Ukraine and Transatlantic Security on the Eve of the NATO Summit

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This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on July 9, 2024. Watch the full video here.

Elizabeth Hoffman: On the eve of the NATO summit, which will mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance, it is confronting its most pressing challenge in decades, since the end of the Cold War. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 served as a stark reminder of the threat Western democracies face from resurgent authoritarians, ever determined to reshape the international order. The summit will convene presidents and prime ministers from the world’s most powerful democracies, and sustained support for Ukraine will be at the top of the agenda. However, in the United States, it is Congress that has and continues to play the most critical role in surging and maintaining support for Ukraine’s remarkable defense against the full-scale Russian invasion.

My name is Elizabeth Hoffman. And I am the director of the Congressional and Government Affairs Program, and a fellow at CSIS. And I am pleased to have with me to discuss these issues two members of Congress who are leading voices on foreign policy and national security in their respective parties, Senator Joni Ernst from the state of Iowa and Congressman Tom Suozzi representing the Third District of New York. Although these two need little introduction, I would like to highlight that Senator Ernst was the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the U.S. Senate in 2014. She is an elected member of Republican leadership and serves on the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, and Small Business Committees. Congressman Tom Suozzi was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2017 and left in 2022 to run for state office. He was reelected to the seat he vacated earlier this year and serves on the House Budget and Homeland Security Committees.

For those who may have lost faith in U.S. politics, you need only spend time in the company of either of these two members to be reminded that true public servants do exist on Capitol Hill. This conversation will be particularly insightful, because in April Senator Ernst and Congressman Suozzi joined CSIS on the first multiday, bipartisan, bicameral delegation to Ukraine. During the course of this time, members had the opportunity to visit Odessa in the south, Kyiv, the center of government, and Chernihiv, just 30 miles from the Ukrainian border with Belarus, and 60 miles from the border with Russia. This was not a trip for the faint of heart. Every minute was packed full of meetings and experiences, sometimes interrupted by the wail of sirens warning of incoming Russian missiles.

Senator Ernst and Congressman Suozzi, I would like you to ask – I’d like to start off the conversation by asking you to share any reflections or particular things that stood out to you during your time on the ground in Ukraine. Senator Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA): No, thank you, Elizabeth. And thanks to CSIS. I have to say, this was an incredibly important trip that both Republicans and Democrats were able to engage on. And it brought to light so many different angles that we had not anticipated – as you said, Elizabeth, the wail of the sirens, and being able to visit with people on the streets in the number of the communities that we visited, and how they recounted their personal stories and the atrocities that they had witnessed.

This was my third time traveling to Ukraine. I had traveled one other time as a senator, but my first time was years ago – 1989 – on a different exchange when I was 19 years old. And CSIS allowed me to reconnect with the – what I call my Ukrainian sister, Svitlana. It allowed me to reconnect with her face-to-face after nearly 30 years. And it was important to visit with her, to visit with her daughter – they live very close to the front lines in Ukraine – and hear their stories. And it was a very emotional reunion for me, so that to me was actually maybe the highlight of that trip as well as understanding what these communities, what these Ukrainians are experiencing. And the fact that we were able to do it with such good friends now like Tom – Tom Suozzi of New York, it really was an incredibly important opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to come together, spend multiple days in the country, and see how that can influence and shape our policymaking decisions.

Ms. Hoffman: Congressman Suozzi?

Representative Tom Suozzi (D-NY): So let me just first start by thanking CSIS for having that trip, and for taking other members of Congress. It was such an important visit and a very important time in our history, and I want to thank Senator Ernst. What a great traveling companion she was – so knowledgeable, so much experience, so well-respected by so many people. I learned so much just listening to her.

But let’s take people back to early April. You know, we weren’t sure whether we were going to get the supplemental bill done, and this trip was so important because Ukraine had faded from the front page – as it has again. I mean, today – it’s in the papers today, and I’m happy it’s in the papers, but for the wrong reasons – is that a hospital was attacked last night by the Russians – 38 missiles, 30 of them got through. I’m sorry, 30 were stopped, eight got through.

But it was a very, very important education for everybody who was there. One of the things that was really impactful on me was how upset our allies were – including our Polish allies – because they were just worried that the U.S. was not going to come through as we had pledged to do. We had done so much already, but just at the time they needed us they were concerned whether or not we were going to come through. But we did come through as a nation in a bipartisan fashion, and with Democrats and Republicans working together to face this very, very real threat that the West faces from Vladimir Putin and our other strategic adversaries that are supporting him.

