May 21, 2022

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Deputy Secretary Wendy R. Sherman Remarks at Yalta European Strategy (YES) Event

27 min read

Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Via teleconference

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Good morning or good afternoon to everybody in America or in Europe listening in.  Welcome to our YES online conversation, co-hosted with Victor Pinchuk Foundation.  YES bridges Ukraine with Europe and the world, and supports Ukraine’s European perspective – Ukraine free, whole, democratic, and fair, and therefore prosperous.  This is our dream.

But Russia has amassed soldiers at Ukraine’s border.  Kremlin has put striking demands to the West to allay (inaudible) Russian security concerns.  Russia said if their demands are not met, it will consider military measures.

It’s wholly understandable that Ukraine feels itself taken as a hostage.  What can Europe and the West do to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and also, most importantly, Ukrainians’ freedom to choose their own way?

We are honored to welcome Wendy R. Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, and the brilliant diplomat who led the most recent talks with the Russian Federation.  Madam Deputy Secretary, welcome, and welcome also in the name of my fellow board members Victor Pinchuk, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Carl Bildt, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and Stephane Fouks.

The United States play a key role for protecting the principles of international law, and for the right of every nation to choose their own way into the future.  Vice (sic) Secretary Sherman, dear Wendy, what can you tell Ukrainians, and Europeans for that matter, today?  What is our way forward?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you so much, President Kaljulaid.  I love to say Madam President.  It’s very exciting.  Someday we will be able to say that in the United States.  Really did an extraordinary job as president of your country.

Thank you for that warm welcome and for kindly agreeing to serve as our moderator for today’s discussion.  I’m really looking forward to our conversation.  I also want to thank Yalta European Security (sic), YES, for hosting this virtual event, and to particularly acknowledge your founder, Victor Pinchuk, and the chairman of your board, former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

For nearly two decades, YES has been a vitally important forum for building ties between Ukraine, Europe, the United States, and the wider world, and for organizing substantive, timely conversations like this one today.

Last week, Secretary Blinken visited Kyiv, Berlin, and Geneva as the United States continues our efforts with our allies and partners to urge Russia to de-escalate tensions and choose the path of diplomacy.  When he was in Berlin, Secretary Blinken gave a speech about what’s at stake because of Russia’s aggression for Ukraine and beyond.  If you haven’t already, I encourage you all to read it.

As we speak, Russia is escalating its threat toward Ukraine.  Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders in an unprovoked buildup of military force, and has sent additional troops to Belarus, allegedly for large-scale military exercises.  Moscow is continuing to use increasingly bellicose and inflammatory rhetoric, and to spread disinformation and propaganda in an obvious effort to paint Ukraine as the aggressor.  There is no defensive justification for Russia to amass so many troops in such a short time on Ukraine’s borders.  Ukraine poses no threat to Russia.

It bears repeating that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014 and occupies Crimea to this day.  It is Russia that continues to fuel a war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed nearly 14,000 lives and destroyed entire towns.  It is Russia and their proxies holding hundreds of Ukrainians as political prisoners, and it is because of Russia’s actions that nearly three million Ukrainians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.  While the suffering is most acute in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainians everywhere have felt the effects of Russia’s aggression.  Russia has interfered in Ukraine’s elections and tried to undermine Ukraine’s democratic institutions.  Russia has blocked energy and commerce, launched cyber attacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, and used propaganda and disinformation to sow distrust.

And now, Russia’s actions are caused renewed crisis not only for Ukraine, but for all of Europe, and indeed, as Secretary Blinken said, for the wider world.  One country cannot change the borders of another by force, or dictate the terms of another country’s foreign policy, or forbid another country from choosing its own alliances.  These are basic tenets of our international system.  Without them, we risk returning to a world where might make right – makes right, where larger countries can bully and coerce smaller ones into acting against their own interests or ignoring the will of their own people.

The United States stands with the people of Ukraine and we remain committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Secretary Blinken reinforced that commitment last week when he met in Kyiv with President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Kuleba.  Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $5.5 billion in security and non-security assistance to Ukraine, including more than $351 million in assistance to those displaced or impacted by Russia’s aggression.

