With help from Maggie Miller, Christopher Miller and Alexander Ward
When President JOE BIDEN travels to Europe next week for consecutive summits — a gathering of G-7 countries in Germany and a meeting of NATO member states in Spain — he’ll be tasked with once again galvanizing international support for Ukraine and re-fortifying an alliance that’s grown weary after more than four months of a Russia-initiated war.
But just as Biden seeks to rally his counterparts on the world stage, it’s equally crucial for leaders back home in the United States to explain exactly why the conflict matters for Americans and their everyday lives, Sen. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.) told NatSec Daily.
At a moment when the war has sometimes slipped from the headlines, with families increasingly focused on the costs of inflation and the political media homing in on a chaotic midterm election season, “I think we all need to talk to the American people about why this is so important,” Shaheen said.
“It is a whole lot easier and less costly for us to support the Ukrainians in this fight against [Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN] than to allow Putin to be successful, and then to decide that next time, he’s going into the Baltics, or he’s going into Poland” — two potential invasions of NATO allies that would trigger an Article 5 response from the U.S. and much broader American involvement, Shaheen said.
Shaheen also rejects the suggestion that Americans are becoming dangerously disengaged from Russia’s war. When she spoke to more than 1,000 attendees at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s state convention last weekend, “I talked about the importance of supporting the Ukrainians, and I got a standing ovation,” she said.
“I talked about the fact that I understood that it’s challenging that people are seeing higher gas prices, and it’s having an impact on families’ pocketbooks, and people are still very supportive,” she continued. “They recognize the courage of the Ukrainians and the threat that Putin poses to not just Europe, but to American security.”
It’s no surprise that Shaheen can sound so convincing on these issues; few fellow lawmakers are as well-schooled on European statecraft as the former New Hampshire governor, who has been serving in the Senate since 2009.
In Congress, she sits on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Senate Armed Services Committee, and chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation.
Shaheen also is the co-chair and co-founder of both the Free Belarus Caucus (formed last August and first reported by NatSec Daily) and the Senate NATO Observer Group — which she reestablished with Sen. THOM TILLIS (R-N.C.) in 2018. In addition, she serves as vice chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus.
In April, Shaheen led a bipartisan congressional delegation to the Balkans with Tillis and Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.), reinforcing U.S. support for the region in southeastern Europe amid Russia’s invasion. And next week, she and Tillis are leading another CODEL to the NATO summit in Madrid, set to take place Tuesday-Thursday.
They’ll also make stops in Finland and Sweden as the two Nordic nations vie for NATO accession in the face of resistance from Turkey, “so that we can reinforce both for the Finns and the Swedes just how important we think it is that they’ve applied” to join the alliance, Shaheen said.
Shaheen has been a vocal proponent of Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids; she and Tillis led a letter to Biden in May, signed by 80 of their Senate colleagues, calling on the White House to expedite work on advancing the countries’ applications.
Accompanying Shaheen and Tillis are Sens. ROY BLUNT (R-Mo.), CHRIS COONS (D-Del.), DICK DURBIN (D-Ill.), JONI ERNST (R-Iowa), DEB FISCHER (R-Neb.) and MIKE ROUNDS (R-S.D.). “I’m very pleased that we have a strong bipartisan delegation going,” Shaheen said.
UKRAINE WINS EU CANDIDATE STATUS: The European Parliament today voted 529 to 45 to call on European Union leaders to approve Ukraine’s candidate status for the organization “without delay.” The step marks the start of a yearslong process for Ukraine to actually join the 27-member club.
The Parliament also recommended that the Republic of Moldova receive the same status “without delay.” The countries certainly won’t join the alliance anytime soon, as the accession process is slow and often uncertain. For Ukraine and Moldova to get this far, the European Commission has said the countries had to first meet a series of conditions related to fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law.
