Ambassador Lucy Tamlyn, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister Counselor, will serve as Chargé d’Affaires, ad interim, at our Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan following Brian Shukan’s nomination as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin. Ambassador Tamlyn will bring a wealth of experience to the role, having served previously as the Director of the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan and as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin and then to the Central African Republic.
I am sending Ambassador Tamlyn to Khartoum during this critical juncture in Sudan’s democratic transition with the full confidence of Washington behind her. Ambassador Tamlyn will serve in this role pending the nomination and confirmation of a U.S. Ambassador to Sudan.
I would like to express my deep appreciation to Chargé Shukan for his exceptional leadership in partnering with Sudanese actors to achieve a democratic transition and to fulfill the aspirations of the Sudanese people for freedom, peace, and justice.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins us from the State Department. Secretary, welcome. Good to speak again.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s great to be with you, Mary Louise.
QUESTION: The readouts are pretty bleak. We just heard there the view from NATO. On the Russian side, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov is calling the talks “unsuccessful.” Did Russia give any ground? Are you walking away from these talks with anything?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve had an intense week of diplomacy, both directly between the United States and Russia at NATO, as you just said; also just today at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And we have shared with the Russians our deep concerns about the actions they’re taking not only with regard to Ukraine, but more broadly. They shared their concerns. We’ve given each other I think a fair bit to consider.
Our plan now is to go back and consult very closely with our allies and partners. I suspect that they will be doing the same thing in Moscow.
QUESTION: My question —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And we’re – we’re prepared to take this in either direction.
QUESTION: My question again, though: Did Russia give any ground?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s not – it wasn’t a question of giving ground. We were not expecting breakthroughs. This is not a negotiation at this point. It really is putting their concerns on the table, putting our concerns on the table. We said a few things that the President’s been very clear about throughout: One, in all of this, we are doing nothing about allies and partners in Europe without them. So we’re in very close consultation, coordination with them. Second, we’ve said nothing will happen unless it’s on the basis of reciprocity, by which I mean if we’re going to do anything to address any legitimate Russian concerns, they have to do the same thing when it comes to our concerns. We’ve now had an ability to share directly those concerns. The third thing, though, is that if there’s actually going to be progress, Mary Louise, it’s not going to happen in an environment of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So we’re going to need to see some meaningful de-escalation if there is actually going to be concrete progress.
Russia has to internalize all of this. We’re doing the same thing. We’ll consult closely now in the days ahead with our partners, and see where the Russians are. But we have given them two paths.
QUESTION: If anything, though – if anything, though, the messaging out of Moscow today seems to be raising the stakes, a refusal today to rule out sending military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if the U.S. and our allies don’t back down.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There is constantly a tremendous amount of bluster. We’ve also heard different things from the Russians, so it’s a little unclear exactly where they are. We’ve heard other spokespersons talk about –
QUESTION: After a week of talks it’s unclear exactly where they are?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s – it is. They’ve – we’ve heard some of them talk about positive nuances, but we want results. Well, actually we feel exactly the same way. And if there are going to be results, it’s going to be in the context of de-escalation. But look, we’ve been very clear with Russia throughout this. There are two paths, and they can decide which path to follow. There is the path of diplomacy and dialogue, and we’re committed to that, we believe that it’s the best way forward, it’s the most responsible way forward to deal with differences and also – and the situation in eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, if they choose confrontation, if they choose aggression, we’re fully prepared for it. We’ve spent weeks – indeed, months now working in very close coordination with allies and partners at the G7, the EU, NATO to prepare for Russian aggression and to make very clear that there’ll be massive consequences if that’s the path they pursue.
QUESTION: You’ve used that phrase a lot in recent days, “massive consequences.” Now that these talks are behind us, can you elaborate on what that looks like?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First of all, it’s not just my phrase; it’s a phrase that was used by the G7 – these are the world’s largest democratic economies – by the European Union, and by NATO, which means that it is the common position of all of us. Second, I’m not going to telegraph with specificity what we would do, except to say that when it comes to sanctions, when it comes to economic and financial measures, as well as measures to as necessary reinforce Ukraine defensively, reinforce NATO defensively, we are planning and putting together things that we have not done in the past. And I think Russia’s well aware of many of the things that we would do if they put us in a position where we have to do them.
QUESTION: Why not telegraph with specificity? Isn’t the whole point of a warning to telegraph exactly what you’re prepared to do?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, I think the Russians know quite well many of the things that are being discussed, being elaborated, being put together. But the question now really goes to Moscow and what path they choose. We’ve made clear how we think this would most responsibly play out. We remain fully committed to that. But we’re also fully prepared if they choose aggression.
QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned sanctions. Sanctions, as you well know, were put in place after Crimea in 2014, after the invasion of Crimea. Then more sanctions after Russia interfered with U.S. elections in 2016, then more sanctions after the SolarWind cyber attack in 2020. I’m struggling to point to any evidence that sanctions have deterred Vladimir Putin. Why do you believe more might?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, two things. First, negatives are impossible to prove, so they’re – it may well be that the measures that were taken in the past actually deterred them from taking even further action and pursuing the aggression that they’d already committed. But we’re not in 2014, we’re in 2022. That’s what we’re focused on. And what I can tell you is the work that we’re doing on that front goes well beyond steps that were taken in 2014.
QUESTION: I asked Alexander Vindman earlier this week – Alexander Vindman, the retired Army lieutenant colonel, former National Security Council – asked him where he rates the chances that Putin really will invade in these coming weeks. On a scale of 1 to 10, he put it at 8. How about you?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Hah. I’m not going to rate it. Let me say this: One of the things that President Putin is very good at is keeping his options open. And I suspect that is a part of what he’s doing now, looking to see what may work, what won’t, and it may well be that he’s not fully decided on what he’s going to do. We have, I think, an important responsibility to help shape his thinking, and again, make very clear from our perspective what the options are, what the consequences will be of the options that he could pursue. And when it comes to diplomacy and when it comes to dialogue, there are opportunities, I think, to address concerns that we all have about security in Europe and to make meaningful progress in ways that potentially could answer some Russian legitimate concerns and answer, critically, the many concerns that we and the Europeans have.
Alternatively, as I said, if he chooses renewed aggression against Ukraine, that’s going to have consequences, too. He has to factor all of that in; we can’t make those decisions for him. We can certainly make clear what the results will be from one path or another.
QUESTION: If I’m hearing you right, you’re basically saying the ball is in Putin’s court.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well —
QUESTION: That he knows where the U.S. and U.S. allies are, but that feels like a really worrying place to be with 100,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, the – it really goes to the point that we are where we are precisely because Russia has taken these actions of massing forces on Ukraine’s border and creating itself, by its actions, a crisis. We have in a very coordinated, deliberate way over the last couple of months put in place a very clear response to the actions that Russia has taken. It’s at Russia’s initiative that we’re in this situation. We’ve now put together a very strong coalition of countries, in Europe and even beyond through the G7, to respond, to shape the – President Putin’s calculus and the choices that he makes.
QUESTION: So —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We – ultimately, we can’t make those choices for him. We can just lay out in very stark terms what the consequences will be from the choices he makes.
QUESTION: So what now, more diplomacy?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So now, as I said, we – we’ve had this intense week. We never expected that there would actually be breakthroughs. We’ve had an opportunity to be very clear, very direct in sharing concerns on both sides. If – and we’ll – we are now consulting very closely with our allies and partners. I expect the Russians are doing their own thinking at home.
Look, if they – many of the things that are possible – for example, additional arms control measures to answer some of our mutual concerns – these are complex things. You can’t do them in an hour, a day, a week, and the Russians know that. If they choose to walk away now, I think that’s evidence that they were probably never serious about dialogue or diplomacy in the first place. They put down maximalist and non-starter demands in some cases. There are other issues that they put on the table that could be the basis for meaningful conversation and diplomacy. We’ve certainly put our concerns on the table. And now we’re going to see if they’re – if they really are serious about diplomacy and dialogue, or whether this has been just a feint all along and their intention is otherwise.But as I said, we’re prepared for it either way.
QUESTION: Secretary, we just have a minute left, but in the moments we have left, let me turn us briefly to Iran. I want to put to you a question I put to you last year: Is U.S. policy still that Iran must not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It is, and it will remain so.
QUESTION: Which prompts a follow-up: How do you stop them? Because indications are Iran is closer than ever to threshold capability to build nuclear weapons, that they could now be as close as a month.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, unfortunately, we had stopped them. The nuclear agreement that was reached some years ago by the Obama administration put Iran’s nuclear program in a box, and one of the worst decisions made in recent American foreign policy was to walk away from that agreement. And as a result, we are in a challenging situation where, far from getting a new and so-called better agreement – that hasn’t happened – Iran has moved forward with its program in increasingly dangerous ways. And far from curbing their malign activities throughout the region, those have only increased. So we have to deal with that, and we are.
