both the letter and the spirit of those rules.

Transparency and risk reduction is particularly important if we are to avoid incidents, accidents and misunderstandings.

So in the spirit of transparency, NATO  briefed Russia on the important decisions we took in Warsaw last week to enhance our security.

Russia briefed on the steps they are taking.

Russia also raised a proposal on air safety in the Baltic Sea.

Allies will study this proposal carefully.

I welcome that Russia has signalled that it wants to pursue risk reduction measures.

This is something allies have been advocating for a long time, so I look forward to further discussions on this issue with Russia.

Finally, we discussed the security situation in Afghanistan, including the regional terrorist threat.

Afghan security forces continue to do their job with remarkable resilience and courage.

But challenges remain.

I informed the Council about NATO’s decision at the Warsaw Summit to sustain our military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016 with approximately the current troop levels.

I also reported to the NATO-Russia Council on our commitment to continue to fund the Afghan security forces until 2020.

And I underlined that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdulla at our Summit in Warsaw reiterated the commitment to reform.

For almost 20-years, the NATO-Russia Council has been an important forum for dialogue.

It is an all-weather forum.

Today we had very useful discussions.

We addressed some of the most important issues on the Euro-Atlantic security agenda.

This shows the value of the NATO-Russia Council.

Dialogue is particularly important in the current circumstances.

Our dialogue will continue.

And with that I am ready to take your questions.

Acting Spokesperson [Carmen Romero]: RIA Novosti.

Q (RIA Novosti): Secretary General, Vladimir [inaudible], Russian News Agency RIA Novosti. What will be the next step in your dialogue, will it be an ambassadorial-level meeting as now or will it be a ministerial one? And will you consider some concrete document in relation to these risk reduction measures? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: We will have new meetings in the NATO-Russia Council and we will address issues like risk reduction transparency, and we will now also look into the proposal put forward by Russia on air safety and also related to transponders in the Baltic Sea region.

We haven’t decided a new date for the next meeting and we haven’t decided the format of the next meeting. What we decided in 2014, when we suspended the practical cooperation, was that we would maintain the NATO-Russia Council as a platform for political dialogue at ambassadorial level and above, but we haven’t made any decisions about the format of the next council meeting.

Acting Spokesperson: Channel One, Russia.

Q (Channel One, Russia): Don’t you think it’s illogical that NATO pays great attention to unreal Russian threat instead of for example dealing with real danger like ISIS?

Jens Stoltenberg: NATO has to be able to respond to many different challenges at the same time, and at our summit in Warsaw we made important decisions to continue to play a key role in the fight against international terrorism. We’ve for instance decided to continue our military presence in Afghanistan. Our military operation in Afghanistan is our biggest military operation ever, and the reason why we are in Afghanistan is to fight international terrorism, is to prevent Afghanistan once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists.

We also decided to step up our support for Iraq, to start to do training inside Iraq to enable Iraq to be stronger in its efforts to stabilize its own country and to fight terrorism. We also decided to do more when it comes to support from NATO to the international coalition fighting ISIL by providing AWACS support to the coalition. And we decided to work more closely with partners in the region like Jordan and Tunisia, building their capacity to fight terrorism and to stabilize their own countries. So NATO is playing a key role in the international efforts to fight terrorism, and we decided to step up our efforts at the Warsaw Summit.

Acting Spokesperson: BBC.

Jonathan Marcus (BBC): Yes, Secretary General, Jonathan Marcus for the BBC. You’ve mentioned the discussion about the Russian proposals on air safety, transponders and so on, was there any detailed discussion of Russian snap exercises and the need for notification and much greater transparency of short notice Russian military activities?

Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, we addressed exactly those challenges, and the thing is that we already some mechanisms, some documents which ensure transparency and predictability, and one of the main tools is the Vienna Document which regulates how exercises are announced, international observers, and the whole aim of that is to make sure that predictability, transparency is in place when we conduct military exercises, because we have seen that military exercises can be used as an disguise for aggressive actions. For instance, the annexation of Crimea took place in connection with a snap exercise of Russia.

So we strongly support those rules and those guidelines. The important thing is that they have to be respected, both the letter in the agreement but also the spirit. And one of the challenges we have seen recently, or over the past years, is that Russia used some of the loopholes in the Vienna Document to conduct all the snap exercises and thereby they also are able to undermine international inspections of the exercises.

So we are strongly in favour of modernizing the Vienna Document, and NATO allies have put forward in Vienna proposals on how to for instance address snap exercises in the Vienna Document framework. This is of course not negotiated in a NATO framework, this is negotiated in the OSCE framework, but NATO allies are active and they have put forward proposals to strengthen the Vienna Document as a tool for transparency and risk reductions related to military exercises.

Acting Spokesperson: Suddeutsche Zeitung.

Daniel Broessler (Suddeutsche Zeitung): Daniel Broessler, Suddeutsche Zeitung. Could you tell us a little bit more about how the Russian proposals on risk reductions look like regarding for example transponders? And second question, I hear there was a proposal for military-to-military contact, is NATO in a position to agree to that or would decisions have to be changed because this would go beyond political discussions with Russia?

Jens Stoltenberg: Russia proposed a way forward on how we can address issues related to transponders and air safety. We stated clearly that we welcome that Russia is ready to sit down and discuss air safety, transparency, and including transponders, but we also asked for more details, and I think it’s up to Russia to describe the details of their proposal but we welcome that Russia is showing more interest in these issues and therefore we will also then look into the proposal and also ask for more details.

I think it is important to understand that transponders of course is important, but it’s only one element in the broader picture related to air safety and risk reduction, because the basic thing is of course safe behaviour, is to fly in a safe and professional way, and we have seen some examples of unsafe activity in the air by Russian planes buzzing a US ship in the Baltic, flying close to NATO planes, so the first thing is of course to just address the behaviour of military aircraft in the Baltic Sea.

