STOCKHOLM SPECTACLE — The NATO summit was a dizzying spectacle that repeatedly toggled between drama-filled gathering and stage-managed affair. But in the end, the alliance is set to grow, Ukraine got closer to membership and security guarantees while avoiding what at one point looked like a fight between the bloc and Kyiv.
After two days here in Vilnius, Lithuania, here are the main takeaways and what it all means for the future of NATO.
Sweden is (likely) in. One of the biggest mysteries of the summit was if Turkey would end its block on Sweden’s accession to the alliance -– and we got our answer before the gathering event started. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered a handshake agreement to let Sweden join, clearing the way for NATO to eventually welcome its 32nd member.
But it’s not a done deal. Ankara almost certainly wants the U.S. to approve F-16 fighter jets in exchange for the green light. That’s not just up to Biden, however, it’s also up to Congress. As of now, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is blocking a proposed deal over Turkey’s regional aggression, especially toward Greece and Armenia.
If that agreement gets scuttled, then Sweden’s bid might falter. Still, everyone here seems optimistic that Stockholm will be popping champagne in the near future.
No MAP, yes weapons. In the NATO communiqué, allies agreed to remove the Membership Action Plan requirement for Ukraine’s future accession to NATO. While there are still conditions for eventual membership, having no MAP boxes to check makes it easier –– but still not easy –– for Ukraine to become an official ally.
Still, the move keeps Kyiv on the path to joining the bloc someday. In the meantime, the U.S. and some of its G7 partners offered Ukraine long-term security guarantees in the form of weapons sales, military training and reconstruction assistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the summit’s results “a significant security victory” for his country.
Also, a testy moment was avoided. Before Zelenskyy arrived in Vilnius, this line from the communiqué leaked: “We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.”
That enraged Zelenskyy, who blasted the language as “unprecedented and absurd” –– in effect urging NATO allies to more definitively offer a pathway and timeline for Ukraine to become a member.
That threatened to mar his one-one-one meeting with President Joe Biden and photo op with NATO and G7 leaders. But the Ukrainian leader changed his tune once he got to the summit.
“It is now established that no Membership Action Plan will be required on the path to Ukraine’s membership in NATO. And this is fair. Thank you for this recognition,” he tweeted today, adding: “We understand that Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO while the war is ongoing.”
And before a bilateral meeting with Biden, Zelenskyy stated “we have great unity from our leaders and the security guarantees –– that is a success for this summit.”
It was a remarkable turnaround that changed the narrative from one of disunity to allies and partners moving in lockstep.
So what does it all mean? How history judges the Vilnius summit depends on some circumstances outside Biden’s control.
Ukraine’s counteroffensive hasn’t dealt a decisive blow to Russia’s front lines in the east and south, pushing the conflict well into America’s tumultuous election season where Biden will likely face Donald Trump, a NATO and Ukraine skeptic. If Ukraine’s anger festers under the surface, it could lead Kyiv to reassess its relationship with Washington.
And there’s also a fear that Russia will find ways to extend the war just to lower the chances of Ukraine imminently joining NATO. Allied leaders, however, repeatedly downplayed that concern.
“It is very clear that this question of NATO membership will not be an issue that can be raised by others who are not part of this partnership — in other words, Russia will not be able to mandate this, and I think that is very clear,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on his way home from Lithuania.
— Chinese hackers targeted U.S. government emails through Microsoft breach: Chinese-based hackers gained access to the emails of at least one U.S. federal agency last month through a vulnerability in Microsoft email systems, the Biden administration confirmed today. The attackers pierced the agency’s systems and those of around two dozen other organizations by using forged authentication tokens in a breach first made public by Microsoft on Tuesday night. The Microsoft investigators identified the infiltrators as Storm-0558, a group that primarily uses espionage, credential access and data theft to target government agencies in Western Europe.
— Senate Dems say ‘massive’ taxpayer privacy breach needs DOJ probe: A group of Democratic senators wants the Justice Department to investigate several tax prep companies after an investigation the lawmakers launched concluded the companies shared reams of taxpayers’ personal and financial information with Meta. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and others accuse H&R Block, TaxSlayer and TaxAct of having embedded code in their Web sites known as “pixels” that allowed their users’ sensitive tax data to be shared with Meta (the parent company of Facebook) and Google.
