9:22 A.M. EEST
MR. SAVETT: Apologies for the delay, everyone. We can go ahead and get started. This is Sean Savett from the National Security Council. Thank you for joining this briefing this morning.
Our speaker today is the National Security Council Senior Director for Europe, Amanda Sloat. As a reminder of the ground rules, this call is being held on the record with no embargo.
Amanda, I’ll turn it over to you.
MS. SLOAT: Hey, everybody. Good morning in sunny Vilnius. As you all know, we’re in the midst of a historic NATO Summit at a very consequential moment in history and in European security. The team here is feeling very good coming out of the first day of the NATO Summit and looking forward to the second day of the summit ahead.
As President Biden has said, we believe NATO is bigger and stronger, more energized and more united than ever before. We welcomed Finland as the newest member of the Alliance for the first time at a leaders-level summit yesterday. And we look forward to welcoming Sweden very soon, following the announcement earlier this week between President Erdoğan and Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson.
You will have seen the communiqué that came out last night, which we believe is full of many important achievements and notable progress. Particular NATO Allies came together yesterday to strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and defense posture. Allies are modernizing our military planning and adopting the most comprehensive defense plan since the end of the Cold War.
To meet our defense needs, Allies agreed to build on the 2014 Wales Defense Investment Pledge. This was the decision that leaders had taken at the summit in Madrid to work towards updating the pledge this year, which they did. Particularly, Allies committed to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense and increase our collective defense investments.
In particular, the defense investment pledge that Allies adopted yesterday makes clear that 2 percent for defense spending is a floor and not a ceiling. Allies have been making progress on this, and 2023 is the ninth consecutive year of increased defense spending by non-U.S. allies.
Higher levels of defense spending must be coupled with a strengthened defense industrial base. And in recognition of that, Allies adopted a Defense Production Action Plan to boost joint procurement and make it easier for Allies to acquire the equipment they need to meet NATO’s capability targets and standards.
In addition, yesterday Allies agreed to update NATO’s counterterrorism guidelines to ensure NATO is addressing today’s terrorism threats and to renew their cyber defense pledge to strengthen individual cyber resilience, including against critical infrastructure attacks.
NATO is deepening its global partnerships. And in meetings this morning, leaders are going to be meeting with Indo-Pacific countries and the EU in response to the global challenges that we face. Yesterday, NATO Allies unanimously agreed to send a substantial new aid package to Ukraine and to send an important message reaffirming that Ukraine will become a member of NATO.
The language in the joint communiqué recognizes the progress that Ukraine has made while laying out the need for further democratic and security sector reforms.
Today will be the very first meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. You may remember: In the past, this has been a NATO-Ukraine Commission, but one of the decisions of Allies was to upgrade it to a council, which will meet for the first time today.
After that meeting, President Biden will have the chance to meet with President Zelenskyy to discuss the United States near- and long-term support for Ukraine, alongside our allies and partners, to help Ukraine defend itself now and to deter future aggression.
I also want to share some additional news for an event that is going to be happening following the conclusion of the NATO Summit this afternoon.
President Biden and G7 leaders will make a major announcement alongside President Zelenskyy this afternoon outlining our long-term commitments to support the people of Ukraine. The United States, along with G7 leaders, will announce our intent to help Ukraine build a military that can defend itself and deter a future attack.
The launch of this process today will start a series of bilateral negotiations with Ukraine on the reaching of bilateral security commitments to help make this a reality.
In particular, this process will ensure that the military assistance we provide Ukraine to defend itself against Russian aggression continues to be part of a long-term investment in Ukraine’s future force.
In particular, it will focus on ensuring Ukraine has a sustainable fighting force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future, a strong and stable economy, and the help Ukraine needs to advance the reform agenda to support the good governance necessary to advance Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, which Ukraine recommits itself to as part of this declaration.
Taken together, we believe the declaration we will announce today seeks to ensure Ukraine’s future as a free, independent, democratic, and sovereign nation. It signals the joint long-term commitment to building a powerful defensive and (inaudible) force for Ukraine — a force for both stability and for peace.
This multilateral declaration will send a significant signal to Russia that time is not on its side.
Finally, we’ll conclude our day here in Vilnius by the President making a speech tonight. President Biden will talk about the strength of the NATO Alliance and how it remains a force for global security and stability, as it has for more than seven decades. He’ll talk about how NATO is more vital to our shared future and that didn’t happen by accident.
As the President has talked about before, Vladimir Putin thought he could break our resolve when he invaded Ukraine. But our NATO Allies and our partners around the world responded by coming together to support the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom, their independence, and their democracy.
