Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon. Let me just start by saying how wonderful it is to be back in Germany for what is I think my sixth time as Secretary of State. There are reminders of my country’s partnership with Germany everywhere in this city, including right here in this building. This bank administered the Marshall Plan funds that helped rebuild Germany and Europe after World War II.
We knew that a secure, prosperous, and democratic Europe was strongly in the interests of the United States, Europe, and the world. That was true then. It remains true today. Here in Berlin five months ago, I gave a speech about Russia’s impending aggression against Ukraine. Our intelligence revealed that President Putin was mobilizing for war, and to frame the stakes and prepare our partners, I laid out why that would be so dangerous for the people of Ukraine, for the people of Europe, indeed for people around the world.
I said that Russia was taking aim not only at Ukraine, but at the fundamental principles of peace and security that were established in the wake of two world wars and the Cold War that one country can’t simply change the borders of another by force or subjugate a sovereign nation to its will or dictate its choices or policies. A few weeks later, the war began. Today, it enters its fifth month.
Thousands of civilians, tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed or wounded. Cities have been flattened. Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes. Beyond Ukraine, the global food crisis has spiked due to the war. Russia has destroyed Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure, including its second-largest grain terminal earlier this month. It’s blockading Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, preventing crops like grain and corn from being shipped worldwide.
There are about 25 million tons of grain stuck in Ukraine because of this Russian blockade. We spent some time today in the G7 meeting and then in the extraordinary session convened by my German colleague on the growing food insecurity crisis that has been accelerated by Russia’s war of aggression and the steps that countries are taking to address it. These months have been brutal for Ukraine. They’ve been very difficult for countries and people around the world, and the truth is it’s likely to stay that way for some time.
So let’s recall for a minute what we’re working to do and why we’re working to do it. First, we are helping Ukraine survive as a democratic, independent, sovereign state. The UN Charter promises that to every country. Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, is violating that charter every single day. Ukraine is fighting with extraordinary courage.
A war that President Putin thought would be over in a matter of days has now stretched on for months. They’re fighting not just for themselves, but for all of us, because if Russia gets away with violating the fundamental principles that are at stake, it’s not just the Ukrainian people who will suffer. It will drag us back to a much more dangerous time, a much more unstable time. It will send a message that these principles are somehow expendable, and that would make many countries around the world vulnerable to the very aggression to which Ukraine is now subject.
Yesterday, I authorized a drawdown of up to $450 million in arms and other equipment from the U.S. Defense Department inventories, including high-mobility artillery rocket systems, tens of thousands of additional rounds of ammunition for artillery systems that Ukraine has already received, including howitzers and patrol boats to help Ukraine defend its coast and its waterways. This is now our 13th drawdown for Ukraine’s defense since August of 2021. That brings our total military assistance to Ukraine to more than $6.1 billion since the war began. We’re giving Ukraine the support it needs to defend itself. For as long as it takes, we will continue to do so.
There have been recent reports that Russia’s limited military gains in eastern Ukraine are sparking concerns in Europe and beyond about the war’s trajectory, so let me be clear about a few things.
First, Ukraine is defending itself with extraordinary courage and resilience, and Russia has already lost. President Putin’s objective, in his own words, was to eliminate Ukraine as a sovereign, independent country. That effort has failed. A sovereign, independent Ukraine is going to be around a lot longer than President Putin is on the scene.
In terms of its military campaign, Russian forces failed badly in their attempt to capture Kyiv. Due to stiff Ukrainian resistance, Russia has dramatically altered its strategy. It scaled back its near-term objectives and focused instead on capturing territory in the east to try to shift the momentum and allow President Putin to falsely claim victory.
But while Russia has made slow, painful gains in one region, those gains have been far from decisive, and they’ve come at extraordinarily high cost. Public reports indicate that tens of thousands of Russian troops have been killed or wounded since the aggression began, and Russia continues to lose a large number of tanks, aircraft, ships, equipment, munitions. Even if Russia succeeds in capturing more territory, it will inherit cities and towns that its own artillery have turned to rubble and a local population that hates it. It will have to content with an increasingly assertive and well-armed Ukrainian force.