And in the House the vote was – I’m looking at it right – 210 to – 210 Democrats and 101 Republicans; 311 people voted for that bill. That’s real bipartisanship. And I think Joni and I both knew – Senator Ernst and I both knew that this would be bipartisan, but we had to get it to the floor, and I’m so excited that we did. And I actually think that this trip that was sponsored by CSIS and our visit there helped to bring it forward. So it was a good example of, when people work together, you can actually do the right thing.

Ms. Hoffman: Congressman Suozzi, picking up on the tack that you just mentioned, you know, yesterday Ukraine experienced the deadliest day of airstrikes in months. Forty-one – at least 41 civilians were killed, and scores injured. As you mentioned, one of the missile struck the largest children’s hospital in all of Ukraine, which is in Kyiv. Thankfully, the hospital staff were able to evacuate most of the children before the missile strike or it would have been much, much more deadly.

However, yesterday, you know, when I looked in the news, and even this morning, scanning through, you have to scroll down quite a ways to find even mention of that attack. The headlines are primarily focused on domestic issues here in the United States.

So I’m curious – and you know this is in Washington, D.C., where there is, you know, probably a community that focuses more on international policy than other parts of the country – so I’m curious, Senator Ernst, you know, how is Ukraine being covered in your district back home and was your trip covered in your local media, and kind of how are you able to relate to constituents and talk about your experiences on the ground and how did they receive that?

Sen. Ernst: Well, just as Tom had indicated as well, I don’t think the news covers this well consistently. Right after I did return from the trip, and it was wonderful because we also were joined by Congresswoman Ashley Hinson of Iowa as well so we did have a lot of Iowa media attention and we felt that that was really important because we do have constituents at home that are very concerned about the U.S. taxpayer expenditures going into the war in Ukraine.

So it was covered well then. But, as Tom said, the media is not covering the issue of Ukraine and this is very consequential. So I wish they would give more frequent updates. But as we all know here in the United States, you know, our minds are fleeting, memory is fleeting, and if there is something like the children’s hospital it will pop back up again.

But we have so many issues around the globe. The world is literally on fire right now. We see more on the war in Israel and Gaza, even though quite a bit of that is fading away as well.

So I think it’s important for members of Congress to continue the dialog and discussing how can we bring this war to an end – what are the platforms and assistance that Ukraine needs.

We need to stay relevant in this fight because it’s not going to end, not well anyway, if America doesn’t provide leadership or doesn’t engage with other world leaders on a solution for Ukraine

Ms. Hoffman: Congressman Suozzi, I know you’ve spoken eloquently about this issue. How is the war being covered in your district and what are the reactions of your constituents when you tell them stories?

Rep. Suozzi: Yeah. So there’s very, very little coverage that takes place. You know, back in April and even since that time it slowed down, as the senator mentioned. But you know, Gaza, Gaza, Gaza was in the paper every day and that’s often efforts by our strategic adversaries to try and figure out how can they divide America further to get us fighting.

So, you know, sometimes the information the public received is ginned up by our adversaries just to get us fighting amongst ourselves here in America and that couldn’t be more true than something I experienced when we were in Ukraine.

You know, when you’re in Ukraine you can’t use your phone because the Russians are tracking you. So, you know, we all have the pouches – to hold your bag in the pouch and you’re not supposed to look at your phone because you could be tracked.

So when we got to Moldova I released to my staff a picture of me shaking hands with President Zelensky, which we met in Chernihiv, and I asked him to post it on social media. Well, within an hour there were 500 of the nastiest, most vicious comments I’ve ever received in my life, and those comments were not from my constituents. They were not from my political adversaries.

They were from Russian agents and bots, and within an hour the picture of me shaking hands with President Zelensky was doctored to show me wearing a Nazi armband. This disinformation campaign evidenced in that instance alone is happening every minute of every day throughout Eastern Europe, throughout Western Europe, throughout the United States of America, throughout the world, where our strategic adversaries – Russia, the Chinese Communist Party, Iran, North Korea, and others – are trying to manipulate the public, to destroy democracy, and to get us simply to be mad at each other, and if you watch what’s going on in our politics it’s working.