There are plenty of landmines ahead, however, writes our own DAVID HERSZENHORN: “At the moment, Russia’s invasion and occupation make it impossible for Ukraine to predict what its borders will be, or how many citizens it will have. The war makes Ukraine’s membership bid even more unpredictable than that of Cyprus, which was allowed to join the EU despite the island being divided in a long conflict with Türkiye.”
MORE ROCKETS FOR UKRAINE: The Biden administration today unveiled another $450 million military aid package for Ukraine, which includes four additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The money is the second tranche from the $40 billion Ukraine supplemental Congress passed last month and meets some of the needs of Ukrainian forces slugging it out with artillery and rockets in the Donbas. Read more from our own LARA SELIGMAN.
BRINK STRESSES NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT: U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine BRIDGET BRINK, in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, provided an update on Washington’s efforts to help Kyiv and repeatedly predicted that the war with Russia will ultimately end in negotiation.
Brink said her small embassy team is “working to prevent [a] wider war — but doing that by helping the Ukrainians have what they need to negotiate, when the time comes, from a position of strength.” The current U.S. objective, she continued, “is to help Ukraine defend itself … and it’s what we will keep doing until the time comes when negotiations will be possible.”
It’ll be up to Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY to decide “when and how … to negotiate the end of the war,” since “all wars do end in negotiation, eventually,” Brink said. “What we are doing now is providing all of the security assistance that we are able to … to give the Ukrainians the best hand at the negotiating table.”
As for what Ukraine still requires from the West, Brink said officials in Kyiv “are talking to us in specific ways about what they need.” Those conversations, she added, are happening “regularly, more than daily — basically, I’d say hourly with me, with other members of our government.”
UKRAINE AND THE COMING FOOD CRISIS: Ukraine and the U.S. are desperately trying to offset the Russian propaganda campaign finding traction in some African countries that blames Ukraine and Washington for the food crisis beginning to grip countries that rely on Ukrainian wheat and grain shipments.
That effort saw Ukrainian Foreign Minister DMYTRO KULEBA jump on a State Department-organized Zoom call this morning with reporters from across the African continent to explain how the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is keeping Ukrainian grain and wheat from being shipped, and not Ukrainian sea mines keeping international commercial shipping at bay.
“In the old good days before the war, Ukraine exported from 5 to 6 million tons of agricultural products on a monthly basis, and 90 percent of this volume was exported from sea ports in the Black Sea and the Azov Sea,” he said, but those ports are “currently blocked by Russian warships.”
Kuleba fielded several questions about removing Ukrainian sea mines, and pushed back that the mines are there to keep the Russians away from Odessa, but that it’s actually the Russian Black Sea Fleet that has shut down access to the coast. “Moscow is afraid that African nations will turn their backs on Russia because of the food crisis it has caused” and is lying that Ukraine and the U.S. are to blame, Kuleba added. “I sincerely call on all of our African friends to reject these lies.”
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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — FAITH LEADERS REQUEST RETURN TO JCPOA: More than two dozen faith leaders signed onto a statement today urging Biden to embrace a “mutual return” to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, appealing for administration officials “to remain at the negotiating table and have the courage to act boldly for peace.”
“Reestablishment of the Iran nuclear deal would be a significant victory for peace, diplomacy, and stability in the Middle East. … We strongly affirm the importance of diplomacy over war on moral and religious grounds and call on President Biden to take the necessary steps to secure a return to the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,]” the 25 faith leaders wrote in the statement,
Among the signatories of the statement — led by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a nonpartisan Quaker lobbying group — are leaders from the Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and Jewish communities. One of the more prominent names is Bishop VASHTI MURPHY MCKENZIE, interim president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
“The JCPOA was always meant to be a starting point,” the faith leaders wrote. “While there are many issues that should be resolved diplomatically between the United States, Iran, and other governments in the region, a full return to the nuclear deal could serve as a foundation for future negotiations.” A “swift return” to the 2015 deal, they argue, “will put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box, lift harmful economic sanctions, prevent possible military escalation, and put the Middle East and the world on a pathway to greater peace and stability.”
