Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, everyone. It is a pleasure to welcome the NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, Jens, my friend and colleague, back here to the State Department and to Washington. We’ve seen each other quite a bit over the last 15 months, mostly in Brussels. In fact, we did a little calculation, and it turns out I’ve spent more time in Brussels than any other city other than Washington, D.C., and that’s no coincidence. It’s because NATO is there; of course, our friends at the European Union as well. But it has been a center of our engagement, a center of our activity, and that’s been made all the better by the exceptional partnership that we have with Secretary General Stoltenberg and NATO.
I join people across Europe and indeed around the world in being grateful to the secretary general for his strong and steady leadership during such a consequential period for the Alliance and for the world. And we’re very, very glad that he agreed to extend his tenure through next fall.
Today’s meeting was an opportunity for us to touch base on the upcoming NATO summit, which will take place in Madrid, as you know, in just a few weeks’ time. There the Alliance will adopt a new strategic concept, the first one since 2010, to make sure that we’re ready to meet the challenges of today and the challenges that we anticipate for tomorrow. That includes everything from malicious activity occurring in cyberspace, the People’s Republic of China’s rapid militarization, its no-limits friendship with Russia, and efforts to weaken the rules-based international order that is the foundation for peace and security around the world; and, of course, the security implications of climate change, which are profound.
We’ll strengthen our relationships with the European Union and with partners in the Indo-Pacific. We will bolster NATO’s budget. And we will renew our Alliance’s defense and deterrence capabilities. Of course, the strategic concept will reflect what we are now dealing with, and that is a new security landscape in Europe and President Putin’s decision to launch a senseless war of aggression on Ukraine, now in its fourth month.
The people of Ukraine continue to fight with extraordinary courage and skill and with military, humanitarian, and financial support from the United States and countries around the world, including virtually all of the members of NATO. Just this morning President Biden announced a significant new security assistance package to arm Ukraine with additional capabilities in advanced weaponry, precisely what they need to defend themselves against the ongoing Russian aggression. That includes more advanced rocket systems so that they can strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine from longer distances. This is a continuation of a strategy that began even before Russia’s invasion. We moved quickly to send Ukraine significant amounts of weapons and ammunition so that they can repel Russia’s aggression and, in turn, can be in the strongest possible position at any negotiating table that may emerge.
This isn’t only the commitment of the United States. As I said, all NATO Allies remain engaged, aligned, committed to ensuring that Ukraine can protect its sovereignty, its democracy, its independence. Our countries, along with other partners, imposed severe consequences on the Russian Government and its enablers with unprecedented sanctions, export controls, and diplomatic pressure. Together we responded to the humanitarian crisis provoked by Russia’s war of aggression. More than 6 million Ukrainians forced to leave their homeland, many others displaced within Ukraine. Countries across Europe and beyond, including the United States, have welcomed Ukrainians fleeing the violence. And countries worldwide are helping provide essential services to communities close to Ukraine that have taken on the most refugees.
President Putin hoped that his war on Ukraine would divide NATO. Instead, he’s united NATO in support of Ukraine and in defense of its own members. He’s brought countries around the world together to support the fundamental principles of sovereignty and independence. They see what’s happening in Ukraine as a direct result – excuse me, a direct assault on the foundation of their own peace and security. That is why we will continue to stand with a democratic, independent, sovereign Ukraine until this terrible war is over, and for that matter, long after.
NATO will be prepared to face challenges like these with secure cyber defenses, cutting-edge technology, and enhanced partnerships, as I said, with countries around the world. We’ll make sure that we defend every inch of NATO territory. The Allies have reinforced our collective defense posture. Since the war began, we’ve deployed more than 20,000 additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank.
Many Allies are also increasing their military presence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. Last month, Finland and Sweden, two longstanding partners of NATO, made the decision to seek NATO membership.
As President Biden has said, this decision was a victory for democracy. Finland and Sweden are seeking to join NATO not because their leaders forced it but because their citizens demanded it. Anyone who wonders at the difference between a democracy and an authoritarian state like Russia need only look at Russia, Finland, and Sweden. One would lie to its people to wage a war, two would listen to their people to prevent war.
The United States strongly supports Finland and Sweden’s applications. Both countries are more than qualified to become full members of the Alliance as soon as possible. By joining NATO, they will strengthen NATO. We look forward to quickly bringing them into the strongest defensive Alliance in history.
