Nov 17, 2022
NATO head Jens Stoltenberg holds news conference Transcript
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference on Nov. 16 after Russian-made missile exploded in a Polish village on the border with Ukraine. Read the transcript here.
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Jens Stoltenberg (00:02):
Yesterday’s explosion took place as Russia launched a massive wave of rocket attacks across Ukraine.
Since the start of Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, NATO has increased vigilance across our eastern flank. And we are monitoring the situation on a continuous basis. An investigation into this incident is ongoing, and we need to await its outcome. But we have no indication that this was the result of a deliberate attack. And we have no indication that Russia is preparing offensive military actions against NATO.
Our preliminary analysis suggests that the incident was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile fired to defend Ukrainian territory against Russian cruise missile attacks.
But let me be clear. This is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears ultimate responsibility, as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.
In the meeting today, NATO Allies offered their deepest condolences on the tragic loss of life. They expressed their strong solidarity with our valued Ally Poland. And made clear that we will continue to support Ukraine in its right to self-defense.
Russia must stop this senseless war. Last night, I spoke with the Polish President Andrzej Duda and with US President Joe Biden. We agreed that we need to stay vigilant, calm and closely coordinated. We will continue to consult and monitor the situation very closely.
NATO stands united. And we will always do what is necessary to protect and defend all Allies.
And with that I’m ready to take your questions.
Speaker 1 (02:34):
We’ll start with Polish Radio. Lady in gray at the back.
Speaker 2 (02:48):
Thank you. Polish Radio public broadcaster [inaudible 00:02:49]. Secretary General, what could be the outcome in concrete terms of today’s meeting? [inaudible 00:02:54] the countries bordering Ukraine because as long as the war continues, there will be Russian rockets striking Ukrainian citizen. There is a risk that such situation can happen again. Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg (03:11):
In the meeting today, NATO Allies expressed their strong support and solidarity with our Ally, Poland. They also expressed their deepest condolences for the tragic loss of life. And NATO has significantly increased its presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, in particular since the invasion of Ukraine in February. With more troops on land, ground troops, but also with significant substantial air and naval power. And this has of course, both increased our air defense capabilities, but also our capabilities to monitor, to have a full picture of what’s going on, on the border between NATO Allies like Poland and Ukraine, and we are constantly assessing what more we need to do. We also have made important decisions at our summit in Madrid to further strengthen our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.
Speaker 1 (04:24):
Jessica Parker (04:28):
Thank you, Jessica Parker for BBC News. I just wanted to ask, given the incident that happened last night, do you think this was perhaps the most tense moment for NATO in this conflict so far? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (04:43):
I’m always careful to rank different incidents and situations. It demonstrates that the war in Ukraine, which is President Putin’s responsibility, continues to create dangerous situations. At the same time you have to remember that this happened at the same time as Russia launched a wave of new indiscriminate missile and air attacks on Ukrainian cities. Attacking critical civilian infrastructure, hitting civilian targets. Then it’s nothing strange… Then, of course, that is in itself a very dangerous situation. And then, that we then also see that there may be also consequences on NATO territory as a consequence of the war that Russia wages against Ukraine.
Speaker 1 (05:42):
Then we go to the Ukrainian News Agency in the middle.
Speaker 3 (05:51):
Thank you for the floor. [inaudible 00:05:52] National News Agency of Ukraine. I just want to mention that Ukrainians do understand the pain now of the Polish people and have the greatest sympathy with them. My question is how that incident will be reflected on the assistance that Allies provided for Ukraine in air defense. Where will be some kind of new systems to cover the Ukrainian sky? Thanks.
Jens Stoltenberg (06:18):
There will be a meeting today in the Contact Group for Ukraine to coordinate the support that NATO Allies and partners and others are providing to Ukraine. And the main focus of all our efforts over the last month has been on air defense, especially since Russia started to launch these indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian cities a few weeks ago. And I welcome that more and more Allies and partners are providing advanced air defense systems to Ukraine. NASAMS, HAWK batteries from Spain and others and I also know that Sweden has made the new announcement of additional support also with air defenses to Ukraine. So we are mobilizing additional support, especially when it comes to different types of air defenses. NATO is also providing counter drones systems. We need many different systems to protect against cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, but also drones. We need a layered defense of Ukraine. That’s exactly what Allies are providing in different ways.
