It's Wednesday, welcome to Overnight Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.
Russian officials and the 30 countries that make up the NATO alliance met for an extraordinary session held in an effort to avoid a potential Russian-military invasion of Ukraine.
We'll reveal what was discussed and what's next between the two sides, plus a new bill aimed at preventing the Kremlin from moving to invade and details of the Army's new, biggest ever signing bonus.
For The Hill, I'm Ellen Mitchell. Write me with tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's get to it.
Sherman: NATO 'in complete unity' on Russia
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Wednesday said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) spoke with one voice in calling for Russia to de-escalate tensions along Ukraine's border and rejected demands from Moscow that the alliance cease expansion.
The deputy secretary's remarks came in Brussels, at the end of a nearly four-hour session of an extraordinary meeting between Russian officials and the 30 countries that make up the NATO alliance, held in an effort to avoid a potential Russian-military invasion of Ukraine.
Sherman, the No. 2 State Department official who is leading the U.S. delegation in separate meetings in Europe this week, said the NATO-Russia meeting ended with "a sober challenge" for Russia "to de-escalate tensions, choose the path of diplomacy, to continue to engage in honest and reciprocal dialogue so that together we can identify solutions that enhance the security of all."
Russia's response: The deputy secretary said that the Russian delegation did not commit, nor reject, NATO offers for follow-up discussions. The delegation further made no commitment to de-escalate, Sherman said, but added that they did not reject de-escalation.
"Russia's actions have caused this crisis and it is on Russia to de-escalate tensions and give diplomacy the chance to succeed. ... There was no commitment to de-escalate. Nor was there a statement that there would not be."
'Complete unity': The Biden administration has repeatedly rejected Russia's demand that NATO cease expansion, referred to as the alliance's "open-door" policy that allows any country to apply for membership.
Sherman said alliance members spoke in "complete unity ... that all countries must be able to choose their own foreign policy orientation, that sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct, and must be respected and that all nations are and must be free to choose their own alliances."
Up next: The NATO-Russia meeting was the second of three major diplomatic engagements taking place in Europe this week. U.S. officials first met with Russian officials in a bilateral meeting of the Strategic Stability Dialogue in Geneva on Monday.
The U.S. and European partners will hold another meeting with the Russian delegation in Vienna on Thursday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). That meeting will also include Ukraine.
A ways to go: U.S. officials have played down the possibility of any major breakthroughs from the three meetings, describing the sessions as conversations laying the groundwork for further diplomatic engagement.
"We expect, and had expected, that the Russian delegations at the SSD, here at the NATO Russia Council, and tomorrow at the OSCE will have to report back to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, who we all hope will choose peace and security," Sherman said.
"There is plenty to work on, where we have places where we can enhance mutual security," the deputy secretary continued.
NATO OFFERS MORE TALKS WITH RUSSIA AMID 'SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES'
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) offered more talks with Russia on Wednesday amid "significant differences" between the alliance and Moscow on the latter's security demands.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the comment in a news conference after chairing a meeting of the NATO-Russia council, which was convened as the U.S. and European allies seek to prevent a second Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Wednesday's meeting was "not an easy discussion," Stoltenberg said. "But that is exactly why this meeting was so important."
More to discuss: The alliance is "ready to meet again with Russia to have discussions in greater detail, to put concrete proposals on the table, and to seek constructive outcomes," Stoltenberg told reporters.
Specifically, allies want to discuss increasing the transparency of military exercises and reducing space and cyber threats.
The alliance also offered to look at arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation. This included Moscow's demands for both sides to limit launching missiles and addressing nuclear policies.
A MESSAGE FROM HUAWEI
Senate Dems unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine
Amid the talks, Senate Democrats on Wednesday unveiled legislation aimed at imposing sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine as U.S. and European allies seek to prevent the move.
The Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act of 2022, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and 25 of his colleagues, would impose mandatory sanctions on a variety of Russian entities should it escalate hostile action against Ukraine
The measure would also call on the State and Defense departments to bolster Ukraine's defensive capabilities and enhance the delivery of security assistance to Kyiv.
The intent: "This legislation makes it absolutely clear that the U.S. Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine," Menendez said in a statement.
"Ultimately the most effective sanction on Russia is a strong and unified Ukraine, and I look forward to working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues so that we can provide the people of Ukraine the type of support they need to confront the bully in Moscow," he continued.
White House approved: "White House National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne issued a statement backing the legislation.
"We support Senator Menendez's legislation, which would trigger severe costs to Russia's economy if Russia further invades Ukraine, just like President Biden and our allies and partners have made clear we will do," Horne said. "The bill also supports efforts to increase security assistance to Ukraine in the event that Russia escalates hostilities against Ukraine."
Earlier: The bill from Menendez is the second piece of legislation introduced by lawmakers this week and reflects the bipartisan sentiment on Capitol Hill that the U.S. should take a tougher stance against Russia.
On Monday, a group of House Republicans introduced the Guaranteeing Ukrainian Autonomy by Reinforcing its Defense Act, which is similarly aimed at bolstering Kyiv's defense capabilities and rejecting Russia's security demands.
What it would do: Under Menendez's legislation, President Biden would have to determine whether the Russian government is knowingly pushing hostilities against Ukraine and if they are for the purposes of taking over the former Soviet state.
Such determination would trigger mandatory sanctions on Moscow's banking sector, as well as several military and government officials including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The legislation would also direct the administration to review its waiver of sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline - which carries natural gas from Russia to Germany - in light of Moscow's military posture near Ukraine.
Army boosts recruit bonuses up to $50K
The Army is boosting enlistment bonuses up to $50,000 to lure recruits to join for six years, Army Recruiting Command announced Wednesday.
In a statement, Recruiting Command said the Army is currently trying to fill both part-time and full-time vacancies in about 150 career fields in both its active-duty and reserve components.
Largest ever: The new bonuses represent the largest the service has ever offered, as enlistment incentives were previously capped at $40,000.
The hope: Maj Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of Recruiting Command, told The Associated Press that the Army hopes the new bonuses will attract new recruits as it deals with lingering challenges spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are still living the implications of 2020 and the onset of COVID, when the school systems basically shut down," Vereen told the AP. "We lost a full class of young men and women that we didn't have contact with, face-to-face."
It varies: The total incentive package will be based on a variety of factors like career field, individual qualifications, length of enlistment contract and ship date for training, Recruiting Command said.
The career-based incentives will range from $1,000 to $40,000 for vacancies that need to be filled or are difficult to fill because of the specific qualifications - like radar repairers and motor transport operators.
A MESSAGE FROM HUAWEI
ON TAP TOMORROW
The Brookings Institution will host an event on "U.S.-Jordan Relations: Jordan's Vision for the Future," at 9 a.m.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will meet to consider the nominations of Celeste Wallander to be assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs; Melissa Dalton to be assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs; and John Plumb to be assistant secretary of Defense for space policy, at 9:30 a.m.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a virtual discussion with former South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Wi Sung-lac at 9:30 a.m.
Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering, will speak to the media as part of George Washington University's Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group conversation, at 3:30 p.m.
Former U.S. Central Command head retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel will speak at a National Security Institute NatSec Nightcap event on "Maintaining U.S. Global Leadership and Confronting Tomorrow's Threats," at 5:30 p.m.
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Stars and Stripes: House lawmaker calls for legislation to allow a faster US military response should China invade Taiwan