We are continuing to provide defensive security assistance to Ukraine.  President Biden authorized $200 million in security assistance in December and the first shipments began arriving in Kyiv in recent days.  Congress recently increased funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.  And we are working with our NATO Allies, including the Baltic states, to provide diplomatic support and other assistance to Ukraine in this time of crisis.

Even in the past weeks, we have worked hand-in-glove with our Baltic allies to authorize and enable transfers of defensive arms to Ukraine.  I especially want to acknowledge the bold position taken by our Baltic allies in making these systems available from their own stockpiles.  All of us hope that Ukraine will not need to use these arms, of course, but if it comes to that, Ukraine will be better able to defend itself from further Russian aggression thanks to these efforts.

The United States and our NATO Allies and European partners are fully committed to the principle of nothing about you without you – that is to say, nothing about NATO without NATO, nothing about Europe without Europe, and nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.  We have said that plainly to our Russian counterparts in all of the diplomatic engagements we have had in recent weeks as we urge Russia to de-escalate tensions.

Russia claims this crisis is about its national defense, about military exercises, weapon systems, and security agreements.  If that’s true, there are concrete and reciprocal steps we can take to increase transparency, reduce risks, improve communication, and advance arms control.  We have told the Russians that the United States is prepared to discuss those issues in coordination with our allies and partners if they, the Russians, are ready.  On Friday, Secretary Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva to urge Russia to find its way back to the diplomatic path and to work with the United States and our allies and partners in Europe to create a future that can ensure our mutual security. He also made plain, once again, that the United States and our allies and partners are preparing for every eventuality.

We have held more than a hundred consultations with our European allies and partners in the last few weeks alone to ensure we are in complete alignment and that we are speaking with one voice. If Russia further invades Ukraine, there will be significant costs and consequences well beyond what they faced in 2014. The United States and our European allies and partners are working together to prepare coordinated economic measures—measures that would exact a severe, ongoing price for Russia’s economy and financial system—should Russia take that fateful step. You have heard the same message in recent days from German Chancellor Scholz, from the British and French governments, from the G7, NATO, and the European Union—and from President Biden, who held a secure video call with European leaders on Monday. On this, too, we are united.

Before I close, I want to offer one personal reflection. The Ukrainian people chose democracy. In 2013 and 2014, Ukrainians put their bodies and their lives on the line to make it clear to leaders in Kyiv—to leaders in Moscow—and to the entire world that they wanted a free and democratic future. I was serving as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the time, and I visited Kyiv in March 2014. I went to the Maidan, and laid flowers at the makeshift memorial to those who had lost their lives protesting for change. I have a photo of that visit to the Maidan framed in my office, hanging opposite my desk. It reminds me of the incredible things that brave and ordinary people can accomplish when they come together and stand up for what they believe.

That determination, resilience, and vision for a better future is what the Ukrainian people have shown the world time and again. And it is what you are showing the world in this moment of crisis as well.

So thank you again to YES for organizing today’s event.  I’m very much looking forward to our discussion.  President Kaljulaid, I turn the floor back to you.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Thank you.  Thank you, Deputy Secretary, particularly for your reassurances that there will be nothing decided about Ukraine without Ukraine, and for that matter, nothing decided about any other European ally without the consent of these allies.  And of course, all this is crystal clear to us, and we’re all taking steps to support Ukraine, help Ukraine.  What else could we do to make the message more clear, more believable, to have a really strong deterrent effect for situation worsening further, because indeed, we have been taking all these steps and yet it is the second military build-up at Ukraine’s border in eight months.  What is the bigger narrative?  You must have got a feeling about the bigger narrative now.  What more could we do to make sure that the plans, if they are there to attack Ukraine, will be halted?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, thank you very much, Madam President.  I think that it is just fantastic the solidarity in Europe.  And speaking of one voice, I must say when I went to the NATO-Russia Council meeting, it was just extraordinary.  All 30 countries delivered the same message to the Russians.  And so I think we have to use every forum that we have (inaudible) NATO, at OSCE, at the European Union – to speak with is one voice of solidarity: one, that Russia should choose diplomacy.  There is no way that Russia, with the largest conventional military in Europe, on the Security Council as a permanent member, an enormous landmass with tremendous energy resources, a country that is one of the two largest nuclear powers in the world, could possibly be threatened by Ukraine, a smaller and still developing country.

