Press Briefing: Previewing the NATO Summit in Vilnius

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Paige Montfort: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us on today’s call. 

As our operator mentioned, my name is Paige Montfort. I’m the media relations manager here at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, in Washington, D.C., and I’m so glad to have you all with us as we preview the upcoming NATO summit.

I’m joined by four really fantastic experts from our Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and our International Security Program who are going to weigh in on the significance of the trip, top agenda items, NATO membership prospects for Ukraine and other implications of the war, defense posture and deterrence, and, finally, resilience planning and investments, going forward. 

So, first, we’ll hear from my colleague Sean Monaghan. He’s a visiting fellow with our Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program.

And Sean will be followed by Max Bergmann, the director of our Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and also the Stuart Center in Euro-Atlantic and Northern European Studies. He’s actually joining us directly from another event that I’d recommend you all check out after this, where he also discussed the summit with Ambassador David Quarrey, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to NATO.

And after Max we’ll hear from Dr. Seth Jones, senior vice president, Harold Brown Chair, and director of our International Security Program and Transnational Threats Project. 

And, finally, last but certainly not least, we’ll hear from Dr. Cynthia Cook. She’s the director of our Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group.

Each of these experts is going to give five to seven minutes or so of opening remarks and then we’ll open up the call to your questions. And, as always, we’ll have a transcript out afterwards, which I’ll send directly to everyone who RSVPed and we’ll also have that posted to our website.

So we have a lot of ground to cover. Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Sean to start us off. 

Sean Monaghan: Yeah. Paige, good morning. Thank you, and good morning to everyone on the line. It’s Sean Monaghan here, a visiting fellow at CSIS Europe, Russia, Eurasia Program. 

Let me just talk for a few minutes on a couple of topics on the NATO summit in Vilnius, which is in less than two weeks’ time, the kind of significance of the summit and then some key agenda items, as I see them, and then happy to take questions thereafter. 

So, first, on the timing and the significance of the Vilnius Summit, well, you know, this is a critical moment for European and transatlantic security with war in Europe, the Ukraine offensive counter attacking against Russian forces there and, of course, the growing instability that we’ve seen in Moscow with Mr. Putin’s regime. It kind of makes this, as I see it, the most important summit, I think, since the Cold War, perhaps even since NATO’s formation or at the very least since the historic summit last year in Madrid. 

In NATO summit terms, you know, Vilnius is sandwiched between last year’s summit in Madrid where NATO agreed a historic new Strategic Concept, actually, that returned Russia to its kind of Cold War status of adversary and agreed a new – or, rather, kind of back to the future strategy of forward defense in Eastern Europe. And then next year, the summit in Washington, which will be also historic as it’s the 75th anniversary summit since NATO’s founding in 1949.

So, second, on a few kind of key agenda items, as I see them, for Vilnius. Three items and then a couple of loose ends. First up, of course, is Ukraine. All eyes will be on Vilnius to see what the so-called Ukraine package will look like. And there’s three aspects to this as I see it: membership, security assurances to Ukraine, and then support to Ukraine. First of all, on Ukrainian NATO – membership of NATO, I think everybody recognizes Ukraine will not be a member of NATO before the war in Ukraine ends, or even President Zelensky has said this numerous times. And because of the requirements of Article 5, NATO’s Article 5, Ukraine membership would essentially be tantamount to a declaration of war on Russia. So I don’t think that’s on the cards.

But beyond NATO membership when the war ends, there is a wide spectrum of views among allies which will need to find some kind of consensus at Vilnius. And these views range from the most cautious allies, perhaps the U.S. here, Germany and the southern NATO allies, to the most kind of hawkish and assertive allies – the Baltic states, Eastern European nations, such as Poland. I think the middle ground is where we’ll most likely end up, which is where the likes of U.K., and then France too, and Northern European allies are, which is to go beyond the words and deeds from Bucharest in 2008 – the Bucharest declaration – to send a strong signal to Ukraine and commit to a pathway to Ukraine’s membership after the war. 

But in the meantime, you know, offer a few concrete deliverables that can satisfy everybody. Such as the NATO-Ukraine Commission will be upgraded to a Council, and hopefully the Council will meet in Vilnius, and hopefully President Zelensky may even attend that. And I think NATO allies are also agreed on removing the membership application ban requirement for Ukraine, as they did with Finland and Sweden. But ultimately everyone agreed that Ukraine’s rightful place is in the European community, the European security architecture, and therefore in NATO, which is a key component of that.

Second, on security assurances or security guarantees, I mean, these are related to Ukraine’s NATO membership. President Zelensky wants security guarantees to bridge Ukraine’s NATO membership in the future. I mean, there is some precedent here with, you know, the U.K. providing assurances to Finland and Sweden before – during their accession process. There has been some discussion among European allies such as the U.K., France, Germany, and in the U.S. too around assurances, at the very least, to continue long-term support to Ukraine, to continue increasing support to Ukraine. 

But I don’t think that there is a consensus around what security assurances or guarantees could look like. But either way, I think, you know, allies here need to learn the lesson of Budapest in 1994 where, you know, the U.K., U.S., and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum, which was an agreement not to attack Ukraine, which clearly Russia is in breach of. And, you know, the main lesson is not to involve Russia in so-called security assurances and guarantees.