While Finland and Sweden’s applications for NATO membership are being considered, the United States will continue our close partnership with both countries, will remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security. We will deter and, as necessary, confront aggression or the threat of aggression.
Jens, thank you again for making this visit to Washington at an important moment as we prepare for the summit. Very much looking forward to seeing you next time in a few weeks in Madrid, and to the even stronger and more resilient NATO that our summit will help to shape. Thank you, and welcome.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much, Secretary Blinken, dear Tony. It’s great to see you again, and thank you for your strong personal engagement for our transatlantic bond in this pivotal time for our security. And this is very much reflected in your frequent visits to Brussels. You are welcome back there again, but now I really appreciate this opportunity to meet with you here in Washington.
The United States is playing an indispensible role in our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now, let me commend the United States for your very significant support to Ukraine, which is making a difference on the battlefield every day. I also welcome the latest package of military assistance announced by President Biden this morning. This is a demonstration of real U.S. leadership. The strong support provided by NATO and Allies helps ensure that President Putin’s brutal aggression is not rewarded, and that Ukraine prevails.
At the same time, we must prevent the conflict from escalating, so we have increased our presence in the eastern part of the Alliance to remove any room for miscalculation in Moscow about NATO’s readiness and determination to defend and protect all NATO Allies.
Let me thank the United States for increasing your military presence across Europe, with over 100,000 troops backed by significant air and naval power. European allies and Canada are also stepping up with more troops, high readiness, and increased defense spending. For the seventh consecutive year, defense spending has increased, and more and more Allies are meeting our guideline of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense.
President Putin wanted less NATO. He is getting more NATO, more troops, and more NATO members.
The decisions by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership are historic, and they will strengthen our Alliance. We have to address the security concerns of all Allies, and I’m confident that we will find the united way forward.
To this end, I’m in close contact with President Erdoğan of Turkey and with the leaders of Finland and Sweden. And I will convene senior officials from all three countries in Brussels in the coming days.
Today, we also discussed the important decisions we will take at the NATO summit in Madrid later this month. We will agree NATO’s next Strategic Concept, strengthen our deterrence and defense, and prepare for an age of increased strategic competition with authoritarian powers like Russia and China. This includes working even more closely with our partners in the Asia-Pacific and other likeminded partners around the world.
We will also review progress on burden-sharing. We must continue to invest in our defense and to invest in NATO because only North America and Europe, working together in a strong NATO, can keep our 1 billion people safe in a more dangerous world.
So Secretary Blinken, dear Tony, once again, thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Jens.
MR PRICE: We’ll now turn to questions, taking two from each delegation. We’ll start with Vivian Salama of The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Thank you very much.
Secretary Blinken, two quick questions, please. With regard to the long-range weapons, what can be done or is being done to minimize escalation with Russia? And do you believe that there is an understanding in Moscow about the nuance that the U.S. is trying to achieve with regard to the weapons that it does choose to send to Ukraine?
And unrelated, on President Erdoğan’s latest threats of force to Syria, are you concerned that Turkey is increasingly becoming a disruptive ally, and how can it be addressed?
Shall I ask my questions to the Secretary General?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Welcome back, sir. Two questions for you, as well. Cracks are appearing in the Western front against Moscow, despite the both of you stating that the Alliance is very strong, and we’re seeing that there is some disagreement over shipping more powerful weapons to Ukraine. How does NATO, as an organization, work to prevent the cooperation from going south at Ukraine’s expense? And more specifically, how does Ukraine win, which seems to be a key point in this disagreement? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. I’m happy to start. Vivian, thanks for the questions.
First, in response to the question about escalation, let’s start with this. It’s Russia that is attacking Ukraine, not the other way around. And simply put, the best way to avoid escalation is for Russia to stop the aggression and the war that it started. It’s fully within its power to do so.
Specifically with regard to weapons systems being provided, the Ukrainians have given us assurances that they will not use these systems against targets on Russian territory. There is a strong trust bond between Ukraine and the United States, as well as with our allies and partners.