So we’ve got to figure out how can we get the good people of the United States Congress and the good people of America to – they can disagree with each other. Senator Ernst and I disagree with each other on a lot of things, but we have so much more common ground together on so many different issues including this issue that we need to get beyond the rhetoric and the hate-fueled speech that we see too much in our discourse these days, and remember what do we need to do together to make our country and our world, especially a place like Ukraine that’s under threat like this from a real adversary, Vladimir Putin – what can we do together to try and make things safer and better for the people of our country and our world.

Ms. Hoffman: Thank you. So you both have spoken about the importance of controlling the narrative. And that really takes, I think, leadership – political leadership from Congress, and also from the administration. And to that point, you know, in April when the supplemental was passed one of the provisions required the administration to provide to Congress a strategy for victory within 60 days. That 60 days has now elapsed. And, you know, much of this is classified – the actual strategy is classified. But I would be curious, from your point of view if you think that the administration has really articulated a strategy for victory, or do you see Congress with a clear vision for how Ukraine can win?

And, you know, part of that also goes into the ability – which has gotten quite a bit of attention and requests from Ukrainian authorities – the ability to use U.S. weapons to strike Russian targets. Restrictions have been eased slightly in the past several weeks, but they still remain. And, you know, we have given the Ukrainians weapons that could strike much deeper into Russia, including some of the airfields from which they launch attacks. So I’m curious of your views on kind of both of these issues. Is there a clear strategy for victory? And I think, hand-in-hand, goes, you know that question about are we giving the Ukrainians all the tools that they need to be successful?

Senator Ernst, please.

Sen. Ernst: I actually feel the administration has not clearly articulated what the strategy is to win in Ukraine. And we have felt those pressures now for a couple of years. I had said very early on that we needed to be very aggressive. Our soldiers, our service members, are not engaged in Ukraine. And so I feel that it is extremely important to provide Ukraine the platforms that they need so that they can push the Russians out of Ukraine. We shouldn’t be dribble, dribble, dribbling in platforms, munitions. We need to give them what they need. And, knowing what we do now, we need to provide more upfront and anticipate the demands that they will need.

The limitations on strikes in Russia – and I know the administration will always say, they’ve said this many times over, we’re afraid of escalation. They have said that many times, only to fold under pressure from Congress – both Democrats and Republicans – to provide this platform or these munitions, with no additional escalation. So I do believe that we should provide them with what they need to strike inside of Russia. We know you can’t win – you can never win just staying in a defensive position. And that’s essentially what this administration has done with the Ukrainians, is tied their hands so they are perpetually in a defensive position.

They need to be able to go on offense, kick the Russians the heck out of Ukraine, and let’s settle the war. We can’t do that if we’re not allowing the Ukrainians to be as aggressive as they need to be to win this war and put it to bed. So we need to have someone that will clearly articulate that to me. I have many discussions with the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Many discussions about this. And they never clearly articulate this. And if you remember, very early on neither our Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin nor the president would actually say the phrase, we want Ukraine to win. They would dodge that question quite a bit. So we need Ukraine to win. And we need to provide them the means to do that.

Rep. Suozzi: And we do need Ukraine to win. It’s so important for us. And, you know, one of the things that the senator and I always say is it’s so much cheaper for America, and without having our soldiers there. But it literally is cheaper for America for us to be supporting Ukraine than for us to get engaged in a war like this. And again, take – let’s go back to April, when we first went on our trip. You know, we didn’t know whether the supplemental was going to get done. And the senator talked about how, you know, dribbling the weapons forward. We were worried that they were going to run – they were running out of weapons at that time. And America had not fulfilled its commitment, because Congress was bickering over whether or not to do this.

So now the world is different. And now we’re sending an enormous amount of arms here. And, you know, this week is so important. You know, one thing I want to credit the administration with is holding the Western world together, holding the NATO alliance and others together in this effort against Ukraine. It’s not easy in today’s climate – with all the disinformation, with all the debate, with all the financial pressures – to hold so many allies together in an effective way for a war. And that – this administration has done a very effective job helping to hold the Western world together, and I think the NATO conference this week will help to cement that fact.

Now, one of the things we learned on this trip was that Russia has access to untold numbers of dumb bombs that they had figured out how to launch from within Russian territory from Russian planes with new – newly retrofitted with fins that they could sail in to attack Ukraine, especially in the Kharkiv area, with – you know, mercilessly. And there were some restrictions lifted by the administration on attacking Russians and Russian planes and airspace at the end of May. But I have to agree with the senator that I want to see more of those restrictions lifted because we know that a short way into Russian territory is an airfield with the airplanes that are launching these dumb bombs on a regular basis that are sitting ducks, where we can wipe out a significant portion – or, the Ukrainians can wipe out a significant portion of the Russian air force without much retribution, and it would send a very clear message that we’re not going to stand for this.