Russia’s become mired in a war of attrition of its own making, and despite what you hear from propagandists in the Kremlin, our intelligence indicates that Russian military continues to suffer from low morale, high casualty rates, equipment failures, and leaders who are afraid to tell the truth about what’s really happening on the ground.
Second, we’re raising the costs on Russia to bring the war to an end more swiftly through unprecedented sanctions and export controls. Economists predict that Russia’s GDP will contract by between 10 and 15 percent this year. Moscow’s prevented an economic meltdown so far by taking extraordinary measures to prop up its currency, but those tactics are unsustainable as the full impact of Western sanctions and trade restrictions begins to take hold. Access to credit will dry up. Manufacturing will decline. Shelves will remain empty. Unemployment will rise. Without access to global finance, technology, and commerce, Russia’s long-term economic potential, its ability to project military power, its capacity to deliver a high standard of living for its people, will badly degrade.
Even as Russia benefits from higher oil prices in the near term, it won’t over time as Europe significantly reduces its oil imports and Moscow can’t replace energy production equipment because of export controls. Likewise, the Kremlin can’t spend its money on the things that it really wants, like advanced defense and aerospace components, that have also been limited by export controls.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen now more than a thousand foreign firms flee the country, withdraw their investments. More will likely make the same decision as the effect of sanctions and export controls continues to compound. We’ve also seen many of Russia’s best and brightest leave the country as well, including highly educated professionals in the tech and energy fields and foreign experts who used to call Russia home. Maybe all of this is why the Russian Government stopped publishing key economic data in April.
Our information indicates that around half of Russians recently reported that their household economic situation has worsened since the war began. Eventually the Russian people will have to ask themselves: Is this war worth the cost? Why are we doing this? How is this in any way improving my life, my children’s lives?
Third, we’re working to end global dependence on Russian energy, which the Kremlin has used as a tool of coercion for far too long. The EU pledge to cut Russian oil imports by 90 percent by the end of the year and to ban EU firms from carrying Russian crude is a strong and courageous act. We know that carrying it out will not be easy. Germany, for example, has just taken new measures to conserve energy to help address rising fuel prices. But in the end, moving away from Russian oil and Russian energy means breaking free from Moscow’s grip, and that will ultimately make life better for the people of Europe.
Fourth, we’re strengthening our own defenses. At the NATO Leaders Summit next week, we will endorse a new Strategic Concept to ensure that NATO is prepared to face emerging threats over the next decade. We’ll announce new force posture commitments to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and its defense and deterrence. And, of course, we’ll pursue Finland and Sweden’s applications to join the Alliance in light of the Kremlin’s war on their neighbor. President Putin wanted to weaken NATO with this war. Instead, NATO is stronger, more united, and on the cusp of enlarging.
We all wish that we could say with certainty when this war will end. The days ahead are not going to be easy. But we must and we will stay resolved to stand up to Russian aggression and defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. President Putin used to claim that this war of aggression toward Ukraine was somehow about a threat that Ukraine or NATO posed toward Russia. But that’s not what this is about; it never has been, and President Putin now forthrightly acknowledges it. He recently compared himself to Peter the Great and said that when Peter waged a war with Sweden, he was simply taking back what belonged to Russia. Now, he said, Russia is again looking to take back what is theirs. He stopped pretending this war of choice is about Russia defending itself from a manufactured threat by NATO. It’s about conquest. It’s about subjugating Russia’s neighbor. We can’t let that happen.
From the start of this brutal war, the United States and our allies and partners have been united to a remarkable degree, and that continues. At every step there have been doubts about whether our shared resolve would last, and at every step we’ve proved that it would. Some doubted that we’d impose sanctions that would have a meaningful impact on the Russian economy; we did. Some have doubted whether we’d build a significant coalition behind those sanctions; we did. Some doubted whether countries in Europe would provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine; they did. Some doubted that Ukraine could withstand Moscow’s onslaught; it has, it will, and we’ll stand with them.
