August 9, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

16 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Brussels, Belgium

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good evening, everyone.  We’re in Brussels at a pivotal time.  Stability in Europe hangs in the balance.  And the international rules-based order that’s critical to maintaining peace and security is being put to the test by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s attacks are inflicting an ever-increasing toll on civilians there.  Hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, many more wounded, as have citizens of other countries.  More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries.  Millions of people across Ukraine are trapped in increasingly dire conditions as Russia destroys more critical infrastructure.  For example, Mariupol’s mayor says that most of the besieged city’s residents are living without water, without electricity, without heat.  Bridges to the city have been destroyed.  Women, children, growing ranks of wounded civilians cannot get out.  Food and medical supplies cannot get in.  The mayor wrote today, and I quote, “We are simply being destroyed.”  The world has seen Russia use these grisly tactics before in Syria, in Chechnya.

Meanwhile, Russia’s reckless operation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant risked a catastrophe, a nuclear incident.  The Kremlin should immediately cease all attacks around Ukrainian nuclear facilities and allow civilian personnel to do their work to ensure the facility’s safety and security, as both the IAEA director general and a resolution adopted yesterday by the agency’s board of governors have called on Russia to do.

The Ukrainian people and government continue to show remarkable courage in defending their country, defending their freedom, defending one another.  We said that if President Putin invaded Ukraine, we would increase our support for Ukraine’s ability to defend itself while imposing swift and severe costs on the Kremlin.  That’s exactly what the United States and our allies and partners are doing.  That was the focus of our ministerial meetings today with NATO Allies, with the G7, with the European Union, as well as in my discussions with the NATO secretary general, with the EU Commission President von der Leyen, with the EU Council President Michel.

We want our alliances to be strong enough to meet any threat.  That’s why from day one, President Biden made reinvigorating and re-energizing our alliances and partnerships the foundation of our foreign policy.  It’s why as Secretary of State I’ve come to Brussels, home to NATO and the EU, more than to any other world capital.  And that’s why we invested so much effort in finding new ways and coalitions to bring allies and partners together.  Now we’re seeing why that work matters.

At NATO, we were joined by the ministers of Finland and Sweden, the EU High Representative Josep Borrell, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as Secretary General Stoltenberg also took part in our meeting with the EU.  Never before have NATO and the European Union and other partner nations worked so closely together.  This is a new kind of cooperation, and we’ll bring this to bear not just in this crisis but in the years to come.

And our European allies and partners are stepping up to lead in unprecedented ways.  For the first time, NATO has activated and deployed parts of its response force.  Several NATO Allies, including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, France, have sent troops and aircraft and ships to reinforce the Alliance’s eastern flank.  Every NATO Ally is providing either military or humanitarian aid to Ukraine; most are providing both.  For the first time, the European Union is financing the purchase and delivery of military assistance to a country under attack.  The bloc swiftly adopted the biggest sanctions package in history against Russia, and the EU has granted immediate refuge to Ukrainians and others who call Ukraine home – the first time it has invoked this protection mechanism.

Individual countries are also taking extraordinary steps.  Germany is doubling its defense spending.  Poland has opened its arms to more than half a million Ukrainian refugees.  Switzerland set aside its traditional neutrality to adopt the European Union sanctions on Russia.  The list goes on.

These and other efforts by our European allies to deepen their own capabilities and cooperation do not undermine the transatlantic security alliance – they deepen our collective might.

As recently as a few weeks ago, some questioned whether – if the regional and international rules-based order came under threat – whether our European allies and partners would be willing to shoulder their fair share of the burden – the risk, the cost – to defend it.  In the last nine days, European countries have demonstrated they are more than ready to stand up and stand together.

And the United States is standing with Europe, pursuing complementary actions and policies in close coordination with our allies and partners.  To give just a few examples, we’ve deployed an additional 7,000 troops to Europe and repositioned our forces already on the continent to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank.  We continue to tighten our severe economic sanctions on Russia.  Last night, as I think you know, we extended Temporary Protected Status to tens of thousands of Ukrainians living in the United States.  And the President has requested an additional $10 billion from Congress to deliver more humanitarian, security, and economic assistance in Ukraine and the surrounding region over the coming days and weeks.

