Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at a Joint Press Availability

8 Mar

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Kaja Kallas, Estonian Prime Minister

Tallinn, Estonia

Stenbock House

MODERATOR:  Dear guests, distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the press, we are very happy to welcome the Secretary of State of the United States of America here in Tallinn, in Estonia, in Stenbock House.  The Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas, and the Secretary of State of the United States of America Antony Blinken, will deliver statements and take two questions.  The press conference is held in English with simultaneous translation into Estonian.

First, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, please.

PRIME MINISTER KALLAS:  Thank you.  Dear Secretary Blinken, members of the press, it is my great pleasure to welcome you here in Tallinn.  I’ve been closely following your work and I admire it greatly.  I wish it could be under more pleasant circumstances, though.

Our discussion today focused on the sharply deteriorated security situation in Europe, but also the need to adopt a new reality, raising the cost of aggression to Russia and supporting Ukraine.  Putin’s war against the – against Ukraine is an act of military aggression against an independent and sovereign state that wants to fulfill its European dream.

We are standing here in the state elders room.  So the pictures you see around this room are of our state elders, the politicians that were running the country before the Soviet occupation.  It reminds us of how valuable independence and freedom is, and it also reminds us that we have a very aggressive neighbor that we have suffered under.

The (inaudible) war tactic is to terrorize civilians and put them to the front line of this war.  This is brutal and heartbreaking.  This tragedy demands first our continued and united support to Ukraine – political, humanitarian, economic, but also military.  Second, our focus must be on full isolation of Russia from the free world.  And third, we need to adapt to the new reality and also make changes in our own defense.

Ukraine fights bravely for its homeland.  What it needs urgently now is our military help.  And here the American commitment and help have been and are – continues to be crucial.  Estonia, together with the United States, was one of the first to give military support, even before the actual military attack happened on 24th of February.

We should stop the military machine of the aggressor.  The democratic world has stepped up against the war with speed, strength, and determination.  Our unity in action will help to tame the aggressor, but we need to be prepared for the worst, that the worst is still to come.  Hence Putin’s violence must be in correlation with the further sanctions and also isolation decisions.

First, we need to finalize and fully disclose SWIFT for Russia and Belarus.  Second, we have to restrict also cryptocurrencies.  This is equally important to close the loopholes.  We have also closed our air space, but we need to take a step forward and also close the sea ports for Russian vessels.  And we will keep finding new tools in our toolbox until Putin’s war machine has been paralyzed.

We are in this for the long haul.  We see already tremendous policy shifts vis-à-vis Russia across the European Union.  What we need next is also to have a strategic patience to keep these decisions in place.

Russia expects us to make a step back soon.  As Dmitry Medvedev explained to Putin in recent public meeting of the Russian security council, and I quote: “Sooner or later, they will get tired of their own initiative.  They will come to ask us about returning to discussions and negotiations regarding all the matters of strategic security,” end of quote.

So we will prove them wrong.  They will come to test us, and yes, we will have to resist.

The new security situation also demands rapid changes to European, including Estonian, defense.  Estonia has long spent over 2 percent of our GDP of our defense, and we continue to call others to do the same.  In January, my government made a decision to raise it even more.  This means that in 2023 our increased defense budget will be 2.44 percent of our GDP.

NATO needs to adapt quickly as well.  Decisions we have to make in the coming weeks and months need to include an upgrade strategy for defense in our region.  This means permanently strengthening our defense in air, on land, and at sea.

I would like to the thank the U.S. for your presence and for your quick decisions that led to increased footprint in the Baltic countries.  We have to keep on working together for the long-term decisions.  That is why I also ask today to establish a permanent and meaningful NATO’s forward defense in the Baltic region.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you, Secretary Blinken, and the U.S. administration for your heavy work, including intense consultations that you have had with us and our other allies in building the unity and – within NATO.  Our unity and scale of our joint decisions prove the strength of our democracies.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, please.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  And Prime Minister, thank you so much – not just for the warm welcome today, but for the very good conversation.  I deeply appreciate your insights and admire your leadership.  So thank you for today.  And it was very good as well to be with my friend the foreign minister, and I want to send best wishes, of course, to the president as well.

