U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Special Online Briefing
Ambassador Julianne Smith
U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO
October 11, 2022
The Brussels Hub
Ambassador Smith: Great. Thanks so much, John. And thanks to everyone who’s dialing in today to join the call. Good afternoon to those on this side of the Atlantic. Good morning to those on the other side. Let me start by first echoing President Biden’s strong condemnation of the missile strikes that we saw from Russia against civilian targets inside Ukraine over the last day or two. This is clearly just another example of the atrocities and the war crimes that Putin’s regime is willing to engage in, in order to continue this this illegal war of aggression inside Ukraine. And let me also extend my deepest sympathy to those inside Ukraine who are suffering the loss of a loved one right now. Now, on what’s happening at NATO this week, I wanted to preview a little bit some of the events that will be unfolding both tomorrow and the day after.
And let me start first and foremost with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. This, as many of you know, is a meeting of about 50 countries around the world that are providing security assistance to Ukraine. And this week, starting tomorrow, the meeting will be tomorrow afternoon. The United States will be represented both by Secretary Austin and by the Chairman General Milley.
And they will, as they’ve done in the past, sit around the table with their Ukrainian counterparts and they will assess in real time what the defense requirements are of the commanders on the ground inside Ukraine to best determine what more they can provide to Ukraine, how quickly they can do so, and where countries can help one another. Sometimes we have instances where a country has transportation available to help another country get something to the hub and then into Ukraine.
So these meetings are extremely helpful, both in terms of the insights that folks are able to gain directly from firsthand from the Ukrainians themselves, but also again, into that better coordination of the effort that is so necessary to get the Ukrainians what they need and get it to them quickly.
Now, on Thursday after the contact group meeting tomorrow, the secretary, Secretary Austin will be participating in the first defense ministerial, actually, that we’re going to hold since the Madrid summit this summer, so we’ll look forward to welcoming the secretary back here at NATO HQ. And there’ll be a couple of different topics and areas of focus at the Defense Ministerial. First, I would note that the ministers are going to get together to look for ways to continue to enhance NATO’s defense and deterrence posture in line with the strategic concept that was rolled out this summer. And what I mean by that more specifically is ministers will be looking at deploying additional combat-ready forces in Eastern Europe along that eastern flank and ensuring greater integration of a wide array of capabilities across all sorts of domains.
The ministers will also be spending some time on resilience. This is increasingly a theme that one finds here at NATO HQ. It’s not a new subject for the alliance, but it’s one that we’ve been dedicating more time to. And here, the ministers will take some time to discuss assessments of societal resilience, particularly as it relates to things like critical infrastructure or cyber networks, or even the industrial base, which has also been the subject of some meetings here at NATO in recent days. And if you’d like, maybe we can get into a little bit more of that in the Q&A.
And lastly, let me say it goes without saying that Russia’s war inside Ukraine will naturally be part of the conversation this week. I suspect what you’re going to see is what I see each and every day here in Brussels, and that is continued unity, continued result. I see really no change in allies’ commitment to support Ukraine through humanitarian, economic and security assistance. I see 30 allies around the table that are fully united in their view that Putin’s war continues to be an affront to international peace and the UN charter that none of us will be recognizing. Russia’s attempts at annexation, which we’ve seen in recent days, and that, tragically, the costs of this war, of Russia’s war inside Ukraine continue to climb. So that will no doubt be a feature of the discussions, both in the contact group meeting and in the ministerial the next day. And with that, I think I will be happy to turn it over to your questions to see what else is on your mind and where I can be helpful. Thank you.
Moderator: Thanks so much, Ambassador. We will now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. As a reminder, you may type in your questions at any time in the Q&A tab, raise your hand or dial star, and then nine. If you dial in, please remember to unmute yourself by pressing star six on your phone. We have a number of questions teed up here already.
Let’s go to Henry Foy from the Financial Times. The question is: Have Monday’s rocket attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian cities altered NATO or Western countries’ approach to arming Ukraine and or deterring Russia? Do you expect tomorrow and Thursday’s conversations to shift in response to these attacks obviously designed for indiscriminate civilian casualties?
Ambassador Smith: Well, I think one of the things that President Putin has been betting on in recent months is his ability to erode the West’s resolve to continue supporting Ukraine across all fronts: humanitarian assistance, economic assistance and security assistance. And that’s obviously what he’s gotten wrong about this war, that irrespective of what he does, irrespective of the attacks, the tragic and brutal attacks that we saw over the last two days, irrespective of the sham referenda, irrespective of his attempts to annex Ukrainian territory, allies remain committed to support Ukraine and see this through. So I see no shift in alliance unity. I know folks are always looking for some sign that somehow that unity is cracking. But I sit down daily with my counterparts here at NATO HQ and I don’t see it. I have not picked up on any ally that has suggested anything other than full support for Ukraine as it defends its territory.
