Stoltenberg: don’t underestimate Russia

Brussels 24.05.2023 “…The German Marshall Fund is an extremely important platform for transatlantic conversations, dialogue and discussions, which has always been important, but in many, many ways, it’s even more important now than it has been ever before” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg while addressing the Brussels Forum, organized by the GMF.

“Because we have to understand that what we face now, the war in Ukraine, of course demonstrates the importance of North America and Europe standing together. But it didn’t start on the 24th of February last year. This war actually started in 2014, with the illegal annexation of Crimea and then a few months later, Russia went in and took control over eastern Donbass.

“And since then since 2014, and NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence in a generation. With, for the first time in our history, combat ready troops in the eastern part of the Alliance, with higher readiness, with more exercises, and also with more defence spending.

“So when President Putin launched his full-fledged invasion last year, we were prepared, both to increase our presence in these eastern part of the Alliance to remove any room for miscalculation, or misunderstanding in Moscow about our ability to protect NATO Allies. To prevent this conflict from escalating beyond Ukraine but also to provide support to Ukraine. And since then, we stepped up the support.

“If we’re going to add that this, what has happened over the last year or the last 15 months, demonstrates that President Putin made at least two big strategic mistakes. One was to underestimate the Ukrainians, the bravery, the resolve, the courage of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian political leadership and Ukrainian armed forces.

“And they’ve been able to push back the [Russians], from the north around Kyiv, the east Kharkiv, and the south around Kherson, but he also totally underestimated us: NATO Allies and partners. He didn’t expect at all our unity, our resolve to support Ukraine. And we have provided a lot of support over a long period of time. Just over the last months we have delivered a lot of heavy armour battle tanks, the Leopards, the Challengers, and now also the Abrams tanks from the United States. Over the last weeks, the United Kingdom has delivered something which is extremely important, and that is the long-range cruise missiles, which are making a difference on the battlefield already.

“And then over the last days, we have agreed to start the training of Ukrainian pilots. This shows a kind of commitment to the long haul. Then I promise to end and to take more questions, but he has made the big mistake President Putin to underestimate the Ukrainians, to underestimate us.

“In turn, we should not underestimate Russia. Because it’s right, they have taken a lot of casualties. They have bad morale. Bad equipment, bad training, bad logistics, bad leadership. But what they lack in quality they tried to make up in quantity – mass –, and therefore we just had to be prepared for long haul. And the only way to do that is to ensure that Europe and North America stand together not only to deal with the war in Ukraine but to deal with what the war in Ukraine reflects. And that is, that we live in a much more competitive world with big power rivalry – including the rise of China – and as long as we stand together, North America and Europe, we are able to protect each other. 50% of the world’s economic might, 50% of the world’s military might.

“That is NATO, Europe and North America together. That’s what the Transatlantic bond is about. I don’t know exactly what you asked me about but this was [what I wanted to say]”…

The German Marshall Fund of the United States’ (GMF) Brussels Forum is the preeminent platform for global leaders, policymakers, and experts across sectors to shape the transatlantic agenda and debate the most pressing global challenges. Brussels Forum showcases diverse voices across regional and demographic backgrounds and promotes dialogue that is candid and open.

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