May 20, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a Joint Press Availability

18 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister

Kyiv, Ukraine

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA:  (Via interpreter) Good afternoon.  I will wait for Secretary Blinken to turn on.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA:  (Via interpreter) Good afternoon.  We just completed our negotiations with my colleague and friend, the Secretary of State of the United States, Antony Blinken, and it was our pleasure to greet him in Kyiv today.

I believe that the – that we can say that the speed and the dynamic of our relations between Ukraine and the United States, which started – was started by our presidents, President Zelenskyy and President Biden, actually was towards Formula One speed.  We are moving unprecedentedly forward in our bilateral cooperation.  This is not only our strategic cooperation; this is a clear and a good friendship between two countries and two peoples.  And the fact that at the very beginning of the year in January Tony is already here in Kyiv is the proof of it.

The main topic of our discussions today was security situation in – along the border of – the Ukrainian border and in temporarily occupied areas in Donbas.  And on that issue, I would like to say a few words.  We have discussed it with Tony, and I would like Ukrainians to know about it and remember it.  We should not forget that this war is a war from Russia against Ukraine, and it started in 2014.  And according to the first plan, initial plan of the Russian Federation, Ukraine would not exist anymore, at least in its shape of – and form that it continues to exist.  It exists and develops.  We have gone through – it’s very hard, trying, and through very big and hard periods in our history, when we were fired at and our co-patriots died, but we were strong and we survived and we are as strong as ever.

And today Ukraine is very strong.  We have a strong army.  We cannot – we have very strong diplomacy and I am not shy about it, and we have strong partners.  While we understand all the risks that are associated with aggression of the Russian Federation, we have to be confident that we would be able to overcome this very hard period in our history.  And I know we will survive it too.  And I can assure you that our president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the Government of Ukraine and – as well as Verkhovna Rada work every day to strengthen our country and to make sure that we would be able to go through this very difficult period of time.

The biggest achievement of Russia today would be sowing panic and distrust in Ukraine and stoking Ukraine from the inside – first of all, stoking our economy, our financial system. Therefore, we need to apply all our efforts to prevent Russia from achieving this goal, and even before we reach to our arms.  Our efforts are focused on making sure that the situation in Ukraine stays stable and the financial system is strong and predictive, the – and our Ukrainian economy would not suffer from the challenges that we face in the area of security.

And all these topics were discussed today during our meeting with Antony Blinken.  And we know that the United States stand with us not only in the area of security, but also in supporting our internal strength, and for that I am very grateful.

Last week – to tell you the truth, Ukrainians, please trust your country and believe in your country, and we will be able to survive it.  Last week was a week of high diplomacy.  Tony, after Kyiv, travels to other capitals to continue these diplomatic rounds.  Ukraine is in the center of these processes, and you can see it by the number of telephone calls, foreign visits to Ukraine, number of meetings and calls, discussions.  You see that Ukraine and – in the center, nothing about Ukraine is done without Ukraine, and we know that when our partners discuss issues about Ukraine, we know about those issues.  There is nothing that Russia would convey to partners about Ukraine that Ukraine would not be aware of it.

No decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine is a principle that is – that we adhere to, and we discussed it during our meeting, and Secretary Blinken confirmed it once again.  And I can see it in political steps that are taken right now.  This is not just a slogan; this is a part of the U.S. foreign policy.  And I am grateful to Tony for this.

Today we had a very fruitful discussion about the Normandy Format.  The United States support Ukrainian efforts and efforts of Germany and France to reinstate the work of the Normandy Format.  At the level of leaders, we were talking about the Trilateral Contact Group, and our efforts are aimed at making sure that Russia moves forward in diplomatic format.  And in this conflict, we have only one solution: it will be diplomatic.  If Russia truly, not only in its slogans, aims at political regulation and political solution, it should participate in diplomatic discussion with Normandy Format, with foreign partners, Western partner, and United States.  This conflict can be solved only when the last Russian soldier leaves some parts of Luhansk and Donetsk region and Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

I am convinced that our contacts will continue, and I would like to thank the administration of Biden and Tony personally for military support we have received so far to strengthen our defense.  Once again, Ukraine does not plan any offensive activities.  We are working only, exclusively on strengthening our defense.  And in that regard, the United States is our number one partner.