The President will talk about how the widespread support for Ukraine is reflective of the value of our alliances and partnerships, which he has revitalized since taking office.
He’ll underscore how we have an opportunity at this moment to apply the same unity and sense of purpose and urgency to addressing the other great challenges of our time, including the climate crisis, emerging technologies, upholding the international rules of the road, and expanding opportunities so we build an economy where no one gets left behind.
It’ll be a memorable speech as the President spends the week in the middle of the world stage, and I would encourage you all to attend.
With that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.
MR. SAVETT: Thank you, everyone. Just to remind people to raise their hands using the “raise hand” feature on Zoom. And we’ll go through Q&A now.
First, we’ll start with Sebastian Smith. Sebastian, you should now be able to unmute.
Q I have unmuted. Thank you very much for taking my question. Just two questions, please. Is — in the commitments that are being announced today, will there be any reference, any idea in there that the point of these commitments is that they’ll — they’re not only “long-term” in words, but they’ll survive — they’re designed at least to survive changes of government in the countries, including in the U.S.?
And the other question is about the timing for Ukraine in NATO. Everyone is going off the point that they can’t join because there’s a war going on. Is there any feeling that if the war were to be stopped or let’s say the Ukrainians pushed the Russians out to — you know, as far as they — that would satisfy them — whether it’s, you know, to the original borders or less or whatever — to the point where Ukraine has said, “Okay, the war is over,” would there be, you know, an appetite for, at that point, really rapid inclusion of Ukraine in NATO — you know, an accelerated version — while there was a chance, as it were, to then freeze the situation before Russians could try and have another go?
MS. SLOAT: Thanks for — for both of those questions. Let me take the second one first. As I think President Biden has spoken to, including very clearly earlier this week or last week, Ukraine still needs to make a number of reforms in order to join.
And so, coming out of the summit communiqué yesterday, the United States clearly joined with NATO Allies in agreeing to a strong positive message reaffirming that Ukraine will become a member of the Alliance. And as the communiqué has made clear, as the President has spoken to directly in the past, we recognize that Ukraine has already made significant progress in terms of reforms. That was part of what led to Allies making the decision to — to say that the Membership Action Plan was no longer required for Ukraine.
But as both the President has said and as the communiqué made clear, there is still the need for Ukraine to take further democratic and security sector reforms.
The President has been clear that we think Ukraine can get there, but that is still going to be a requirement for Ukraine to join, as it has been, frankly, for all members who have joined the Alliance.
And on your first question, in terms of the — the document that we are announcing today, the intention is for this to be long-term security commitments that are going to be made by individual countries with Ukraine. And the expectation is that those will last for the long term.
Q All right. Thanks so much.
MR. SAVETT: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to Chris from the AP. Chris, you should be able to unmute.
Q Hello, everybody. I was interested in any more details on this reform agenda for Ukraine. You know, what commitments has the United States received from Ukraine and President Zelenskyy to pursue such a reform agenda? What does that reform agenda look like? You know, what specifically is the U.S. going to do to help push that forward?
MS. SLOAT: So, we have been working, both bilaterally as the United States and also as an Alliance, with Ukraine on the reform agenda for a while. Ukraine has been a partner of NATO for many years. As part of that, there is a technical process referred to as an Annual National Programme. This is a document that Ukraine drafts and reviews with Allies.
As the communiqué makes clear, that ANP process will continue. This is something that foreign ministers will continue to review on an annual basis with Ukraine.
The establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council means that Allies will be able to sit next to Ukraine and have conversations with them directly as well.
All Allies have been required to meet standards within NATO. We have set out ourself, including in the document that the President launched with President Zelenskyy when he first visited Washington before the war started, a series of governance and security sector reforms that we were working with them on.
So, this is something that we are committed to work on with them both bilaterally and as an Alliance. I think they’ve shown great capability, obviously, on the battlefield. They have made continued progress on the reform agenda. And the Alliance made very clear in the communiqué yesterday that this is something that we are prepared to continue working with them on to take forward.
MR. SAVETT: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to Francesca from USA Today.
Q Thank you so much. Could you just respond directly to President Zelenskyy’s criticism that the NATO communiqué is “unprecedented and absurd” because neither the timeframe for membership nor a timeframe for an invitation to NATO were outlined, and his comment that “uncertainty is weakness”?
And then, could you also just talk about what role the U.S. played in shaping that communiqué on membership?