I would also like to underline that we are constantly looking into how we can make sure that the way we conduct our exercises and our military activities are done in the most predictable and safe way, meaning that NATO planes routinely fly with the transponders on when they fly under NATO command in Europe. Different NATO allies have different practices, partly related also to exercises and some different operational reasons for not always turning the transponders on. Regardless of this, it is important to sit down, to look into the issue, and to find out how we can enhance air safety, especially in the Baltic region.

Acting Spokesperson: Agence France Presse.

Q: [Inaudible].

Acting Spokesperson: Non, Agence France Presse, please.

Q: [Inaudible].

Jens Stoltenberg: Sorry, I forgot, that is also important.

Acting Spokesperson: Okay.

Jens Stoltenberg: Military lines of communication, military-to-military lines of communication, they are open. What we discussed now in a meeting is how we can make sure that they are functioning and that they are used in the best possible way, and there we still have some way to go. So I also welcome that as part of the discussions related to transparency, risk reduction, air safety, also the direct lines of military-to-military communication is now very much on the agenda, and hopefully we can also enhance the way these lines of communication are working and thereby also using them as a tool to increase air safety and transparency.

Acting Spokesperson: So now we move to Agence France Presse.

Q (Agence France Presse): Secretary General, on these lines of communication for the military-to-military contact, what is hampering the efforts to try to revive them and to re-launch these contacts? And were there concrete discussions on how this could be improved? I’ve heard that the procedures were very heavy, and there’s of course the political situation and the military situation, but the procedures are very heavy. Has there been concrete discussions on how this could happen? And would it need another NATO-Russia Council to address the transponders issue, and the air safety, risk reduction issue in the Baltic, or can that be discussed in other fora? Thank you.

Jens Stoltenberg: The issue of air safety, including transponders, which is one element of this broader picture, is something which absolutely can be discussed also in other fora. And I think that it is important to remember that NATO can play a role in Brussels, coordinating our positions, our understanding, related to processes which are taking place for instance in the OSCE context.

So for instance, one of the forums or platforms where it’s relevant to discuss issues related to air safety and risk reduction is the OSCE, including the Vienna Document. So therefore NATO can coordinate at least the position of NATO allies related to processes and negotiations that take place in another format in Vienna, in the OSCE framework.

And one of the reasons why that is relevant is that we partly have some tools, some documents and agreements already, and partly because the OSCE framework is broader. For instance, in the Baltic region you have Russia and you have NATO countries which are part of the NATO-Russia Council, but you also have Sweden and Finland, and Sweden and Finland are not part of the NATO-Russia Council, so that underlines the importance of also looking for broader contexts like for instance the OSCE.

Then, ICAO is also an institution which has addressed air safety in different ways and is also relevant. So the issues of where we are going to address it, how we’re going to address it, are exactly the issues which we are now looking into to find the best possible way to address the air safety and transponder issue.

Acting Spokesperson: Wall Street Journal.

Q (Wall Street Journal): Mr. Secretary General, the Russian government recently sacked a number of admirals in the Baltic Sea Fleet. Have you seen any change in the dynamics in that region since this change? Did this come up in the meeting at all? And also related, as you’re talking about transparency in this region, to what level of access, what level of reporting are you going to do about the battalions to the Russians? What level of transparency on a day-to-day basis might you give them about your actions?

Jens Stoltenberg: The question related to the admirals in the Russian Navy did not come up in the meeting and is not for NATO to comment on that kind of issue. We are transparent on our activities and our presence. We, for instance, briefed on the four battalions we will have in the eastern part of the alliance, in the three Baltic countries and Poland.

The US also briefed on their presence which complement the NATO presence, meaning the US will increase their presence in Europe, and the US briefed on that and increased presence with the European Reassurance Initiative, in addition with what we do in the NATO framework.

We will of course brief and inform and invite international observers, including Russia, to observe our exercises according to all the agreements and standards for inviting international observers, and very often we also them even when we’re not obliged to invite when the exercises are not big enough to reach the thresholds, but we also invite very often to even smaller exercises.

So we will be transparent, we strongly advocated this NATO-Russia Council meeting where one of the main items was military activity, transparency and risk reduction, exactly to inform them directly and also be able to answer questions directly on our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance.

Acting Spokesperson: Last question, TV Poland.

Q (TV Poland): Hello, I just wanted to ask you about Russia, especially Russian reaction, especially on your conclusion of NATO Summit, what was the reaction, and how have you, sorry, how have you convinced Russia that it was not against Russia, and was there any discussion after your conclusion about the NATO Summit?

Jens Stoltenberg: We had an open and frank discussion and the atmosphere in the meeting was good, but we didn’t agree. Of course, we still see disagreements between Russia and NATO when it comes to the analysis, the assessments of why we are in the situation we are. For NATO it’s obvious that the increased or enhanced NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance is something that is a direct response to the actions of Russia in Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea. Because before Crimea, before Ukraine, that was not … an enhanced NATO presence in the eastern part of the alliance was not on our agenda. So there’s no doubt that that is something that happens after Ukraine and it was Russia’s actions in Ukraine that triggered the presence.

But again, I think especially when we disagree, especially when we see the tensions increase, and especially when we see more military activity, or enhanced or increased risks for incidents and accidents, especially then it is important that we meet, exchange views, explain, clarify, respond to answers, and try to find ways to increase trust and to develop mechanisms, transparency, to avoid incidents and accidents.

Acting Spokesperson: Thank you for coming to this press conference. This is all we have time for.

Jens Stoltenberg: Thank you so much, always a great pleasure.