And in addition, there is no threat by NATO.  NATO is a defensive alliance that is created to create defense and protection for Europe.  And it’s interesting, NATO has only once invoked Article Five, which says an attack on one is attack on all, by coming to the defense of the United States in Afghanistan after 9/11.  So very defensive alliance, has not taken any offensive action in Europe or elsewhere, no coercion, no subversion.  Russia should likewise: no taking of countries by force, changing borders by force, no coercion, no subversion.

So pushing for diplomacy with solidarity in every fora that we have, and secondly, preparing for the worst.  That’s why what Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania did in terms of coming to the defensive support of Ukraine is so significant out of their own stockpiles to help out.  It is why it is very important that the United States increased our security assistance to Ukraine and other countries – Great Britain, United Kingdom has as well.  So helping Ukraine get ready to provide for its own defense, but also getting ready sanctions and export controls and other measures that say to Russia:  If you take this action, there will be severe reaction.

In fact, the German Ambassador to the United States, Emily Haber, tweeted this morning:  “The U.S. and Germany jointly declared last summer: if Russia uses energy as a weapon or if there is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia will have to pay a high price.  @Olaf Scholz and @ABaerbock stated clearly: nothing will be off the table, including Nord Stream 2.”

This is a very important message of solidarity, of severe consequences should Russia take this action.  President Putin should rethink what he is considering and take a diplomatic course.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Thank you.  It is all very reassuring to hear these messages and also, of course, particularly the readiness of the German Government to – not to operate or allow operation of Nord Stream 2 pipeline in case something further goes wrong.  And it’s also very encouraging that there was this mentioning of energy, using energy as a weapon in the Ukrainian context, because one of our listeners has already early on sent in a question about this and asking:  If there will be further disturbances in the energy supply in Ukrainian grid, is that also considered an attack on Ukraine?  What is the trigger to unleash the promised sanctions also in this context?

This would be very important maybe to understand a little bit better, also maybe for the Russian side.  What might actually unleash already the sanctions which obviously have been negotiated and agreed beforehand?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  We are in intensive discussions with European capitals to ensure an energy supply for Europe if indeed Russia uses energy as a weapon.  We think about the risks to Europe, but we also have to think about the risks to Russia.  They need to sell energy.  They need to put it on the market in Europe and get payment for it.  They need it for their economy; it’s very critical for their economy.

So this is interdependent.  Yesterday a senior U.S. official on this issue said that Moscow needed oil and gas revenue as much as Europe looked to Russia for energy supplies.  The energy issue should be looked at as more interdependency rather than pure advantage for Putin.  So there is a very complicated calculus here, but we are in deep discussions to ensure in every way possible that Russia cannot use energy as a weapon and that Europe has an assured energy supply.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Well, indeed.  I am very grateful for the reassurance also for the whole Europe, and we all know that we are seeking to diversify rapidly European energy, energy supply.  And I do agree, of course, on the co-dependence.  And that is part of our worry, actually, that Russia seems to have also provided for the reserves to overcome a certain period of lack of revenue, which is just one layer of the preparations which we are seeing.  Indeed, but is it really possible also that if Ukraine, for example, is cut off from the gas and there will be disturbances in its grid, but we will already preemptively before anything else went on, put the sanctions on, or gradually roll them out while – I mean, it is not of course an incursion into Ukrainian territory, but it is an attack, obviously, similarly like we were facing a cyber attack.  How do you feel about it?  Should we maybe also be very proactive in the first signs because, of course, all this might actually be just a prologue to a next step?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Madam President, I think you make a very good point.  We are preparing for all kinds of scenarios – a full-on invasion, any troops.  The Secretary of State said this the other day: even one Russian troop further invading Ukraine is a very serious matter, because it breaches all of the principles of international security and says that another country can act with impunity – which has tremendous consequences for Ukraine and Europe, but also sends a message to the entire world that other autocrats can act with such impunity and go past long-held international principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and an ability of a country to choose its own alliances, its own future.  So it’s very, very critical.