In the coming week, we’ll strengthen our unity yet again, both at the NATO Leaders Summit and at the G7 Leaders Summit, where we’ll reaffirm our support for a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine; address the impact that this war of aggression by Russia is having on rising global prices for food and gas; and roll out a set of concrete actions to continue to increase the costs on Russia.
President Zelenskyy said that this war will only definitively end through diplomacy. We stand ready to support any diplomatic solution. And yet, Russia has shown no interest. We’ll keep discussing diplomatic strategies with Ukraine, with our allies and partners. We’ll keep strengthening Ukraine’s position on the battlefield so it has the strongest possible position at any negotiating table that emerges.
As President Biden recently reiterated, we seek a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against any further aggression. We’ll support Ukraine’s efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the conflict because our principle throughout this crisis has been nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, and that will continue.
The United States is grateful to our allies and partners for incredibly close coordination every step along the way. We join people around the world in standing resolutely with the Ukrainian people as they fight for their country and for the principles that make the world more secure and more free for everyone. Thank you.
MR PRICE: We have time for a few questions. We’ll start with Missy Ryan of The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for doing this. I have two questions on Ukraine. First, you mentioned Russia’s limited military gains in eastern Ukraine, but at the same time Russia has – I assume you were referring to the fall of Sievierodonetsk or the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from that city. But Russia has also managed to take other parts of eastern Ukraine, and I’m just wondering if you see the changing of control in Sievierodonetsk as potentially an indicator of the limits of Ukraine’s battlefield reach or capability and an indicator of this potentially settling into frozen conflict.
And then yesterday you mentioned the 450 million, the latest drawdown. In response to that, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee welcomed the drawdown but also said that the administration, in his view, is still failing to go far enough in providing weapons that Ukraine has requested like longer-range drones and tanks. What’s your response to the idea that the United States and its allies, despite this massive amount of assistance that’s being rolled out, are arming Ukraine enough to maintain a stalemate or perhaps have this slow degrading of its territory but not enough to win?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Missy. So first, what we’re seeing in the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, after Russia’s failure to achieve its objectives of taking the entire country, eliminating its sovereignty and independence – that failed. It failed in large part because of the extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people. It also failed because for many, many months, well before the aggression, we had been doing everything we could to make sure that Ukrainians had in their hands the tools that they needed, the weapons that they needed to repel Russian aggression. And that’s what they so effectively did around Kyiv and pushed the entire conflict to eastern Ukraine and southern Ukraine.
The fighting is intense in the Donbas throughout. We’re seeing horrifically large numbers of casualties on both sides, Russia and Ukraine, and what we’ve said all along is that the trajectory of this conflict was not going to be linear. It would move back and forth. The progress that we’ve seen Russia make in the Donbas, as I said, has come at incredibly high cost to Russia in lives and materiel. And as I mentioned a moment ago, in many cases, to the extent that Russia does take some additional territory, the territory that it’s taken has literally been bombed to the rubbles by Russia itself. And to the extent the local populace remains, it’s – as I said, it hates Russia. So that’s not a situation that suggests there will be stability in any parts of Ukraine that Russia seizes by force.
But again, I think we focus on the tactical at the expense of looking, again, at the strategic. And it’s worth emphasizing that Russia’s objectives, Putin’s objectives, had been to eliminate Ukraine as a sovereign and independent state. That has failed. And now there is a incredibly destructive battle going on in one part of Ukraine.
With regard to the assistance, what we’ve done at every step along the way is to make the best determination we can about what it is that Ukraine needs and can effectively use to repel the Russian aggression. And that evolves over time; that’s changed over time. Some of the systems that we and many others were providing to the Ukrainians to deal with the Russian attack on Kyiv were different from what is necessary now because the nature of the battle has changed, the nature of what’s needed has changed.
As I mentioned, this is now the 13th drawdown that we’ve done, well over $6 billion in assistance just from the United States, and of course dozens of allies and partners are also taking part in an effort coordinated by us – Secretary Austin in Ramstein just a couple of months ago brought everyone together to really further coordinate these efforts. And we make determinations every day about what we believe can be most effective in helping the Ukrainians deal with the Russian aggression and the specifics of that aggression.
