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Doorstep statement by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the informal meeting of EU Defence Ministers

Good evening.

I'm delighted to be in Portugal.

Portugal is a staunch ally in our transatlantic Alliance and I saw that today when I had the privilege of visiting the NATO exercise, Steadfast Defender 21, off the coast of Portugal today, together with Defence Minister Cravinho.

We visited a UK aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, this is the first aircraft carrier in the world which is designed to operate fifth generation aircrafts. It carries US Marines, it is protected by a Dutch frigate, and it’s on its way to the Pacific. And I can hardly think about any stronger and better example of how Europe and North America are working together in NATO to protect us all and it’s great to be able to see this just off the coast of Portugal today.

I'm also of course looking forward to the dinner with the EU Defence Ministers, we will discuss NATO-EU cooperation. We have achieved a lot and I think it is extremely important that we continue to work together, NATO and the European Union, because as we share the same neighbourhood, we also address many of the same crisis’, we have seen that in Belarus, in Ukraine and in Afghanistan.

And I think we can step up and further strengthen our cooperation when it comes to working on the resilience of our societies, infrastructure, climate change and also standing up for the rules based international order.

So, as always, it's a great pleasure for me to meet the EU Defence Ministers.

All NATO Allies strongly condemn the forceful action of the regime in Minsk, to force down, to force a civilian aircraft to land. This was an aircraft that was on its way, from one NATO ally capital, Athens, to another, Vilnius, and this clear statement from all NATO allies in the North Atlantic Council, represents close to 1 billion people and countries from both sides of the Atlantic, North America and Europe, so it's a very strong message to Belarus that this is absolutely unacceptable.

I also welcome the fact that NATO allies, the European Union are now imposing sanctions on Belarus, to make it absolutely clear that there are consequences when they behave the way they behaved; by forcing the civilian aircraft to land. We also call on an immediate international investigation into what happened.

And this is not only an act which has undermined, or which is violating, international norms and rules, but it also is a blatant attack on democratic rights because the purpose of forcing this aircraft land was, of course, to arrest a journalist and his companion.

And the journalist has been one of the strong voices in the democratic opposition in Belarus, and therefore, this is also an attack on fundamental democratic rights, and the freedom of press.

This is a part of a pattern we have seen, of behaviour both by Belarus, but also by Russia. They're cracking down on democratic protests, they are cracking down on democratic opposition, they are using cyber attacks, poisoning, Navalny, and then they’re using force against the democratic protesters in Belarus.

So two different countries, but very much the same pattern. And of course this pattern is something that is something we have to take very seriously, because this is violating basic democratic rights. It's violating the values that NATO believes in; the rule of law, democracy, individual freedom, and it also creates instability and uncertainty in our neighbourhood. And that's the reason why NATO will continue to adapt and respond in a defensive way, but also that's why we, for instance, provide support to Ukraine and Georgia, two partners of NATO that have suffered from the use of force by Russia against them, violating their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Thank you.