We still believe that if we can get back in the weeks ahead – not months ahead, weeks ahead – to the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement, that would be the best thing for our security and the security of our allies and partners in the region. But Mary Louise, we’re very, very short on time. The runway is very short. They are – Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon. And at the same time, they’re making advances that will become increasingly hard to reverse because they’re learning things, they’re doing new things as a result of having broken out of their constraints under the agreement.
So we have, I think, a few weeks left to see if we can get back to mutual compliance. That would be the best result for America’s security. But if we can’t, we are looking at other steps, other options, again, closely coordinated with concerned countries. And we will —
QUESTION: You said a few weeks left. My last question: What happens after a few weeks? What is the U.S. prepared to do to ramp up pressure on Iran to get back into the nuclear deal?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, these are exactly the options that we’re working on with partners in Europe, in the Middle East, and beyond. And everything in its time, but this has been the subject of intense work as well in the past weeks and months. And again, there too, we’re prepared for either course, but it’s clear that it would be far preferable for our security, for the security of allies and partners if we can get a return to compliance. But if we can’t, we will – we’ll deal with this in other ways.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the line there from the State Department. We appreciate your time. Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Very good to be with you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone.Good to see you all and especially good to see my friend, the foreign minister, and welcome him back to Washington. We have, as usual, a lot to talk about. I always deeply value getting the perspectives of our friends from Jordan and indeed the foreign minister in particular. We are strong partners for peace and stability and security in the region and even beyond. So there’s a lot to talk about today, and I’m glad we’re able to see each other in person. So welcome.
FOREIGN MINISTER SAFADI: Thank you so much. Good afternoon to all of you. And it’s a tremendous pleasure for me to be back here. As you said, we’re solid partners, we’re good friends. And let us start by reiterating how grateful we are for this partnership, for this friendship, and for the support that you continue to provide to Jordan. I look forward to our conversation.
Today, as we face many, many more challenges, bilaterally I think we will work hard. I hope to be able to discuss the MOU, which has been instrumental in enabling us to meet challenges, and that the new one would not only help us meet those challenges but also cement our deep bond (inaudible). Your role is key in our joint effort to bring about peace, stability in the region, whether engaging in the peace process and creating political horizons, whether addressing the issues in Syria and Iraq and the refugees and terrorism and all that.
So just let me say thank you for your friendship, thank you for your partnership, and together we’ll continue to do all the good work that we do together. So thank you so much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, my friend. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: U.S. officials serving at diplomatic missions in Geneva and Paris are suspected to have been afflicted with the ailment known as Havana syndrome. The Wall Street Journal reporting this morning the suspected attacks were reported internally last summer to officials at those posts and eventually to the State Department in Washington. At least one of the officials was evacuated back to the U.S. for treatment. People familiar with the incidents tell the paper at least three Americans serving in Geneva were suspected to have been afflicted.
Joining us now, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and thank you very much for being on this morning. I think we should start right there. What more do we know about Havana syndrome and at least what the United States, what our government is doing to try and to get to the bottom of it and to protect diplomats serving abroad?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first of all, good morning, Mika, Joe, everyone.
QUESTION: Good morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to see you, great to be with you. We are working overtime across the entire government to get to the bottom of what happened, who is responsible, and in the meantime to make sure that we’re caring for anyone who’s been affected and to protect all of our people to the best of our ability.
We’ve got the Intelligence Community, we got the Defense Department, we got the State Department, our scientists all trying to get to the bottom of this. To date, we don’t know exactly what’s happened and we don’t know exactly who is responsible. But I’ve met with employees of the department around the world who have said they’ve been affected. I’ve heard them. I’ve listened to them. You can’t help but be struck by how these incidents have disrupted their lives and their well-being. We’re doing everything we can to care for them. We have a program with Johns Hopkins to get the best possible care to anyone who has been affected. I was out there visiting just before Christmas.
But Mika, our determination is to do everything we can to get to the bottom of this, and meanwhile, to protect our folks and to care for them.
QUESTION: So given the lack of answers as we’re searching for where this is coming from, does the United States validate that this is some sort of attack on our diplomats?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There is no doubt in my mind that people have been directly and powerfully affected. I’ve talked to them. I’ve listened to them. I’ve heard them. I’ve seen them. But we’ve got to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and who might be responsible, and that’s what we’re determined to do. And as I said, we’ve got virtually the entire government working on this at the President’s instructions. We’re not there yet, but we will get there. We will figure this out. Meanwhile, we have to do what we can to protect people and, as I said, care for them.