Two things are necessary: the equipment itself, which is being provided very rapidly, to include most recently the HIMARS, to include most recently the MLRS – and that significantly increases the range that the Ukrainians have in dealing with Russian artillery positions and other things. It’s also critical, though, that – in the case of weapons systems being provided by many, many countries, including the United States – that the Ukrainians be effectively trained to use the system as well as have the ability to maintain them. So all of that has to be put together. We’re doing that, and again, we’re doing that in very close coordination with allies and partners, and I think you’ll see, as more equipment continues to get where it needs to get – into Ukrainian hands – that that will have an impact on the battlefield.
MR PRICE: Vivian.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I do have a food security question, but if you’ll indulge me in light of the historic news back home, I wanted to ask you – of course, you may have heard that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, imposing potential restrictions that would largely buck worldwide trends. Yesterday the court also said that Americans can – have the right to carry firearms in public for self-defense on the heels of a series of mass shootings. Of course, we know this is not necessarily your portfolio, but the Biden administration has repeatedly touted its desire to improve America’s image abroad with allies and partners and to ensure them that on major issues and principles, America is on the same page. Does this complicate your efforts to do that?
And then I can ask you right away the food security question. You and your counterparts have repeatedly pushed back on Russia’s comments that sanctions are responsible for the food crisis, and there’s evidence to support that, but sanctions have caused tremendous challenges that cannot be denied, and so far, despite discussions with allies around the world, those efforts haven’t yet seen a significant impact as far as easing some of those logistical disruptions that are happening. And so how can you change that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure, thank you. With regard to the Supreme Court’s decision, I believe the President is going to be speaking to that very shortly, maybe in the next hour or so. So I am certainly not going to get ahead of the President. I’ll let him speak to the decision.
With regard to grain, first, it is very important to continue to make clear, as I did earlier today when I was standing with my German counterpart, that this narrative that Russia has been pushing out that somehow our sanctions are contributing to food scarcity, that that is entirely wrong and it is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine that has exacerbated what was already a terrible pre-existing condition. We’ve seen rising food insecurity over the last few years, largely driven by climate change and COVID; now we have conflict and Russia’s aggression.
And again, to be absolutely clear about this, from day one, as we imposed sanctions on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine, we exempted from those sanctions food, food products, fertilizer, and also things necessary to move them out of Russia, including insurance and shipping. And we have been going around the world whenever a question, a practical question is raised about some perceived impediment to moving food to answer those questions, and if any complication has resulted that was unintended, we’re dealing with it and making sure that we can facilitate the export of food.
Russia itself has been playing terrible games with its own food, imposing its own export controls on itself, putting quotas on, deciding when and where it’s going to make food available for political reasons. As I said before, there is nothing preventing the export of food, food products, fertilizer from Russia except for Russia itself. And the only thing that is preventing the export of food from Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, is Russia. Blockading Odessa – as I said earlier, there are about 25 million tons of grain stuck in silos in Ukraine, on ships in the Odessa port, that can’t leave because of Russia.
So again, Russia has been spreading this false narrative, we are batting it down in every place that we can, and if any practical problems emerge, we deal with them.
MR PRICE: Fred Pleitgen, CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I just got back from Russia; I was there for about two and a half weeks. And quite frankly, the Russians believe that they’re winning. They say that their economy has been hit, but it certainly hasn’t been crippled. They’re making tons of money off oil and gas. They’re actually trying to turn the offensive in Ukraine into an employment program by offering people up to five, six thousand dollars a month to fight there, especially people from lower-income regions of Russia. And they’ve defined or they’ve called the battlefield losses that you say are horrific – they’ve called those acceptable. Doesn’t that mean that the U.S. essentially needs to step up a lot as far as economic pressure is concerned and military assistance to Ukraine is concerned if it really wants to dissuade Russia from continuing to attack Ukraine?