As they say, all is well that ends well.  And if it doesn’t end well, that means it’s not the end yet.  And we make sure that everything works well, and thanks to the partnership with the United States, we will achieve our goal.  Thank you, Tony.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Foreign Minister Kuleba, Dmytro, thank you.  Thank you as always for your remarkable hospitality.  Thank you as well for the very good exchange that we had, as well as the very positive consultations with President Zelenskyy a little bit earlier.

Let me just begin by why I’m here in Kyiv today.  First and foremost, it is to reaffirm the United States unwavering support for Ukraine at a time when its security, its prosperity, its democracy, its fundamental right to exist as a sovereign, independent nation are facing an unprecedented challenge from Russia.

The Ukrainian people are no strangers to conflict.  Since Ukrainians took to the Maidan eight years ago to defend their choice for a democratic and European future, Russia’s used every strategy in its playbook to try to undermine the will of the Ukrainian people.  Since 2014, Moscow manufactured a crisis and invaded Ukraine’s territory in Crimea, which it occupies to this day.  Moscow orchestrated a war in eastern Ukraine, which it continues to fuel using proxy forces that it leads, trains, equips, and finances.

Moscow has systematically sought to weaken Ukraine’s democratic institutions as well as to divide Ukrainian society, using everything from election interference to disinformation to cyber attacks.  And Russia has also attempted to destabilize the economic and financial situation in Ukraine, and we are working together to mitigate those efforts.

As we meet today, Russia has ratcheted up its threats and amassed nearly 100,000 forces on Ukraine’s border, which it could double on relatively short order.  We know, the Ukrainian people know that Moscow’s aggression to this point has killed more than 14,000 Ukrainian men, women, and children, and driven more than 1.4 million Ukrainians from their homes.  The human toll of aggression would be many magnitudes higher if it were to be renewed.

That’s why President Biden asked me to come here, to underscore our steadfast commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it’s why we will continue our relentless diplomatic efforts to prevent renewed aggression and to promote dialogue and peace.  At the same time, we continue to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and make clear the costs that the United States and Europe will impose on Moscow if it rejects the diplomatic path that we’ve laid out, and proceeds with an unwarranted, unprovoked, unacceptable invasion or destabilization of Ukraine.

For years we’ve invested in Ukraine’s economic growth, energy security, infrastructure, civil society, rule of law, and defense.  We’re continuing to provide that support, including defensive security assistance.  This support has strong bipartisan backing in the United States.  That was evident in the Senate delegation that was here just yesterday, as well as the House delegation that came in December.  It’s the message that the United States Congress sent in December by extending the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative through 2022 and increasing its funding to $300 million.

Second, I came to Kyiv to speak in person with the president, my friend Dmytro, other senior Ukrainian Government leaders, about the intensive week of diplomacy that we just engaged in with Russia, both through the bilateral Strategical Stability Dialogue, through the NATO-Russia Council, and at the OSCE, and now to consult and coordinate on the next steps forward.

We had the meetings that I described.  Immediately before those engagements, the NATO foreign ministers met to pursue our coordinated response to Moscow’s military buildup, and the NATO-Ukraine Commission met as well.

Across all of these diplomatic engagements, we’ve been firm in our principles and clear about the areas where we can make progress.  One of the principles which you’ve heard us repeat – but it always bears repeating – is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.  The same is true for the trajectory for Europe as a whole: nothing about Europe and its security without Europe.  That’s been our message in public; it’s been our message in private.  We’re – we’ve consistently practiced what we preach.

In recent weeks alone, we’ve conducted more than a hundred diplomatic consultations, including with Ukraine, with NATO, with the European Union, with the OSCE, the Bucharest Nine, the various member states of these organizations, to ensure that we’re aligned and speaking clearly with one voice.