QUESTION: Media reports have suggested since this story’s broken that Russia may be involved. Do you have any evidence of that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Joe, what I can tell you is this: We’ve raised this with the Russians, but we still don’t have a determination of who may – of who is responsible. So we’ve made clear that if they are responsible, or for that matter, anyone who is responsible will suffer severe consequences. But I don’t – I want to be very clear we don’t yet have a determination.
QUESTION: And where are we right now with the talks with Russia regarding Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So we’re in the midst of these very important and intense conversations with the Russians. We’re doing that directly with them bilaterally between the United States and Russia. We just had meetings at NATO with Russia. We’re having meetings at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that brings together 57 countries, including Ukraine, including Russia, including us. And the jury’s out on which path Vladimir Putin is going to choose. Is he going to choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue to resolve some of these problems or is he going to pursue confrontation and aggression?
But Joe, just to take a step back for one second, why should people care about this? Because I know that some of our fellow citizens are wondering about that. It seems to be half a world away. Why are we standing so strongly for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence faced with Russian aggression?
It’s because of this: It’s bigger even than Ukraine. There’s some basic principles that are at stake here, basic principles that really go to international peace and security: principles like one nation can’t simply redraw the borders of another by force; that one nation can’t dictate to one of its neighbors its choices, its people’s choices about their policies, about with whom they’ll associate; that one nation can’t just say that it’s going to exert a sphere of influence, a throwback to the last century, and subjugate its neighbors to its will.
If we allow that to stand with impunity, that will undermine the entire international system, other countries will hear the message, they’ll act similarly, and that’s a recipe for tension, for conflict, for war. We want to avoid that, and that means standing strongly against it, it means bringing other countries together, which we’ve been doing for the last two months to stand against it, to make clear to Russia that there will be massive consequences if it engages in this aggression.
My strong hope is that Russia will take the path of diplomacy and dialogue. We’re prepared to that, we’re leaning in to do that, but we’re prepared if they don’t.
QUESTION: What are those massive consequences that they would face?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Joe, I’m not going to telegraph the details of what we’re planning, but let me say this: First, when it comes to massive consequences, it’s not just me, it’s not just us saying it. The G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, came together and made clear there would be massive consequences. So did the European Union. So did NATO. And together, we are putting together very significant sanctions – financial, economic, and others, things that we have not done in the past. At the same time, we’re looking at shoring up even more the defenses of Ukraine if necessary, as well as NATO’s defenses.
And Joe, what’s really almost ironic about the situation is this: Everything that President Putin has done over the last years has been to precipitate what he says he wants to prevent before Russia seized Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014. Maybe a quarter of Ukraine’s population supported Ukraine joining NATO. Now it’s about 60 percent. NATO itself had to position more forces and more equipment closer to Russia, which Russia says it doesn’t want, after Russia went into Ukraine. Spending in NATO on defense went up after President Putin went into Ukraine. And of course, before that, Georgia, Russian forces in Moldova against the will of the government. So everything that President Putin is doing is going exactly against the direction he says he wants to go in.
QUESTION: Well, and we hear Finland and maybe another country wants to join NATO now.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: Is that something the United States would consider?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, NATO’s door is open, and if countries want to join it’s their sovereign right to decide that they’d like to be a member. And of course, if they meet the criteria and NATO’s members all agree, yes, NATO’s door is open. That’s a fundamental principle, one that the Russians are trying to get us to backtrack on. We will not do that.
QUESTION: I was going to ask, at the end of the day, does this really all come down to the United States taking Ukraine and NATO taking Ukraine off the table for admittance into NATO? Is that – they go back to something that James Baker supposedly said back in, I think, ‘89. Is that what this comes down to?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, that is largely what it comes down to. And if that’s what it comes down to, we’re not going to agree, period. NATO’s door is open; it will remain open. It’s a fundamental principle of NATO itself. It’s in its founding treaty. It’s in virtually every agreement that we sign with Russia since the end of the Cold War. Secretary Baker was clear that there was no such commitment, and so was Mikhail Gorbachev, the president at the time. So that’s simply not on the table.
And here’s the other thing, Joe. The Russians complain about the threat from NATO, but NATO didn’t invade Ukraine, Russia did; NATO didn’t invade Georgia, Russia did; NATO didn’t leave forces in Moldova against the will of its people in government, Russia did. So if there is a challenge to European security, it’s not coming from NATO. It’s coming from Russia.