SOUTH KOREA SIGNALS RAPPROCHEMENT WITH JAPAN: One of the most surprising things our own ALEX WARD has heard on his South Korea reporting trip is just how seriously the new administration of President YOON SEOK YOEL wants to improve relations with Japan.
South Korea and Japan have a long and knotty history that has continuously fueled animosity between the two nations. One issue, in particular — the abuse of South Korea’s so-called “comfort women” by Japanese troops — has complicated efforts to bring the governments in Seoul and Tokyo closer together.
But Yoon is hoping to change that dynamic, as it’s his “strong will” for South Korea to forge better bonds with Japan, per someone familiar with his thinking. The problem, this person says, is that Yoon’s sentiment may amount to nothing more than a “political wish,” since both publics — but particularly the South Korean people — will oppose the effort. That’s why any moves to strengthen ties will need to be made gingerly while Yoon argues his case for an improved relationship.
In the U.S., officials want South Korea and Japan to get along; having those countries be friendlier with one another would help the Biden administration more effectively confront China and handle other regional issues in a trilateral fashion. So expect Washington to quietly nudge Seoul and Tokyo toward rapprochement behind the scenes.
ITALIAN SPYWARE ON SMARTPHONES: Our own MAGGIE MILLER sends us a dispatch about a Google announcement today that an Italian company is behind spyware found on Androids and iPhones in Italy and Kazakhstan.
Google’s Threat Analysis Group and Google’s Project Zero alleged in a report that Milan-based RCS Labs sent links to victims masquerading as mobile phone carriers to download spyware onto their devices and monitor those individuals. Google’s findings were announced a week after cybersecurity group Lookout released a separate report also tying RCS Labs to spyware found on the phones of victims in Kazakhstan.
RCS Labs did not respond to a request for comment on the report. The company’s website lists global law enforcement agencies as customers, and notes that it works in the field of “lawful interception” to intercept 10,000 targets in Europe each day.
The findings on RCS Labs come as concerns are growing about the global spyware industry, particularly following top politicians in Spain and other European nations recently finding spyware on their own devices. The European Parliament created a committee in April to investigate Israeli-based NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, a group that has come under international pressure and was blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department last year. A top NSO Group executive told the committee that the Pegasus spyware was used by at least five EU countries.
Google experts testified to the European Parliament committee on the work the company has done to counter spyware, and the report published Wednesday noted that Google is actively tracking more than 30 vendors that sell zero-day exploits or surveillance capabilities to government-backed groups.
“We assess, based on the extensive body of research and analysis by TAG and Project Zero, that the commercial spyware industry is thriving and growing at a significant rate. This trend should be concerning to all Internet users,” Google threat researchers BENOIT SEVENS and CLEMENT LECIGNE wrote in the report.
WATCHDOG DINGS OFFICIALS OVER AFGHANISTAN AUDITS: In a letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN and USAID Administrator SAMANTHA POWER, JOHN SOPKO — the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction — wrote that State and USAID officials are refusing to provide him information needed for multiple audits related to the fall of the Afghan government and the ensuing months of Taliban rule, per Seligman.
State and USAID have in some cases ignored SIGAR’s communications, declined to make officials available for interviews and refused to permit the watchdog to travel internationally to conduct on-the-ground research, Sopko wrote in the letter, which POLITICO obtained.
Sopko is most concerned by State and USAID’s refusal to provide “basic information” about SIGAR’s audit concerning efforts to ensure that aid programs supporting the Afghan people do not lead to the illegal transfer of taxpayer dollars to the Taliban or Haqqani Network.
Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson shared an April 25 letter that State’s acting legal adviser RICHARD VISEK and USAID’s general counsel MARGARET TAYLOR sent to SIGAR. They argued that the watchdog’s jurisdiction is limited to “reconstruction purposes,” which does not include humanitarian and other development assistance.
