OREANDA-NEWS. The coronavirus pandemic has not deprived NATO of the opportunity to increase defense spending by 3.9% in 2020, Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

«We also continued to invest in our defense. Despite the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was the sixth year in a row with increased defense costs for European allies and Canada», the Secretary General said on Tuesday, March 16, in a report on the alliance's activities for 2020.

According to the schedule presented in Stoltenberg's speech, the largest growth in spending was observed in 2017 and 2018 — 5.9% and 4.2%, respectively. Only 11 countries of the alliance have achieved the NATO target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defense.

He expressed the hope, that this trend will continue in 2021, as the security challenges have not disappeared. Pointing to the importance of maintaining NATO forces and transatlantic ties, Stoltenberg listed such challenges as «Russia's destabilizing behavior», the rise of China, cyber attacks, breakthrough technologies, and the security impact of climate change.

The report of the Secretary General also notes, that NATO is concerned about Russia's military activity near the borders of the allied countries.

«Russia continued to conduct unannounced as well as large-scale exercises, such as the «Caucasus 2020», which increased the alliance's concerns regarding regional security», the document says.

At the same time, the report indicates, that in 2020, the alliance remained open to dialogue about international security issues.

«NATO has repeatedly invited Russia to hold a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. Russia consistently rejected these proposals, as a result of which there were no meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in 2020», the authors claimed.