Now, there are ways to address this diplomatically, through dialogue. We put on the table ideas in our conversations with the Russians at NATO, with the NATO secretary general – we’ll do the same thing today at the OSCE – about how we can together, reciprocally, improve security with the United States and Europe, taking steps matched by Russia. We’ll see if Russia is prepared to engage on that. If it is, if it does, then I think we can resolve this peacefully without conflict. And that’s clearly preferable for everyone.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Michael Steele here. Let’s shift to Afghanistan. You had the Taliban this week basically calling on the world for aid as Afghanistan gets into a very, very rough winter, where it’s estimated close to a million people could suffer or even die. What is the administration’s response to that, and sort of gathering partners from around the globe, working with the United Nations and others to address this particular issue?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, Michael, I’m deeply, deeply concerned about that. And even as we are determined to hold the Taliban to commitments it’s made about the way it treats its people, about combating terrorism, about making sure that it’s upholding the rights of its people, we also want to make sure we’re doing everything possible to help Afghan people who are in need. And you’re right; the situation is dire.
We remain the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. At the same time, our Treasury Department has just issued licenses to make it clear to countries and entities around the world that they can provide that assistance without fear of U.S. sanctions. We’ve made sure that a fund that used to exist for the Afghan government before the Taliban, to support it, that some of its monies that remain in that fund could be used for humanitarian assistance. We’re working with NGOs, with the UN to get that aid to the Afghan people. I want to find ways, if we can, to get some more liquidity into the economy in ways that don’t go to the Taliban, but do go to people, into their pockets, so they can provide for themselves.
We’re very focused on this with the UN, with the World Bank, with countries around the world. We want to make sure that, to the best of our ability, the Afghan people don’t suffer.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, good morning. It’s Jonathan Lemire. Great to see you again. Wanted to shift focus to North Korea. They had sort of gone quiet for a stretch during the height of the pandemic but have had a series of missile tests in recent weeks, including one just a few days ago. The U.S. has levied some sanctions against them. Please tell us more about those. But also bigger picture, how concerned are you right now by this more aggressive posture by Pyongyang, firing these ballistic missiles near South Korea?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You know, Jonathan, some months ago, we made clear that we were prepared to engage the North Koreans, to sit down with no preconditions, to see if we could find a way forward with them at the table toward the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We’ve made clear that we have no hostile intent toward North Korea, and we’ve waited to see if they are prepared to engage. Unfortunately, not only has there been no response to those overtures, but the response we’ve seen, as you pointed out, in recent weeks has been renewed missile tests, something that is profoundly destabilizing. It’s dangerous, and it contravenes a whole host of UN Security Council resolutions.
So not only are we sanctioning North Koreans, we are deeply engaged both at the UN and with key partners – like South Korea, like Japan – on a response. I think some of this is the North Korea trying to get trying to get attention. It’s done that in the past; it’ll probably continue to do that. But we are very focused with allies and partners in making sure that they and we are properly defended and that there are repercussions, consequences for these actions by North Korea.
QUESTION: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you very much for coming on the show this morning. We look forward to having you back.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Mika. Thanks, Joe. Great to be with all of you.
The United States has designated eight DPRK-linked individuals and entities under Executive Order 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and WMD delivery systems. The seven individuals and one entity designated today are all linked to the DPRK’s weapons programs.
These designations convey our serious and ongoing concern about the DPRK’s continued proliferation activities and those who support it. The United States will use every appropriate tool to address the DPRK’s WMD and ballistic missile programs, which constitute a serious threat to international peace and security and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.
Specifically, the U.S. Department of State has designated one DPRK individual, one Russian individual, and one Russian entity that have engaged in activities or transactions that have materially contributed to the proliferation of WMD or their means of delivery by DPRK.
Between at least 2018 and 2021, Russia-based DPRK national O Yong Ho has procured and engaged in efforts to procure missile-applicable items from third countries on behalf of the DPRK’s missile program, including aramid fiber, stainless steel tubes, and ball bearings on behalf of the Rocket Industry Department (aka Ministry of Rocket Industry), which is subordinate to the DPRK’s UN- and U.S.-designated Munitions Industry Department.
Between at least 2016 and 2021, O Yong Ho worked with Russian entity Parsek LLC and Russian national Roman Anatolyevich Alar, the director for development of Russian firm Parsek LLC, to procure multiple goods with ballistic missile applications, including Kevlar thread, aramid fiber, aviation oil, ball bearings, and precision milling machines controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Roman Anatolyevich Alar also provided O Yong Ho with instructions for creating solid rocket fuel mixtures.
The procurement and supply relationship between O Yong Ho, Roman Anatolyevich Alar, and Parsek LLC is a key source of missile-applicable goods and technology for the DPRK’s missile program.