Finally, the component in the Ukraine package of support to Ukraine, I expect a much larger so-called the CAP, the Comprehensive Assistance Package, nonlethal aid for Ukraine. The secretary general has talked about at least $500 million there. And, you know, this is powerful when combined with the support outside of NATO frameworks, bilaterally, multilaterally, through groups like the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which has committed massive amounts of aid to Ukraine. Also forums like the London Ukraine Recovery Conference, which was held last week, which commit to Ukraine’s long-term recovery. I think taken together this is an extremely powerful statement of commitment to supporting Ukraine in the long term.

Second agenda item, and beyond Ukraine, is NATO’s own defense and deterrent. So as I mentioned, the Madrid summit. Madrid NATO set this new strategy of forward defense. Really a kind of return to Cold War strategy in many ways, to deter Russian aggression by denial against NATO member states.

NATO allies made three key commitments in Madrid to more combat-ready forces forward, more exercises and more reinforcements. I think progress on these has been mixed. For example, the combat-ready forces forward, the enhanced forward-presence battle groups, were looking to be upgraded from battle groups to brigades. None of the eight missions – this hasn’t happened at either of those eight missions. Yet there has been a huge increase in exercises, NATO’s exercise program, including exercising the brigade-level deployments; for example, the U.K. and Estonia, the U.S. and Poland, Germany, and Lithuania, and, you know, NATO’s biggest-ever air exercise, Air Defender, hosted by Germany.

On the reinforcement front, NATO committed to increasing its – massively increasing its reserve-forces pool, ready to deploy within a month’s notice from 40,000 to 300,000. I think this is the biggest change. You know, this is kind of 10 times the scale of NATO high-readiness forces that we’ve seen before. Yet I don’t see kind of 10 times the level of investment or generation of new forces from NATO allies. So I think we’re the furthest of meeting this huge commitment. But I think NATO is moving in the right direction, noting that the German minister for defense, Boris Pistorius, has committed this week to Germany providing a permanent brigade in Lithuania in the future.

In NATO’s defense and deterrence, of course, we can’t forget about nonmilitary attacks, so-called hybrid threats, which I kind of view as the modern Fulda Gap, like Russia’s most likely axis of attack against NATO nations. Which is why it would be really important for NATO allies to agree measures on resilience, cyber defense, disinformation, and all, of course, in coordination with the EU, which has plenty of relevant instruments in this regard.

And then, finally, on the defense-investment pledge, NATO spending, NATO defense spending has increased by around a third since 2014, the annexation of Crimea. But the defense-investment pledge that was made in Wales at the summit then in 2014 runs out next year, so allies are due to begin the conversation about what that next pledge is.

I would expect them in Vilnius to agree that 2 percent of GDP spending is a floor, despite the odd laggard and despite the fact that only seven allies currently meet those spending commitments, although that’s projected to increase to around 20 allies next year in Washington. But it will be the beginning of a discussion about what is this new spending target, above 2 percent towards 3 percent. The Baltic nations have committed to 3 percent. Poland is even moving towards 4 percent of defense spending. So Vilnius will begin that conversation.

And a couple of loose ends that might be tied up before the summit. I think Swedish membership, Max and others might have more to say here. But that’s really – the ball is still in Erdogan’s court, and nobody really knows if that’s going to be confirmed before the summit. And then the next secretary general, there were a few frontrunners but I don’t think any consensus among allies has been achieved. So the most likely outcome is for the current secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, to extend another year until the Washington summit next year.

OK, that’s all I have for now. But I look forward to questions. Thanks.

Ms. Montfort: Thanks, Sean.

And we’ll go over to Max.

Max Bergmann: Great. Thanks, Paige. And thanks, Sean. I think Sean gave a really good overview.

Maybe I’ll just make a couple of points. Maybe I’ll start on the kind of defense-investment pledge and the spending side. I think it’s important to note that since 2014, since the Wales summit – so after Crimea, NATO met in – I think it was late summer of 2014 – everyone recommitted to increase their defense spending to hit 2 percent. And while I think alliance-wide the 2 percent target is not going to be reached by most, at least by 2024, there has been a significant increase in spending. Europe is spending more on defense over the last decade.

I do think that there are some questions going forward. There’s a lot of talk, a lot of good rhetoric about 2 percent being the floor, which frankly seems a little bit divorced from the kind of economic budgetary realities that are being discussed by European finance ministers.

We do have a short commentary out at CSIS in the coming days noting that right now at the EU level there’s a discussion of the Stability and Growth Pact. This is the kind of budgetary agreement that European countries – that eurozone members agreed to to not have large budget deficits. And the German finance minister, Christian Lindner, is insisting on a return to deficit reduction. Well, if there’s a return to deficit reduction at the EU, then what is being discussed at NATO at Vilnius is simply not going to be reachable for many countries. There’s no way Spain is going to be able to aggressively reduce its deficit and increase defense spending.

And so I think, you know, one of the major questions going forward is there’s been a lot of European commitments to hit 2 percent, to spend more on defense. I think we’re definitely seeing that amongst Eastern European countries, particularly the Baltic states and Poland, that are really leading the way. But the further west you get away from Russia, I think there’s crosscutting trends that then make it not so clear cut that European defenses – European militaries will receive a significant increase in funding. I think they – I think in general they will, but perhaps not as much as currently anticipated.

