How NATO, the EU, and the US plan to tackle the new security environment in Europe

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Ambassador Charles Fries
Deputy Secretary-General for Common Security and Defense Policy and Crisis Response, European External Action Service

Jānis Kažociņš
National Security Advisor to the President of the Republic of Latvia, Secretary of the National Security Council of the Republic of Latvia

Amanda Sloat
Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs, White House National Security Council

Vivian Salama
National Security Correspondent, the Wall Street Journal

VIVIAN SALAMA: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I’m going to set my gadgets up here. There are many, so if you’ll bear with me for just one moment. OK. I hope you all enjoyed your lunch. It’s great to be here, and certainly with this very exceptional panel, to talk about a very timely topic—of course, something that we’ve been talking about throughout the day here. Really trying to evaluate what the key priorities are for the transatlantic cooperation, in particular given the rising threat that we see in Eastern Europe right now and throughout the continent.

And so I am very honored to be joined by this wonderful group of people. Ambassador Charles Fries, deputy secretary-general for common security and defense policy and crisis response at the European External Action Service. Thank you. Mr. Jānis Kažociņš, national security advisor to the president for the Republic of Latvia, and secretary of the National Security Council of the Republic of Latvia. Sir, it’s good to see you. And of course, Dr. Amanda Sloat in the middle, special assistant to the president and senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council at the White House. So it’s great to be with all of you today.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recently said that February 24 invasion of Ukraine was the Zeitenwende—my German is obviously not so great—but the Zeitenwende in the history of the continent, which officially they’ve translated to mean “watershed moment” but actually it literally translates a bit richer. It is in the term—it is the turning of times and the change of an era. And perhaps a turn of times for the NATO alliance as well. And so I hope that we could really discuss what it means, really just to hear from the three of you very briefly first off, about what this moment means for NATO and what is needed moving forward to strengthen the alliance.

Ambassador, please start us off.

CHARLES FRIES: Thank you. Thank you. I think that the German chancellor is totally right to say this, because what we have been living now since February, it’s really a tectonic shift in European history. And so a tectonic shift in the—for the European security landscape. It’s really an earthquake. And you can see, because we have the return of the war in Europe and on our continent. It’s the first—it’s the gravest crisis since 1945.

And you can see the implications of that. For instance, at the level of some EU member states. We have now the application of Sweden and Finland to NATO. We have the fact that Denmark has decided with a referendum to abolish its opt-out on European defense policy. You have member states, such as Germany, who have decided to increase in a considerable way their defense spending. So first—and all these breakthroughs would have been totally inconceivable before the 24 of February.

So you have already addressed very important changes at the level of EU member states. And you have also strong changes at the level of the EU itself. You’ve just heard the Josep Borrell. He said before the war—he said that last year—he said that Europe was in danger. And of course, now with what’s happening it’s even more in danger. That’s why for Europe, and for European security, what’s happening is really a wake-up call. And I would say, a brutal wake-up call.

And you mentioned the strategic compass. I think the strategic compass is already a first answer of Europe to this crisis, because it’s the first time in EU history that the twenty-seven member states have decided to adopt a political document with what they want to do in the area of security and defense for the next five to ten years. And the second example I would like to mention is the fact that for the first time in the EU history, the EU is delivering weapons, is delivering lethal assistance to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility. We have already spent two billion euros for Ukraine, in order to help Ukraine receive arms and weapons in order to fight against Russia.

So all these changes, I think, are illustrative of this huge tectonic shift, this earthquake that we are—that we are—

VIVIAN SALAMA: I definitely want to come back to the weapon’s issue for sure, but, Dr. Sloat, what’s the view from Washington at this stage, three and a half months into this very, very brutal war that we’re seeing?

AMANDA SLOAT: Well, I very much agree with everything that was said in terms of the very significant changes that this has created in the European security landscape in Europe.

From the American perspective, President Biden came into office, and one of his top objectives was to restore our relationships, to restore our alliances. And certainly, NATO was at the very top of that list. On Saturday, the president will be heading off to Europe for his fourth trip in the first eighteen months in office. All of my colleagues who work on other regions of the world are envious by how much time he has spent in Europe.