MS. SLOAT: So, I would agree that the communiqué is unprecedented, but I see that in a positive way. We joined with Allies yesterday in agreeing to a very strong, positive message. We reaffirmed that Ukraine will become a member of the — the NATO Alliance. As I said, we upgraded the commission to a council. We have reinforced support that we are giving to Ukraine through the Comprehensive Assistance Package. We’ve noted progress that Ukraine has made in a number of areas. And we’ve also said that ministers will keep under regular review progress on Ukraine’s membership.
So, in our view, this is a very strong, forward-leaning message that moves significantly beyond what has been said in the past, in terms of Bucharest.
The lifting of MAP we see as something very significant. This is something that we are saying Ukraine has made progress on, it is noting the progress that Ukraine has made, and it is saying that we are removing that step for them as a further step along their path to joining.
We also believe that, coupled with the document that we are leas- — releasing this afternoon — these long-term security commitments — it gives Ukraine the strong perspective that we are, one, continuing to provide them with ongoing security assistance to help them on the battlefield, in addition to everything we are doing on the economic side and on the humanitarian side.
Second, we had a very strong statement in the NATO communiqué yesterday reaffirming their membership perspective.
And then, third, this afternoon, we will be launching the Joint Declaration, which shows our investment in helping them build their long-term security and future force.
MR. SAVETT: Thank you. And next, we’ll go to Steve Holland from Reuters.
Q Hey, it’s Steve Holland. I missed the top. Could you just explain how the security assurances will be released today?
MS. SLOAT: So, we’re going to be doing an event after the end of the NATO Summit, after the third session. I know our press team will be releasing more details on this, including information for press. But it will be an event with the G7 leaders and President Zelenskyy. And then we will have a copy of the declaration that will be released as part of that event.
Q Excellent. Thanks.
MR. SAVETT: Thank you. Next, we’ll go to Alex Ward with Politico.
Q Thanks for doing this. Just trying to get some clarity here. I know there’s the removal of MAP. But if Ukraine still has to go through a bunch of democratic and military reforms, then is — isn’t Ukraine basically still doing sort of the same thing here? I mean, you know, isn’t — sorry, more clearly: Isn’t Ukraine still required to do the same thing as if it were still to have a MAP? Yeah, there it is.
MS. SLOAT: Sorry, I had a technical glitch there. No, not — not necessarily. If you look at the communiqué, it talks about priority reforms that — that need to be made. We have always been clear, NATO has been clear, the President has been clear that there are standards that countries need to meet in order to join the NATO Alliance.
The decision to remove the Membership Action Plan was intended to signal that Ukraine has made significant progress, certainly in terms of military interoperability as well as in a number of reforms that it has already made. But as the communiqué makes clear, there are still governance and security sector reforms that are going to be required by Ukraine before it joins. And both the United States and NATO remain committed to supporting Ukraine as it makes those reforms.
MR. SAVETT: Thank you. And next, we’ll go to Asma Khalid with NPR.
Q Hi, there. Thanks for doing this. I had two quick questions. One is: On issue of democratic reforms, can you all articulate with a little bit more specificity or just give us an example or two of what those democratic reforms might be?
And then the second question I had was: Going back to the issue of Ukraine being at war with Russia, can you explain, I guess, how that factors into the issue of — you know, about a decade ago — right? — Russia annexed Crimea, and I just want to get some clarity on what it means for the war to be over.
MS. SLOAT: Sorry, can you repeat the second question? I heard the first one, but —
Q Yeah, so I was saying — yeah — about a decade ago — right? — Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. And I just want to understand what it means for the war to be over. Does that mean this immediate invasion? Or does it mean there needs to be some sort of resolution to the issue of Crimea?
MS. SLOAT: I — so, thank you for both of those. I’m not going to be able to give detailed answers on — on both of those questions. I think, as we saw with the discussions on the communiqué, everything coming out of the Alliance remains a consensus decision.
As I have said on the Annual National Programme, part of this is for Ukraine to identify the reforms and the progress that it plans to make and things that it plans to address.
And in terms of when the war is over, our view is that we’re going to continue supporting Ukraine until they are able to go to the negotiating table and — and sit down with the Russians. And we’re going to remain in a position of doing everything we can to support them on the battlefield so that they are able to come to the negotiating table.
We have very much consistently taken our lead from Ukraine on this question.
MR. SAVETT: And apologies, everyone. We just got the call to load the motorcade, so we’re going to have to wrap up there. Sorry to cut this one short. But we hope this was helpful, and we appreciate everyone taking the time to join.
Hope everyone has a good day.
9:40 A.M. EEST