The Department of the Treasury designations targeted five People’s Republic of China- and Russia-based DPRK representatives of a DPRK entity subordinate to the DPRK’s UN- and U.S.-designated Second Academy of Natural Sciences (SANS). The Department of State designated this entity in 2010 for its involvement with or provision of support for the DPRK’s weapons programs.
We have been and continue to coordinate closely with our allies and partners to address the threats posed by the DPRK’s destabilizing activity and to advance our shared objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We remain committed to seeking dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in negotiations. We urge all UN Member States to fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions addressing the DPRK.
For more information about today’s designations, please see the Department of the Treasury’s press release.
The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) sanctions last month on four U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commissioners, including Chair Nadine Maenza, Vice Chair Nury Turkel, and Commissioners Anurima Bhargava and James W. Carr, constitute yet another PRC affront against universal rights. The PRC has previously sanctioned three other current or former USCIRF commissioners, in addition to dozens of current or former U.S. officials and organizations promoting democracy and respect for human rights around the world – all of which are without merit. We remain undeterred by these actions, and we stand in solidarity with USCIRF and its staff. The United States is committed to defending human rights around the world and will continue to use all diplomatic and economic tools to promote accountability.
Beijing’s continued attempts to intimidate and silence those speaking out for human rights only contribute to the growing international scrutiny of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. The United States again calls on the PRC to cease its acts of transnational repression, including coercive practices of imprisoning and denying freedom of movement to family members of Uyghur American activists, including individuals serving the American people. These acts undermine the international rules-based order.
We support and stand with those who speak out on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion or belief.
In concert with democracies in the international community, the United States will continue to call out the Ortega-Murillo regime’s ongoing abuses and will deploy diplomatic and economic tools to support the restoration of democracy and respect for human rights in Nicaragua. To that end, the Department of State is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on 116 individuals complicit in undermining democracy in Nicaragua, including mayors, prosecutors, university administrators, as well as police, prison, and military officials.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today sanctioned six members of the Ortega-Murillo regime for currently serving as officials of the Government of Nicaragua or for having served at any time on or after January 10, 2007. We are undertaking these economic sanctions and visa restrictions to promote accountability for the Ortega-Murillo regime’s escalating authoritarianism and abuses.
The regime continues to hold 170 political prisoners, with many of those detained suffering from a lack of adequate food and proper medical care. Others remain in solitary confinement. Ortega’s corrupt security and judicial system arrested these individuals for practicing independent journalism, working for civil society organizations, seeking to compete in elections, and publicly expressing an opinion contrary to government orthodoxy, among other activities considered normal in a free society.
We join the European Union in taking a strong stand against the human rights abuses and disrespect for the Nicaraguan people, demonstrated by the Ortega-Murillo regime. President Ortega will inaugurate himself for a new presidential term today, but the pre-determined election he staged on November 7 does not provide him with a new democratic mandate; only free and fair elections can do that. The Nicaraguan people deserve nothing less.
QUESTION: We’re joined now by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken, thank you for joining us this morning. We now know that President Putin has forces surrounding Ukraine on three sides. He’s made it clear that he believes Russia and Ukraine are one people. Do you think he’s already made the decision to take control of Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: George, I don’t know if the decision has been made, and it’s clear that we’ve offered him two paths forward. One is through diplomacy and dialogue; the other is through deterrence and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. And we’re about to test the proposition of which path President Putin wants to take this week. We have important conversations that are taking place between us directly at NATO, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the question really now is whether President Putin will take the path of diplomacy and dialogue or seeks confrontation.
QUESTION: What are those massive consequences if indeed Russia does invade?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been working in tremendous collaboration with European partners and allies and beyond to make it very clear that there will be massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression, by which I mean economic, financial, and other consequences, as well as NATO almost certainly having to reinforce its positions on its eastern flank near Russia, as well as continuing to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine.
And this is not just me saying it, George. We’ve had the leading democratic economies in the world, the G7, make clear there would be massive consequences – the European Union and the NATO Allies and partners as well. So we’ve been working very closely with them in recent weeks to get those agreed, decided, and in some detail.
QUESTION: But the United States and Europe have imposed a series of sanctions on the Russians going back to the first invasion of Crimea under the Obama administration. They’ve been imposed. They’re still in place. They haven’t worked. What will be different this time?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: President Biden has been clear that we are looking at taking steps that we have not taken in the past and that the consequences for Russia would be severe. And that’s something that President Putin’s going to have to factor into his calculus. Again, our strong preference is a diplomatic resolution of this challenge, but ultimately that’s up to Russia. If they’re going to engage in a meaningful way in dialogue, if they’re prepared to take reciprocal steps to address not just their security concerns but our security concerns, then we can make progress. If not, we’re going down a very different path.