Speaker 1 (07:38):
Speaker 4 (07:44):
[inaudible 00:07:43] from Bloomberg. Does this incident… will this for more air defense for Allies on the eastern border? I mean, you said there has been a step up since beginning of the war, but does more need to be done? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (07:58):
We’re constantly assessing
Jens Stoltenberg (08:01):
Our presence in eastern part of the alliance, we have significantly increased our presence on land, at sea, and in the air. And that has significantly increased our air defense capabilities, especially in the eastern part of the alliance. At the same time, we have no indication that this incident was a result of a deliberate attack on NATO territory. And we have no indications that Russia is planning offensive military actions against the NATO allies. So I think this demonstrates the dangers connected to the ongoing war in Ukraine, but it hasn’t changed our fundamental assessment of the threat against the NATO allies.
It shows the importance of monitoring, of being vigilant of the presence, and we made decisions for long term adaptation of NATO’s deterrence and events at the Summit in Madrid in June. And that includes partly more presence in the east, partly more pre-positioned equipment, in particular in the eastern part of the alliance, and partly earmarked forces, so we can quickly scale up the battle groups we have in the eastern part of the alliance. And of course, all of this would also further strengthen our air defense capabilities. Then air defense is partly land-based, but air defense is also very often air-based, also, aircraft, and naval-based, based on our ships. And of course, air forces and naval forces is something we very quickly can move in. SACEUR, our Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has all the [inaudible 00:09:52] to move in additional forces, including air and naval forces, to augment our air defenses quickly if needed.
Speaker 5 (10:02):
Okay. [inaudible 00:10:03].
Speaker 6 (10:12):
Thanks a lot to [inaudible 00:10:14] for that insight. And Secretary General, a few factual questions if I may. First of all, the debris found about opponent in Ukraine. Is this debris only from an Ukrainian rocket launched to intercept the Russian missile? Or is there also a debris of Russian missile? Secondly, what was the likely trajectory of the Russian missile that was meant to intercept by Ukraine? And thirdly, did NATO forces present at the Eastern Blank activate their air defense systems yesterday, because they saw an potentially incoming missile? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (11:05):
Do we have air defense systems in place that are active 24/7, all the time? We have airplanes, we have aircraft, we have land based systems, and we have naval based systems. So we have air defenses, which operates constantly throughout the alliance. Then of course, we have a significant focus and we have a, in particular, increased our presence in eastern part of alliance. And this also includes Poland. Then on the details of the findings and the ongoing investigation, it’ll not be right if I go into those details, but as I said, our preliminary findings are that this is likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile. And we have no indication that it was any deliberate attack on NATO [inaudible 00:12:17].
Speaker 7 (12:17):
That is good.
Speaker 8 (12:23):
Thank you very much. Just a brief question, has there been any communication between NATO and the Russian authorities, even on a technical level, over the past 24 hours, regarding Russian activity close to NATO’s borders? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (12:36):
We have made lines of communications. We’re able to communicate with Russia in different ways, so as NATO and as allies, but I cannot go into the details of exactly what kind of contact that we know in the last 24 hours.
Speaker 8 (12:52):
Thank you. Does the fact that the Polish government, even after hours of assessing what had happened, was still ready, as of this morning, as I understand it, to possibly ask for article four consultations? Does that indicate to you that they do not feel reassured, despite all of these measures that have already been taken? And you said that you’re constantly assessing and you’ve got things on tap. Are military planners making any additional plans at this very moment to send more to Poland to reassure them? Because obviously, this is a credible scenario, since they had an article four teed up, even after investigations were underway. Thanks.
