In a Joint press point on April 10, 2014, NATO Secretary General said to Prime Minister Sobotka of the Czech Republic that it was a great pleasure to be back in Prague. A city which knows the importance of standing up for freedom, resisting illegal aggression, and living in truth.
It is now fifteen years since the Czech Republic has joined NATO, and you have proven a staunch and committed Ally.
Your troops have made a valuable contribution to our missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. You are fully involved in our Smart Defence efforts to develop modern military capabilities together.
We have just discussed Russia’s illegal aggression against Ukraine. For the first time since countries like the Czech Republic won their freedom, and the Cold War ended, we see one state trying to grab part of another’s territory at gunpoint.
It is a dangerous attempt to turn back time, using the methods and the rhetoric of the past we tried so hard to overcome.
We need to see a genuine political dialogue – and a genuine de-escalation on the ground.
That is why I urge Russia to pull back the troops it has massed on Ukraine’s borders. And to engage in a genuine dialogue with the Ukrainian Government. It is important that Russia should take the right steps to rebuild trust, end the destabilisation of Ukraine and come back into line with its international commitments.
NATO considers this aggression illegal and illegitimate. And our commitment to collective defence is unwavering. We are taking legitimate steps to deal with the instability that Russia’s illegitimate actions have created.
Russia is trying to justify its actions by accusing the Ukrainian authorities of oppressing Russian speakers. And by accusing NATO of a Cold War mentality.
This is nothing but propaganda. Designed to subvert the Ukrainian government, pervert the truth, and divert attention from Russia’s own illegal and illegitimate actions.
As I speak, some 40,000 Russian troops are massed along Ukraine’s borders. Not training, but ready for combat. We have seen the satellite images, day after day.
Russia is stirring up ethnic tensions in eastern Ukraine and provoking unrest. And Russia is using its military might to dictate that Ukraine should become a federal, neutral state.
That is a decision which only Ukraine, as a sovereign state, can make. Nobody else. So from Prague, I have this message to Russia. You have a choice. To stop blaming others for your own actions. To stop massing your troops. To stop escalating this crisis and start engaging in a genuine dialogue. If Russia is serious about a dialogue, the first step should be to pull back its troops.
…we need to keep our capabilities strong. And to enhance training for our forces.
Above all, we must stop the decline of our defence budgets. And start reinvesting in our security.
Investing in defence has a cost. But we see that insecurity has a much higher price.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Actually, my message today has been twofold. On the one hand, I have commended the Czech Republic for its strong commitment to our Alliance and also for its significant contributions to NATO-led operations, notably in Afghanistan.
Having said that, the other part of my message today has been that defence investments in the Czech Republic are too low. So I have encouraged the government to find ways to gradually increase defence investment.
QUESTION: Does it mean that NATO is ready to act militarily to help Ukraine in such a case?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We are not discussing military options. I have warned against further Russian intervention in Ukraine and made clear that it will have grave consequences for our relationship with Russia. It will lead to further international isolation of Russia. While this is not a NATO issue to deal with economic consequences of such intervention, I have no doubt based on statements from the international community that further Russian intervention in Ukraine might lead to severe economic sanctions that would have a very, very negative impact on Russian economy.
As regards NATO, we are focused on defence and protection of our Allies, their populations and societies. And this is the reason why we have taken steps to enhance our collective defence by enhancing air policing, deploying AWACS airplanes to improve surveillance. You have seen more naval presence in the Black Sea and we are now considering further steps to further enhance collective defence including an update and further development of our defence plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As I said in my previous answer, we are not discussing military options. I do believe that the right way forward is to find a political and diplomatic solution and I have no doubt that if Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, it would have severe consequences and lead to further economic and political isolation of Russia internationally.
Having said that, we have decided to strengthen our cooperation with Ukraine, also military-to-military cooperation. We have a special NATO-Ukraine Commission, and within that Commission we will enhance our partnership, strengthen cooperation when it comes to defence reforms, capacity-building, Ukrainian participation in NATO exercises, just to mention some examples.
But I think it’s important to make clear that obviously there is a difference between being a member of NATO and not being a member of NATO. NATO is focused on military defence of our Allies and when it comes to Ukraine, we do believe that the right way forward is a political and diplomatic solution.
QUESTION: (Speaks in foreign language).
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: …I’m very pleased that the Prime Minister today has indicated that it is the intention of his government to stop further cuts in the defence budgets.
I have encouraged the Prime Minister to find political ways to gradually increase defence investment. Within NATO we have an ongoing dialogue with all Allies when it comes to the military specifics. And we see the Czech Republic as an Ally who is actually quite willing to listen to good advice from NATO defence planners.
But at the end of the day it is a national responsibility to take the necessary decisions to make sure that the armed forces live up to the overall requirements within our Alliance. I have no doubt that the Czech authorities will do all they can within the budgetary limits to continue modernization of the Czech Armed Forces.
But of course it would help if more resources could be devoted to defence.
QUESTION: For the Secretary General. On the 1st of April the Ukrainian Parliament approved the carrying out of international military exercises in Ukrainian land, which will take place from May til November. Don’t you think that this could lead to further escalation of the conflict with respect to Russia?
And if… do you consider this as part of the diplomatic and political solution that you are advocating for?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Let me stress that these exercises have been planned for a long, long time, long before this crisis emerged. And next, it is of course the right of a sovereign nation and a sovereign government to decide to conduct such exercises. And I don’t see these exercises provocative in any way. It’s quite natural that such exercises are part of cooperation between Ukraine and a number of NATO Allies.