Incoming Nato chief signals ‘constructive’ approach to Russia

Stoltenberg calls for closer co-operation with EU

Jens Stoltenberg: the new Nato secretary general  gives his first press conference at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Jens Stoltenberg: the new Nato secretary general gives his first press conference at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

 

Nato’s new secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has pledged to adopt a “constructive” approach to Russia.

Addressing journalists at Nato headquarters in Brussels on his first day as the transatlantic alliance’s top official, he said: “I see no contradiction between a strong Nato and our continued effort to build a constructive relationship with Russia. Just the opposite. Only a strong Nato can build such a relationship for the benefit of Euro-Atlantic security.”

Mr Stoltenberg also indicated his support for stronger links between the EU and Nato, adding that closer cooperation would be a particular advantage for countries who are not members of the alliance. Ireland is one of six EU countries that are not members of Nato.

The 55-year old former Norwegian prime minister is taking over the helm at Nato at a delicate time, as the organisation grapples with a deteriorating relationship between the West and Russia over Ukraine.

He said that Nato air patrols in the Baltic, rotation of forces and naval deployments would go on “for as long as necessary” in order to safeguard citizens’ safety. “Our troops are ready to deploy within days,” he said.

But he declined to specify what would constitute troop deployment, stating that Nato wanted “changes in the actions of Russia which demonstrate that they are respecting their international obligations”.

Pacifist past?

Asked about his own political past, Mr Stoltenberg brushed aside accusations that he had been a pacifist, anti-Nato campaigner in the 1970s, arguing that he turned the young Labour Party in Norway from one that was against Nato into one that was in favour of the organisation. “It is hard to find a Norwegian politician as in favour of Nato as I am,” he said.

A three-term prime minister, Mr Stoltenberg (55), is Nato’s 13th secretary general, a position that is usually held by a European. He replaces the former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had held the position since 2009.

Mr Stoltenberg, whose appointment was announced earlier this year, is believed to have the strong backing of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

He assumes the role as the conflict in eastern Ukraine threatens to become a frozen conflict with Russia. Yesterday, four people were killed at a school outside Donetsk, while another six people were reported to have died in a bus crash. A ceasefire has been in place for almost a month, but it has been marred by sporadic violence.

Energy war

The danger of an energy war between the EU and Russia, which provides around 30 per cent of the EU’s gas, appeared to deepen yesterday after Slovakia said its Russian gas supplies had been reduced by half.

On Tuesday, EU ambassadors agreed to maintain previously agreed sanctions against Russia. The EU was committed to reviewing the sanctions, pending developments in Russia. Some central and east European countries, including Slovakia, have been pressing the EU to relax the sanctions.

To date, sanctions have targeted Russia’s finance, defence and energy industries, and travel bans and asset freezes have been imposed on about 140 Russian and Ukrainian individuals.