Yesterday, President Putin said his so-called “special military operation” is proceeding exactly as planned.  Well, it’s hard to imagine that his plan included inspiring the Ukrainian people to defend their country with such tenacity; strengthening the resolve and solidarity of NATO and the EU; uniting the world in opposition to Moscow, including 141 countries at the United Nations; an unprecedented number of international businesses, associations, cultural institutions that have cut ties with Russia; causing the Russian economy to go into freefall; motivating tens of thousands of Russians to protest and countless more to leave the country; and increasingly turning Russia into a pariah state.  If that was President Putin’s plan, well, you can say it’s working.  Russia has never been so isolated; we have never been more united.

But let me reiterate one thing because it’s very important:  We take these actions not because we oppose the Russian people – we do not.  We regret that tens of millions of Russians will suffer because of the dangerous decisions made by a tiny circle of corrupt leaders and their cronies who have consistently put their interests above those of the Russian people, who are doing everything they can to hide their war of choice from the Russian public.

Today’s discussion with NATO, the EU, the G7 affirmed that we’re fully aligned on our goals and our determination to meet them.  We’ll deepen our support for Ukraine’s brave defenders and for the Ukrainian civilians suffering as a result of the deepening humanitarian crisis.  We’ll continue to raise the cost of President Putin and all who carry out and enable his war of choice and the devastation that it’s causing.  We’ll continue to strengthen our capacity to defend our collective security and deter further escalation by Russia, including by upholding our Article 5 commitment that an attack on one is an attack on all.  NATO is a defensive Alliance.  We’ve never sought and will not seek conflict with Russia.  But as President Biden has said, we will defend every inch of NATO territory.  No one should doubt America’s readiness or our resolve.

At the same time, we’ll keep open the door to dialogue and diplomacy while making clear to the Kremlin that unless it changes course, it will continue down the road of increasing isolation and economic pain.  And we’ll support Ukraine in its talks with Russia to reach a ceasefire and the unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces, something that Foreign Minister Kuleba and I have been discussing on a daily basis.  In the meantime, we are working urgently with the Government of Ukraine, the ICRC, and others to create humanitarian corridors that will allow civilians to get out of Ukraine’s besieged cities and to allow food, medicine, and other vital supplies to get in.  Russia’s attack created this humanitarian crisis.  Now, all countries have a responsibility to pressure the Kremlin to alleviate at least some of the misery that it has wrought.

Of all the consequences of Moscow’s unprovoked attack, one of the most unexpected is the spark it has lit in people around the world who have come out to demonstrate for freedom, for the rights of Ukrainians.  That includes valiant individuals in places where protesting the Kremlin’s war means risking arrest, beatings, or worse, as thousands of Russians and Belarusians have done.  For years, we’ve seen the dangerous tide rolling back democracy and human rights and undercutting the rules-based order, fueled in no small part by Moscow.  With this brutal invasion, we, our European allies and partners, and people everywhere are being reminded of just how much is at stake.  Now, we see the tide of democracy rising to the moment.

With that, I’m happy to take some questions.

MR PRICE:  Paul Handley, AFP.

QUESTION:  Hi, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Hey, Paul.

QUESTION:  You’ve – the West has put unprecedented sanctions on Russia, very punishing, yet it doesn’t seem to have slowed the Russian military’s advance on Ukraine.  Today NATO seemed to forswear absolutely putting in a no-fly zone that might protect the Ukrainians.  Given that, nothing seems to slow this invasion.  What can you tell the Ukrainian people who only see things getting worse, seeing a disaster, seeing more suffering, and are pleading for more help from the West?

And I have a little follow-up.  I could ask it now or in a moment.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  The West, NATO, has been involved in this in terms of supplying a lot of arms, which you’ve mentioned, to Ukraine.  Can’t it supply more effective arms, larger weapons?  Jets has been – have been talked about.  NATO is engaged in this.  Can’t it do more for Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Let me take the second part first.  We’re in constant contact with Ukraine, with government officials and leaders on their needs, and in constant contact and coordination with allies and partners on providing for those needs when it comes to security assistance.

We’ve already been engaged in a remarkable effort, just speaking for the United States, with the various drawdowns that President Biden has done.  We’ve provided, over the past year and change, more than a billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine.  The most recent drawdown that was issued by the President of $350 million, we have already sent into Ukraine about $250 million worth of that drawdown.  So this is happening every single day, and you’re seeing the means that Ukraine needs to defend itself get into the hands of Ukrainians who are doing that.