I would also say that throughout this aggression – indeed, even before – President Biden was very clear with President Putin about what the United States would do if Russia proceeded with its aggression, including continuing to provide security assistance that Ukraine needs to defend itself against the Russian aggression. There was no hiding the ball. We’ve been extremely clear about this from day one, with President Biden communicating that directly to President Putin. So we have done exactly what we said we would do. And it is Russia, again, that chose to launch this aggression, despite all of our efforts to prevent that, with intense diplomacy over many months. Again, they started the conflict. They can end it at any time, and we will avoid any concerns about miscalculations or escalation.
With regard to the other theater that you referenced, any escalation there in northern Syria is something that we would oppose, and we support the maintenance of the current ceasefire lines. The concern that we have is that any new offensive would undermine regional stability, such as it is, provide malign actors with opportunities to exploit instability for their own purpose. We continue, effectively, to take the fight through partners to Daesh, to ISIS within Syria, and we don’t want to see anything that jeopardizes the efforts that are made to continue to keep ISIS in the box that we put it in.
And let me just also, if I could, before I turn it over to Jens, I do want to say one thing about the question that you addressed to the Secretary General. Here again, at every stage of this Russian aggression – before the aggression, when it started, and in the months since – at virtually every stage we have heard doubts expressed about what the Alliance would do, what countries would do in terms of support for Ukraine, and whether that was actually going to happen. We have demonstrated that it would, and that it has; concerns and doubts about whether we could really deliver on what we said we would do – massive consequences for Russia’s aggression with unprecedented sanctions. Well, we’ve delivered on that. And I would suggest that there are always going to be stories about differences in any particular moment.
But when it comes to the strategic direction that we have taken together as Allies, as partners, both within Europe and beyond, this, at least in my experience, has been unprecedented in its solidarity in the common determination both to support Ukraine with security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, to put extraordinary pressure on Russia to cease its aggression, and to shore up the defenses of our Alliance.
And so, again, I’d invite you to go back, look at the questions that were raised starting last fall. They’ve been answered – then again, when Russia committed the aggression in the first place, and even to this day. And I am very confident that the common purpose that we’ve shown over many months will continue.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: I can just follow up on that, because what you have seen over the last months is an unprecedented level of unity among NATO Allies and partners in the response to Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine. We have seen that when it comes to the provision of military support, humanitarian support, economic support, but also the – in the way we have seen NATO Allies, partners, the European Union implementing heavy economic sanctions, sanctions we have not seen anything similar to imposed on any major country ever before. So actually, what we have seen is an unprecedented level of unity among NATO Allies and partners.
Of course, these are difficult decisions, hard decisions, and therefore there is a need for consultations, and therefore I would also like to commend the United States for consulting so closely with Allies not only after invasion on the 24th of February, but actually before. The United States consulted closely, Secretary Blinken consulted closely with NATO Allies throughout the autumn. We warned, we shared intelligence. There’s hardly any other military invasion that has been more predicted than this one, and that not least because the United States shared so much intelligence with NATO Allies in the months leading up to the invasion in February.
European allies – of course, as the United States – have imposed sanctions. They have a price also for us. They are hosting millions of refugees. But the alternative not to support Ukraine, that will actually enable President Putin to win. That will be dangerous for all of us, and the price we have to pay will actually be higher than to now invest in the support for Ukraine.
Let me end by saying that President Putin made a strategic mistake. He totally underestimated the strength and the will and the ability of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian armed forces to defend themselves, and he underestimated the unity of NATO and NATO Allies and partners to support Ukraine. And again, what we see is U.S. leadership helping this to happen, both on the political-diplomatic level, but also when it comes to organizing and coordinating the military support through the Support Group for Ukraine.
On the last question, I would just say that wars are unpredictable. We were able to predict the invasion, but how this war will evolve, it’s very hard to predict. What we do know is that almost all wars end at some stage at the negotiating table, and this has also been clearly stated by President Zelenskyy that at some stage this will end at the negotiating table. But what happens there at the negotiating table is, of course, totally dependent on the strength, the situation on the battlefield. And that’s what we do: we support them in upholding their rightful self-defense, and then I have trust and I have confidence in the political leadership in Ukraine that they can make the hard judgments – judgments and decisions – on negotiations and what to agree to when negotiations at some point will start.
MR PRICE: Tove Bjørgaas of NRK Norway.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have one question for each. Secretary Blinken, do you think it’s possible to deter Russia with weapons at this point, and how far will the U.S. go?