Jens Stoltenberg (13:31):
So I spoke with Andrzej Duda last night. We agreed on the importance of awaiting the outcome of the investigation. We don’t have the final outcome of the ongoing investigation, but all of us agree on the assessment. I just shared that we have no indication that this was a deliberate attack. And of course, that has consequences for what kind of responses that we need to take, since we have no indication it’s also a deliberate attack or that Russia is planning any offense military actions against the NATO allies. But we all also agree that Russia bears the ultimate responsibility. They are responsible for the war in Ukraine, that has caused this situation. And if that hadn’t been for the war, of course, we wouldn’t have been in this situation with the two casualties and instant we saw in Poland yesterday. But all of us agree on the approach. There’s been no call for an article four meeting, and that’s based on the findings and based on the analysis and based on the results so far of the ongoing investigation.
Speaker 9 (14:53):
Secretary General, you just said that everything will be done to protect the airlines. Now, the village where the missile hit yesterday was very close to the Ukrainian border. So in order to effectively protect Poland from incidents like these in the future, would it not be conceivable or make sense from your point of view to extend the NATO air defense umbrella into Ukrainian territory, in order to intersect missiles, which might be headed to potential targets near the Ukrainian-Poland border?
Jens Stoltenberg (15:25):
NATO allies are not part into the conflict in Ukraine. NATO and NATO allies provide support to Ukraine. We help Ukraine to uphold the right for self defense. That’s a right which is enshrined in UN chapter. And of course, Ukraine has the right to defend itself against Russia’s illegal war or aggression against the Ukraine. And our main priority, our [inaudible 00:15:53] now is to provide more air defense systems for Ukraine. Our air defense systems are set
Jens Stoltenberg (16:00):
… set up to defend against attacks around the clock. But we have no indication this was a result of a deliberate attack and this incident does not have the characteristics of an attack. And that also explains why the reactions were as they were last night, because this was not a deliberate attack and didn’t have the characteristics of a deliberate attack against NATO territory.
Speaker 10 (16:33):
Michael Spicer for the ARD German TV. Two questions if I may. The first one is a more personal one. Everybody was very scared. I think yesterday evening everybody understood that could be a potentially very dangerous situation. How was your personal reaction when you first heard about it? And the second one is about, you said that the debris that was found is probably from a Ukrainian air defense missile. The Ukrainian foreign minister said this is a Russian conspiracy theory and it’s not true. How do you judge that he made this judgment on the origin. Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (17:09):
Sorry. Sorry. Last question.
Speaker 10 (17:12):
Kuleba said it is a Russian conspiracy theory that it is Ukrainian air defense missile. But your preliminary findings are apparently very different. Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (17:23):
Well, the investigations are not finally concluded. But based on what we so far know, this is most likely Ukrainian air defense systems or missiles. But again, this is not Ukraine’s fault. Russia bears responsibility for what happened in Poland yesterday, because this is a direct result of the ongoing war and the wave of attacks from Russia against Ukraine yesterday. And of course Ukraine has the right to shoot down those missiles that are targeting Ukrainian cities and critical Ukrainian infrastructure. NATO is prepared for situations like this. We are exercising, we are preparing for incidents or accidents like this to first and foremost to prevent them from happening. But if they happen to ensure that they don’t spiral out of control. So yes, of course we were concerned when we got the reports yesterday and especially we were saddened by the fact that there were two casualties. But at the same time, we are monitoring and we are following very closely and therefore we are prepared to handle situations like this in a firm calm resolute way. But also in a way that prevents further escalation.
Speaker 12 (19:08):
Thank you very much Secretary General. You’ve said repeatedly that NATO has all the capabilities along the Eastern front and that you are ready for these sorts of incidents at any moment. So was this a failure of NATO’s defenses that this missile was able to hit Polish territory?
Jens Stoltenberg (19:26):
Well, the air defense systems in the East, they are set up to defend us against the attacks. And attacks. Missiles. Cruise missiles. Ballistic missiles. They have special characteristics which we then follow and monitor and then we make a judgment whether it’s an attack or whether it’s something else. As I said, this was most likely a Ukrainian air defense missile ray. And of course that missile doesn’t have the characteristics of an attack. And therefore that explains also why the actions were as they were. And that doesn’t say anything about our ability to defend against deliberate attacks against NATO territory.
