Jens Stoltenberg: Aggression will see NATO severely punish Russia

Karl-Hendrik Pallo
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Johanna Geron/REUTERS/Scanpix

The unity and dedication of NATO in the defense of allies is adamant and the latter are prepared for whichever steps Russia might take, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Postimees in an exclusive interview.

Can we hold this week’s marathon talks to have been successful?

It is too soon to say. We proposed continuing the dialogue to improve and reinforce the security situation in Europe. The Russian delegation was not in a position to take a stand, which, while hardly surprising, means we will have to wait for their reaction.

Russia has stressed that it does not plan to negotiate forever. What could be a realistic timetable for easing tensions or when will the Kremlin return with its counteroffer?

We are prepared to move forward quickly and have raised the topics – everything from arms control, greater military transparency to reduce the risk of incidents to restoring diplomatic relations between NATO and Russia.

We have also made it clear that we are ready to make concrete proposals and prepare for our next meeting for it to be even more concise. We are prepared to sit down and talk with them in good faith because arms agreements are useful and help strengthen security for NATO and Russia. That said, we are realistic in our expectations.

We are not prepared to compromise our core values that have ensured European security. Every country has the right to choose its own path.

Not returning to a world of spheres of influence where major countries could determine the faith of smaller ones is of fundamental importance for small states. Estonia has first-hand experience of what it means to live in such a world. We will also not compromise concerning our right to defend every ally. The idea that Eastern Europe allies will lose NATO troops is out of the question.

Can Estonians and other citizens of eastern NATO members rest easy now or is Russia using these talks to lull NATO allies to sleep?

NATO is present and our dedication to defend all allies is unshakeable. It is something we demonstrate every day. We have managed to strengthen collective defense in a way not seen for a generation since Russia used force against Ukraine in 2014. Our security guarantee is immovable and we offer it to Estonia and all other NATO allies.

To what extent is this crisis an opportunity for NATO to prove that it is not “brain dead” as put by President of France Emmanuel Macron?

NATO has been proving for decades that it is always alert and able to adapt in the context of a changing world, which is why it is the most successful alliance in history – we adapt and are always united. We number 30 allies, with different histories and geography, while we can come together over core values and use them to protect ourselves and others.

I would like to emphasize that there are more U.S. troops in Europe than there were three years ago (when Macron claimed Europe can no longer rely on USA – K. H. P.). Therefore, suggesting that the U.S. cannot defend Europe is wrong.

Secondly, NATO is an irreplaceable platform, talking about transatlantic relations and cooperation.

The U.S. has closely coordinated its activities with European allies in the Ukraine crisis, with 28 out of 30 allies European countries also in the context of the NATO-Russia Council. Therefore, if NATO has a seat at the table, so does Europe, which is a very important aspect.

What lessons or conclusions can we draw from these talks?

The week has shown that we stand united. All European allies stand as one man and are sending Russia the same message. A dialogue with Russia should not be feared in this context as it is a chance for NATO’s European allies to voice their position in unison.

Do you believe the Kremlin could be prepared to compromise?

It is completely up to Russia whether it wants to talk and maintain a dialogue or whether it wants to pit itself against us. We are ready for both.

Has the Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border slowed?

The military convergence continues, and we have no certainty concerning Russia’s intentions. Their rhetoric and the near past are cause for concern. That said, we have been persistent in emphasizing – also during the meeting with [President] Alar Karis today (yesterday – ed.) – that any use of force against Ukraine will be severely punished.

How would you describe the outgoing week in five words?

Difficult but incredibly important talks.