It’s great to be in Tallinn as Secretary of State for the first time.  It’s meaningful to be here in particular on this hundredth anniversary year of our diplomatic relations.  But as the prime minister said, I also wish it were under different circumstances.

Together, over many months, as we saw the mounting likelihood of Russian aggression against Ukraine, we continued to hope for the best but we prepared for the worst.  And we have acted on all of those preparations, and I’ll come to that in a minute.

But over the past several days, at what is a critical moment for Ukraine, for Europe, and for the world, I’ve been engaged with allies and partners across the continent – in Brussels, with NATO, the European Union, G7 meetings; in Poland, where I visited a refugee welcome center and stood with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Ukrainian soil; in Moldova, a country seeking further integration into Europe; and finally, the three Baltic nations, Lithuania, Latvia, and today Estonia.

At every stop, I’ve emphasized the core values that bring our countries together – democracy, rule of law, a respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the international rules-based order that helps maintain peace and security everywhere.

And as I said yesterday in Lithuania and in Latvia, the people of Estonia – who lived through decades of Soviet occupation – understand in a profound way how wrong Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war in Ukraine is, how the world has to defend Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign, democratic country free to choose its own future.

The numbers of killed and wounded civilians in Ukraine continue to rise.  As of today, more than 1.7 million people have been forced to flee their own country.  More than 800,000 people have become internally displaced within Ukraine.  Many more people are trying to flee but can’t get out of besieged areas.  There have continued to be reports of shelling by Russian forces on agreed-upon humanitarian corridors.

We continue to call on Russia to allow for humanitarian access on the ground – both for supplies for people who have been cut off from food, water, medicine, and for humanitarian organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross that can negotiate true humanitarian corridors so that civilians can safely leave the country.

Estonia and the United States – together with our allies and partners – will continue to stand with Ukraine.  We’re increasing our security assistance to strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself.  Working with our humanitarian partners on the ground, we’re providing more aid to people who are still inside Ukraine as well as those who left.  And we’re raising the costs on the Kremlin and all who aid and abet its efforts in continuing this war of choice.

Our administration is also working with Congress to see to it that we do even more.  President Biden’s request for an additional $10 billion would enable us to surge security, humanitarian, and economic assistance where it’s needed.

For its part, Estonia has provided many kinds of assistance to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and Howitzers; food and medical aid to the front lines; a pledge to welcome more than 10,000 refugees if they choose to come here into Estonian homes, into Estonian communities.

And as everywhere we’ve been in the Baltics over this last day, we continue to see an outpouring of support for the Ukrainian people.  We continue to see the yellow and blue on homes and buildings.  And it’s a powerful message of solidarity.

And together, as the prime minister said, Estonia and the United States are bolstering our shared security and shared defense.  As President Biden said, we will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of our collective power.  Our commitment to Article 5 is ironclad.  An attack on one would be an attack on all.  We and our NATO Allies are prepared to meet any threat coming our direction, from wherever it comes.

NATO activated our defense plans for the eastern flank for the first time in its history in response to Russia’s aggression, giving the Supreme Allied Commander Europe the authority to deploy NATO response forces as needed.  Many Allies have increased their troop presence and contributed additional equipment and capabilities.

President Biden ordered the deployment of an additional 7,000 U.S. troops to Europe and moved forces already in Europe to NATO’s eastern flank.  We deployed F-35 strike fighter jets to the region; we’re augmenting NATO’s enhanced air policing mission.  And we’re working with Estonia and its Baltic neighbors on cybersecurity and energy security, which are also critically important to our shared security.

Over the past 30 years, the Baltics have formed a democratic wall that’s now standing against the tide of authoritarianism that Moscow is seeking to push further into Europe.  Estonia has become one of the most advanced digital societies in the world, with a strong free press, a business culture fueled by innovation, citizens empowered to do everything from voting to getting a passport online.