But we’ll be meeting with European counterparts at the G7, and then going to the NATO summit in Madrid. And this is going to be the fourth NATO summit within the first eighteen months of his presidency, and I think, as he has often said, to the extent that one of Putin’s objectives with this war in Ukraine was to divide the alliance, he has completely failed because our assessment is that the NATO alliance has never been stronger, has never been more unified.

I think those of you that have lived in Washington for many years have probably attended many “whither NATO?” conferences, and I think it is very clear now that there is strong unity within NATO. There is a very clear sense of purpose, both in terms of what we are doing as individual member states in response to the crisis in Ukraine, and you also mentioned the force posture question in terms of what we are doing to shore up support for our allies on the eastern flank.

VIVIAN SALAMA: I definitely want to talk about the unity and sort of areas where the alliance agrees to disagree on certain issues momentarily.

But Mr. Kažociņš, just in terms of the view from Latvia, your country borders Russia. The eastern flank has long warned that they are under threat constantly from Russia. Certainly, the situation right now with Kaliningrad has underscored what so many of the—what the Baltic states have long warned about, and especially now.

What is the view there, and what can NATO do to make the Baltic states, Latvia included, feel more secure?

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: Can I start by saying that I think during the past couple of decades, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Western Europe, in particular, but the West in general, has been in a mindset that wars don’t happen in places that look like North America and Europe, and they—people aren’t killed who look like we do.

The 24 of February has changed that utterly because we now see that we have a neighbor who is prepared to use war against all international law and do it in the most brutal possible fashion, and as far as the Baltic states are concerned, of course we have been warning about this, but somehow, we also had thought that in 2004, when we joined NATO, that that will be enough. Then came 2008, the war against Georgia. We realized it’s not enough. But it wasn’t a wake-up call after all; 2014 was a wake-up call.

As far as Kaliningrad is concerned, I would point out one statistic, and that is that the land border between the three Baltic states and Russia, Belarus—which is for all intents and purposes a military district of the Russian Federation and Kaliningrad—is 1,635 kilometers. The land border between the Baltic states and NATO is a massive 104 kilometers, the famous Suwalki Gap. In other words, a longer border than the inner German border between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, and to guard that took two army groups, each with four corps. In other words, it is a substantial challenge.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Many substantial challenges, of course, and one of them, actually, speaking of the unity of NATO, has been just—as far as a unified response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Obviously, NATO allies all on the same page as far as wanting to deter Russian aggression, try to stop it, finding a solution, assisting Ukrainian forces as much as possible.

But how they assist is somewhere where we’ve seen cracks in recent months especially with regard to what heavy weapons to provide and others. France and Germany seem to be on one side of this bloc, while the US and the UK have been advocating for more heavy weapons as soon as possible. This does seem to be changing at some point.

But, Ambassador, maybe you can start us off, and we can go to Dr. Sloat. Where is that fine line between going all out helping our Ukrainian allies to be able to fight this war but also that fine line against provocation, which so many European nations have been concerned about?

CHARLES FRIES: I would like to insist on the fact that the EU reaction has been very firm, robust, and quick. In less than four months the EU has adopted six sanctions packages and very strong ones.

For the first time, we have decided to deliver weapons. For the first time, we have decided to activate what we call the temporary protection status for the Ukrainian refugees, that being the Ukrainian refugees who arrive in Europe. They can work, they can have a residence permit, and their children can go to schools. So—and I could prolong the list.

So, really, we have been very firm and united, and I don’t think there are divergences among the EU. Of course, sometimes you have sensitivities. But when you see the concrete results, the fact that member states have decided to spend two billion euros through the EU mechanism, this European peace facility is a good illustration of the fact that we want to help Ukraine as much as possible to resist Russia.

And precisely because we want to be effective, I can tell you that at the beginnings of the war, because that was the Ukrainian request at that time we delivered a lot of anti-tank systems and air defense systems.

But a few weeks later, the Ukrainian authorities and, particularly, President Zelenskyy asked the EU to deliver more—that the priority was heavy weaponry, and we did that and we changed our kind of weapons, and now the EU member states deliver long-range artillery, tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems.

So we have adapted our offers to the Ukrainian needs.