Now, listen, I don’t have all the information. I don’t have – I’m not in on every single conversation. I understand everyone’s concerned – not just this administration, but many of our allies’ concerns – about escalation. That’s a legitimate concern that people have. But at the same time, Putin’s not going to stop. He’s not going to back down. And sometimes you have to punch a bully in the nose. And the reality is, is that this merciless attack on the Ukrainian people – you know, we saw so much about the civilians in Gaza; think of the civilians in that hospital, the civilians in Ukraine. We don’t talk about it enough. Over a hundred – it’s more than that – over a hundred thousand Ukrainians have been killed. Tens of thousands – at least 40,000; I’m sure it’s double that number – children have been kidnapped from Ukraine and taken into Russian space. Ten million – 10 million – Ukrainians have been forced from their homes, and I’m sure it’s a much higher number than that now. These are old numbers that I have. And we see this aggressive attack taking place in so many different regions as the Russians try and take over more Ukrainian land.

So I don’t think that we can tie the hands, as the senator put it, of the Ukrainian officials and army to really go after the Russians, because what they’re doing is merciless. It’s wrong, and we have to send a very clear message. I understand the concerns about escalation, but – and we have – because we have so many conflicts going on right now. We’re balancing a lot of different things and we want to hold this alliance together. But we’ve got to send a message to Putin that this is not going to be tolerated.

Ms. Hoffman: Yeah. The pictures yesterday of the children’s hospital were heartbreaking as rescuers were, you know, clearing rubble to pull kids, and the kids that were receiving cancer treatment kind of lined up on the sidewalk as they were waiting for other hospitals to be able to transfer those patients to. And I couldn’t help but wonder, you know, if those strikes were timed as a signal from Putin with the commencement of the NATO summit. I think, obviously, it was a huge miscalculation if so because it’s very hard to argue with just the atrocity that played out yesterday that, you know, Ukraine should negotiate after seeing the tactics of the Russians.

Rep. Suozzi: And you have to be conscious of the fact that, you know, Putin could be inviting escalation. That’s one of the things we have to balance. I mean, the greatest strength we have right now is that we’ve held together this Western alliance. I mean, that’s – when America was busy with our own politics here in America and we weren’t voting for the supplement – supplemental, NATO did step up. The Europeans did step up. There’s been a lot of debate about whether Europe was doing its fair share; they’ve been doing their fair share. You know, there’s a million Ukrainian refugees in Poland right now, and there’s other places throughout the – throughout the West where Ukrainian refugees are being helped, and weapons have been sent in, and people have been increasing their defense budgets to their 2 percent as has been demanded by so many in our country over the past eight years. So those are good, positive developments.

We have to balance this escalation issue with holding this Western alliance together, and yet – and you make an excellent point, Elizabeth. Is Putin inviting escalation so that he can try and shake loose our alliance? Because we see this disinformation in America, but they’re seeing it a lot more in Eastern Europe and in Europe, trying to pull this alliance apart.

Ms. Hoffman: And on NATO, the summit, you know, there’s some ceremonies this evening, but the summit will really commence with serious meetings tomorrow. Member states have been clear that Ukraine cannot receive a formal invitation to join NATO until the war is over, which, you know, is reasonable and outlined in the NATO charter – that a state at conflict cannot join. However, there is a lot that I think can be offered to Ukraine, short of an official invitation to join the alliance, that can signal a significant commitment by allies to the future security of Ukraine.

What do you all hope to see come out of the alliance? What do you think would be the right message, the right signal? Particularly from the U.S., but also from our European allies? Congressman Suozzi, as you mentioned, you know, they have – many have increased. Some are not still meeting that 2 percent. But what would you all like to see? Maybe Senator Ernst, if you could start us off.

Sen. Ernst: Yeah, absolutely, Elizabeth. And I do think that we need to continue to hold this incredible alliance together. I think it’s incredibly important, because we see China, Iran, and Russia, and in some areas even North Korea, forming their own axis of evil. It’s the modern-era axis of evil. So for NATO to come together to share thoughts and ideas to try and solve this issue in Ukraine, it is very, very important. We do need to continue to push those member nations to meet their 2 percent GDP obligations. Tom’s right, we’ve been pushing for years and years for them to do that.