I do want to also follow up on what Vivian was saying or asking, because I did have the chance to speak to Dmitry Peskov and he told me that the Russians will be perfectly fine with allowing goods to get out of the port of Odessa, but the Ukrainians have to remove the mines and the Russians want to inspect every ship. Do you give any credence to demands like that?
And finally – this is probably just a yes-or-no answer – is there any chance that you’ll bump into or meet Sergey Lavrov at the G20 in Bali?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So let me take those in a slightly different order. Thank you.
First, with regard to Odessa, again, the only thing preventing Ukrainian grain from leaving is the Russian effective blockade of the port. When Russia says that it might be prepared to let ships out, that potentially creates the risk of Russian ships going in and attacking Odessa directly. So the Ukrainians have to have confidence that in doing anything that would allow their ships to get out of port, that the Russians won’t take advantage of that and allow Russian ships to go in and attack Odessa.
With regard to inspections, by what right or by what logic does Russia insist on inspecting Ukrainian sovereign ships leaving Ukrainian ports going to other countries? That makes no sense. Having said that, the United Nations, the secretary-general have been working very persistently to see if some kind of agreement can be reached that would allow a channel out of Odessa for Ukrainian ships, and so food and grain. We very much support that effort. They are trying to bring Russians, Ukrainians together. Turkey’s involved also in supporting this effort. If they can come to an agreement, that would be a very good thing, but I have doubts about whether Russia is really serious about doing this. It keeps sort of kicking the can down the road despite the best efforts of the UN secretary-general, but we hope that that can achieve something.
Meanwhile, there’s – more grain is moving out of Ukraine by rail, by land through to Poland, Romania, and other places. We’ve seen the volume go up month to month. It’s still not anywhere near where it was before the Russian aggression, but that is – that is increasing. We’re working to help facilitate that. One of the other big problems that Ukraine has – and the President addressed this the other day – is that because so much grain is stuck in silos, as the new harvest comes in there’s no place for it to go. So we’re looking at some creative solutions to that problem.
Again, with regard to the sanctions and the pressure, Putin has developed over the years one of the most effective 24/7 propaganda systems of any country on earth, and so the steady diet of propaganda that Russians are fed every single day without other sources of information that Putin over many years has sought to eliminate makes it sometimes difficult for the truth to penetrate immediately. But as I said earlier, the sanctions have already had a dramatic impact on Russia’s economic fortunes. Much of what it’s doing, for example, to prop up the ruble is unsustainable, and I think you’ll see changes there.
As I mentioned, while oil revenues are coming in because of higher prices, the export controls are such that the things that Russia most wants to buy, including technology to modernize its defense sector, to modernize its ability to extract energy in different places, they can’t buy it. Meanwhile, this exodus of more than a thousand companies from Russia – that also has an impact over time. For example, companies that have been involved in selling things that Russians want to buy, they had inventory in Russia, so even as they left or said they were leaving, the inventory was still there, so Russians could still buy an iPhone.
As those inventories are depleted, I think you’ll see that the Russian people will not be able to buy what they’ve been able to buy for the last 20 or 30 years since Russia’s opening to the world, and what Putin has forfeited among many other things with this aggression against Ukraine is everything that’s been achieved in terms of Russian’s openness to the world and the opportunities that creates for the Russian people. He’s forfeited that with this aggression against Ukraine.
This will bite more and more and more. We’re seeing a downgrading of Russian bonds to junk status. We’re seeing expectations for Russian growth to be somewhere between minus 10 and minus 15 this coming year, and all of that has a cumulative impact. And as I said, at some point, despite the propaganda system, the Russian people are actually going to feel this in their daily lives. I wish that were not the case. I wish that these consequences of Putin’s aggression were not going to also cause suffering in Russia, but that is a fact. It is a result of Putin’s aggression, and I just come back to this simple question that if one could speak to Russians directly – and maybe you did in your time there – what is this possibly doing to improve their lives? How is this horrific aggression that is costing so many Ukrainian lives and so many Russian lives – how is that doing anything to actually address what the Russian people want?
I think with time they’re going to be asking those questions more and more and more.
MR PRICE: Kristin Becker, ARD.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh. I won’t get ahead of that. We’ll – stay tuned.