But we’re also looking at scenarios of hybrid attacks or subversion or sabotage or coercion.  We have to consider all of these and be ready to act to support Ukraine, and to make sure that Russia knows it will face consequences.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Indeed.  Thank you for these reassurances.  And we really of course must stress at this point that this is not about starting a war.  Actually, the war is ongoing.  I have myself flown on helicopter to Kherson and also to eastern Ukraine contact lines and seen with my own eyes how sad this war really is for Ukraine.  People have been dying every year while we have not been notably thinking about what is going on in Ukraine.  And I think this has been our error.  Therefore I really hope and I really wish that day-in, day-out, even if we manage to let’s say have a little bit of a calmer period we can get Russians to the talking table hopefully and so on, so on, that we will never again forget what has been going on Ukraine all this time.  Because the war has never stopped.  Ukraine is in war since 2014.  Our support has been more visible, less visible, but obviously we must have done something wrong, because Russia still seems to think it is for free to continue this war and even to continue putting ultimatums to us.

So are we sure we can, I mean, be also united as we today stand in the future when Russians get behind the table to discuss with us?  Are we ready also then to forward the message which obviously will be a disappointment?  This is very obvious, that this message which we can only say is that we are not giving up on our right to collectively defend ourselves.  We are not going to give up on Ukrainian territorial integrity.  We are not accepting that the facts on the ground will be sustainable for the future and Ukraine will not have control over Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  What will then, I mean, follow?  What is your prediction?  What is your prediction, actually?  Because basically I don’t see also President Putin saying, okay, well, we tried, they said no.  What’s your prediction?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, I don’t know what’s in President Putin’s mind.  There’s only one person who knows that, and that’s President Putin.  I suspect even the people around him don’t know what he ultimately will do.  I think they know the plans of setting up the military to be ready to go and to have plans to make use of the military, but I suspect the president has other plans in mind as well.  And I’m not – I have no idea whether he’s made the ultimate decision, but we certainly see every indication that he is going to use military force sometime, perhaps now and middle of February.  We all are aware that the Beijing Olympics begin on February 4th, the opening ceremony, and President Putin expects to be there.  I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine, so that may affect his timing and his thinking.

But Madam President, you eloquently laid out what Russia has already done to Ukraine and so we talk about a further invasion of Ukraine, because indeed, they have illegally attempted an annex of Crimea and they have constantly pressed in the east in the Donbas region and caused enormous hardship and death to Ukrainian citizens already.  They have also pressed institutions inside of Ukraine and tried to undermine the democracy of Ukraine.  They have posted all kinds of social media posts to try to change how people think.

What’s so extraordinary about what Putin is doing is he does not want Ukraine to ever get into NATO, but his very actions are making the people of Ukraine more anxious to be in NATO, not less anxious to be in NATO.  Before Putin illegally annexed Crimea and has tried to hold it, indeed the Ukrainians were mixed about what they wanted their future to be.  After those actions in 2014, after – I’m sorry, when that occurred – after the pressing of the eastern region in the way that you so well described, a vast majority of Ukrainians want to be in NATO, are committed to democracy.  And albeit Ukraine still has more to do for its democracy its people have chosen its future, and we have to support that vision that Ukrainian citizens have for themselves in every way possible and constantly say that we are here for Ukraine, we want to support Ukraine, we will do nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Ukrainian people obviously are seeking more and more reassurances and clarification.  I have a long list of questions here asking whether Ukraine can procure arms elsewhere than Germany – obviously, of course, if it can, and these possibilities must exist.  People are also asking on clarity.  For example, will really if there will be an air attack by Russia or in a case of a missile strike, will there be readiness in such a case really help Ukraine, or preventively, can Ukraine get defensive weapons to reduce the threat from the air?  This – these are very concrete questions of people who are ready to go and defend their own country asking also will there be support for them in case Russia goes for a full-on incursion and comes finally out that it is part to the Ukrainian war, which it so far of course denies?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  It’s incredibly important to, in fact, do everything we can to support Ukraine to be able to defend itself.  As I said earlier, it’s why it’s really extraordinary and very affirmative that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania out of its own stocks have sent defensive weapons to Ukraine.  It’s why the United States, the President did an additional in December $200 million for security assistance, and those shipments have already begun to Ukraine so that they have the capability to defend themselves.