— North Korean missile launch ‘risks destabilizing’ the region, White House says: White House officials condemned North Korea for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile today, saying it “needlessly raises tensions” and “risks destabilizing” the region. Pyongyang test-fired its first ICBM in three months days after it threatened “shocking” consequences because of Washington’s military presence along the peninsula. The missile flew about 620 miles before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, South Korean and Japanese officials said.
WARNING LABEL — Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today addressed his plans to headline an event in New Hampshire hosted by the centrist group No Labels amid concern from Democrats about a third-party presidential bid backed by the group, reports POLITICO.
Manchin has not yet ruled out a White House run, nor has he announced whether he plans to run for reelection to the Senate in 2024 in his increasingly red home state. But the event next week has nothing to do with a third-party bid, Manchin told CNN today.
According to CNN, Manchin is joining former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, a Republican, for the town hall because of his ties to the group where he has served as an honorary co-chair. The centrist senator did nothing to quell the rumors that he might enter the presidential race. “I haven’t ruled out anything,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.
TRIBAL WARFARE — The Republican Party is divided roughly in a 4:4:2 ratio between very conservative voters, the somewhat conservative, and a moderate-to-liberal remnant. Historically, the somewhat conservative and moderate voters have allied to control the nomination process, the Spectator writes.
Meanwhile, polling by Echelon Insights finds that hardcore Trump supporters — the ones who say they are Trump supporters first and Republicans second — number just 37 percent to the 53 percent who say they support the party first. The numbers of Trump loyalists have been in a slow, grinding decline ever since the dust settled from the 2020 election, though of course this has not stopped him from leading Republican primary polls with outright majorities.
Trump’s core support in these surveys comes from very conservative Republicans. Their favorability towards Trump has barely budged in the last several years, even in the wake of January 6 and the disastrous 2022 midterms. And Trump currently holds down between 70 to 80 percent support in this segment in a hypothetical head-to-head with Ron DeSantis. But the real story is the more moderate Republicans who, despite everything, have not rejected Trump and are currently split roughly evenly between him and an alternative. Their Trump favorability graph over the last several years looks more like an EKG readout, plummeting momentarily in the wake of outright embarrassments but always returning to its previous baseline. Trump’s majority support is owed at least in part to wayward moderates who always seem poised to wash their hands of him but always return. Their support looks like less cultishness than it does acquiescence.
FAIR WEATHER FRIEND — In March, as Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida laid the groundwork for his presidential run, he joined the Fox News host Brian Kilmeade to play a nationally televised game of catch on his hometown baseball field outside Tampa.
The questions DeSantis faced were as relaxed as the tosses. At the time, DeSantis was seen by many in the Republican Party as the strongest possible alternative to former President Donald Trump, who had repeatedly attacked the network and had seen his relationship with its owner, Rupert Murdoch, evaporate.
Four months later, with DeSantis’s campaign having failed to immediately catch fire against Trump, Fox News is not taking it quite so easy on DeSantis anymore, the New York Times reports.
GOING HUNGRY — Global hunger has surged since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with about 122 million more people struggling from a lack of food in 2022 compared to 2019, according to an annual report from the United Nations, write Marcia Brown and Susannah Savage.
Without major changes, the U.N. will not meet its goal of eradicating global hunger by 2030, the report warned.
Based on the current trajectory, some 600 million people around the world will still be suffering from hunger in 2030 unless global efforts are “scaled up” and “sped up,” said the president of the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, Alvaro Lario. “I think there’s a possibility of reducing those figures massively, if we manage to increase investment in food systems in a significant way,” he told POLITICO in an interview ahead of the report’s launch.
The latest report reveals the sweeping impacts of supply chain disruptions during the pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine. Around 735 million people struggled with hunger last year, compared to 613 million in 2019, according to the report.
High prices for fertilizer and other inputs cut into farmers’ production while extreme weather due to climate change simultaneously limited agricultural production. With just days until the Black Sea grain deal expires, potentially choking off access to Ukraine’s agricultural bounty, world food leaders are confronting what they’re calling a “new normal.”
MORALLY BANKRUPT — When VICE Media announced it was declaring bankruptcy earlier this year, many of the people who had worked there weren’t entirely surprised. The company had gone through consistent rounds of layoffs for years, and it stopped paying for basic services like Slack. But newly released bankruptcy filings show that in the year before the bankruptcy, the company continued to pay out exorbitant salaries and bonuses to executives (one got a big bonus two weeks before the company filed for bankruptcy). Katie Way, who worked at VICE for over three years, dug into the new information and what it was like to work at the company right before it went bankrupt for Hell Gate NYC.
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