In terms of the specifics of what more might be done and where we go from here, I think that will be the crux of the conversation tomorrow in the Contact Group, where clearly the countries that sit around that table, the 50 some countries, not just NATO’s allies, but countries from many corners of the world, come together and sit around that table. They’ve done a remarkable job in supporting the Ukrainian forces on the ground. But there are further questions or additional questions about what additional assistance can be provided. I suspect the emphasis tomorrow will be on air defense more specifically. Certainly, allies and partners have welcomed the news coming both out of the United States and Germany in regards to some additional air defense assets that will be provided to the Ukrainians. But I’m hoping we’ll hear more. And we’ll have to see how those meetings conclude both tomorrow in the Contact Group and at the Defense Ministerial to find out what additional steps partners and allies will be taking as they support Ukraine going forward.
Moderator: Thank you, ma’am. We have a couple hands raised. Can we go to Alex Raufoglu, please?
Question: Hi. And thank you so much for doing this, John, and thanks Ambassador for being here this afternoon. Two questions. We all have seen the pictures of Russia destroying the playgrounds, electric grid, water system. The question that comes to our mind is, if these war crimes are not enough for NATO to declare a no-fly zone based on humanitarian reasons, then what is? And when it comes to what NATO can do to provide more support to Ukraine, are you in a position, Ambassador, to provide us with a short list of what NATO is able to provide at this point? Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Ambassador Smith: Sure. So I think NATO allies have been very clear, and I think the secretary general has been very clear since the start of the war. And that is in our united position, that it’s important that NATO not become a party to this conflict. This is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine. NATO is a defensive military alliance. Ukrainians are defending their territory as they have every right to do under the U.N. charter and individual allies of the alliance, almost all of them have opted to support Ukrainian forces on the ground with security assistance. Some allies are providing humanitarian and economic assistance. Many allies are providing all three baskets of assistance. So NATO remains convinced that it needs to continue to provide the support that’s necessary for Ukraine to defend its territory. But they are also united again in this feeling that NATO does not need to become party to the war. And so I don’t see a change in that position.
And in terms of what the alliance is actually doing, in addition to all of the work that we do here to share intelligence, which has been a key part of the strategy from day one, actually, before day one, as you well know, the United States shared an unprecedented amount of intelligence with allies in the run up to the war before February 24th and that continues to be part of what goes on here at NATO. But I’d also note that NATO’s is providing nonlethal support, a very important non-lethal support as it relates to things like winter gear, night vision goggles, generators, fuel and all the rest. And we’re in conversations with Ukrainian forces about how best to meet NATO standards and continuing the relationship that NATO has had with Ukraine for many, many years, well before Russia started this war on February 24th. So that will remain the focus for the alliance going forward.
Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador. We’ll go back to submitted questions quickly. A question from Evaldas Labanauskas, IQ magazine, Lithuania. Last week, Bloomberg announced that Poland had spoken to the U.S. about sharing atomic weapons. Can you confirm this information? And what is the U.S. position on including Warsaw and NATO in the NATO nuclear sharing program?
Ambassador Smith: I don’t have anything specific to add on that story. I will say that if you look at the strategic concept that we just rolled out this summer at the Madrid summit, nuclear deterrence features prominently. Nuclear deterrence remains a key cornerstone of what happens here at NATO and is a key cornerstone of our deterrence and defense posture. And I think the alliance’s position on nuclear deterrence is clearly articulated in the strategic concept, and that’s about all I have to say on that matter.
Moderator: Thank you, ma’am. Going back to live questions, Nick Schifrin. You have the mic.
Question: Hi, Jon. Thanks so much for doing this. Two questions. One: You mentioned air defense. You know, Ukraine’s obviously asking for more air defense, but it’s critical of the U.S. and Germany for not delivering NASAMS, not delivering the IRIS system yet. And they say that they could have shot down many of the missiles shot in the last few days by Russia had they gotten those systems earlier. So could you just respond to that?
And if I don’t if you don’t mind, I ask a bit of a Kremlinology question. Do you believe that Putin is under pressure from more hardliners who were very critical of the war even as recently as a couple of days ago or last week, and are now pushing him to do the kinds of attacks, the scale of attacks that we saw on Monday? Thanks.
Ambassador Smith: Sure. On the criticism that some of the systems that have been promised have been slow to arrive to that I would say, Nick, look at since the war started, we have been in near-daily contact with the Ukrainian minister of defense, with President Zelensky, with commanders on the ground to constantly assess what they need in real time. We set up the Contact Group so that we could streamline the coordination efforts and ensure that each country that wanted to contribute would be able to monitor and see what other countries were doing, that they could build off what was already being provided, that they could channel them through consistently a handful of hubs to get that equipment to Ukrainians as quickly as possible. Our focus from the beginning has been on speed. And I think the U.S. has played a very valuable leadership role in coordinating with other countries to ensure that the Ukrainians are getting what they need in real time.
But as you well know, over the many months of this war, the needs of the Ukrainian forces has also evolved. We have had moments where we’ve been heavily focused on munitions and munition shortages, where that seems to be the only thing that the Contact Group has been focused on. Other periods during the war, we’ve talked to the Ukrainians about things like coastal defense and have been in conversations with them about that.