We had a report out recently that points to the need, therefore, for greater European cooperation when it comes to defense investment so that European states actually get the most bang for the euro when they start spending more, so that they’re not – I think there’s a danger of every state sort of spending a bit more but then not actually spending in the right way to really fill a lot of the capability gaps which ensure a dependence on U.S. forces. So that’s something that I think NATO hasn’t quite focused on enough, is to focus on European defense cooperation. It’s something that we’ve called for them to increase their focus on.

Maybe just a quick point on Ukraine. I think Sean sort of covered it. But I would just highlight I think the most important thing that can really come out of this summit is sort of Israel-style commitments to the long-term security of Ukraine in the form of tangible long-term security assistance commitments. What the United States does with Israel is we provide more than $3 billion a year to Israel’s defense. We have an MOU with the Israelis that lets them know that over the next 10 years you’re going to get, I think, roughly $35 billion. And that allows Israel to make long-term investments – to make long-term procurement plans about, you know, how many aircraft it’s going to buy, what vehicles it’ll buy. And right now Ukraine is being supported in a very short-term way that we are, you know, appropriating money and getting that money out the door as fast as possible to meet Ukraine’s defense needs for the current counteroffensive.

And this has been articulated by Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl. When looking at sort of addressing or figuring out what resources go where, do you want to give money for F-16, which may not be there for six months, or for the munitions that are needed to fight the war over the next few weeks? And so, obviously, you default to the short term.

However, I think it’s critically important to make a long-term financial commitment here to really send a message to the Russians that the – that, you know, they are not going to win a long war and that our commitment to Ukraine will last. And I think it’s really important that the Europeans also make that commitment, that if there is an election that goes a certain way in Washington in 2024 that European commitments will be there. And what this would do is enable Ukraine to buy new fleets of aircraft, new tanks that may or may not be destroyed in the coming counteroffensive. And it would ensure – would tell Russia that Ukraine will have the financial capacity to maintain this fight over the long term.

And then maybe just a final point on Sweden. Look, I think it would be a real failure for the alliance if it’s not able to get Sweden over the goal line here, and it’s a failure because it’s being held up by one member, Turkey. And the alliance thus far has played very nice with Turkey. Stoltenberg – you know, Stoltenberg and the State Department and others have changed the name of Turkey, are calling it Türkiye, and have really sort of buried some of the differences with Erdoğan. But you know, now the rubber is sort of hitting the road here, and it really calls into question whether this is an alliance that Turkey belongs to and shares the values of this alliance if a country like Sweden is not – is not acceptable to Turkey. And so I think we may – you know, we’ll see what happens at Vilnius, but if Sweden is not a member come the Vilnius Summit – which right now it doesn’t look like it will – I think it really will lead to a confrontation with Turkey over whether Turkey, in fact, belongs in the alliance.

Of course, there’s no way – there’s no procedures to evict Turkey. But I think that chatter will actually increase because it is having real practical implications right now on NATO, because as Finland has become a member and NATO is having some sort of adjustments planning to think about Finland, well, Sweden is a critical part of that in terms of – logistically in terms of supporting Finland. And that is really complicating, I think, just on a tangible level NATO operations.

Maybe I’ll leave it at that. 

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you, Max. 

And now over to Seth. 

Seth G. Jones: Great. Thanks, everyone, for participating and thanks to my colleagues for joining as well. I’m going to build a little bit on a couple of points that both Sean and Max have made, again, then going a little bit of a different direction at the end.

But let me just start with the Russians. Then I’ll touch on a couple of different aspects that Sean and Max didn’t hit, at least in depth, on Ukraine, and then on deterrence, and then let me just talk briefly at the end about the role of NATO in the Indo-Pacific, which may come up at least a bit on the sidelines of Vilnius. 

So let me just start off with the Russians, just two points that in many ways sort of are pushing against each other. One is the recent events in Russia with Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group pushback over the weekend I think puts Putin in a relatively weak position and his regime in disarray. 

There, clearly, is significant infighting including within the – what I’ll call the informal security establishment. You know, I consider the Russian state in the security arena as just as a combination of regular Russian organizations so it’s just the ministry of defense and the various ministries – the Russian army, air force, navy – and the informal kind of Mafia apparatus that we see both operating in Ukraine with Wagner but also overseas with Russian private military companies, not just Wagner but numerous others in almost three dozen locations and major conflict right now. 

And in some ways, you know, Prigozhin has hit a really interesting nerve because he has publicly pointed out – not from the Navalny sort of left of Russian politics but from the right, pointed out the poor performance of the Russian military, the – both the botched invasion plans right in the beginning in February but also their inability to take Kyiv and Kharkiv and just the large number of Russian casualties that they have taken. Since the war began more Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine in more – in just over a year than in all Russian and Soviet wars combined since World War II. 

So it’s an extraordinary, like, difficult position for the Russians and I think, you know, Russia is in a position of some weakness right now, which I think does raise some prospects about to what degree NATO can take advantage of this both writ large but also in Ukraine. 