What a comparison to Moscow, which viciously targets journalists and floods the internet and airwaves with disinformation, both around the world and at home.

Many people in Russia have no idea what their government is doing right now in Ukraine.  They think they’re liberating Ukraine, not destroying it.  Moscow has banned Facebook and Twitter to make it easier to sell its lies.

One of the weak points of autocracies is that they rely on total control of information.  So we will continue in our efforts to counter Russian disinformation and expose the true costs of this war to the Russian people – both the profound costs to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and the costs to Russian people themselves, which are mounting every single day.

The ruble has cratered.  Mastercard, Visa, Apple Pay have shut down.  Dozens of leading companies – from Nike to Coca-Cola, FedEx to Spotify, Netflix to Toyota – have exited the country.  President Putin is making Russia a pariah – destroying in the space of a week 30 years of international openness and opportunity.

The Russian people are already feeling the effects of this in their everyday lives, and that will increase.  We hope they can learn the truth about why this happening.  This is not the Russian people’s war, and it’s not a war of liberation or whatever else they’ve been told.  This is President Putin’s war to subjugate a sovereign, democratic country.  And until he ends it, the world will hold him accountable.

At this critical moment for democracy in Eastern Europe, it is all the more important that democracies like Estonia – all of the Baltics – continue to represent the better path, and rise to the challenge of the moment.  The United States will stand with you as you do.

Today, I should note, is International Women’s Day, and I’m very pleased to be in Estonia for it – because as is very clearly being demonstrated right now, Estonia has remarkably strong leaders who are women, including its prime minister, including its foreign minister, and because of Estonia’s commitment to closing the gender pay gap and advancing gender equality among other key metrics, it’s leading the world in all of these areas.

Today, we also think of the strength of the women of Ukraine.  Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian women have taken their children to safety in other countries, often leaving husbands behind – as well as many women who have joined the fight to protect the homeland themselves. The women of Ukraine embody the fortitude, the resilience, and courage of women everywhere.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We are now at your disposal for questions.  We will have two questions.  Please state to whom the question is addressed to, and please use microphone.

The first question by Tarmo Maiberg, from Estonian national broadcaster, please.

QUESTION:  Hi.  First a question to Mr. Blinken – actually, a comment.  Russia and the United States should return to the principle of peaceful coexistence, like during the Cold War.  Just a quote from Russian foreign minister.  What do you think about that?  And the second part is:  In 2005, at the UN World Summit, was adopted unanimously the responsibility to protect.  It is an international norm that seeks to ensure that the international community never again fails to halt mass atrocity crimes.  Is United States with its allies failing to fulfill that promise when we are witnessing mass bombings in Ukraine’s cities against civilians?

And also to Prime Minister:  What about Estonia’s support embargo on Russia’s oil and gas?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  “Peaceful coexistence” has two words; the first is “peaceful.”  And Russia’s doing everything in its power to make a mockery of that word through its aggression on Ukraine.  So if Russia wants to engage in peaceful coexistence, of course in principle we welcome it.  It needs to start by actually making good on the word “peaceful” and ending the war, the aggression that it is committing in Ukraine.  It’s pretty straightforward.

Second, with regard to the responsibility to protect, we have been working together for many months, and we continue to do that this very minute, to do just that – to do everything that we can to make sure that Ukrainians have the means to defend themselves against Russia’s war of choice on Ukraine, as well as to help those in Ukraine who are suffering with humanitarian assistance, those outside of Ukraine who need support with the support they need.

We’ve said for many, many months that if diplomacy did not succeed in diverting Russia from its course of aggression and Russia pursued that aggression, we would respond, we would be prepared to do so, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing, both with regard to helping Ukrainians and helping Ukraine defend itself, also imposing severe costs, some of which I alluded to earlier, on Russia, all with the purpose of ending Russia’s aggression, ending the war, and indeed protecting the Ukrainian people.

I think we brought tremendous resources to bear on this effort.  We brought the world together in this effort; 141 countries stood up at the United Nations condemning the aggression and supporting Ukraine.  And in the days and weeks ahead, working closely with our allies, we will step up the support that we’re providing, the efforts to help Ukraine defend itself, and to support its people.