VIVIAN SALAMA: And yet, President Zelenskyy still warns that it is not enough to confront this potentially long-term artillery war that they’re going to be facing.

Dr. Sloat, I mean, take us into the room, if you can, and tell us what these conversations are like in terms of allies and partners trying to find a solution. I mean, a lot of people at home who would be watching would say, why don’t you throw the kitchen sink at them? Help them with everything that we’ve got?

What is the hesitation on some—whether it be weapon systems or any kind of actions that might cross a line for some governments within NATO?

AMANDA SLOAT: Well, I’m actually going to be very boring and completely agree with my EU colleague in terms of his response because I really don’t think that this has been a significant area of internal disagreement and I agree with him about what has guided our response, which has been very much what the Ukrainians have told us they needed.

If you go back to February, it was very much focused, as he said, on the anti-artillery, anti-tank systems we were flowing and Javelins flowing and Stingers. It was what they needed.

The Russians retreated from Kyiv. They retreated from the west of the country. They have now shifted their war objectives to focus on the east and the south, and as a response to that the Ukrainians have changed what they have asked for, which is much more of these heavy weapons, these long-range artillery systems.

The United States, with Secretary Austin, has created this international contact group, which has met twice now in person, I think, once or twice virtually. The last meeting was last week on the margins of the defense ministerial, which is an opportunity for all of these countries to come together that are providing weapons.

Many of them are doing that publicly. Some countries are choosing, because of various sensitivities, to do that privately. The United States is in constant contact with the Ukrainians as the war evolves and as their needs shift. Just this morning, Jake Sullivan and Chairman Milley had conversations with their Ukrainian counterparts to continue assessing that.

I realized walking in I don’t have the latest number to hand, but I think the United States has given over six billion dollars so far in terms of weapons and has really continued to encourage other countries to do so, including, like, in the case of Slovakia, where they had a Soviet-era S-300 air defense system that the Ukrainians needed, getting those countries, especially those on the eastern flank that have some of the equipment that the Ukrainians have that they are familiar with, to get that in and then to do our part to try and backfill to ensure that we maintain the readiness of these countries that are handing over their systems.

VIVIAN SALAMA: And so are your needs being met then? Just springboarding off of that, in terms of, A, securing the region do you feel that NATO as a whole is doing what it can at this stage, not only for Ukraine but also for eastern flank allies which are, A, on the line of, you know, on the border with Russia, but also in need of a lot of backfill because of a lot of the weapons going to Ukraine.

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: Yeah. I think the NATO response following the events of 2014 was, for NATO, a lightning speed, because NATO is—at that time, really was not able to act very quickly. And yet, it showed a determination which few of us were expecting. We’re now in a completely different set of circumstances. And NATO therefore has had—is having the Madrid summit in seven days’ time. And there we will see what sort of deliverables we can get. But I think it’s really important also to see why Russia invaded Ukraine, or why they say they invaded Ukraine. It’s because of the fascists, but also to prevent Ukraine joining NATO.

Well, Ukraine was not going to join NATO. We all know that. Not in the near term. And NATO is not a threat to Russia, because nobody in Russia genuinely thinks that that thirty and soon-to-be-thirty-two NATO nations would have consensus to attack Russia. But the European Union is an existential threat to the Russian Federation, and Putinism in particular, because it is an example of good governance. And if Ukraine can be made to work as a functioning and free legal democracy, where individual rights are respected, then the bigger brother country, as Putin would like to put it, may well start asking: Why can’t we live like that?

VIVIAN SALAMA: I want to ask—you know, I’m going to go back to Dr. Sloat. Hopefully we can make some news today, you and I. You know, blame it on the day job. But President Biden has made clear that the mission is going to partially focus on reinforcing eastern flank allies. There’s been a lot of talk about potentially putting a permanent troop deployment in Europe again, or at least having more permanent rotations out there. And so can you tell us where those conversations stand right now? Eastern flank allies have been asking, even before this war, especially Poland and others, are we going to base US troops more permanently in Europe, or at least have permanent rotations?