At the same time we do see an effort to – of the Russian military to try to reconstitute itself. I took a swing recently through Helsinki, Tallinn, and Warsaw and saw a range of Eastern European and U.S. leaders in those locations – military intelligence and political leaders. 

A number of – a number of those individuals that I spoke to were putting Russian goals – again, achieving this is going to be a little different – Russian goals of reconstitution at somewhere in the three to five years, particularly in the army, which means that, as Sean mentioned earlier, starting at Madrid and I think what’ll be reinforced at Vilnius the Russians now are viewed as – in almost Cold War terms now.

But I think we’re seeing the Russians already make changes on the army side. They have scrapped, largely, their battalion tactical groups and are building divisions. So they’re scrapping all of the major changes that the former minister of defense, Anatoly Serdyukov, made in that 2008 to 2012 period. They’re essentially going back to a Soviet military at the division level. Obviously upgrading it. So I think what that poses for NATO at Vilnius is a range of questions on deterrence. How do you deter? And I think, you know, NATO’s in a pretty good position on deterrence by denial for at least most of Western Europe. 

What I think is still a challenge, and in my move through the Baltic states, deterrence by denial I don’t think is possible in the Baltic states. So as the Russians try to reconstitute, with Chinese help, and they are – they are certainly trying to increase the types of weapons support, particularly components, from the Chinese. To what degree they can do that on the quicker side and rebuild. But it does put, with that sort of growing animosity on both sides of that NATO-Russia line, it does put the Baltic states in some threat. Just their distance between Russia and Baltic capitals is short.

Also I think we’re seeing that the willingness at Vilnius to talk about Russian hybrid activity, which Max mentioned. I saw the fence that the Finns are now building in expectation of the Russians to retaliate at some point for Finnish membership. This would be using, for example, immigrants as a weapon to push across the border. And just to support Max’s point more broadly, you know, there was an attempt to blow up a train in March in Poland by the Russian security apparatus, most likely the GRU. So I think we’re going to expect to see the Russians at some point, as Ukraine starts to – starts to move to more of a frozen conflict – that the Russians may become a little bit more aggressive on the irregular side. And so lots of discussion in NATO about how to deal with that.

Just briefly on Ukraine, I mean, I think both what Sean and Max said was right on point. I would just say that there are continuing discussions, and there will be at Vilnius, I mean, nothing finally decided about the political path. I have spoken to very few senior officials within NATO or corresponding countries that believe an actual peace settlement with the Russians is likely, but something that’s closer to a ceasefire. But what do those terms look like? I’m happy to go into more detail.

And I think the real – the real issue is how, as Max noted, to get to – to get Ukraine to a point, to some degree, where Israel is. And the longer-term goal is to make it too costly for the Russians, if possible, to conduct another conventional invasion. And that really does require building up Ukrainian military, also diplomatic and economic, capabilities. But a real buildup of a Ukrainian military capability, with or without immediate NATO membership, that that has been discussed as a major objective.

And then just briefly, in a sentence of two, I suspect that the Indo-Pacific will come up. The secretary general has mentioned that it will. You know, with all of this going on, I mean, my general view is that there are certainly some European countries, like the British and the French – the U.K. is closely integrated with the U.S. Navy and the Marines, including the deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. But I think clearly in this environment the role of NATO is, and should be, in Europe, not in the Indo-Pacific. At least, not in a major way. I suspect if the Russians are able to reconstitute with Chinese help over the next three to five years then most of that attention will need to be based in Europe. 

So, with that, I will turn this back to Paige. And appreciate it.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you so much, Seth.

And finally, we have Cynthia Cook.

Cynthia Cook: Thanks, Paige. And thanks everyone for participating. I’m going to call back to Sean Monaghan’s earlier comments. He reminded us of the discussions at Madrid and the reinvigoration of considerations of NATO readiness. I’m going to take the conversation in that direction, and also connect to Max’s discussion of broader European integration.

Addressing Russia’s threat – or any threat, really, including a potential threat in the INDOPACOM region, as Seth highlighted – requires focusing not only on allied nations’ military capabilities and military readiness, but also on their resilience to fight the long war. Investments in resilience, with a specific focus on a variety of logistics issues and planning, also contribute to deterrence. Seth mentioned that if Russia can reconstitute in three to five years, we have to assume that that threat is not going away, even when the war is over.

So collective resilience is key here, and it can be framed to center around the same principles as collective defense, which is intended to bind its members together, committing them to protect each other, and setting a spirit of solidarity within the alliance. That’s our NATO language.

That said, we found that many NATO allies do not actually have resilience plans, nor do they have resilience organizations in place, specifically warfighting resilience. This means that resilience planning efforts, policies, investments, and activities have so far had a fragmented, uneven, and really a piecemeal nature. Efficiency and effectiveness in resilience, including warfighting logistics, will only happen if the allies are able to integrate priorities and capabilities and also tailor them to specific threats and challenges. And this does require advanced planning. And I’m hoping to see that on the agenda at Vilnius.

The idea of a more structured process for defining and measuring progress towards meeting national resilience targets is not new to NATO. In February 2021, it was the context of a proposal under the NATO 2030 approach. And literally just this morning NATO released a new paper on infrastructure resilience. This cannot be a one-off to strengthen the alliance. Resilience bears continuing priority in NATO and national planning, significant investments in building Europe’s credible resilience posture, and new approaches to amplifying allies’ combined capacity to tackle shared challenge and threats.