It is – President Zelenskyy is in a tough position because he wants his economy to move forward and all of the talk of military strikes and conflict create not the best investment environment.  So we have to help in every way we can economically to Ukraine so that they can get through this difficult time.  We have to help them prepare militarily in every way we can so that they know they have support going forward.

And I would say to Russia:  Whatever you do, know that this is not the Ukraine of years ago.  This is Ukraine with a military that is capable; this is a country that’s going to stand up for itself and there will be nothing you do where Ukrainian citizens will not fight for their own future.  This – there’s nothing Russia can do that will not cost Russian lives.  This is not just about Ukrainian lives.  Russia needs to know that Ukraine is ready to defend itself and to defend its future.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Indeed, Deputy Secretary, I can only confirm your words.  I was in Ukraine on their national day.  I witnessed the military parade.  I saw the determination, I saw the readiness, but also the tears of those who came to be honored, for those people who they had already lost posthumously, to be decorated by the state.  And indeed, I do appreciate what President Zelenskyy has been doing in reforming Ukrainian healthcare, starting the land reform, which should have been done already long ago, also trying to fight corruption and make Ukraine a better investment climate.  And this, despite being a country at war, show me another country globally in the world who has managed to do that.

So indeed, we have absolutely no excuse in saying that Ukraine should do more itself.  Ukraine has been reforming while fighting, and fighting also for our red lines, because I mean, standing up to Russia, which is bullying its neighbors, actually not accepting its own signatures anymore on the international agreements from Helsinki act to Budapest agreement – could we somehow make sure that such a country, such a brave country can be today when it is preparing for maybe a toughest period in its existence yet, that it can go into these days and weeks knowing that we will definitely not give up on Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO one day?

Because it seems so obvious to some that, okay, there has been an agreement, we will one day, but, I mean, things have not been moving forward.  What is that to lose to admit that, not in the coming years?  We hear sometimes this discussion, journalists are afraid this might happen, and I have to say Ukrainians are also afraid this might happen.  That’s one of the most persistent questions which I’m getting from our audience today.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  NATO has affirmed the ambition that Ukraine has to become a NATO member.  There is a process; there are requirements.  Ukraine is working to show that it is ready for a Membership Action Plan.  Hasn’t reached that point yet, but NATO has certainly affirmed the ambition that Ukraine has to join.  And I am hopeful for Ukraine’s future.  I think, Madam President, you have outlined the work that Presidents Zelenskyy is doing to get rid of corruption, to put land reform in place, to make sure that the institutions of democracy are strong in his country.  All of these things are important.

And everything we can do to provide technical assistance and support to help the president move forward is quite important.  It is hard to build a democracy.  We’re still building ours; we are not a perfect country either.  So this is hard work, and so everything we can do to bolster the president in those efforts is incumbent on each of us to do so that they can look ahead to the future that they want.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  I have to ask, even if I’m European myself, what does U.S. see as what Europe could further do to help Ukraine come closer to Europe and also to sustain currently what is going on, and also to alleviate the fear which clearly is coming from Ukraine right now that – are we really united on these sanctions?  Are Europeans really serious also on these sanctions?  What more could we Europeans do to continue supporting Ukrainians, and also to keep their belief in us high?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, I think we need to not let up on the things that we’re doing: speaking with one voice, ensuring our solidarity on the path to diplomacy, on the principles of international security, and on the future ambitions that countries have to be part of the international community in a variety of ways.  I think that besides making sure that Ukraine has the defensive capacity that it will need if Russia takes further action to further invade Ukraine, but also to look at Ukraine’s economic needs and whether and how we can support their economic security during this very volatile time, which makes it very difficult to move forward.