Having said that, one of the things that we talked about at length today in our various meetings at NATO and the EU was what more we can do and how to do it effectively.  I would add that, I think as you know, Foreign Minister Kuleba actually came into our meetings by video; we heard from him directly some of the additional things that Ukraine is looking for.  We’re working on all of that every single day.

We’re also a week and change into this horrific war wrought by Russia.  We’ve had already a dramatic impact, far beyond, I think, what anyone would have expected on Russia and its economy.  The ruble is trading at its weakest levels ever.  It’s worth less than a penny.  Russian authorities are expecting exporters to sell at least 80 percent of the foreign currency that they have to prop up what is a rapidly weakening currency.  The stock market’s been closed for days due to a fear of capital flight once it opens.  This is the longest stretch of emergency closure since Russia defaulted back in the 1990s.

The CBR has more than doubled their key interest rate – the central bank – to 20 percent, the highest in almost 20 years.  Capital controls, et cetera.  We’re seeing – I have a list five pages long of all the businesses that have left Russia.  But this take – the impact is there.  It’s powerful, it’s real, and it is building.  So let’s see how Russia responds to that as this really takes hold and takes a grip.

Second, as we’ve been demonstrating by not only what we’ve been saying but what we’ve been doing, the support for Ukraine is real, profound, extensive – the security assistance that we just talked about that continues to go in, the humanitarian support that we continue to build in response to the humanitarian horror that Russia has wrought, as well as economic assistance.  Unfortunately, this is not like flipping a light switch.  It takes time.  And when you have, in the case of Russia and President Putin’s Russia a country that is prepared to go to excessive means to achieve its results, it is a real challenge.

But not only are we at it every day, I think what the Ukrainian people can see is virtually the entire world united in support of them, in support of their cause of independence, territorial integrity, freedom, demonstrated by the meetings we had today, demonstrated by the 141 countries that came together at the United Nations to make that clear.  So there is a huge tide of support for Ukraine.  There is a huge weight bearing down on Russia.  Let’s see what the impact is.

MR PRICE:  Méabh McMahon, Euronews.

QUESTION:  Hi, there.  Thank you so much for this.  Méabh McMahon, Euronews.  So we heard this morning at NATO that the situation will get worse before it gets better.  So tell us:  What do you know that we don’t?  And is the no to the no-fly zone set in stone completely, or would you consider it if this conflict does become a massacre?

And just a follow-up, Was it naïve of you and of course the Europeans to trust in Putin to opt for diplomacy?  Thank you so much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  When we say it is likely to get worse, it’s unfortunately based on everything we know about President Putin’s methods when it comes to seeking to subjugate another country to his will or another region to his will.  We saw it in Chechnya.  We’ve seen it in Syria.  We saw it, of course, in 2014 in Ukraine.  And what we’re seeing on the battlefield is Russian forces seeking to encircle the major cities, including Kyiv, and we’re seeing them use increasingly brutal methods, including going at civilians and civilian populations.

So I think the terrible expectation is that the suffering we’ve already seen is likely to get worse before it gets better for as long as Russia pursues these methods.  So that is unfortunately more likely than not, although we are doing everything we can to try to move this to a different track.

With regard to the no-fly zone, I think you heard NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg speak to this earlier today.  One of the responsibilities we have, even as we are doing everything we can to give the Ukrainian people the means to defend themselves effectively against Russia, we also have a responsibility, as the secretary general said, to ensure that the war doesn’t spill over even beyond Ukraine.  And again, because I think he put it so well, as he noted, the only way to actually implement something like a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes into Ukrainian airspace and to shoot down Russian planes, and that could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe.

President Biden has been clear that we are not going to get into a war with Russia.  But we are going to tremendous lengths with allies and partners to provide the Ukrainians with the means to effectively defend themselves.  And of course we’re seeing every single day their extraordinary heroism as well as very, very real results in what they’re doing to achieve that.

And I’m sorry, I missed the last part of your question.