So as a forward-looking proposal, we recommend creating a NATO resilience planning process akin to the NATO defense planning process to harmonize and integrate national resilience plans, strategies, and capabilities to marshal NATO’s strong collective response. And any additional spending commitments moving beyond the 2 percent offers the opportunity for investments here. Often warfighting resilience investments do have overlap to civilian infrastructure investments. So this may be an avenue for nations to increase their commitments and investments in an area that will help future warfighting, but also support civilian goals as well.

So we’ve looked at operational and energy – operational energy in fuels in the first application of a collective approach to critical warfighting resilience and logistics issues, because fuel logistics require significant advanced planning, including pre-positioned war stocks, adequate transportation, flexible contracts to surge fuel acquisition, and reliable infrastructure. Logistics was a clear early differentiator between Ukraine and Russia, showing its importance in the present and going forward. So the –

Ms. Montfort: Cynthia, just so you know, you cut out for just a minute there. So we might have lost the last sentence or two.

Dr. Cook: OK, just – I was highlighting the fact that logistics is a differentiator between Russia and Ukraine. And that has been clear since the beginning of the war. So we know there’s work underway. Poland has made significant investments in fuel infrastructure since 2019 and has set up a maintenance hub for Ukraine’s Leopards on the logistics front. And Germany has also released a new national-security strategy highlighting resilience.

So there – we – I really hope that there’s continued attention on this. It’s a very important and sometimes unsung aspect of warfighting. For all the emphasis on amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics, we don’t always see the emphasis on logistics planning in advance.

So this upcoming Vilnius summit offers an outstanding opportunity to address issues of resilience. The formal agenda is not public, but I’m hoping to see the topic highlighted during the summit. And going back to the question of deterrence, investment in warfighting resilience demonstrate the willingness of the alliance to work together and to really plan. And that is an important aspect of resilience as well. And over to Paige to manage the questions.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you so much, Cynthia, also Seth, Max, Sean. Fantastic. So we will now turn it over to any questions those of you have who have dialed in. So I’ll turn it back to our AT&T operator for a moment. He’ll let everyone know how you can queue up.

Operator: Thank you.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Great. We will start with the line of Howard LaFranchi with Christian Science Monitor. Please go ahead.

Q: OK. Thank you all for doing this. I’m wondering if you could go a little bit – a little bit deeper, specifically into what impact you all see – as Seth said – the instability in Moscow that we’ve seen – you know, what impact that might have at Vilnius. I mean, is it just, well, we’re prepared for this, we saw it coming? Or, you know, is it – does this – does Russia move up higher on the agenda of the summit? Do you expect special sessions on this issue? And then specifically to – since I have you all, and maybe, Seth, you could focus a little it on any changes that – in U.S. – specifically U.S. approach, either both at the summit and just in Europe. Again, because of the – you know, what we’ve seen of the prospect of a future of instability and uncertainty from Moscow.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thanks, Howard. Seth, do you want to maybe start us off and then others can jump in?

Dr. Jones: Yeah. Thanks, Howard. And great questions. I’ll start off with a brief comment on the Russians and Vilnius, and then obviously changes in U.S. – you know, changes in U.S. policy that might occur in part because of that. You know, this obviously is happening on the fly. So I suspect at the very least the discussions of the Russians will be an important part of most of the discussions, including ones happening on the sidelines. And I think they do impact everything that the secretary general has said will be a key element of it.

I think what is – what is going to be likely a key element of let’s take Ukraine, is, you know, the discussions that have been happening in NATO circles about this combination of both moving Ukraine into NATO and putting it on a path, and, as part of that, how to provide assistance to Ukraine. I think in some ways this provides some opportunities for NATO. I mean, there probably is going to be some cautiousness, but I think this does present an opportunity to provide a range of assistance along – on the battlefield for not just training, but also the F-16s and ATACMS. 

I think there are – you know, the Russians do have reasonable masses of forces in Ukraine. They’ve put up defensive fortifications, as we’ve documented publicly. They can also use fixed-plane aircraft and helicopters against Ukrainian positions and move through the front lines, which they can’t really use when they conduct offensive operations because they get shot down with S-300s. But this raises a lot of questions about Russian morale on the – fighting. And the Wagner Group has pulled out of – it looks like it’s pulled out of eastern Ukraine and the Donetsk and Luhansk areas. So I think this provides an opportunity for NATO to really encourage a push later this summer on the offensive and to provide whatever help the Ukrainians need. So what I really hope – and again, this will be the subject of deliberations – is that NATO sort of leans forward on taking advantage of Russian weaknesses right now to push in Ukraine.

Part of the challenge, frankly, with Russia in the state that it’s in is, you know, are the Russians going to be willing in any way to negotiate anything? I think it’s highly unlikely. Putin is already in a weak position right now. If he were to concede Ukrainian territory, I think that would put him in an even weaker position. So I don’t expect the Russians are going to actually negotiate anything, except to the degree that there are some short-term ceasefire arrangements.

