NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg on the war in Ukraine: ‘Russia has to pay a high price’

The war in Ukraine is bringing Russia more economic pain as the U.S. and some of its NATO allies move to sanction Russian President Vladimir Putin. NATO members also pledged to bolster the alliance's eastern flank with the movement of additional allied troops. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg joins Judy Woodruff from NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the escalating war.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to the secretary-general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. He was at NATO headquarters in Brussels when I spoke with him this afternoon.

    Mr. Stoltenberg, thank you very much for joining us.

    You have just completed a virtual summit with members of NATO, their leaders. My question is, is there a consensus from NATO now on whether there's any way to stop the Russians from overtaking Ukraine, overtaking its capital, Kyiv, and overtaking the government?

  • Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General:

    All NATO allies expressed their strong support to Ukraine, and they called on Russia to cease the attacks on an independent, sovereign nation, Ukraine.

    What NATO does is that we impose severe costs on Russia, the economic sanctions. And the U.S. is leading by imposing severe sanctions on Ukraine. And then we also, NATO allies, provide, continues to provide support to Ukraine, military, civilian, financial support, to help them in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But does that mean there's no way to stop the Russians from doing what they say they're going to do?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    We provide them support, because Ukraine is a highly valued partner, and we worked with them for many, many years.

    And the Ukrainian army is much better trained, much better equipped, much, much bigger now than in 2014, not least because of the significant support from the United States and other NATO allies.

    But we have made it clear that we are not going to send in NATO troops to fight on the ground.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there anything more that NATO and its members can do to help the Ukrainian people?

    We know Ukraine is not a member. But you yourself have said the whole European security order is threatened.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    NATO allies provide support and continue to support Ukraine in many different ways. And NATO allies, the United States and other allies, and also the European Union, have just announced unprecedented economic sanctions to make sure that there are real costs to be paid by Russia for its reckless behavior.

    But I think, if NATO went into Ukraine, we'd have reached something which is even worse than what we see today, and that is a big conflict involving many countries in Europe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you announced today the NATO Response Force, at least part of it, is being deployed. But, in the near-term, is that going to be enough to make a difference?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    That makes a huge difference, because we are sending a very clear message to Russia that an attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance.

    And to demonstrate the credibility of that, we are increasing the presence of NATO forces in the eastern part of the alliance, on land, at sea, and in the air.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How concerned are you, Mr. Stoltenberg, though, that once — if Russia is able to take hold in Ukraine, that the next stop may be Poland, may be the Baltics, that this is what Russia has in mind? What happens then?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    Well, if there is any attack on any NATO allied country, like Poland or the Baltic countries, then the whole alliance will be there. That's the purpose of NATO, one for all, all for one.

    And, in a way, to make sure that there is no room for miscalculation in the Kremlin, in Moscow, about that, we have increased the presence of NATO troops in the eastern part of the alliance. So, NATO will be there from day one with significant capabilities.

    But what has happened in Ukraine has already created a new normal for European security. This is changing the way we can think about engaging with Russia and will have some long-term consequences, both when it comes to our deterrence posture, the need for forces, troops throughout the alliance, but also how to engage with Russia in the future, because Russia has proven that they are willing to use force to get their will.

    And that is undermining core principles for European security, which has been of great importance for many decades.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If NATO's not able to stop Russia and Ukraine, is it definitely going to be able to stop Russia if it were to move on another NATO country — on a NATO country?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:


    Make no mistake, NATO is the strongest military alliance in history, and we will defend every ally against any threat, and we will defend every inch of NATO territory. But we are not deploying NATO troops to Ukraine.

    I understand the frustration. I understand the suffering they are — they are seeing in Ukraine. But I think we need to understand also that NATO has some core responsibilities. We're living up to them. And then NATO allies are actually those countries in the world that has helped Ukraine the most.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have stressed, Mr. Stoltenberg, the unity of NATO members of Europe. And yet, when we look at economic sanctions right now, several European countries are opposed, at least according to President Biden, opposed to moving ahead with putting restrictions on Russia's access to this SWIFT system, the global banking system.

    Is that a mistake on the part of Europe right now and the United States, that they're not able to move together to impose this sanction on Russia?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    But European allies, the European Union and the other NATO allies, as the United States, Canada, Norway, also the European Union, they have been very closely coordinated.

    They are now imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia, including their banking sector, which has very much the same consequences. It has consequences for the way they can conduct, for instance, payments or finance Russian debt, which has severe consequences for the whole economy.

    And we have seen that demonstrated in the Russian stock market and the value of the Russian ruble today. So, this is — this has severe consequences for the Russian economy. It will have long-term consequences. And it will take some time before we see the full consequences.

    But what is clear is that Russia has to pay a high price when they violate international law and invade another country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There have been unconfirmed reports that President Zelensky may be prepared to talk to President Putin about having a non-aligned relationship, in other words, saying that Ukraine would never — pledging never to join NATO.

    Again, they are unconfirmed, but do you have a position on whether that's a good idea?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    My main position is that it is for Ukraine to decide its own future, to choose its own path. And we should respect that decision.

    And that's the case for all countries, that they should decide themselves whether they want to belong to an alliance as NATO or not belong to it. What we see now is that we have a full-fledged invasion. We have people killed. We have the use of the Russian armed forces to try to force their will on Ukraine.

    And that's the opposite of respecting the free, independent choice of a democratic country, Ukraine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last question, Mr. Stoltenberg.

    Do you have a message today for the people of Ukraine and for President Putin?

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    To President Putin, the message is that Russia should cease its aggression against Ukraine immediately and withdraw all its forces and respect Ukraine as an independent, sovereign nation.

    To the people to the people of Ukraine, my message is that we stand in solidarity with them, we continue to provide support.

    And I would like to also pay my respect to the people of Ukraine and the courage of the Ukrainian armed forces.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, thank you very much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

  • Jens Stoltenberg:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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