QUESTION:  Just do you feel like – remember we spoke together last spring when you were here in Brussels at the NATO Headquarters, and I feel the question now is: Do you feel that you were naïve or the Europeans were naïve to trust in Putin that he would come to the table and he would choose diplomacy over this invasion?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I’ll only speak for the United States.  I think we were the opposite of naïve.  We have been saying, warning for months, that President Putin was planning and was likely to carry out an aggression of Ukraine.  And of course, in recent weeks before the invasion began I laid out before the United Nations, the Security Council, exactly what we expected Putin to do and how he would do it – creating bogus pretexts for war, and then using those false flags and other operations as justification for invading Ukraine.  And for months we’ve made clear that this is what we expected, but at the same time it’s our obligation, my obligation, the obligation of allies and partners, to pursue diplomacy if there is any opportunity to do so because, as we said all along, it’s far preferable than what we’re seeing.

And again, as we said all along, there are two paths that Russia can take.  One is diplomacy and dialogue, the other is aggression against Ukraine, and we said we would be prepared either way.  And we are.

MR PRICE:  Nomia Iqbal, BBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good evening.

QUESTION:  Are you considering energy sanctions against Russia?  Because realistically, how can the West defeat Putin Ukraine when the West also pays Putin up to $700 million a day in oil, gas, and coal?  And the British Foreign Minister Liz Truss has talked about it, how Britain is looking into it.  Are you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  First, as a general proposition, nothing is off the table, and we are evaluating every single day the sanctions, their implementation, and additional measures.  The sanctions are designed, in the first instance, of course, to have maximum impact on Russia and Putin while minimizing harm to us and our allies and partners.  There is no strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy.  The immediate effect would be to raise prices at the pump for Americans and also to pad Russian profits with rising prices.

So we’ve been carving out payments for energy trade and transport from the sanctions that we’ve been implementing.  But we have a strong interest – we and our allies – in degrading Russia’s status as a leading energy supplier.  Over time, this would be a profound strategic shift.  That’s why Nord Stream 2 was shut down.  That’s why we’re surging LNG to Europe right now to help accelerate its diversification away from Russian gas.  It’s why we’re denying critical technologies to Russia for further energy exploration going forward through the export controls we’ve put in place.  This is part of a process to reduce reliance, dependence on Russian energy.

So that’s where our focus is.  But again, as I said, we’re looking at these things every single day.

MR PRICE:  We’ll —

QUESTION:  Are you willing to say how long will that take?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well —

QUESTION:  And how many people have to die in Ukraine before —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m not going to put a timeframe on it.  What’s happened in record time, as we’ve seen, are sanctions and other measures that a few weeks ago people would have said were never going to happen.  I think we’ve demonstrated very, very clearly that what we said we would do many months ago when this crisis first began to emerge back in November, December – the G7 countries, the European Union, I said that if Russia chose the path of aggression, we would impose massive consequences on Russia, including unprecedented economic sanctions.  I know some people thought that that was more rhetoric than reality.  I think we’ve demonstrated already how strong that reality is, and again, we’re looking every day at measures to increase the extraordinary pressure we’re already exerting.

MR PRICE:  We’ll take a final question from Iurii Sheiko, DW.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Secretary, I have two questions.  First is also on no-fly zone.  You said that NATO will not send fighter jets to Ukraine to shoot down Russians.  It’s understandable, but there is another way to impose this no-fly zone, and I mean sending to Ukraine air defense capabilities.  Of course, United States send Stinger missiles, but I’m speaking about high-to-medium air defense capabilities to support the currently working Ukrainian defense capabilities with S-300 and Buk, which are working also quite well.

The second question is you saw – we saw more than a week of fighting and how Russian forces weren’t able to achieve most of its objectives.  They were bogged down; they were stopped in many places.  So how does this week of war change the U.S. assessment of the might of Russian military?  That was considered to be quite high, but now – what is your assessment now?  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  First part of the question, we are looking every day at what technologies, what capacities we can effectively deliver to Ukraine to defend itself, and that’s an ongoing conversation literally happening on a daily basis both with Ukraine and government officials as well as among allies and partners, and so the main focus is on making sure that anything we provide can be used, used effectively, and in a timely way.  So – but as I said, that’s quite literally something we’re looking at every day.

So I don’t want to draw any conclusions from the week of invasion in terms of what this tells us about Russia or its capabilities.  I think we’ll have time to fully assess that.  What we do know, what it does tell us is how extraordinary the Ukrainian people are, their will, their determination, their absolute commitment to defend their country, to defend their freedom, to defend their future.  That’s the story of the past week, and it’s an incredibly powerful one.

Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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