A conversation between Zygimantas Pavilionis, Ian Brzezinski, Andrius Kubilius and Kurt Volker
Friday, July 21, 3PM, East Coast Time
LITHUANIAN PERSPECTIVE ON SUMMIT, UKRAINE, AND U.S.
JULY 21, 2023
Ian Brzezinski: Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe, and NATO policy
Andrius Kubilius: Former Prime Minister of Lithuania, 1999-2000 and 2008-2012, Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament
Zygimantas Pavilionis: Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament), Former Ambassador to the United States and Mexico
Kurt Volker: Distinguished Fellow at CEPA, FOUN, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations
Robert McConnell, Co-Founder of the US-Ukraine Foundation, Director External Affairs Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN)
Pavilionis: Regarding Ukraine’s pending admission to NATO, ambiguity remains and now has become even deeper. There is no clear path to membership for they have been fighting, and the most puzzling aspect was role of the Americans. Lithuanians revolted against the Soviets because they believed in, and still believe in, the American Dream. Summit in Vilnius has similarities to the 2008 summit in Bucharest 15 years ago. “What happened to American leadership in Vilnius? Maybe they thought it was leadership from behind, or maybe … leading from behind without leadership.” Washington is repeating the Kremlin’s claim that enlargement leads to war. European history has proven this a lie … Washington continues to repeat the lies to explain its position? Firmly believes that Washington should not use language such as “enlargement provokes wars” if the U.S. wants to promote the values of democracy, because enlargement consolidated peace in the Baltics and Central Europe, despite all the lies and propaganda of Russia. “Do you see tanks in the Balkans? Why does the Biden Administration repeat the lies of the Kremlin instead of looking at 70 years of European history of enlargement bringing peace?” Despite hopes, concerned that the 2024 NATO summit in Washington will be influenced by U.S. elections. Noted that enlargement of the EU cannot happen without NATO enlargement, and that countries join NATO first, then the EU, or at same time. Underscored that the U.S. does not understand the level of European unity that is present and does not understand how angry Europeans were with the American position in Vilnius. Moreover, the two strongest militaries in Europe today are the Americans and the Ukrainians. NATO should be begging the Ukrainians to join, not simply inviting. Some kind of inconsistency surrounding the concept of “readiness.” Questioned the commitment of the West to victory in Ukraine, saying that “Every autocrat saw NATO weakness in Vilnius, and that thirty years ago, the West was also afraid of collapse of Soviet Union, “and begged [Lithuania] to stay with Gorbachev – he’s such a nice guy - and we said no. … We are the best examples of the West’s end game strategy even though it was difficult for us to convince the West to not be afraid of the change. Take the victory. Seems like you [America] are afraid to win.” Believes that something is wrong with the incompatibility of Washington’s policy, in that they are helping an autocracy survive while” the killing of our innocent brothers and sisters will continue for another year.” Urged U.S. to bring their CODELs to Ukraine, “and when they come to Kyiv and see what is happening in Ukraine, and witness the atrocities not seen since WWII, they will no longer need to be convinced.” If the Biden Administration does not act in Washington, then Eastern Europe will pay the price that Ukrainians are paying today.
Regarding the dialogue surrounding Ukraine’s admission to NATO, the language from the Vilnius summit was strange, weak, not serious, and language regarding the conditions (of admission) was not convincing; there are NATO countries that have issues with democracy and corruption. Not clear why invitation into NATO must come after the war; no clear argument as to why Ukraine’s NATO invitation cannot be given now. The U.S. still gives Putin a veto right on who can become a member of NATO. Putin never opposed Finland or Sweden joining NATO, but since Putin opposes Ukraine, it has become the argument that is convincing some in the West, including the United States, not to give an invitation and believes this is the completely wrong approach. Moreover, there is a need to understand why Putin started war in Ukraine last year, or even in 2014, and a need to look at mistakes in the West that influenced that decision. The biggest geopolitical mistake of the U.S. was not inviting Ukraine into NATO and the EU. Putin understood that the West considered Ukraine to be a zone of the Kremlin, so the West will not defend Ukraine. The West needs to correct mistakes from the past and still has hope for Washington D.C. The West also needs to change its attitude towards Putin and needs not to be afraid of what will happen if Ukraine wins the war, and conversely, what will happen with Russia. An invitation (for Ukraine) into NATO will send a message to both the Russian elite and to ordinary people that they should abandon their dreams to restore the empire, and help Russia become a normal country,. “As Zbigniew Brzezinski said, ‘A Russia that controls Ukraine will always be an empire; a Russia that does not control Ukraine has a chance to be a normal democracy’.” Behind the hesitancy of Germany and the U.S. is a fear of the collapse of the Kremlin regime, and a subsequent uncontrolled situation, including nuclear chaos. Missing in the West is a strategy of envisioning a future for Russia and here is a need to seize this opportunity of history. “Like the Berlin Wall, the Kremlin Wall can collapse, and this will change the landscape of the European continent. I believe that there can be democracy in Russia. Putin tells the West that Russia cannot be a democracy. And U.S. believes that is a victory for Putin.”