QUESTION: What about military assistance to the Ukrainians? The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said this week the United States should be arming the Ukrainians now. Let’s take a look:
“The sequence is wrong. The weapons should be sent now and the force posture should be enhanced in the east now, telling Moscow we can always pull them back once you stop your buildup along Ukraine’s borders.”
Why not follow his advice?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have been providing significant defensive assistance to Ukraine, including as recently as the last couple of weeks, almost half a billion dollars this year alone. That’s continued. That will continue. And if there is further aggression by Russia against Ukraine, we’ll see even more of that. We are making sure to the best of our ability, and other allies and partners are doing the same, that Ukraine has the means to defend itself.
But George, it’s also important to step back for a minute and look at not only how we got here but why this is so important. How we got here is because Russia has committed repeated acts of aggression against its neighbors going back more than a decade – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in 2014, and now the prospect of doing that again.
And at the same time, this is bigger even than Ukraine. This goes to some basic principles of international relations that are what guarantee peace and security: the principle that one nation can’t simply change the borders of another by force; the principle that one nation can’t dictate to another its choices and with whom it will associate; the principle that we can’t have countries exerting spheres of influence to subjugate their neighbors. That should be a relic of the past. All of that is what is in play here. That’s why it’s so important that we stand not only for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty and its independence, but for these basic principles.
I think there’s a way forward through dialogue, through diplomacy, to address whatever legitimate concerns Russia may have provided Russia also addresses our concerns.
QUESTION: What are the legitimate concerns? What are their legitimate concerns?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, we’ve had in the past agreements that have addressed concerns on both sides, for example, the deployment of intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. There was a treaty. Unfortunately, Russia developed and deployed weapons that are in violation of that treaty. The previous administration pulled out of it. There may be grounds for renewing that. Similarly, there are agreements on the deployment of conventional forces in Europe on things like the scope and scale of exercises that, if adhered to reciprocally, that is, Russia makes good on its commitments which it’s repeatedly violated, then there are grounds for reducing tensions, creating greater transparency, creating greater confidence, all of which would address concerns that Russia purports to have.
QUESTION: So you’re willing to address troop levels, you’re willing to address missile deployments, you’re willing to address training exercises?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we’re – let me be clear about a few things. First, when it comes to the deployment of forces and troop levels, we’re not looking at troop levels. To the contrary, if Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, I think it’s a very fair prospect that NATO will reinforce its positions along its eastern flank, the countries that border Russia. But when it comes to, for example, the scope and scale of exercises, things that were dealt with in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty that Russia’s been in violation of, those are things that we can look at. There are confidence-building measures, there are risk reduction measures, all of which, if done reciprocally, I think can really reduce tensions and address concerns.
The other thing that’s so important is this, George. We’ve been very clear with Russia repeatedly that we are not going to do or commit to anything about Europe without Europe. So anything that goes to Europe’s security interests will be done in full coordination with them with Europeans at the table.
QUESTION: What will tell you that President Putin is serious about trying to find a negotiated solution?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, one thing is this. If we’re actually going to make progress in these talks starting next week – but I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs next week – we’re going to listen to their concerns, they’ll listen to our concerns, and we’ll see if there are grounds for progress. But to make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders, the possibility of doubling that on very short order.
So if we’re seeing de-escalation, if we’re seeing a reduction in tensions, that is the kind of environment in which we could make real progress and, again, address concerns, reasonable concerns, on both sides.
QUESTION: And this, of course, comes in the wake of Russian paratroopers going to Kazakhstan this week to back the government. The lead Russian negotiator in the talks starting tonight with the United States said, “It’s none of the United States’ business what’s happening in Kazakhstan,” that it – they will not discuss it at these talks. What do you make of that characterization, and will the U.S. raise Kazakhstan in the talks this week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have real concerns about the state of emergency that was declared in Kazakhstan. I’ve talked to my counterpart, the foreign minister. We’ve made clear that we expect the Kazakh Government to deal with protesters in ways that respects their rights, that pulls back from violence at the same time. It, of course, has a right to defend its institutions —
QUESTION: The orders now are shoot to kill.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That is something I resolutely reject. The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded. And Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend the institutions of the state, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that they’ve raised – economic concerns, some political concerns. We have real questions about why it was necessary to call in this organization that Russia leads and is a part of. These ought to be things that the Government of Kazakhstan can handle on its own and handle in a rights-respecting way.
