Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
MS KVIEN: So it is my absolute pleasure and honor to welcome Secretary of State Tony Blinken to Kyiv today, and I’m really happy that he has taken the time to meet with all of us. As many of you know – especially our local staff, I would say, who have been doing this a long time – Secretary Blinken knows Ukraine very well. He’s visited many times in his years with the White House, the State Department, and on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Secretary’s visit today is extremely important as Ukraine faces threats both from Russia and internal challenges to reform.
It’s been a tough year for Mission Ukraine, as it has been for posts around the world, so I sincerely thank Secretary Blinken for his visit, which is an important signal to Embassy Kyiv that the department is behind us but also equally important demonstration of U.S. support to Ukraine as it faces its external and internal challenges.
So without further ado, I’ll hand over the floor to Secretary Blinken.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Kristina, thank you very, very much, and everyone, it’s so great to be in Kyiv. It’s so great to be with you. It’s a little strange that I’m in Kyiv but we’re not actually – and you are, too, but we’re not in the same room. So we’re getting one step closer, and I hope next time I’m here we’ll actually be able to get together in person. But I really am thankful for the fact we have a chance to talk a little bit today.
I really want to start with a word of profound thanks, Kristina, to you for your incredible leadership of this mission at what is, for a whole variety of reasons, a challenging time. To you, to the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Joe Pennington, thank you, thank you, thank you. We’re really grateful for everything you’re doing every day.
And I also want to thank the entire team that worked on this trip. As Kristina said, we have packed a lot into this day, so much so that I’ve managed to make us a little bit late. But very well worth it, and we’ve touched a lot of bases that I think reflects the fact that we have so many different things going on here. And I was really happy to have a chance to spend some time with civil society leaders and people on the front lines of fighting corruption, as well as, of course, a lot of our government counterparts, leaders of the Rada, and a chance to visit Saint Michael’s as well.
So we got a lot done, but I know how much these visits, even of short duration, demand of the embassy team and community, so I’m really thankful to all of you who worked on the visit. I’m not sure what a wheels-up party looks like in the age of COVID, but I wish you a good one, however you choose to celebrate it.
This is a very important relationship for us and something that we’ve invested in, as you know, over many years – a relationship that President Biden is deeply and personally committed to. And he asked me to try to get to Ukraine as early as I could in my tenure on his behalf to send a clear message on two fronts: one, that we stand strongly with Ukraine when it comes to defending its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence; and equally, we stand with Ukraine and strongly encourage its efforts to advance reforms, to fight corruption, and to build a strong democracy. And as Kristina alluded to, I think we’ve got flip sides of the same coin that we’re – we have to be focused on: the external aggression coming from Russia; the internal aggression coming from the forces of corruption – oligarchs and others – who are challenging Ukraine’s democracy from the inside, which, in turn, Russia uses itself to advance its own interests.
So that’s just one fundamental, central piece of what we’re doing. There is much, much more that’s reflected in the fact that we have so many different agencies represented here as part of the team – Energy, Justice, Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and others. And of course – and I hope we can do even more of this, especially when we get beyond COVID – really strong people-to-people ties, something I believe strongly in. I hope that we can do even more with our exchange programs when we’re given the opportunity.
But each and every one of you on this call are the ones keeping the relationship going day in, day out. And to the charge’s point, I know that the past couple of years have been particularly difficult. Even before COVID, Ukraine and this mission were pulled into matters that should not have been the case, and one thing that’s very important is that politics stops at the C Street door, and that’s very much the case now. And of course, COVID itself, and I have some sense of how tough that’s been here in particular. I am told that quite a number of you actually got sick, some of you lost loved ones, we lost a locally employed staff member. And even for those who weren’t directly affected by the illness itself, we know that what it’s done to our work lives and the challenges it’s placed on getting the job done have been almost unprecedented.
So somehow, with lockdowns in Kyiv itself, multiple waves of the virus, you’ve managed to keep the mission going through all of that with determination, with resilience. And you’ve helped a number of our fellow citizens here in Ukraine navigate – excuse me – what has been a very, very frightening time for them as well. So whether you’re a direct hire, whether you’re locally employed, whether you’re a family member, whatever section you work in, and whether you work for State or one of our fellow agencies, I’m deeply, deeply appreciative of everything you’ve been doing, everything you are doing. And simply put, you’re playing an indispensable role in advancing our interests and telling our story to the world in this place that gets a lot of attention.
One more thing I want to say before opening it up and hearing from some of you. Back in January when I first had the privilege of taking this job and getting into the office, the very first thing I said in coming into C Street was that we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust and morale, to do a better job listening to the people of the department, the men and women of the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, when we’re formulating our policies, investing in diversity and inclusion, building a workplace that looks like the country we represent and that has a real culture of collegiality, of teamwork, and of mutual respect. And that has to start with my office, but it involves each and every one of us.
And this is something I’ve repeated every time I’ve had an opportunity to talk to our teams in different parts of the world, because, again, it doesn’t only apply to Main State. It applies to all of us, to all of our missions, to all of our colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world. It’s a – I know it sounds like a hackneyed or even cliched thing, but we actually are part of a community and we each have a responsibility to build the best possible community where everyone is valued, welcomed, and feels part of the same mission.
And so I am deeply committed to doing everything I can to support you in your work, because you’re supporting the country every single day, and that’s what I owe you. That’s what we owe you.
So again, thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’re doing every day. Now let’s open it up to some questions.