CROWDFUNDING FOR THE CAUSE: Our own CHRISTOPHER MILLER flags that a crowdfunding effort led by SERHIY PRYTULA — a famous Ukrainian TV presenter and actor — has raised roughly $10 million to buy two Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones for Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Prytula announced on his Facebook page today.
Prytula launched the crowdfunding effort Wednesday morning in Kyiv, saying it was the best way to celebrate his 41st birthday and laying out a goal of raising $15 million for three of the armed drones by June 29. By this morning, he’d already raked in two-thirds of that amount. (Prytula’s eponymous foundation kicked in $2 million of its own funds.) “We realize we set a huge goal for ourselves. But we also realize the importance of strengthening the Air Force of the Armed Forces,” he wrote.
Ukraine has used its small fleet of Bayraktar drones, which have precision airstrike capabilities, to attack Russian tank convoys and vessels from its Black Sea Fleet. Footage of successful airstrikes with the drones has gone viral and even inspired wildly popular songs and music videos.
Ukrainians’ crowdfunding efforts have been vital to the country’s defense since Russia first invaded in 2014. Ukraine’s military had suffered from a dire lack of funding and was a shell of its former self. Volunteer fighting forces — kitted out with donated weapons and uniforms bought with money raised online — filled the void.
That spirit of unity has carried into Russia’s latest invasion in February. Underscoring the grassroots support, Prytula said in a separate Facebook post today that most donations for the Bayraktars were less than $20.
Last month, Prytula helped Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, raise $900,000 in a similar fashion for the Ukrainian military by selling the group’s trophy, per Reuters.
DEMS DEMAND U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN ABU AKLEH PROBE: Two dozen Democratic senators are calling for the U.S. to intervene in the investigation into the killing of American journalist SHIREEN ABU AKLEH in the West Bank, our ANDREW DESIDERIO reports.
The group, led by Sen. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.), wrote a letter to Biden citing the lack of trust between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, as both have blamed the killing on each other. The senators argued that the only way to ensure a fair investigation is for the U.S. to get involved.
“It is clear that neither of the parties on the ground trust the other to conduct a credible and independent investigation,” the senators wrote, adding that Israel’s initial accounts of the incident have since been refuted by media reports: “They have concluded that there was no Palestinian gunfire emanating from the location of the shooting at the time of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing.”
Abu Akleh, a journalist with the Al Jazeera network, was covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank when she was fatally shot in the head. The New York Times reported Monday that the bullet that struck Abu Akleh “was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.”
ALL THE LATEST NATSEC BUDGET NEWS: It’s been a busy 24 hours on Capitol Hill. Here’s what you need to know…
— The House Appropriations Committee approved $762 billion for defense in fiscal 2023, roughly matching the Biden administration’s request, reports our own LAWRENCE UKENYE.
— House appropriators debuted their committee report for the fiscal 2023 spending bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security, expounding upon their $86 billion proposal, reports our own JENNIFER SCHOLTES.
— House appropriators approved their fiscal 2023 funding bill in subcommittee for the State Department and foreign operations, backing a total of $65 billion that would boost funding by 15 percent, per Scholtes.
— House appropriators trimmed about $500 million from NASA’s fiscal 2023 budget request as the panel marked up its version of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies funding bill, reports our own BRYAN BENDER.
— The House Armed Services Committee voted to authorize $45 million for the continued development of a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, a project that the White House wants to kill, reports our own CONNOR O’BRIEN and LEE HUDSON.
GRINER’S WIFE WANTS ‘DEAL’ FOR DETAINEE’S RETURN: CHERELLE GRINER, in an interview on MSNBC’s “The ReidOut” on Wednesday, complained that top Biden administration officials are not doing enough to return her wife, WNBA star BRITTNEY GRINER, from detention in Russia — revealing that she still has not heard directly from either the president himself or Vice President KAMALA HARRIS.