Throughout, we have made clear our strong preference for a diplomatic path to de-escalate conflict with Russia.  That is the responsible course, and it’s also why I’m heading to Berlin after this to consult with several of our closest European partners.  And it’s why I’ll meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov – from the Russia Federation – in Geneva on Friday.  The objectives of that meeting were one of the key topics that President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba, and I discussed earlier today.  And as we’ve consistently done, we will brief our Ukrainian partners shortly after the meeting in Geneva as well and discuss next steps.

The world is watching what’s happening here.  When Russia uses its strength to act with impunity against another sovereign nation, it makes other countries think that they too can violate the rules of international peace and security, and put their narrow interests ahead of the shared interests of the international community.

Third, the strength of our diplomacy, our deterrence, and any response to Moscow’s aggression demands unity – among allies and partners as well as within Ukraine.  That’s a point I underscored today in the meetings with President Zelenskyy and with the foreign minister: Ukrainians have to stick together, especially at this time.

President Zelenskyy continues to advance important reform efforts – including, recently, judicial reform – despite the external challenges and pressure that he’s facing.  To that end, I would urge the SAPO selection commission to complete the last step of their work without delay and finalize their selection.

Now, as we know, one of Moscow’s longstanding goals has been to try to sow divisions within Ukraine, to make it harder for Ukrainians to work together to realize their Euro-democratic ambitions, to claim that democracy is a recipe for polarization and dysfunction.  Ukraine has to avoid any actions that help Russia in this cynical effort.  Don’t let Moscow divide you.  That means that leaders inside and outside Ukraine’s government have to put aside their differences in favor of the shared national interest and work together to prepare for what could be difficult days.

But in doing that, the United States wants you to know this:  As you stand up to efforts to divide, to intimidate, to threaten, the United States stands with you resolutely in your right to make decisions for your own future, to shape that future as Ukrainians for Ukraine.

Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Thank you.  Our first question will go to Will Mauldin of The Wall Street Journal, please.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  For Secretary Blinken, I wanted to ask you about any new types of assistance you may have discussed providing to Ukraine.  Did you discuss potentially offensive weapons or air defenses for contingency plans for if Russia does cross the border, or the possibility the U.S. would transfer licenses of weapons that it has supplied to other countries to Ukraine?  And then just following up on that, is there a reason why the Biden administration a year on hasn’t nominated an ambassador to Ukraine?

For Mr. Kuleba, a similar question.  I wanted to ask you if there’s anything that the U.S. or Europe – that you would like for them to help you with, whether it’s NATO showing more flexibility in working with Russia, whether it’s defense items or any of the things that I mentioned with Secretary Blinken.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Will, thanks very much.  With regard to security assistance, a few things.  I think as you know, we have been providing defensive assistance to Ukraine consistently, including deliveries that – taken place in just the last few weeks alone.  I’m not going to get into every detail of that assistance, but the point is this:  We have given more security assistance to Ukraine in the last year than at any point since 2014.  And as I say, we’re doing that on a sustained basis.  The deliveries are ongoing, again, as recently as the last few weeks, and more are scheduled in the coming weeks.  Should Russia carry through with any aggressive intent and renew its aggression and invade Ukraine, we’ll provide additional material beyond that that is already in the pipeline and that will further aid in defending Ukraine.

With regard to an ambassador, two things.  First, we benefit as it is from a remarkable chargé leading our efforts here and a terrific team at the embassy.  I was just over there this morning meeting with the senior leadership team at the embassy, and then meeting, as you know, with virtually the entire staff of the embassy, either virtually or in person.  I can tell you that when an ambassador is nominated, that person will have the full confidence of the President of the United States, that person will be someone that is well known to me and with whom I have a close relationship, and that person will have very demonstrable expertise and knowledge in this region. And I would anticipate that a nomination will be forthcoming very shortly.