So if I’m looking at U.S. – what might change in the U.S., I think there has been growing discussion about providing assistance to Ukraine, including some of the higher-end platforms like F-16s, that may be of limited value immediately but will have long-term value towards deterring Russian activity in Ukraine down the road whether or not Ukraine is a member of NATO. So I think that shift to a longer-term aid package for Ukraine, I think there’s – I’ve heard much more significant discussion on that from senior leaders.


Ms. Montfort: Thank you, Seth.

I think Sean has a comment, too.

Mr. Monaghan: Thanks, Paige.

Mr. Bergmann: Go ahead, Sean.

Mr. Monaghan: Sorry, Max. Just very quickly on the point about the implications of Moscow – instability in Moscow. I think it’s profound for NATO.

Look, I think it vindicates NATO’s decision to shore up its defense and deterrence. I mean, NATO is a military alliance. Military alliances are in the business of preparing for worst-case scenarios and having a range of options to meet a range of contingencies. And I think NATO – you know, last year proved that the Russian regime is more unpredictable, is – the kind of gloves are off. It’s willing to use violent force to pursue a war of conquest in Ukraine. And what the recent Prigozhin affair and the fallout proves is that this regime is actually a lot more fragile and unstable than we perhaps previously thought. So those two are not a good combination. And NATO’s job is to have a range of defense plans for a range of contingencies, and I think this will be a big focus at Vilnius.

At a recent defense ministers, NATO looked to agree its regional – new so-called regional plans under the so-called DDA – defense and deterrence of the North Atlantic area – concept to shore up NATO’s deterrence. And these were not agreed, not because allies I think disagree with the military plans but because of a disagreement over the wording – geographic wording between Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. I think it will be important at Vilnius to make sure all of these plans are agreed and that NATO has all of these options at its disposal and continues to shore up its deterrence, because an unstable regime could lead to unpredictable crises which NATO will need to deal with.

I think, actually, Max, back to you.

Mr. Bergmann: Yeah. Let me – just a couple quick thoughts.

I mean, I think that – I think those are shifts that then – I think will shift some perceptions of sustaining the conflict. And what I mean by that is I think there was a real narrative that if the Ukrainians’ counteroffensive proved unsuccessful then, you know, there would be added pressure on Ukraine to sort of, you know, try to create a negotiated settlement, with the understanding or view that a long war wouldn’t favor Ukraine. And I think that a long war may actually favor Ukraine, and what’s happening is new cracks in Russia are emerging on the frontlines. Putin himself brought up the 1917 analogy where the czar is toppled and there’s mutiny on the front. And this has sort of, you know, really clarified to many Western leaders that the war is being felt inside of Russia. 

Ukraine, I think that this becomes sort of this critical moment where the Kremlin is shaken by either mutiny or, you know, the coup-ish attempt to depose the defense ministry by Prigozhin, that’s a real opportunity to make Russians – the Russian military very depressed about their ability to win a long war. And if we can make long-term security commitments, I think that really drives home that this is not a war that Russia’s going to win. And that’s when we start potentially seeing a degree – a further demoralization and efforts for change. 

But I agree with Seth that, you know, this war has become very existential for Putin, so it is very hard to see Putin negotiating an end to the war. And I think what you’re starting to see is you may see a crack or a divergence where Putin demands fighting on; the Russian military leadership and Russian military sees no point to doing so. And that divergence, I think, could be quite dangerous to the Putin regime going forward.

Dr. Cook: I will –

Ms. Montfort:

 Great. Thank you, Max. And, yeah, over to you, Cynthia.

Dr. Cook: Yeah. Let me – let me pile on with just one last comment highlighting the commitment that providing F-16s involves. It’s not just the aircraft. It’s not just the training of pilots. It’s also the longer-term commitment for spare parts. So it sends a strong message and that gets back to what NATO leaders at Vilnius can control and what they can’t control. 

They can’t really control what’s happening inside of Russia. They can’t control Putin’s attempts to stay in power or other attempts to depose him. What they can control is the messages that they’re sending of commitment to Ukraine and commitment to the alliance, and the stronger that NATO leaders are in creating and sending that message the better off the alliance will be in the future and the more likely it will be that Russia has second thoughts for any activities like this in the future as well. 

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you, Cynthia. 

Now we’ll go to our next question. 

Operator: Our next question comes from the line of Sophia Barkoff with CBS News. Please go ahead. 

Q: Hi, all. Thank you so much for this briefing today. 

I had a question about – I think it’s very interesting how you all were talking about an Israel style commitment to a long-term defense plan for Ukraine. Do you expect that to come out of this summit specifically or is that more of a long-term plan? 

And then, secondly, how realistic do we think cooperation on a plan for Ukraine, going forward, is considering Hungary and Turkey’s friendliness with Putin? Do we expect them to give some of the other members trouble in making a commitment to Ukraine?

Ms. Montfort: Thanks, Sophia.

Max, do you want to take that first?

Mr. Bergmann: Sure. Well, look, you know, NATO summits and things like this are unique opportunities. They bring together all the leaders. There’s a lot of press that come in. You all will be asking why isn’t Ukraine a member right now. And that pressure, I think, is good. The pressure leads, then, to the leaders to say, well, what are we going to come up with?