And for Secretary Stoltenberg, we hear about nuclear exercises on the Russian side. What scenarios are you planning for in terms of the nuclear threat from Russia at this point in this war?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. I would say that it’s not so much a question of deterring Russia at this point, because they have committed the aggression and they’re pursuing it. What we are working to do – and the secretary general said this very eloquently – is to make sure that the Ukrainians have in hand what they need to defend against this aggression, to repel it, to push it back, and as well and as a result, to make sure that they have the strongest possible hand at any negotiating table that emerges.
And I agree with the secretary general that eventually that is what is likely to happen. We can’t say when; we can’t say exactly how. What we can say is what we will to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself and has the strongest possible hand.
At every step along the way, we have evaluated what we believe Ukraine needs to do just that, to defend itself effectively. And, of course, that’s changed through the course of this aggression. What they needed to deal with the threats to Kyiv are very different from what they need to deal with what’s now happening in southern and eastern Ukraine. So we’ve adjusted as this has gone along in terms of what we and other allies and partners are providing to the Ukrainians. We’ll continue to do that as we go forward.
Again, it is fully within Russia’s power to stop what they started and to end the aggression. That’s what we seek. But as long as this goes on, we will support the Ukrainians and make sure that they have what they need to defend themselves effectively.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: NATO and NATO Allies are, of course, monitoring very closely what Russia does, including their nuclear exercises. And we have also followed very closely the nuclear rhetoric that President Putin, other Russian leader has – have expressed over the last months. This nuclear saber-rattling rhetoric is dangerous and it is something that is only increasing tensions.
At the same time, we have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture, and we also remind Russia on the fact that actually as late as in January, they agreed in the UN statement where they stated clearly that the nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought. So Russia knows that any use of nuclear weapons would totally change the nature of a conflict and therefore nuclear weapons should not be used.
MR PRICE: Kylie Atwood of CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning. Secretary Blinken, two questions for you. First, on the food crisis that is growing deeper because of the war, is there any way to get the 20 million-plus tons of grain that are stuck in Odessa right now out of the country without Russia allowing those Ukrainian ships to move? And what will be the cost for Russia if they don’t allow those ships to move? We know that the United States is working on overland solutions here, but what is the cost for Russia if they don’t allow the sea routes to open?
And then the second question is about the timeline here. We’ve heard Biden administration officials talking about this conflict turning into a drawn-out conflict. It’s likely to go on for months. But with Russia making these gains in the east now, what is the outlook? Do you see this conflict going into next year without a resolution?
And then, NATO Secretary General, you mentioned that you’re going to convene leaders of Finland, Sweden, and Turkey in the coming days, so I’m wondering if you are expecting Sweden and Finland to come to the table with precise actions they are willing to take that could assuage Turkey’s concerns. And I’m also wondering if you’re confident that Turkey’s concerns about their membership will be addressed this month before the G7 summit. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Kylie, thanks very much. With regard to the food situation, a couple of things. First, we are dealing with what is a global food insecurity challenge and even crisis. Pre-existing conditions – COVID, climate, and now conflict – all of these together have helped create a perfect storm where food, particularly from some of the breadbaskets for the world – Ukraine, Russia itself – are not available because of Russia’s aggression. And as a result as well, prices have gone up for the food that is available. And we had a situation where a couple of years ago there were roughly 100 million people who were food insecure around the world. Before the Russian aggression, over the last couple of years, that’s gone up to about 160 million.
Now an additional 40 million people, by expert accounts, are likely to be food insecure as a result directly of the Russian aggression because, to your point, what’s happening is this: There are roughly 20 to 25 million tons of grain that are sitting in silos near Russian – Ukrainian ports in Odessa that can’t even be moved to ships, in part because there are ships at the Odessa port – about 85 of them – full of this grain and wheat that can’t move because of the Russian effective blockade of the ports.
So the United Nations has been working – and the secretary-general, I applaud his efforts to see if he can find a way forward on this to allow the ships out, to end this blockade. That work continues. At the same time, we’re looking at every other possible route to get wheat, grains, other things out of Ukraine and onto world markets. All of that work is ongoing.
In terms of what Russia risks, well, I would start with what’s left of its reputation. It seeks relationships with countries around the world, including many countries that are now the victim of Russian aggression because of growing food insecurity resulting from that aggression. We were in New York about 10 days ago. We had the presidency, as you know, of the Security Council for the month of May. I focused our efforts on the food insecurity challenges that are being faced around the world, and many countries pointed out that a big part of this is the Russian aggression and the fact that food can’t get out of Ukraine to where it’s needed. So I think there’s a growing recognition of countries around the world that the challenges that they’re facing now – compounded by conflict, compounded by Russia’s aggression – are due to what Russia is doing.