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA:  (Via interpreter) Thank you for your question.  I can confirm what Tony just said.  We have very good cooperation with the United States in the area of military assistance, and this assistance helps us in our defense.  We also work with several European countries in the same area because the basic principle is very simple: strong Ukraine is the best tool to deter Russia.  Our main expectation right here from the United States, from our European partners, is to make sure that they are successful in agreeing on very strong sanctions that would be applied towards Russia.  We understand that right now they are still negotiating, and Tony informed me and briefed me about this process.

But the Russian Federation has to receive a very strong message every single day that this very heavy burden and cost that our partners mentioned about sanctions is a reality, not just a threat.  And we see progress in the negotiation between the United States and the Europeans Union every day, and they are moving forward in bringing all those sanctions in one package, and this is our main expectations when we talk about negotiations between the United States and the European Union.

And I want to wish all the best and success in negotiations with Minister Lavrov.  Unfortunately, he evades any meetings and communication with me, but that meeting is very important on Friday.  And for us, we believe it is very important to change the behavior of Russia and move it towards more constructive and less aggressive.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Milan Lelich is —

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.  I have a question for Secretary of State Blinken.  So Mr. Secretary, in your opinion, why have the Russians been (inaudible) with all these security negotiations, that they keep insisting that these negotiations cannot last for weeks and months, that they will not wait for long, and so on?  Maybe it is because the Russians see any certain deadline for themselves, and they just want to make it before it comes, don’t they?

And a very interconnected question:  Mr. Secretary, in your opinion, after several rounds of these negotiations that happened last week, how plausible is the very idea that Russia’s main and initial goal about all these negotiations was to disrupt them eventually in order to slam the door, to blame the United States (inaudible) for everything, and just kind of have their hands free before any further aggressive actions, in particular against Ukraine?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I can’t read President Putin’s mind.  I can’t tell you what he’s thinking.  I can tell you that we have to base what we’re doing on what we see as well as on history.  And unfortunately, tragically, recent history has been Russia trying to exert its might over its neighbors: invading Georgia, invading Ukraine, leaving forces in Moldova against the will of its people and its government, and now massing very significant forces on Ukraine’s borders.  And so we have to base our actions on the facts and on what we can plainly see.

As I’ve said, based on that and in very close consultation with our partners in Ukraine, our allies throughout Europe, we’ve offered two paths to Russia: a diplomatic path through dialogue to try to resolve these differences peacefully and to proceed to de-escalation; alternatively, the other path, if Russia decides to renew its aggression against Ukraine, is one of conflict and severe consequences.

Now, it’s clear that the preferable path, the responsible path, is diplomacy.  That would be better for everyone, and that’s why we’re leaving no stone unturned in trying to pursue it through the intensive consultations that we had last week, as I said, bilaterally with Russia through our Strategic Stability Dialogue, at the NATO-Russia Council, and the OSCE.  And we continue to test whether, through diplomacy, we can help de-escalate this conflict and resolve these differences peacefully.

Now, to the extent that what you suggest is what Russia’s thinking, it is, I think, precisely belied by our own determination to pursue the diplomacy as long and as hard as we can.  And if it’s not going to produce results, it’s going to be because Russia has chosen another path, not because the United States and our European allies, Ukraine, have not sought to resolve the differences that we have with Russia on a peaceful basis through dialogue and through diplomacy.

MR PRICE:  The next question goes to Missy Ryan of The Washington Post.

QUESTION:  Thanks, hi.  Secretary Blinken, for you, will the State Department or the Biden administration provide Russia a formal or written response to its – the recent proposals related to NATO?  And if not, why not, given that Russia is saying that this is a requirement for moving the diplomacy forward?  And in addition, beyond the proposals that the United States has tabled related to military exercises and arms control, do you believe that there’s scope for the United States and its NATO partners to find areas of compromise or mutual agreement related to Russia’s central demand about NATO’s presence and activities in Eastern Europe?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, to take a step back for a second, as I said, we’ve now been through this pretty intensive week of engagements with Russia directly, at NATO, at the OSCE.  And we’ve now had a chance to take stock of those conversations.