Regarding the NATO summit in Vilnius, more successful than first appears. Positive that there was almost unanimity in support of Ukraine, with only two holdouts – Germany and the Washington D.C., Biden Administration. The admission of Sweden was a positive and underscores the process of enlargement, and that the Alliance has become more serious in past years about defense and deterrence requirements, new plans, and capabilities requirements, and that this is all good for Ukraine and NATO, and Transatlantic security. Leaders at the summit demonstrated “unambiguous determination to continue supporting Ukraine,” and the general embrace of Zelenskyy by NATO leaders and the Lithuanian people highlights the view of Ukraine as part of the Transatlantic community. While the lack of admission should be seen as disappointing, should not be seen as disillusioning; Ukrainians should emerge from this summit even more determined. The symbolic letter of intent by the G7 committing to negotiate long-term supply agreements with Ukraine is fundamentally a move in the right direction. The assertion by the (Biden) Administration that Ukraine is not ready is a false narrative: Ukraine is ready, and Ukraine meets and even exceeds NATO requirements. The Administration has realized that talk of escalation fears was not getting traction among the Europeans, so they have switched to emphasizing Ukraine’s lack of readiness. He says that readiness is an easy point to use from U.S. perspective because unfortunately Ukraine has been misperceived by a large part of our polities as having issues with corruption. Yet, “[Issues with corruption] are problematic across Western Europe, and we are not immune from them here in the United States.” Equally as important to keep up the endorsement for Ukraine’s Transatlantic aspirations in Europe as it is in the U.S. European parliamentary leaders who were traditionally very hesitant to embrace Ukraine’s aspirations are now endorsing it, so it is imperative to keep efforts up in Washington, but also in Europe. Bringing Ukraine into NATO is in NATO’s self-interest, and Ukraine will bring capabilities and outlook that will strengthen the Alliance militarily, as well as in the culture of Transatlanticism, will be the foundation for a secure eastern frontier. The U.S. has not had a Russian policy in a long time; imperative to develop an articulated Russia strategy.
Four themes to emphasize before the Washington summit:
· Ukraine meets and exceeds NATO requirements; it is a false narrative that Ukraine is not ready.
· Ukraine’s accession to NATO is not an act of generosity, but an act of self-interest for NATO.
· Ukraine winning on its terms and admission into NATO are mutually reinforcing, simultaneous objectives – not sequential.
· Ukraine can accede to NATO as a full member in conditions short of peace; NATO would extend security guarantees to the uncontested territory of Ukraine, the territory controlled by Ukraine. This will help manage the risk of escalation. Russia is not in a position to challenge us in this strategy.
Reaffirmed the position that Ukraine is already ready for NATO and that it is NATO that is not ready for Ukraine. Ukraine, with one of the most capable militaries in Europe right now. is doing more to defend the “frontiers of freedom” in Europe than anybody else. Claiming that Ukraine is not ready is an effort to shift blame. Instead, have to ask why NATO is not ready. NATO leaders have failed to grasp the changes in European security as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Putin is declaring that he wants to rebuild the Russian empire. This war has had a devastating impact on the security of NATO countries, not only Ukraine, and has caused issues such as energy disruptions, the need to supply financial support to Ukraine, the need to deploy forces further to the East, six million refugees and displaced persons, massive inflation, and the need to increase defense resources and defense industrial production. Need to recognize that the only way to get back to a situation where Europe is at peace and secure is with Ukraine in NATO. As long as Ukraine is outside NATO, and Putin or someone like him is in the Kremlin, there will be war in Europe. In Vilnius, NATO leaders failed to do their job, which is the collective defense of Europe, and there needs to be a concerted effort to make sure that Ukraine gets everything it needs to win and win as quickly as possible and also important to get Ukraine into NATO as quickly as possible so that Putin is not tempted to think that he can win this war or that he will be able to do this again. The U.S., by holding back, is isolated in NATO. European unity sends a particularly important message to the right wing of the political spectrum in the U.S. that Europe is willing to bear its share of the burden regarding NATO costs.