MR PRICE: Kristin Becker, ARD.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, in your statement, you said we will continue to help Ukraine as long as it takes, more or less. I was wondering, like, also in Germany these days solidarity is the big word, but in Germany and as well in the U.S., you have sort of a worsened situation for the normal people in terms of inflation, gas prices. So how long do you think you can keep up this solidarity? Is there a limit?
And if you allow me, just – I do understand that you cannot offer an official position on the Roe v. Wade case, but in Germany we have a big day today on abortion rights as well because parliament voted for more liberalization on that. And I was just wondering if you could offer at least a personal note. Your ex-boss – ex-President Obama said it’s an attack on “the essential of millions of Americans.” Do you agree?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Second part first, again, because President Biden will be speaking to this very shortly, I’m not going to have anything to say. I want – I don’t want to get ahead of the President.
With regard to the sustainability of everything that we’re doing, I’d say two things. First, as I mentioned in my opening comments, at virtually every step along the way in this process starting from before Russia’s aggression through to right now, there have been lots of doubts expressed about our ability to do things we said we would do, about our ability to maintain solidarity, about the willingness of allies and partners to take significant steps when it comes either to sanctions or to supporting Ukraine, including with security assistance.
And thus far at every step along the way, the doubters have been proved wrong, and our solidarity, our ability to work as allies and partners in support of Ukraine militarily, economically, and on a humanitarian basis; to impose costs on Russia for the aggression in an effort to get it to end the war more quickly, and as we’ll see in just a few days, strengthening our defensive Alliance at NATO – I think that cohesion, that solidarity has been unlike any I’ve seen in the 30 or so years that I’ve been doing this. As I said earlier, too, we can’t predict how long this war will last, and I fear that it will still be some time. We’d like to see it – Russia’s aggression end tomorrow, and we’ll look for any opportunity to advance an end to the aggression.
But what I heard today from my partners in the G7 was an ongoing commitment to continue doing what we’ve been doing in support of Ukraine: imposing costs on Russia, strengthening our own defenses. I know we’ll see more of that at NATO and we’ll see that at the leaders’ level at the G7. And I think the solidarity is strong, it’s real, and there’s a real commitment to carry it through as long as is necessary.
`MR PRICE: Take a final question from Carsten Hoffmann, DPA.
QUESTION: Yes. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned food security already today and there was the conference, but there is another big problem that is energy security. There is concern that Germany and other European countries might be hit very hard in the winter because of a lack of gas. Is there something that you have to – that the U.S. could do? Have you talked with your partners in Europe about this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes, and in fact, that’s been an ongoing conversation – more than a conversation, active coordination – for several months. We set up a task force with the European Union to look at energy concerns that have arisen since Russia’s aggression, including concerns about the availability of energy for Europe. We have ourselves directed more liquified natural gas to Europe. We’ve worked with other countries, including in Asia, who were contracted to take some liquified natural gas that’s been redirected to Europe. We’re doing everything we can to support transitions that Europe is making away from Russian oil in the first instance, and then ultimately diversifying their sources of energy going forward.
This isn’t easy at all. I mean, the dependence on Russia has built up over decades, so you can’t just flip a switch and end it easily and cleanly. But there seems to me to be a real commitment in Europe to do that. And for people in Europe, continuing to allow Russia to have a stranglehold through energy on different countries in Europe, that I believe is both unacceptable and unsustainable. And European leaders are taking very courageous steps to move away from that.
I think we’ve said all along that in standing up to this Russian aggression, the costs would primarily be borne by the Ukrainian people, but we would also bear costs. And I think leaders throughout Europe and beyond in Asia have made the judgment that those costs are necessary because what’s at stake, the ongoing dangers posed to all of us by allowing the Russian aggression to go forward with impunity, are enormous. And so there are sacrifices that are being made, but we’re taking very active steps to try to address them, to end them, to mitigate them wherever we can. And again, there’s an ongoing work that’s being done virtually every day to look at what we can do to help make sure that Europe has the energy it needs when it needs it.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.