We need to give Russia some time to take stock of those conversations, for those who are involved in them to go back to Moscow to report to President Putin and to help inform the next steps.  That’s why I’m now going to see Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva, to see where Russia is, having gone through this initial diplomatic process, and having had a chance to review where things stood back home.  I won’t be presenting a paper at that time to Foreign Minister Lavrov.  We need to see where we are and see if there remain opportunities to pursue the diplomacy and pursue the dialogue, which, again, as I said, is by far the preferable course.  So let’s see where we are after Friday.

We haven’t made any proposals to Russia in the context of these conversations.  We’ve raised our concerns about challenges that Russia poses to security in the European area.  They’ve raised concerns of their own, many of which they’ve made public.  We’ve talked about areas where clearly, if there’s a will, we could make progress on a reciprocal basis to improve security for everyone, and that does involve things like arms control, risk reduction, greater transparency, looking at the scope and scale of military exercises, things of that nature.

Many of these ideas and possibilities are actually already enshrined in agreements that were reached in years past, but unfortunately are not being lived up to, including the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, the so-called Vienna Document coming out of Helsinki, the intermediate nuclear forces agreement, et cetera.  So those are the kinds of things that we, NATO, the OSCE has put on the table.  As I said, now that the Russians have heard from all of us initially and we’ve heard from them, we – we’re taking stock of the conversations and will pursue this on Friday in Geneva, and I suspect I’ll have more to say then.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  But just to follow up, will you – do you believe there are areas of potential compromise on Russia’s central demand in terms of imposing limits on NATO’s presence for activities in Eastern Europe?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s not – let me put it this way:  It’s not clear what Russia’s central demand is or is not.  They put a number of things on the table.  Some of them are clearly absolute non-starters like closing NATO’s door to new members.  Other things, as I said, if it goes to actually enhancing everyone’s security on a reciprocal basis, there are things that we can – we’ve made clear we can talk about.

So again, I think through these conversations that we’ve already had, it’s a way of refining what’s really at the heart of this and seeing if there are grounds for dealing with those things through diplomacy, through dialogue, and through agreement.  We still don’t know.  I think we’ll have a better idea maybe after Friday.

MODERATOR:  The next question goes to Natalia Pushkaruk, Interfax, Ukraine.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) I have a question.  Recently, the media said that the European Union – did the European Union and the United States discuss sanctions and how strong those sanctions are, and whether there are any – there is any support to prevent destabilizing the situation from the inside, whether the United States is ready to support Ukraine in withstanding —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I lost my translation device.

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA:  And I provide interpretation services for free, but the question is:  There were reports in media that Germany – some European countries are not ready to support the disconnection of Russia from SWIFT.  So is this option still on the table?  Is it part of talks and sanctions?

And the second question:  Russia tries to destabilize Ukraine from the inside and undermine its economic and financial stability.  So what is the position of the United States on that?  And are you ready to support Ukraine on this matter?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I really appreciate the excellent interpretation and translation services.

Second question first:  Yes.  And indeed, as I noted, Russia has long tried, among other things, to destabilize Ukraine economically and internally, and indeed it’s one of the things that we talked about today with President Zelenskyy, as well as with the foreign minister.  And as I said a short while ago, we’re determined to work with Ukraine, to support Ukraine, to deal with the economic challenges posed by Russia.

Second, when it comes to sanctions, we have been working intensely both within the U.S. Government and in very close coordination with European allies and partners, individual countries, the European Union, very importantly, to come forward and put forward together a comprehensive set of sanctions that, as we’ve said, include things that we have not done in the past, including in 2014; and as has been made clear not just by us but by the G7, by the European Union, and by NATO, will have massive consequences for Russia if it engages in further aggression against Ukraine.  And as we’ve noted, this will have financial components, economic components, export control components, et cetera.

And I can tell you that we’re in, as I said, not only very close consultation with European countries and institutions on this, but also in a place where should it come to that – and I hope it doesn’t, but should it come to that, we will act strongly, in a coordinated manner, to impose those consequences on Russia.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, excellencies, and thanks to all the media.  We have to conclude now because we are short of time, so the press conference is over.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister
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