We are now shifting again to air defense, which has been a theme throughout this war. So it’s evolving. We are constantly assessing what their needs are, pairing them with countries that have the assets that they need and looking for ways to get those assets into the hands of military forces inside Ukraine as fast as humanly possible. So we will continue doing that. That’s why we’re hosting the Contact Group every single month. And I think folks are looking forward to another opportunity to sit down in person with their Ukrainian counterparts tomorrow.
On your second question about whether or not Putin’s under pressure. I mean, it’s hard to know what’s actually happening behind the scenes. Obviously, I’m reading the same press reports that you are. What I can say and that I think we can say definitively is that President Putin is failing to meet his strategic objectives on the ground. And this has been a recurring theme for him personally since this war started. He and the folks around him and his government had every intention, as you well know, of taking Kiev within a few days, as soon as this war started. That was the first failure. And from there, things went from bad to worse. The troops are struggling on the ground. The Ukrainians are succeeding. With sweeping military victories and various counter offensives in multiple corners of Ukraine, he has found that this partial mobilization is not quite going as planned to say it diplomatically. And for that reason, one could imagine a situation where the conversations behind the scenes are getting more and more tense as Russia has to face the facts that despite its best efforts, it is not achieving its strategic objectives.
Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador. We’ll go to another submitted question from Momchil Indjov of Bulgaria. On October 7th, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said what happened to with Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 is clearly the type of threat that we will have to get used to, but more importantly, be prepared for. Does the United States see threats to other critical infrastructure, especially the newly inaugurated interconnector between Greece and Bulgaria?
Ambassador Smith: Yeah, a great question. So obviously the alliance has turned its attention to the apparent sabotage of Nord Stream 1 and 2. And we’re watching that closely. We obviously want to wait for the investigation to finish before we say anything definitive about attribution. But I think it is a reminder about the important work that has been going on here in NATO for quite some time now. In recent years, the Alliance has really shifted its attention to an array of hybrid tactics. It is increasingly looking at resilience as an area of work and focus here. You’ll see in the strategic concept, if you flip through it, you find an emphasis on resilience, and that is exactly why ministers will take that on tomorrow. You heard me mention in my opening remarks that the ministers will be looking specifically not only at cyber networks and again, the industrial base and ensuring that those remain strong, but critical infrastructure is going to be a part of that conversation as well. So this is not a topic that’s new to the alliance, but it is increasingly part of our work here. And we believe that in this broader definition of security, resilience and looking at the resilience of things like our critical infrastructures systems and that architecture is a key part of our work here at NATO.
Moderator: Thank you, ma’am. I think we have time for one last question. Can we go to a live to Justina Ilkeviciute, from Lithuania, I believe.
Question: Yes. Hello. Hear me, I believe?
Ambassador Smith: Yes.
Question: Thank you very much for the floor. I am Justina Ilkeviciute from Lithuania National Radio and Television. I have two questions. Could you confirm that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with the Bucharest Nine countries on Friday? And what is the aim of this meeting? And the second one: Do you have any update on how the Eastern plan is to be strengthened? Is there anything that Lithuania could expect soon, maybe? Thank you very much.
Ambassador Smith: Sure. So as part of the normal defense ministerial here at NATO HQ, or if they occur elsewhere, we often have the secretary meet either with individual allies for a series of bilateral engagements or groups of countries. I am happy to circle back to you. I believe you’re right. I do believe that the Secretary will be meeting with members of the B9, the Bucharest Nine Group. Again, I’d be happy to have my team reach out to you personally so that we can confirm that. Obviously if that occurs, that will be a conversation that will carry forward a conversation that’s been ongoing with our friends on the eastern flank to better assess how they’re looking at the situation right now inside Ukraine, whether or not there are any specific security requirements that they feel they are not adequately addressing, and to have just a back-and-forth among our allies on a variety of NATO-related issues.
In terms of specifics for Lithuania, as you well know, the alliance took some major decisions at the Madrid Summit this summer, and that includes ensuring that the eight multinational battalions across the eastern flank could be scalable to the brigade level with combat credible forces and enablers, and will continue work in that space going forward. That will again be part of the conversations here in Brussels on Thursday. We are in the middle of working on a new force model and a series of plans here at NATO that will accompany that. So this is an ongoing conversation. In essence, what happens at a summit like Madrid is the alliance puts out its big goals in the form of the strategic concept, and now we’re in the process of actually implementing it. So many more components of NATO’s new deterrence and defense posture will be forthcoming, and I’m sure the Secretary will have more to say about those discussions during his press avail later on Thursday.
Moderator: Thank you, ma’am. Unfortunately, that is all the time that we have for today. Thank you for your questions. And thank you, Ambassador Smith, for joining us. Before we close the call, I guess I turn it back over to you, Ambassador, to see if you have any other comments.
Ambassador Smith: No, thank you very much. And I know I’ll probably see some of you around NATO in the next day or two. So thanks for joining us today and look forward to seeing you in person.
Moderator: Appreciate that, ma’am. Thank you. Shortly, we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d love to hear your feedback. You can always reach us at the TheBrusselsHubat State.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the near future. This ends today’s briefing.