An interesting point too, while we were in Poland, we heard from the defense chief there. And I believe it was the general that said that Putin’s war is not necessarily just against Ukraine. Putin’s war is against the West. So for us to come together, find a way that the alliance can work. I always think back to the old military acronym, DIME – D-I-M-E – where we should all be engaging in diplomatic actions as we can with Ukraine and pushing back on Russia. Informational – Tom talked about the bots that were, you know, out there, creating these messages on Facebook, or Instagram, whatever. So we should use information in our space to push back against the Russians and help enable the Ukrainians. That’s something that we can easily do.

M is for military. We were engaging our military prior to the war in Ukraine to teach Ukrainians. We had SOF operators there. We still do use SOF – excuse me – Special Operations Forces, our SOF operators. We use them to train Ukrainians now outside of Ukraine. So we should continue to do that and provide them with the military platforms that they need and the munitions. And then E, economics. We absolutely should be working with Ukrainians, with the alliance to find ways that we can be supportive in business or industry to push back against the Russians. All of these things are incredibly important. We should be engaging. And I do hope that we hear more of that coming out of NATO.

But I would say, America needs to lead. But it doesn’t mean that America needs to do it all on our own. So let’s leverage the alliance to bring an end to this war and really lift up Ukraine.

Ms. Hoffman: Congressman Suozzi, what are you hoping to see this week?

Rep. Suozzi: I mean, I think that most lay people look at this and they say, well, hey, why aren’t we letting Ukraine join NATO? You know, they share our values. They share – you know, we want to be in league. We want to try to expand our alliance. But Putin and his allies, and people that have been bamboozled by his disinformation here in the United States of America – including some presidential candidates, and some members of Congress, and some senators, and many others, conspiracy theorists – are like, well, the reason that Putin has done this is because he’s afraid that Ukraine is going to attack Russia and invade Russia; and that’s why they’re moving Ukraine and others into – closer and closer to Russian borders; and Russia’s history having been attacked for many, many centuries has this paranoia; and, therefore, that’s why they’ve got to go stop this invasion – which we all know is complete BS and complete disinformation.

But that’s why we have said that, no, we’re not looking for Ukraine to join NATO because we want to take that argument away from Putin, away from the conspiracy theorists, away from the people in the United States of America who’ve been bamboozled by that message so that they can’t use it.

But we must do everything we can to show a very, very strong allegiance to this effort from not just the United States by itself but by this vast, vast alliance, not just – and it’s beyond NATO. There are so many other partners beyond NATO that are helping us with this.

Anybody who understands – you know, one of the things that I won’t forget from our trip is we were meeting with the commander of the Polish military and he had a topographical map on the wall. You know, the topographical map shows the bumps where the mountains are and the flat areas are the plains and the water. And so it was just so obvious looking at the topography of that region that if Russia were to go through Ukraine it’s, clearly, going right into Poland right afterwards. I mean, the topography demands it.

And I sensed, and I’m sure the senator will agree with me, some anger from some of the Polish people we met with at the highest levels because they felt that the United States was backing down on its commitment that it had made.

They were fighting this war with the Ukrainians. They were taking in all the refugees. They were committing themselves. I think Poland is well above its 2 percent commitment. I think it’s at 4.5 percent of its GDP – of its budget is used for defense.

So they were, like, where are you guys? We need you. You know, you said you were going to help us. What are you doing?

And so there’s a lot of self-interest in a lot of countries to stop Putin before he advances any further, especially when you look at the history of World War II and what Hitler did. It’s the same playbook, quite frankly, and I believe, and I’m sure the senator agrees with me, that it’s in the United States’ self-interest to support Ukraine to defeat the bad guys.

Ms. Hoffman: Congressman Suozzi, you mentioned, you know, the potential for Russia to continue on into Poland if they were to be successful in Ukraine. But we also visited on this trip Moldova, a small nation that is much less militarily –

Rep. Suozzi: We’ve got to get back to Moldova. That’s the bumper sticker. (Laughs.)

Ms. Hoffman: (Laughs.) Get back to Moldova.