I’d point out again that – to those who are concerned that the sanctions we’ve imposed on Russia are somehow impeding the delivery of food, that is simply not true. The sanctions have exemptions for food and – including services necessary to make sure that food moves, like banking services. We have – we’ve had one of our senior officials go around the world to make that very clear to other countries and to help them with any questions they may have. This is on Russia. And regardless of anything else, you would think the least that the Russians would do would be to make sure that other countries are not suffering from their aggression despite the suffering they’re imposing on the Ukrainians.
With regard to timelines, the secretary general said it well. We can’t predict how this is going to play out, when this is going to play out. As best we can assess right now, we are still looking at many months of conflict. Again, that could be over tomorrow if Russia chose to end the aggression. We don’t see any signs of that right now, but it’s a moving picture, as the secretary general said. That’s by definition what wars are. And I’ll just repeat what I said. As long as this goes on, we want to make sure that Ukraine has in hand what it needs to defend itself, and we want to make sure that Russia is feeling strong pressure from as many countries as possible to end the aggression. That’s the best way, we think, to bring the aggression to a close as soon as possible, to end the war, to get to diplomacy, and to stop the suffering.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: On Finland and Sweden, I and my staff, we are in close contact of course with Turkey, an important NATO Ally. And the two countries that have applied for NATO membership, Finland and Sweden, we have met with them and I’m going to convene the meeting in a few days with senior officials and then follow up to ensure that we make progress on the applications of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. My intention is to have this in place before the NATO summit. At the same time, I know that to make progress we need 30 Allies to agree.
Finland and Sweden has made – have made it clear that they are ready to sit down and to address the concerns expressed by Turkey. And all NATO Allies are of course ready to sit down and address those concerns, including the threats posed to Turkey by PKK. And this is terrorist threats, which of course is something we are taking very seriously. We know that no other NATO Ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey. And Turkey is an important Ally, not least because of its strategic geographic location bordering Iraq and Syria. They have been important in our fight against ISIS, and also Black Sea country, close to Russia.
So all of this makes Turkey an important Ally. When they raise concerns, of course, we sit down and we look into how we can find the united way forward.
MR PRICE: We’ll take a final question from Stefan Asberg of SVT Sweden.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, two questions. Specifically what is the U.S. willing to do to facilitate the negotiations between Turkey, Sweden, and Finland?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Were there two questions?
MR PRICE: Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: I kind of want to ask one a time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: One at a time. Okay. Thank you. You’ve heard from the secretary general Finland and Sweden are working directly with Turkey. NATO is supporting this effort. The secretary general will bring the parties together. We very much support those efforts. There is a strong consensus within NATO broadly for the rapid accession of Sweden and Finland to the Alliance. I remain very confident that that will happen, that we’re going to move forward. As I’ve said before, this is a process, and in that process, if Allies have concerns, they raise them and then we deal with them. NATO is dealing with them. But in particular, concerns that Turkey has raised directly with Finland and Sweden are being addressed by the Fins and the Swedes with the assistance of NATO. We want to make sure that all Allies have their security concerns taken into account, and that, of course, includes Turkey, but I’m confident this process will move forward.
QUESTION: Are U.S. willing to export fighter jets to Turkey, for instance, to easen up the situation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: These are separate questions. We have a longstanding and ongoing defense relationship with Turkey as a NATO Ally. And as we have in the past, as we’re doing now, as we will in the future, we’ll continue to work through cases as they arise with regard to systems that Turkey seeks to acquire.
QUESTION: And Secretary Stoltenberg, how confident are you that Turkey will approve Sweden and Finland?
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: I’m confident that we will find a way forward. And I am confident because all Allies agree that NATO enlargement has been a great success, helping to spread democracy, freedom across Europe for decades. And therefore we need to sit down, as we always do when there are different views in NATO, and find a way to go forward together. So this is not the first time in NATO that some Allies expressed concerns, that there are some differences, some disagreements, but we have a long track record in NATO also to be able to overcome those differences and then agree on how to move forward.
MR PRICE: That concludes the press conference. Thank you —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Thank you.