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Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and Lithuanian President Nausėda in relation to the situation in Belarus and at its border with the EU

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op zondag 28 november 2021.

Thank you very much,

Mr President, dear Gitanas,

Madam Prime Minister, dear Ingrida,

I am very happy to be here today in Vilnius, together with Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg. I want to assure you here of the EU's full solidarity with Lithuania, Poland and Latvia in these very challenging times.

For months now, Lithuania has been facing a deliberate, cynical and dangerous hybrid attack. An attack organised by the Lukashenko regime. It is putting at risk the life of innocent civilians, lured to the Belarus border under false promises. Lithuania has been responding to this hybrid attack in a humane and firm way. The European Union continues to stand by your side.

This includes equipment support to help manage the border effectively, in close cooperation with our agencies Frontex, EASO and Europol. Lithuania is already benefiting from EUR 37 million in emergency assistance. But, as I announced earlier this week, we are tripling the EU border management funds for Lithuania, Poland and Latvia to EUR 200 million overall this year and next year.

Lukashenko has failed in his bid to undermine EU unity and solidarity. We are facing down his hybrid attack all together. But we are also well advised to learn the lessons. To deflect away from their internal problems, our opponents do not shy away from waging hybrid attacks on us.

These attacks can take multiple forms. Disinformation to stoke tensions within society — we saw that also in the pandemic and during our elections. Cyberattacks against individuals, institutions and infrastructures, putting lives directly at risk. Or, as the current situation shows, the instrumentalisation of human beings for political purposes.

To respond to such events, it is important that the European Union and NATO work hand in hand. We are testing and coordinating our crisis responses during regular exercises. And we are stepping up our coordination, cooperation on resilience, on situational awareness and on fighting disinformation.

First, on resilience. Under the Security Union Strategy, we are assessing our capacities and assets to respond to hybrid threats. In this regard, the European Union has solid tools, covering different scenarios. For example, if you look at the situation with Belarus right now, we have mobilised our diplomatic power, reaching out both to our partners and to countries of origin; we have made use of sanctions against individuals and authorities involved; and we are coordinating our sanctions very closely with the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. So we have efficient tools.

Second, on situational awareness. To be able to take appropriate decisions and act in a timely and effective manner, proper information and analysis capacity is essential. This is why the European Union needs its own Joint Situational Awareness Centre. Such a centre would help the European Union bundle its expertise and know-how, for example in countering hybrid attacks.

And my third point is, finally, on disinformation. This is a good example of very efficient cooperation between the European Union and NATO. Our staff are in constant contact to prevent the spread of falsities and to block foreign interventions and interferences. NATO is, for example, connected to the EU's Rapid Alert System. And we have successfully conducted joint outreach and campaigns, especially to debunk propaganda in our neighbourhood.

But as hybrid threats are getting more acute, we need to take our cooperation to the next level. This is why we are working, with Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, on a new EU-NATO Joint Declaration. Our goal is to renew and to update our political commitment to a very strong EU-NATO partnership. And we stand united with Lithuania, and that is why I would like to thank you, Mr President, Madam Prime Minister, for having us here today.

Thank you.


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