Much less militarily equipped and prepared than Poland. Until recently neutrality was actually enshrined in their constitution. We didn’t get an opportunity to spend probably as much time in Moldova as was warranted but you all did get an opportunity to meet with the president there who is, you know, really trying to orient the country to the West, take steps to join the EU, potentially maybe at some point NATO. You know, hurdles remain.

But there is an election in Moldova this year. Her opponent is quite clearly backed by the Russians. He spends a lot of time in Russia. There’s been clear linkages to Russian oligarchs and even the state for his campaign finance and so this is really – you know, Transnistria also, which is, you know, occupied by Russian forces – this is really a consequential year for Moldova with these elections in October which, unfortunately, are very close to ours.

And so, you know, U.S. policymakers could very easily be distracted when it comes time for Moldovan elections and I was just wondering if you all could reflect a little bit on kind of the importance of Moldova.

Some of the U.S. assistance that you mentioned in the supplemental packages has gone to support that country and its growth, and just hoping to get your thoughts on Moldova.

Rep. Suozzi: Senator Ernst?

Sen. Ernst: Yeah, I’ll hop right in there. Thank you, Tom.

So it was really important that we go to Moldova and because of the Russian influence through Transnistria it will be very difficult for them to continue leaning towards the West. As I said, it was – you know, the war in Ukraine is really a war against the West. And so it is extremely complicated in that country. And I think that by traveling there, by meeting with those in authority in Moldova, I think we are signaling to Moldova that we stand with them as well. We will work diplomatically with them. If there are economic opportunities for them to join the EU, to work with the United States, certainly we would look for those opportunities.

We want life to be better. And the folks in Moldova want their lives to reflect Western values. They do not want to be sucked into the clutches of Vladimir Putin. It is an economically challenged country. We know that. And so we have to be very smart about the policies that we use to help, again, lift them up or help them lift themselves up. They have a lot of great resources there that they can tap into. But, again, I think it’s just one of those areas.

We all know – and even I’ll reflect back. Years and years ago, when John McCain was serving in the United States Senate, even as we talked about Russia and Ukraine, even that decade ago he had said then that if Ukraine should fall that one of the most likely targets would then then – next for Russia would be Moldova. So we have to be very aware of that. And those countries throughout Europe that would be the target of Russia, should Ukraine fall.

Rep. Suozzi: You know, leadership really matters. And we met the president of Moldova, President Sandu. She was just an exceptional person. And I remember listening to her and thinking to myself, wow, this is really – this is a tiny country, 3 million people, really trying to move closer and closer to the West and away from the clutches of Russia. They share a border, this little tiny country, big, bad Russia right next to them. They’re trying to build their wine industry, which the United States and other countries have helped them with, which is – I’ll vouch for that it’s very good. (Laughter.)

Sen. Ernst: It’s very good. (Laughs.)

Rep. Suozzi: (Laughs.) And it was so inspirational to listen to this tiny country – this president of this tiny country who’s fighting back for the most idealistic things you could possibly imagine. Talking about freedom, and about democracy, and about participating in the modern world, in the Western market economy. And it was just so inspirational, especially with the specter of the Russian bear breathing down their neck. And, you know, with them attacking Ukraine, you know, a much bigger country right next door. And this sense that they’re next. And she’s got to fight an election in the midst of all this disinformation campaign, where she’s being portrayed in such a negative light by the Russian disinformation campaigns, and others, the conspiracy theorists, with the threat of Transnistria right nearby and the occupation of that area.

And it was just such an inspiration. It was also an inspiration in Ukraine. I should have mentioned this earlier. In the midst of this war, people are trying to kill them every day, and they are fighting to maintain their journalistic integrity in their country. They are fighting against corruption, against people within their own government. They’ve got a whole apparatus set up to investigate corruption in their own country. And they are documenting – this is in the midst of a war, people killing – bombs are raining down on you. You know, they’re documenting the war crimes that are being committed against their people. And it’s just – it’s so inspirational to see people going about their lives and also holding on to these ideals in the midst of people trying to kill you.

We were on the fifth floor of the military governor’s office in Odessa. And we’re sitting there and a rocket goes by the – or where we were, to go out and respond to a Russian attack that was taking place. And we were, like, what was that? What was that? And they’re like, oh, it’s another bomb, you know. You know, and I was, like – (laughs) – oh, just another day. And so you have to really credit this leadership in in Moldova, in Ukraine, and so many other places that are holding back the tide of this authoritarianism, this communism, this persecution of their own people, despite this military pressure that’s being rained down upon them.