I think we also want to encourage Ukraine on unity.  This is a moment inside the country.  There are divisions in every country.  There is conflict in every country, political conflict.  You’ve been president of a country.  You understand there are political parties and interests and differences, but this is a moment where Ukrainians need to show that they are united.  The fissions and the fractures they may have need to be set aside for another day.  Right at this moment, we need a unified Ukraine working with a unified Europe, the United States, and the world community, quite frankly, to say:  We are together; Russia, choose diplomacy.  Otherwise, in a united fashion, we are ready to impose incredibly severe consequences should you take action to further invade Ukraine.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  What will happen if Russia still misreads what we are all telling today?  What will happen on the day two?  Do we have a plan ready for that?  Again, people are asking:  Are the sanctions packages really ready?  But I am also thinking that we must be prepared also to support Ukraine already at war if this were to happen, if worst came to worst.  Can we give some assurances that even during these difficult phases, we have already plans ongoing to continue support, and what kind of support that might be?  People are very curious to know.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, I think NATO is doing a great deal of planning for that.  As you heard, we announced yesterday 8,500 troops being put on what we call prepared to deploy.  Our contribution to NATO, particularly those countries that are on the eastern flank that would be very, very concerned about what might happen; providing defensive materials to Ukraine, as we have discussed today; making sure that Russia understands that it will pay a price not only in terms of severe sanctions – and I believe those sanction packages absolutely will be ready.  An enormous amount of work has gone on with the European Commission, European Union, with other – with capitals in Europe, with the United States.  So I believe we will absolutely be ready.

So all of that has to be ready to go: the NATO planning, the support of four countries in Europe that are on the front line so that they feel reassured as well, defensive materials and security assistance, and perhaps economic assistance to Ukraine, which we are looking at and I hope others are as well.  And making sure that we are sending messages of reassurance to the Ukrainian people, which you are doing today, Madam President, that we are pushing back against Russian propaganda and disinformation, false flag operations.  I have no doubt that Russia is running false flag operations and disinformation and will find a pretext for whatever action they take, may even put in people to say they are Ukrainians creating a conflict and tension for Russia.

So we have to be ready for all of these things and provide support in every way that’s appropriate to ensure that Russia understands the consequences that it will face.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  I think it is very important what you just now said, that we will blow every cover which Russia will try to use to make an excuse saying it didn’t create the facts on the ground.  This is extremely important.  And also, it’s been very important that you have numerous times underlined that we do not negotiate ultimatums.  You cannot negotiate ultimatums.  This cannot happen.

And maybe it’s also interesting for you to hear that YES recently conducted a survey in six Western countries – U.S., Canada, UK, Poland, France, and Germany – how the West perceives Ukraine and what the West expects from Ukraine.  And there were very strong support of citizens for actually helping Ukraine, supporting Ukraine, holding back Russia and also sanctions against Russia, and indeed even military support.  I think this must have changed since 2014.

We are collectively getting it that we cannot actually give in to any kind of bullying like this, so we cannot negotiate ultimatums.  We have to indeed put up our deterrence levels considerably to finally make the message pass through that – I mean, this kind of behavior only results in more troops, more exercises, and more action close to Russian borders so that internally, at least, it would be difficult to justify these kind of escalations because it only results in being counterproductive from the internal viewpoint of Russia.

Is that so, Secretary – Deputy Secretary?  Could you once more assure our listeners?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Well, fascinating survey results, very encouraging.  Again, a message of solidarity that is so critical here, that Russia knows that it cannot split us one from another, that we are moving together.  They are inside of Russia doing extraordinary amounts of propaganda that is just incredible.  My understanding is during December, Russian language content escalating tension increased to nearly 3,500 posts per day, a 200 percent increase over November.  So inside of Russia, they are working very hard to create these false narratives to say to the Russian people it’s all Ukraine’s fault, when, of course, this crisis has been completely manufactured by Russia; there does not need to be a crisis.

I quite agree with you, Madam President.  I said quite clear to – clearly to the Russians, no, you do not get to decide on NATO membership.  That is not your decision.  It’s up to the members of NATO.  No, you do not get to decide that all offensive weapons will leave Europe.  No, you do not get to say that we turn back the clock to 1997 and all of the countries that have joined NATO since then have to unjoin.  That’s not going to happen.