Wall Street Journal
Speaker 13 (20:20):
Dan Michaels, Wall Street Journal. Just a couple more factual questions if possible. If the analysis had shows this, do you know if there was a Russian missile in the immediate area that the Ukrainians were specifically trying to target? And do you know if the Ukrainian missile exploded on the ground? If it exploded potentially in the air, in contact with the Russian missile? And if what was on the ground was just shrapnel or debris from that? Thank you very much.
Jens Stoltenberg (20:53):
Although they are relevant questions, but I will not go into details. Partly because there is an ongoing investigation and we have to decide later on how many details we can reveal. But anyway, there are ongoing investigations. So this is an ongoing investigation that will look into those issues.
Speaker 11 (21:18):
Dibetu. Lady over there.
Speaker 14 (21:24):
Thanks. [inaudible 00:21:25] Norway. Mister Secretary General, the French president, Manuel Macro, he urged China to play a greater mediation role. During this conflict. Do you see a greater role for China? And second question, do you see any possibilities for peace negotiations in the near future?
Jens Stoltenberg (21:48):
First and foremost, I believe that China should clearly condemn the invasion of the Ukraine, which is a blatant violation of international law and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And for instance, in the different votes in the UN, China’s not voted in favor of those solutions, clearly condemning the invasion. Actually, China is also sharing much of the Russian narrative about the war, and that’s a narrative which is not correct. It is Russia and President Putin that are responsible for the war and they can also end the war. We have to remember what this is. This is a war of aggression where one country, Russia invades another country and try to control and take territory from that country. And of course, Ukraine has the right to defend itself against the invasion. Against the Russian aggression.
If President Zelensky and Ukrainians stop to fight, of course then Russia will win and they will achieve their military goals. So the reality is that if President Putin and Russia stops fighting, then we’ll have peace. But if President Zelensky and Ukrainians stop fighting, then Ukraine will cease to exist as an independent sovereign nation. They have their own to defend themselves as an independent nation. Most likely this war will at some stage end at the negotiating table. At the same time, we know that the outcome of those negotiations is closely and fundamentally linked to the strength on the battlefield. So the best way we can ensure maximize the likelihood for a peaceful negotiated solution is to support Ukrainians on the battlefield because that can maximize the probability for them achieving
Jens Stoltenberg (24:00):
… Achieving an acceptable negotiated solution on the negotiating table. So yes, we all want peace. Yes, we all want this war to end, but the best way we can contribute to a peace, which ensures that Ukraine remains independent as a nation, is to provide military support to Ukraine so that there can be an acceptable negotiated solution at the end of this war.
Speaker 15 (24:23):
We’ll take one final question. TVN24, Poland. Gentleman?
Thank you. Secretary General, as you said, it’s early to assess whether it was an accident or not, but for sure, it was a test, stress test, for the whole NATO. Could you assess that and rate the first reaction of the Polish government, the channel of communications, and reaction of the NATO? Any room for improvement and any lesson learned for future? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg (24:54):
NATO allies and Poland reacted in a calm, and measured, and well-coordinated way. We coordinated our responses, so we spoke together, of course, during the evening yesterday, and also, our major commanders informed us. I spoke with the Supreme Ally Commander involved yesterday and this morning, and he also came to NATO allies, the North Atlantic Council here, the NATO headquarters this morning and briefed the allies. So, the coordination, the exchange of information, and the measured responses, and also, the message that we need to establish the facts before we draw any the final conclusions on the incident in Poland, that shows that NATO allies reacted in a prudent and responsible way. I think you have to understand that to manage this kind of instance is part about being firm and reacting quickly, but is also about being calm and preventing unnecessary escalation. We always need to find that balance, therefore it is always also important to have the best possible picture of actually what happened.
Therefore, we actually said yesterday that we need some time to look into the incident. We did that over the course of the night and then we have a clearer a picture today, a picture that we have no indication that this was a deliberate attack, and no indication that this was something that was targeted on a NATO territory, and no indication that Russia is planning any aggressive interactions against Ukraine. But what we do know is that the whole incident is caused by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. So the best way of preventing anything like this from happening again is for Russia to stop this war.
Speaker 15 (26:54):
Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference.
Jens Stoltenberg (26:56):