I think the security guarantees have become a really good landing spot for leaders. And there’s reportedly been discussions between the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France of putting together a financial commitment. This is something that can be done. We have the financial capacity and the infrastructure– on our end and the pocket money in the budget, as we do with Israel. 

But I think this is something that is quite doable, quite achievable, quite tangible. And if it’s not done or reached at this NATO summit, then I think you’re probably looking at sort of punting this decision to the next big convening of these leaders, which would be, you know, the G-7 next year or the next NATO summit. So I think this is – there’s a real – you know, this is a real opportunity to really make progress here on that.

Ms. Montfort:

 Thanks so much, Max. And then I know there’s a bit of an audio quality issue potentially there. We will have a transcript after that should capture his remarks for anyone who couldn’t hear a bit of that. But over to Sean for some additional comments.

Mr. Monaghan: Yeah, just a quick addition on that. I wouldn’t expect at Vilnius allies, NATO allies, to – you know, regarding the style of security and the scope of security assurance or guarantees to Ukraine. All NATO allies have already committed to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. And I would expect similar language. The point Max makes about the U.S. security guarantee to Israel is that it provides sort of long-term planning, it specifies amounts of money, it specifies systems. It also specifies that the U.S. will help Israel maintain a competitive edge over its adversaries. So those levels of detail I think will be helpful, but unlikely to be agreed at Ukraine.

A related point is that NATO’s – as well as support to Ukraine, NATO’s shoring up NATO’s own defense and deterrence is really important, because that’s what enables NATO allies to continue supporting Ukraine without kind of fear of reprisal from Russia. The stronger that NATO allies are in their defense against both conventional and hybrid threats are the more able – the more free and able NATO feel to support – continue supporting Ukraine in the way that they have done. Thanks.

Dr. Jones: Hey, Paige, could I just briefly add on? I think on –

Ms. Montfort: Yes, absolutely. Please do.

Dr. Jones: Yeah. On the Israel question, I think Sean is exactly right. And Max, to the degree I could hear him, it doesn’t – I mean, I wouldn’t expect details at Vilnius, but a growing consensus that some type of longer-term assistance to Ukraine is critical for deterrence down the road with all of the important components that Cynthia mentioned. Because this really would be a shift away – a continuing shift away from key weapon systems and platforms in the air domain from Russian Su’s and MiGs to Western aircraft. And that obviously has huge long-term implications on the logistics tails, the spare parts that go with that, and all of the other things. So I mean expect this more as a discussion point rather than a final resolution. 

And the same thing on your question about cooperation with Ukraine, how realistic is it? The clearest area where there is likely to be a divide on this is membership. And that’s where countries like Hungary, or Turkey, or others will be able to be a – you know, a thorn in any broader discussion of NATO membership. And the U.S. administration has not been particularly forward leaning on this either. But when one is talking about kind of an Israeli-style approach to providing military assistance, that does not have to be just a NATO decision. 

There is – much like there has been with Ukraine – there’s an important bilateral discussion between the U.S. and Ukraine as well. So it’s much harder for those kinds of countries, like Turkey and Hungary, to undermine efforts to provide longer-term assistance to Ukraine. Because it doesn’t have to be a formal NATO decision, like membership. And so I expect, you know, less likelihood that we’ll see serious undermining of that from those countries on assistance. Membership’s the more difficult issue.

Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you, Seth. We’ve got a couple more questions in the queue, so let’s go to our next one.

Operator: Thank you. Our next line will go to Augustinas Šemelis with Lithuanian National Radio and TV. Please go ahead.

Q: Yeah. Thank you.

I had a question regarding pathway for Ukraine for NATO membership. Do you think we will have sort of a Catch-22 situation, because if NATO says that war is the obstacle and Ukraine can become a member only after the war, it could be sort of an incentive for Russia to continue a low-intensity conflict for years and years ahead, just as a tool to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. So is there a way to avoid that? And what language regarding Ukraine’s membership do you think allies can realistically agree? Thank you.

Ms. Montfort: Thanks. Who’d like to start with that one?

Mr. Bergmann: I can – I can maybe jump in. This is Max Bergmann.

I think you’re right. I think there is a real Catch-22 situation. And I think there isn’t a great way to get around it, frankly. And I also think this sort of is the reason why it was essentially not true that Russia invaded Ukraine because of potential NATO expansion to Ukraine, because Russia already had a de facto veto because it was occupying Ukrainian territory, which meant that if Ukraine became a member, then the alliance would be at war.

I think I’ve seen some creative ways or arguments to try to make – to try to bring Ukraine in, and noting that, you know, just because Ukraine became a member doesn’t mean – you know, Article 5 doesn’t mean that the United States would have to go to war with Russia if Ukraine became a member.

And I think while that’s all true, I think it would ultimately probably undermine some of the credibility of Article 5 and also probably wouldn’t then have the benefit that NATO membership is supposed to provide to Ukraine, which is to deter these sorts of attacks from Russia. So I think what – Putin’s goal here is quite clear, which is to maintain or is basically to keep the territory that he currently holds, to essentially have a frozen conflict that he can make hot at any moment and he can launch missiles into Ukraine so that Ukraine will always be in a sort of weakened state of war.