“President Biden, Vice President Harris … I have not spoken to them. I’ve asked. I’ve requested. And at this point, it almost feels like they’re indirectly telling me, ‘no,’” Cherelle Griner said. She did acknowledge that she has “been able to speak with” Blinken “inside of the White House.” But “the people that have the highest power” — Biden and Harris — “have not spoken to me and my family,” she said.
Cherelle Griner went on to demand that the State Department “make a deal” for her wife’s freedom, calling on the administration “to actually take the words and the rhetoric that they have and match them together.”
“An American that’s deemed wrongfully detained — to my understanding, from what the State Department is saying — America will negotiate their release,” she said. “It’s not a ‘maybe.’ It’s a ‘will.’ They will negotiate for their release.”
Cherelle Griner’s latest remarks come after she told the Associated Press on Monday that Brittney Griner tried to call 11 times over a period of several hours over the weekend to mark the couple’s fourth anniversary. But even though their conversation had been pre-planned, the couple was unable to connect because the phone line at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was left unstaffed.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson NED PRICEtold reporters: “We deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak to her wife over the weekend because of a logistical error. It was a mistake. It is a mistake that we have worked to rectify. … The call has been rescheduled and will take place in relatively short order.”
— MARK ESPER and DEBORAH LEE JAMES have been named co-chairs of “Breaking and Remaking the U.S. Defense Innovation System: A Commission on Improving DoD Engagement with New Companies and Innovators,” a panel launched by the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. Esper previously served as Defense secretary in the Trump administration. James previously served as Air Force secretary in the Obama administration.
— JACOB MARX is now adviser for strategic engagement in the legislative affairs office at the Department of Homeland Security. He most recently was senior legislative assistant for Rep. KATIE PORTER (D-Calif.).
— DAVE SPIRK will join Pallas Advisors as a senior advisor. He previously served as chief data officer at the Defense Department.
— DAVID GIOE, The Atlantic: “What a 1904 War Can Teach Vladimir Putin”
— HOPE HODGE SECK, POLITICO Magazine: “Robots, Marines and the Ultimate Battle with Bureaucracy”
— ADAM TAYLOR, The Washington Post: “How a Russian Investigative Reporter Found out He Was a Kremlin Target”
— Blinken participates in the Berlin Ministerial Conference “Uniting for Global Food Security.”
— House Appropriations Committee, 9 a.m.: “Subcommittee Markup: Fiscal Year 2023 Homeland Security and Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bills”
— The United States Energy Association, 9 a.m.: “How Digital Asset Inventories Accelerate Cyber Resiliency”
— The Hudson Institute, 10 a.m.: “War, Ukraine, and a Global Alliance for Freedom — with WALTER RUSSELL MEAD and MIKE POMPEO”
— The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, 10 a.m.: “Delivering on Our Commitments in Space Acquisition — with FRANK CALVELLI”
— The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, 10 a.m.: “President Biden’s Visit to Saudi Arabia: Implications and Opportunities — with JOHN DUKE ANTHONY, ABBAS K. DAHOUK, MICHAEL GFOELLER and DAVID H. RUNDELL”
— The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 10:15 a.m.: “Investing to Deter in the Pacific: A Conversation with INDOPACOM Commander Admiral JOHN AQUILINO — with BRADLEY BOWMAN and MARK MONTGOMERY”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11 a.m.: “Boost-Phase Missile Defense: Interrogating the Assumptions — with MASAO DAHLGREN, TOM KARAKO, TREY OBERING, DEAN WILKENING and IAN WILLIAMS”
— The Wilson Center, 12 p.m.: “Assessing U.S. Support to Ukraine Four Months after Russia’s Invasion — with VOLODYMYR DUBOVYK and WILLIAM E. POMERANZ”
— The Brookings Institution, 2 p.m.: “Legacies and Lessons From America’s Post-9/11 Wars — with NORA BENSAHEL, ERIC EDELMAN, SUZANNE MALONEY, KORI SCHAKE and MELANIE W. SISSON”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, John Yearwood, for never letting us spell “accession” like “ascension.”