But if you want to talk about real mutual security issues – arms control, deconfliction, transparency, ways that we can enhance mutual security – we’re on board for having those discussions in the Strategic Stability Dialogue the U.S. has, at the NATO-Russia Council meeting and other NATO institutional formats, and at the OSCE, as well as discussions that are ongoing with the European Union and that are taking place in the Normandy Format in Paris today.

So there are lots of ways to ensure your mutual security, but not by ultimatums, not by threatening Ukraine, not by coercion, not by subversion, and not by invasion.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  We have touched upon this question already, but please allow me one last question before we have to sum up our discussion.  And you have been really reassuring.  Thank you for that.  People are asking, is the U.S. allowing the possibility of any overt or covert concessions on the question of Ukrainian integration into NATO, and which perspective does Ukraine today have to get the membership action plan?

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  So we are not deciding anything about Ukraine without Ukraine.  It’s just as simple as that.  Ukraine has a right to decide its own future, its own foreign policy orientation, its own ambition, and they have decided they want to climb the ladder to NATO membership.  It is a hard process; it takes time.  There are things that Ukraine is working on that you indicated today in your remarks, Madam President, that will get them to that membership action plan.  But it is a long process.  It takes a while for any country to join NATO.  I’m very glad for the work that Ukraine is doing to be able to walk down that road, climb that ladder, whatever metaphor we want to use.

What I think is important today, as we are coming to the end of this wonderful conversation, is that we all embrace what the people of Ukraine have chosen for themselves.  They want a democratic future.  They want to be part of an alliance in Europe.  We should support them in that ambition in every appropriate way for them to reach a full and robust democracy, and to say to those who would push them in another direction against their will that that is the wrong path.  Russia has no right to decide for Ukraine or any other country what its borders will be, what their future will be.

We believe in the sovereignty of Ukraine, the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the right of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people to choose their own future, and we will do everything we can to affirm the vision that Ukrainian citizens have for themselves.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Thank you.  Thank you, Deputy Secretary.  It has been reassuring to talk to you, but I’m quite sure that there are still some elements where Ukrainians would actually hope to have further clarity, like MAP and NATO membership, and I think we fully have to accept that it is their right to ask at this critical time.  It is uniquely different – difficult situation and circumstances to try to join NATO, yet I think we need to support.  Estonia strongly supports NATO’s enlargement, definitely.

Thank you also for reassurances that NATO’s eastern flank actually will be supported by more deterrent measures rather than less deterrent measures, which Russia seems to be seeking.  Thank you also for listing what more U.S. is ready to do in order to make sure that Ukraine feels supported while it is standing at this important moment in its history.  And also thank you for understanding the difficulties a country has in reforming itself while it is at the same time at war.  I am quite sure that our listeners and viewers, they are a little bit reassured – maybe not totally reassured also – about the unity and the unity of our steps to come quickly forward with sanctions, not only in the case of an active conflict but also in all kind of hybrid actions.  I think this is also a very valuable statement from you.

So we do feel slightly reassured, but we do stand still waiting for U.S. to continue its daily, twice daily, whatever it takes efforts to convince Russians that we do mean the business of protecting Ukraine, protecting the right of the free world, including NATO, to protect itself, and that truly united we always stand.

Thank you.  And if you missed this conversation, only heard part of it but want to relisten, it will be available on yesukraine.org.  So you can relisten and also hopefully we will have in the future similar discussions, not in the too distant future, because the situation is at it is and it’s shifting quite quickly.  Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you, Madam President, and thank you, YES, for the valuable service you provide and for your support for Ukraine.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Thank you.  We really do have our hopes with you, Deputy Secretary.  You are a negotiator and you are a convincing negotiator.  We rely on you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you.  We rely on each other, Madam President.  All of us have to do this together.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN:  Thank you.  Bye-bye.

PRESIDENT KALJULAID:  Bye.  This is the end, and relisten to us on yesukraine.org.

# # #

More from: Wendy R. Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State
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