And that, I think, is a real dilemma. And that is why the security-assistance part is so critical, because it will enable Ukraine to keep on going on the offensive, and it also means why it’s going to be very difficult for Ukraine to sort of accept some sort of settlement that doesn’t – that enables a sort of frozen conflict, that Ukraine will need to be able to – will want to keep fighting.

And so I think that’s the fundamental strategic dilemma that you outlined, is one that Ukraine is having to reckon with, unfortunately.

Ms. Montfort: Great. And I believe Sean has a comment as well.

Mr. Monaghan: Thanks, Paige. Sure.

Yeah, just to add, I agree with Max, although I see it the other way around. I see this as a dilemma for Moscow. I think the frozen-conflict playbook as a strategy, it’s a strategy, but it’s not a very good one. In the short term, it may work. But really, NATO has all the kind of angles covered here. In the short term, if a frozen conflict continues, then NATO allies will continue supporting Ukraine, as they said, for as long as it takes, and continue increasing that support over time. And if and when the war ends, then Ukraine joins NATO and we have a deterrence structure against a future armed aggression.

So I think the dilemma is Moscow’s. It’s of Moscow’s own making. But I think – and NATO has the tools to cope with this kind of well-known Moscow playbook.

Ms. Montfort: Thanks, Sean.

And I’d like to try and get to one more question before we wrap up and hit time here.

Operator: Thank you. Our last question today will come from the line of George Condon with National Journal. Please go ahead.

Q: Great. Thanks.

I was a little delayed getting on the call, so I apologize if this has already been covered. How big of a concern is the drawdown of NATO armaments and ammo to help Ukraine? Will that be addressed in Vilnius, or is it up to each individual member to address their own stockpiles?

Ms. Montfort: I might first turn this over to Seth and Cynthia.

Dr. Jones: Cynthia, do you want to go first?

Dr. Cook: I think you should talk about “Empty Bins” and then I’ll follow up with the way forward.

Dr. Jones: OK.

Great question. I don’t think this will be resolved in Vilnius. It can’t be resolved anyway in that kind of timeframe. But it is an ongoing discussion. I mean, I think there are at least two issues that come out of this. One is no country, whether it’s the U.S. or any European countries, have sufficient munitions in particular to fight a protracted war, particularly higher-end munitions.

There have been some efforts – I was just last week in St. Louis and St. Charles to visit Harpoon factories. So there are efforts to ramp up on munitions in the U.S. defense industry. But at this point I think the stockpiles are still pretty low, and there are a lot of issues right now from supply chain to challenges with contracts to foreign military sales and ITAR that are slowing the whole process of filling those empty bins, and I think that’s going to continue to be a challenge. But that challenge has been recognized. There are some positive steps. HIMARS, for example, are going to be co-produced in Poland. That actually helps to some degree. There has – we’re seeing an export of a number of different types of weapons systems, from tanks to Stingers and Javelins, that are helping. But I think over the long run there’s going to need to be much more systematic thought about cooperation across the U.S. and European industrial bases to deal with the security environment that now exists, which is a wartime environment. We’ve got an active war in Russia.

The other challenge that will continue is this debate about whether providing weapons to Ukraine if the war continues to be protracted will actually take away and undermine U.S. interests, including deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. And I think that is – and we’ve certainly heard that from a number of members of Congress. I think that is a completely erroneous argument. The types of – for the most part, the types of weapons systems needed in the Indo-Pacific, which is air-sea battle, are very different from what we see in Ukraine, which is air-land battle. There is a little bit of overlap in a few types of systems, but for the most part they’re – you know, the requirements are very different. Happy to offline get into the specifics of that. So that is a second issue that will come up, and I, you know, would strongly push back on anybody who tries to connect those two theaters, except to the degree that there’s a broader industrial-base problem.

Dr. Cook: Yeah. And let me – let me hit on that.

So Seth describes what I think of the demand. And if we think about how we’re going to meet that demand, there are efforts underway, as Seth mentioned. The Army is increasing production at its organic arsenals. Seth mentioned work with U.S. defense contractors. And we know also that Dr. LaPlante, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, has been connected to the European Armament Directorate to talk about increasing production there.

So this is a large challenge for some of the reasons that Seth mentioned. And I would just add workforce constraints to that as well. With the unemployment rate low, it’s hard to get the workers to increase production.

So the challenge, really, within the U.S. relates to the incentive structure of the defense industrial base, which has pushed towards low-cost production, which has meant that defense contractors have created very efficient supply chains – which is good in normal times, but when it comes to surging it means that there’s limited manufacturing slack to do so. And there are solutions to this that, again, I can talk offline.

But since we’re running out of time here, I’d like to just mention that the efforts are not happening just within the United States. Certainly, Europe is focused on this as well. NATO has a Defense Production Action Plan that should be agreed to at Vilnius. That’s a possible really important contribution there. And the EU has a – something called an ASAP initiative to support ammunition production as well.


Ms. Montfort: Great. Thank you so much, Cynthia.

And because we are a few minutes over time, we will stop it here. But thank you all so much for joining us today, and thank you to my colleagues for your time and your expertise. As a reminder, we’ll have the transcript out within just a few hours today direct to everyone who RSVPed and also posted to So have a great day ahead everyone, or evening depending on where you’re calling in from, and thank you so much for joining us.