AMANDA SLOAT: So my aim at these events is always not to make news. You know, as we have been talking about, we have a NATO summit a week from now. There’s a number of deliverables that we’re expecting to come out of that. It would ruin the fun of the summit if I scooped all of those deliverables. Obviously one thing that people are looking for to is the new strategic concept, which allies have been working actively on over the last year. The last strategic concept was done in 2010. And as we have been discussing, the geopolitical landscape in Europe has changed significantly since then.

I also think there are going to be broader announcements on force posture. This is something that the alliance has been discussing over the last year, since the last NATO summit. I anticipate that you will have a number of allies making announcements coming out. And as my Latvian friend said, I think NATO has already displayed over the last three months, including the United States, how quickly it’s able to respond to these crises. The US has significantly increased its military presence in Europe over the last couple of months, and very much expect that these force posture conversations are going to be front and center at the summit next week.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Ambassador, I want to springboard off of that now. President Macron, especially last year, spoke a lot about this concept of strategic autonomy for European nations. How is that going in terms of whether or not that is an achievable goal, a realistic goal? Has the Russian invasion completely changed the conversation? Where does that concept of Europe taking its own security into its own hands, where does that stand?

CHARLES FRIES: I think it makes full sense to continue to say that the EU should take more responsibility for its own security. But when we say that, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to work with our partners, and particularly the United States, and particularly NATO. So what we want is to be able to defend our interests and values in the world each time it’s necessary and, of course, each time it’s possible with our partners. But also to be able to do it in an autonomous way if we don’t have the choice, and if we must. Because there are—we can imagine that there are some crises, some situations where NATO or where the United States are not interested in intervening when we, as EU, we are directly concerned. And that’s why in the Strategic Compass, adopted last March, we have mentioned the idea to create a rapid-deployment capacity, an EU rapid-deployment capacity, precisely to be able to respond to some crises, to some scenarios where our direct security is at stake.

But when we speak about strategic autonomy, it’s not at all in contradiction with the fact that we want to be a better partner, and if we—with the Strategic Compass, with what we are doing now in the area of security and defense, where we want to spend more in defense, where we want to cooperate more in defense, it’s also because we want to be a better partner for the United States, and we think that the United States will give greater value to its relationship with the EU if the United States can see that we take ourselves more responsibility for our own security.

So strategic autonomy, I know that sometimes it creates a lot of debate and some people criticizing this concept. I don’t want—I think we should not have a theological debate. Strategic autonomy: For me it’s strategic responsibility. We want to be responsible for our security and for our defense, but it doesn’t call into question, of course, collective defense, which is a responsibility of NATO that’s clear, that’s written down in the treaty, and second, we want to work with our partners. That’s exactly one of the objectives of the Strategic Compass, to work with our partners as much as possible but to be ready to act on our own if we don’t have the choice.

VIVIAN SALAMA: I want to jump subjects a little bit away from sort of these broader topics into a little bit more micro, and hopefully we’ll have some time for a question or two from the audience, but I want to just talk about Turkey. You know, going into the Madrid Summit next week, President Erdoğan has made it very clear that he still holds firm to his view that Finland and Sweden are not sort of an easy—getting an easy pass into NATO; he’s raised a lot of concerns about their potential candidacy. In your view, is Turkey becoming a disruptive ally to the cohesion of NATO, where you’ve talked so much about the unity and just everyone standing together. It seems everyone else is on the same page with regard to this issue, but there’s also the issue of Turkey warming up to Moscow, trying to hold—food summit talks but not including Ukraine. There’s been a series of events as of lately, and so how do you address that? Maybe we start—

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: The whole point of NATO is that—and the European Union—is that we are collections of democratic states. There’s no absolute level of democracies, but in principle we’re democratic states. Why are we surprised that not everybody thinks exactly the same way as everybody else? Turkey has some absolutely stunning problems, particularly on its south. It has serious problems trying to keep some kind of equilibrium, as it seems to think it needs to, with Russia because, like some other European leaders, it sees that Russia is going to be our partner—or not partner—excuse me—our neighbor forever. It’s not going to go anywhere and no matter how we in Latvia might wish to change places with Switzerland, we can’t do it. And therefore, it’s not surprising. But at the same time, Turkey, if push comes to shove, will probably agree to what is in the interests, what broader interests of NATO, and at the moment they are asking particularly Sweden to make some changes to things which they have been very, very unhappy about in the past, particularly to do with fight against Turkish terrorism.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Do either of you want to comment on that or—then we’ll move on.