PRIME MINISTER KALLAS:  Thank you.  We have put in place very strong sanctions, and we are working on the fourth package in the European Union to come forward with additional sanctions.  We are working together with our European allies, which means that everybody has to agree to those sanctions.  And right now we are working on making the SWIFT apply to everything.  We also are working on cryptocurrencies.  There are several elements as well.

What comes to Russian oil and gas embargo, then of course different European countries are in not equal amount dependent on Russian gas and oil, which means that if everybody has to be on board, then we also have to find alternatives into those countries.  And it seems to me that Putin is also doing – pushing all the countries towards a green transition, but it doesn’t happen overnight.  And therefore we will have discussions over this gas and oil embargo, but we also understand that we have to have alternative energy sources.  So everybody has to be on board, otherwise we – societies of different countries will be hurt more than necessary.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Second question by Rich Edson from Fox News.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Madam Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary – sorry, I’m a little bit taller.  The – Prime Minister, you mentioned you would discuss how you can enhance your permanent defense posture.  What specifically do Estonia and the eastern flank need?  Is it more troops, tanks, equipment, air defenses?  And on what scale?

And Mr. Secretary, with the consideration of banning oil from Russia, are you working with companies?  Shell just a short while ago announced it’s phasing out Russia oil and gas purchases.  Also, where is the world going to find and replace that energy?  Can Iran and Venezuela be part of the solution?  Should we expect energy prices to rise further as a result of any Russia oil ban?  And separately, are you concerned Russia may obstruct progress in the Iran negotiations?  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER KALLAS:  Thank you.  The short answer to your question is:  Everything.  But a longer answer is that we need different capabilities.  We need also troops, we also need technology, and we also need everything to work together.  What is the positive side of NATO is that we are in this collective defense alliance, which means that different Allies also support our collective defense by different means.  Some of them send troops, some technology.  But it also has to all work together.

So currently we are receiving different decisions from different Allies, and we are also looking forward to complete decisions by U.S. so that it will all play out.  But considering that we are a border country to a very aggressive Russia, we need to enhance our defense posture.  So far it has been deterrence posture, but we have to have a defense posture.  What means – what it means is that we have the troops, the capabilities, but also the practice of all of them working together.  Which means that we also need more military exercises on the ground, that we see that it all works.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Rich, thank you.  (Inaudible) to addressing your questions.

First, with regard to a potential oil embargo, an embargo on the importation of Russian oil, this is something, as I mentioned, that we had been discussing within the administration.  The President discussed this as well yesterday when he had a call with the French president, British prime minister, and the German chancellor, and something we’re very much actively looking at.

As a general proposition, we are working to maintain a steady global supply of energy, and looking at various places where we can make sure that that supply continues.  And we’re doing that, among other things, through our diplomatic efforts.  And as this crisis continues, again, we want to make sure that energy is widely available.  At the same time, as the prime minister said, there is I think a significant not only opportunity but imperative in this moment to finally move off of – referring to countries in Europe – dependence on Russian energy, because Russia uses it as a weapon.  And we’re seeing countries respond to that.  We’re working closely with them as they engage in those efforts.  It will take, as the prime minister said, some time to do that, but if you’ll forgive the bad pun, there is real energy in this effort.

And so all of these things come together – ensuring that there is a steady global supply of energy in the moment, ensuring that we’re working together on finding ways to diversify supply, and also doing this in a way that’s consistent with the agenda that we share dealing with climate change.  I think this only underscores the imperative of moving ahead as quickly as possible with renewable energy supply and sources.  So we’re working on bringing all of these things together, and with our diplomacy as well, making sure that energy supplies remain abundant coming from different places around the world.

With regard to the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal, we continue to work to see if we can come back to mutual compliance with Iran on the deal.  Russia continues to be engaged in those efforts, and it has its own interests in ensuring that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Unfortunately this is the whole time we had.  Thank you, everyone.