Ms. Hoffman: Very well said. The last question I think I want to ask you all before we close is on economics. Senator Ernst, you know, you mentioned it in your paradigm, and it has come up a few other times in this conversation.

You know, there are some that say the U.S. should support Ukraine and other countries in the region military, but not economically or not with humanitarian assistance. And, you know, we had the opportunity to meet with the U.S. business community in Ukraine to hear about kind of really the remarkable story of continued economic growth in Ukraine in spite of – as Congressman Suozzi said – you know, bombs raining down, Russian attempts to really completely destroy Ukraine infrastructure to the point that the economy can no longer function.

And so I’d just like to get your thoughts on the importance of the economic and humanitarian assistance, not just by the U.S., but again, our allies and the emphasis on that. Senator Ernst.

Sen. Ernst: Yes, I have long said that we need to focus on weapons, and so that is typically what I talk to Iowans about because we can track those platforms. We can track how the munitions are used.

What I would love to see is additional oversight of humanitarian assistance, and Elizabeth, you are absolutely correct in that, you know, while we can contribute, we really need our European partners to step up in this area. I think we can continue to be the arsenal of democracy where we can provide a lot of the munitions platforms that maybe some of our friends in NATO, in other European countries, they can’t. They don’t necessarily have the defense industrial base to do that. So we should be working with those countries on ways that we can support Ukraine and their recovery operations, assist their hospitals, provide the aid that is needed by those populations. We should be in that all together.

I tend to say more weapons, more weapons. Let’s get this war over quickly, and then we can start the recovery process. I think it’s incredibly important that we do that. And I will note, too – I mentioned Svitlana earlier in the conversation. She is a schoolteacher now. We both are grown, have families of our own. She is very close to the front. And they do provide assistance to the Ukrainian army out of their schoolhouse kitchen. You know, they pack meals for the Ukrainian army every week, and it’s delivered to the front lines.

So it’s good when we can all come together and provide the necessary good – (audio break) – and then find a way that we can help Ukraine recover.

Rep. Suozzi: You know, the senator and I have talked so much about, you know, holding together the Western alliance. We have to really credit the Ukrainian people, who have stayed strong throughout this effort. It’s not easy to see Vladimir Putin and the Russians saying we’re going to take over Kyiv in two weeks and then this goes on for years, and the people still have to keep on moving forward. And for that to continue, you need to have a strong economy. You need to have farmers that can actually do their farming. You need to have manufacturers that can do their manufacturing. You need to be prepared for the day after the war that the economy’s going to continue going.

So the United States has put in billions of dollars over the past couple years towards helping to do those things beyond the military aid. And the senator’s right, is we have to monitor very carefully. But I believe that the Ukrainians are doing that themselves. We saw evidence of that when we were there, so that this money’s not being misspent. And we hope that coming out of this NATO conference that we’ll see more effort by our NATO partners to help with the humanitarian aid as well. So it’s just an essential part of this whole process.

Now, I’m not sure; did we lose Elizabeth?

Ms. Hoffman: I’m sorry; we had some – (laughs) – we had some technical difficulties here. But fortunately, I think – I think we’re back.

And of course, you know, on allies, the G-7 took the important step of agreeing to use the interest from frozen Russian assets to go to Ukraine to procure and buy weapons. Now, there is certainly much more that can be done on that front, but I think it was important for staff in helping Ukraine’s economic recovery.

I would like to thank both of you for your leadership on this issue and so many other issues on Capitol Hill of national security, foreign policy, and beyond. As I said, it’s very inspiring to have two great leaders in Congress like you all. So thank you for taking the time with us this morning. I know you all are very busy. So thanks, and appreciate your time.

Rep. Suozzi: All right.

Sen. Ernst: Thank you.

Rep. Suozzi: Thank you so much. Great job.

Senator, thank you so much.

Sen. Ernst: Thanks. Thank you so much, Congressman. And thanks to CSIS. Elizabeth, thanks so much. What an incredible trip. Incredible trip. So thank you.

Rep. Suozzi: Back to – back to Moldova.

Sen. Ernst: Back to Moldova, Tom.

Rep. Suozzi: (Laughs.)

Ms. Hoffman: The first of many, hopefully, indeed.

Sen. Ernst: Yes. I hope so.

Ms. Hoffman: Bye. Thank you.

Rep. Suozzi:

 Thank you, Elizabeth.

Sen. Ernst: Thank you.