One of the major issues that keeps on coming up in every single government-to-government readout I’m seeing right now is obviously the crisis of food insecurity. What role can NATO play, NATO nations, play in terms of trying to ease and facilitate, A, the transfer of any grain that we can possibly get out of Ukraine but also, you know, in terms of having other countries pitch in and, B, also to prevent food wars from breaking out in the future as a result of this?

CHARLES FRIES: I don’t want to speak on behalf of NATO because the EU is not yet a member of NATO. But what I can tell you is what the EU is doing in order to facilitate the grain export of Ukraine, which is of course a key issue. And for instance, two days ago the twenty-seven foreign ministers discussed this issue.

So we are—we are—what we have been doing is to put in place what we call solidarity lanes in order to facilitate the export of wheat and grains from Ukraine by road or by train. But we are also working, particularly with the United Nations, to try to see if it’s possible to create maritime corridors in order to export the wheat—Ukrainian wheat from Odesa. But you know that there are many concrete issues which have to be solved—the question of the de-mining of the Black Sea, the fact that Ukraine wants to be sure that by doing this Ukraine will not be attacked by Russia, and also the fact that Russia tries to use this negotiation in order to have the lifting of some sanctions. So this is very tricky.

But for us, for the EU, the main point—and I think it’s also something discussed with our American friends—is that we should not—we have to be very united and firm and efficient in order to push back Russian propaganda on this food—this food-crisis issue, because what we hear in some African countries, in some Middle East countries, is that there are food-price inflation, food prices, it’s because of the EU or American sanctions, which is totally untrue. And so we need—there is a battle of narratives now.

More and more there is huge disinformation coming from Russia. And I think it’s important to underline that Russian wheat and grain, that Russian fertilizers can be exported to the rest of the world. Nobody prevents this from happening. So it’s not because of the EU sanctions. If there are food prices which increase, it’s only responsibility of the war—the war provoked by Russia—it’s not because of the international sanctions. So nothing prevents an African country from buying Russian wheat and Russian fertilizers. And I think it’s really now important to reject—to push back this propaganda, which is totally cynical.

VIVIAN SALAMA: And yet, do—I mean, Dr. Sloat, if you want to weigh in on this, do the sanctions complicate your ability to find solutions to these problems?

AMANDA SLOAT: I think, you know, I’m going to continue the transatlantic unity and continue to agree with both of my colleagues on both.

I mean, I agree with his assessment on the situation with Turkey. Certainly, there’s challenges that we’ve been public about. But I think Turkey has also tried to play a constructive role on Ukraine in terms of also facilitating two occasions in which the Ukrainian and Russian side came together in negotiations that, ultimately, have not led anywhere at this stage, but that was helpful at that point in terms of managing Montreux and then also in terms of being involved these food-security conversations. And this is something that the US has very actively discussed with the EU. It’s something that’s come up at previous G7 meetings. I’m sure it will be on the agenda of the G7 meeting next week because, as was said, we recognize the global dimensions of this, and right now are continuing to explore the various pathways of getting the grain out, including through the EU overland, including the Odesa route with the challenges that were mentioned. And I think pushing back, as was said, on this Russian disinformation about these sanctions is a very critical point.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Mr. Kažociņš—sorry. I’ve been practicing so much in my—

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: You’re doing incredibly well.

VIVIAN SALAMA: I’m trying. I’m trying.

You talked about India when we were in the green room earlier and just sort of the role that India, as a non-NATO ally, obviously, but as a close ally to the alliance has played in terms of the challenges that you face trying to get India on the same page. What’s your view on sort of some of the non-NATO allies who are so important to achieving any kind of progress?

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: OK. I think we need to take a small step back and recognize that, as somebody much more erudite than me pointed out, Russia is the storm; China is the climate change. And if we in the Baltic states or Eastern Europe think it’s not going to affect us, then that’s like FDR imagining in 1939 that the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland wasn’t going to affect the United States. Of course, it did, and it will.

