NATO will continue to strengthen its defense and deterrence capabilities in the face of challenges from Russia, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the conclusion of the Defense Ministerial in Brussels Feb. 18.
Stoltenberg said peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region are under threat. Russia has deployed more than 150,000 troops to its borders with Ukraine and into Belarus. "There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy could continue, but, so far, we have not seen any sign of withdrawal or de-escalation," the secretary-general said.
Russia was the focus of meetings NATO defense ministers — including Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III — held today with leaders from Ukraine and Georgia, as well as leaders from the European Union, Finland and Sweden.
"NATO remains open to engaging with Russia in good faith," Stoltenberg said. "Allies are ready to sit down with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council [to] address a wide range of issues and find the common ground."
But even though Russian officials have said they will withdraw troops, they are doing just the opposite, Stoltenberg said. Russia is moving troops and equipment toward the border of Ukraine.
"Russia has, yet again, demonstrated its disregard for the principles underpinning European security and its ability and willingness to threaten the use of force in pursuit of its objectives," Stoltenberg said. "Unfortunately, I am afraid this is the new normal which we need to be prepared for."
Alliance cooperation with the European Union is close — many members of NATO are in the European Union. Cooperation with Finland and Sweden is also close and growing. "Russian actions are part of a larger pattern of growing strategic competition, increasing hybrid threats, and pervasive instability," Stoltenberg said. "These can only be tackled successfully if we work together."
NATO will remain true to its democratic values, the secretary-general said. "Today, allies confirmed that NATO's door remains open," he said. "And the decision on NATO membership is for NATO allies and aspirant countries to take — nobody else. The right of each nation to choose its own path is absolutely fundamental for European and transatlantic security, and it must be respected."