Therefore, what we are looking at probably is a battle between democratic states, free states, and autocratic states. And China is a problem. India is a democratic state. It may have flaws. We all have flaws in our democracies. But India needs to be brought closer to the fold of other democratic states weaned off Russian military equipment, because it has an interest. And the interest is—it’s the threat from China. And therefore, the more democratic countries we can bring together, together with NATO—which has a part to play even if it’s only a diplomatic part in support of the United States—with the Asian-Pacific democracies, the more likely we are to be able to deal with the challenges of the future.

VIVIAN SALAMA: And you helped me lead up to my last question. I want to ask one more, and then I will turn it over to the audience for one or two questions. Is, is the rising threat challenges posed by China, both in terms of the conflict in Ukraine, but also more broadly. One the things I hear from diplomats around the world constantly is that even after the invasion of Ukraine, Washington still feels that China is ultimately the biggest global challenge. And they put so much resources and effort into that. Whereas Europe tends to see sort of in their backyard the threat of Russia, the invasion of Ukraine, as being the most immediate threat.

Obviously, it makes sense from a geographic perspective, but are the priorities not on the same page? Obviously, the US has been all-in on trying to help Ukraine, work with its allies. But if there’s another challenge looming does it take away from the US ability to kind of be succinct with NATO allies? And I would love to hear from all of you on that, and then we’ll turn over.

AMANDA SLOAT: I mean, you know, I think it’s possible to do both things at the same time. I mean, certainly it’s not a surprise that especially for a country like Latvia, Russia is going to be the bigger and more immediate threat, especially given the security situations that we’re facing. But I think that what we’ve seen over the last number of years, especially over the last year, is a growing convergence between the US and the EU in terms of perceptions of China. The EU, recognizing China as a systemic rival. You know, NATO is now talking much more actively about China than it has in the past.

He made the point about—we’re seeing this with Ukraine—the fact that Europe and the Indo-Pacific are really coming together even around this issue, which I think very much is one between democracy and autocracy, concern about not wanting to see China supporting Russia in this war. So I think you will see continued discussions on China at the G7 meetings next week. You’ll see continued discussion at NATO, which is taking up China in a much more serious way. And also at the NATO summit next week we are going to have Asian-Pacific partners there for the first time. And so NATO is going to be directly sitting down with Asia-Pacific partners to discuss this broader global security situation.

So even at the same time that NATO is becoming much more energized in response to immediate threats, NATO is also continuing to be a much more global actor and responding in a much holistic way to global challenges. And so I think, both on the EU side, through a lot of the things we’ve done together—especially on the economic space in terms of us setting the rules of the road together, on the technology and regulatory side, to everything NATO is doing, including this Indo-Pacific partnership, is showing a growing convergence between the two sides on the China threat, at the same time that we’re responding in very real time to the Russia challenge.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Mr. Kažociņš, I saw you smile when I asked the question. Do you want to share what you’re thinking on it?

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: I think in the long term, China is going to be the bigger problem, because although it may sound—I’m an optimist about Russia. I think Russia will change. It has changed in the past. Usually that has been after unsuccessful foreign wars. 1905 against Japan, 1914, the First World War, Afghanistan, and then the breakup of the Soviet Union. And this is in the same category, because the aim—the political aim of going into Ukraine was not to grasp territory or to defeat the Ukrainian army, but to achieve a political purpose; that is, to have little Rus, the brother of great Rus—Russia—who want to be together. And Putin has failed there. So what we need to do is to find a way of dealing with the current Russian challenge so that we can all maintain our deterrence if it’s still necessary here but be ready for perhaps more significant challenges further east in the future.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Ambassador, any thoughts before I turn it over to the audience? I think we have time for one or two if we make it quick. Do you have a question yet? Raise your hand. There are folks with mics. My vision is going. Oh, there are people behind me, too. Sorry, guys. OK. Maybe we take one from here and one from here. Let’s just try to make it quick. I guess this gentleman or any of these people. I can’t really see that well, guys, so—that’s great. Hello. Hi.

Q: Hi. Jeff Braunier.

I just want to latch onto what the national security advisor said.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Mr. Kažociņš.

Q: I can’t get there.

VIVIAN SALAMA: I’ve been practicing.

Q: I think what he’s saying, it’s very clear that the current war is presenting the transatlantic military regime to shift the dialogue and break with the current security architecture and start having conversations with unlikely potential partners to become part of a much broader security architecture in defense of a better world. Now, for example, Africa, obviously, is the number-one go-to place for a renewed security architecture. Currently, South Africa, for example, where I’m from, is at a very advanced stage to purchase gas from Russia. And part of the conversation that they’re having with Russia is that South Africa will become the key lobbyist for the rest of Africa to sign a comprehensive deal with Russia to purchase gas as a beginning of further economic cooperation.

Now, in light of what he’s saying, Russia potentially changing—just like in the Second World War, when there was a shift from the alliances that we had there when the US and the Soviet Union forged an alliance to get rid of—so I just want to get a comment on the possibility of new dialogue towards completely new, innovative security architecture.

VIVIAN SALAMA: If any of you want to jump on that, you can see the clock is ticking where we have about three-and-a-half minutes left. If you want to comment on the new security architecture and what role Africa might play in sort of managing conflict or potentially enhancing conflict if Russia has opportunities to invest, to expand, et cetera. How does that—what threat does that pose to NATO and the EU?

JĀNIS KAŽOCIŅŠ: I would—I’m not an expert on Africa, I’m sorry to say, but I agree with everything you say. What we do know is that China has, in fact, invested very heavily in Africa, and the investment has not always been to the liking of those who receive the investment in the same way as Sri Lanka is in a very, very difficult position to a great extent largely because of the way that China has used its financial muscle, in the same way as Montenegro and its energy is dependent on loans—not energy; it’s road structure, isn’t it—dependent on Chinese funding. And these are the sort of ways in which autocratic regimes can try to subvert democratic ones, and it needs to be recognized that if you take money or goods from autocratic regimes then the time will come when you will be asked to pay, and the cost may be much higher than we anticipated.

VIVIAN SALAMA: And of course, I’ve reported and some of my colleagues at other newspapers have reported that a number of African nations had received warnings in recent weeks from the US government, especially about buying any kind of smuggled grain from Ukraine that Russia may attempt to sell, and this has been another problem, too, in terms of finding some sort of cohesion with regard to enforcement of sanctions, enforcement of just cracking down on smuggling of grain.

CHARLES FRIES: Yes. If I—if I may, I think that Russia tries to use the food crisis as a—the food issue as a weapon and tries to use blackmail strategy in order to put pressure on some African countries which desperately need such grains, and so they try to put pressure.

But if you take also some other things in mind, we can see also the presence of Russia in some African countries through their mercenaries, the famous Wagner Group, and when you see what the Wagner mercenaries are doing in Mali or in Central African Republic you can see how much what they are doing is totally in contradiction not only with all what we try to defend in human rights, respect of law, respect of national sovereignty, but also they are committing a lot of exactions. They kill and they try also to extract the mines’—you know, mines’ resources at the expense of the countries where they are.

So we really—we are very much concerned in the EU by these Russian mercenaries’ presence in some African countries. We think that it’s exactly the opposite of what Africa needs. What we want, it’s African solutions to African problems. And the EU is accompanying in many areas Africa in order to—in terms of governance, in terms of economic development, in terms of security.

We have eleven European missions and operations in Africa. It represents more than two thousand men and women—European men and women—who try to accompany Africa in its development and also in its stability. And when we see what Russia is doing, particularly in the two countries I’ve just mentioned, we think that it’s really not the future of these two countries.

VIVIAN SALAMA: Thank you, Ambassador.

I’m sorry to say that we did not achieve global peace but we did cover a lot of things during this time. I’m sorry I didn’t get to get to all your questions, but time is tight.

Thank you so much. Thanks to the Atlantic Council and the EU for hosting us. And I will be back in a little bit with another panel, so I hope you stick around.

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Image: A worker from the war crimes prosecutor's office takes in the damage from overnight shelling that landed on a building of Kharkiv's Housing and Communal College as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues in Kharkiv, Ukraine on June 21, 2022. Photo via REUTERS/Leah Millis.