QUESTION: So the United States will raise it in these talks this week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The talks this week are focused, look, on three things. First, there are direct bilateral talks between Russia and the United States as part of something we call the Strategic Stability Dialogue. This was something that was created after we extended the New START agreement at the beginning of last year to see if there were other steps that our countries could take together on arms control. That’s going to be the focus of those talks. NATO-Russia, the council is meeting. That’s an area where we can look at issues that affect NATO’s interests and Russia’s interests.
And then the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, this brings together 57 countries, including Russia, including Ukraine, including the United States, European allies and partners, and there we can talk about broad issues of European security. So there are a lot of things that are potentially on the table, and we’re committed to seeing if we can find a way forward diplomatically through dialogue. That is the responsible way to handle these differences.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thanks for your time this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, George. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is having Cold War flashbacks.
The U.S. is entering a series of urgent meetings with Russia this week at one of the most precarious moments with that nation since the fall of the Soviet Union. On Monday, U.S. officials will meet with their Russian counterparts in Geneva in an attempt to de-escalate the crisis over Ukraine, which Russia appears poised to invade with nearly 100,000 troops stationed on the border of Ukraine and the ability to quickly mobilize twice that many. Following the bilateral meetings in Geneva, representatives from NATO will meet with a Russian delegation in Brussels.
The stakes of these meetings are incredibly high. The U.S. is warning of steep sanctions if Russia moves forward to invade, and there are already concerns the Russians are not remotely entering the negotiations in good faith.
Joining me now to discuss is Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s start on these talks beginning tomorrow in Geneva. President Putin demanding that the U.S. pull some troops back out of Eastern Europe and rule out expanding NATO to include Ukraine. Are either of those on the negotiating table?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Neither of those is on the table, Jake, but here’s where we are. There are two paths before us. There’s a path of dialogue and diplomacy to try to resolve some of these differences and avoid a confrontation. The other path is confrontation and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression on Ukraine. We’re about to test the proposition about which path President Putin’s prepared to take.
We have important conversations between us starting tomorrow, as well as at NATO, as well as at the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe. We’re going to listen to Russia’s concerns. They’re going to have to listen to our concerns. If they are proceeding in good faith, we think we can make progress in addressing concerns on both sides that would reduce tensions and deal with improving security. We’ll do that in close coordination with European allies and partners. We’ve made very clear to Russia that there’s going to be nothing about Europe without Europe. But ultimately, this is up to President Putin to decide which path he’s going to follow.
QUESTION: It seems unlikely Putin will withdraw troops or take at least some of them off the border without some concessions by the U.S. You’ve already said that those two that I mentioned up top are off the table or not on the table. What about moving heavy U.S. weaponry out of Poland, moving it further west? Or what about moving missiles? What about limiting the scope of U.S. military exercise? Are any of those on the table?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, first, Jake, I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week. We’re going to be able to put things on the table. The Russians will do the same – both directly with us at NATO, at the OSCE – and we’ll see if there are grounds for moving forward.
But here’s what I can say: First, any progress that we’re going to make is going to have to happen on a reciprocal basis, by which I mean if the United States and Europe are taking steps to address some of Russia’s concerns, Russia will have to do the same thing. Second, nothing’s happening without Europe. And third, it’s hard to see making actual progress as opposed to talking in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.
QUESTION: So you didn’t rule any of those out, which doesn’t mean you’re going to do them, but just they’re not off the table as the earlier items you said were.
So let me just ask you, going forward, if those concessions are a possibility, you must – among possibilities, you must be worried about creating a precedent in which Putin at any moment can throw 100,000 troops on a border and threaten to invade a country until the U.S. gives him at least some of what he wants – the very scenario you referred to when you said Russia had a gun to Ukraine’s head.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, it’s – Jake, it’s exactly the opposite. First of all, why are we here? We’re here because repeatedly over the last decade, Russia has committed acts of aggression against neighbors: Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine in 2014, and now the renewed threat about Ukraine today. Second, there are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security: the principle that one country can’t change the borders of another by force, the principle that one country can’t dictate to another its foreign policy and the choices – and its choices including with whom it will associate, the principle that one country can’t exert a sphere of influence to subjugate its neighbors.
All of that is on the table. That’s exactly why not only are we standing up, but we have rallied countries not just in Europe, but indeed beyond to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated, will not stand, so that the choice is Russia. It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions. We’ve done that in the past. We did it with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that unfortunately Russia has violated and the previous administration pulled out of. We’ve done it in the context of the Conventional Forces in Europe agreements, including, for example, having confidence-building and transparency and other measures put in place on the way exercises take place. And those are certainly things that can be revisited if – if Russia is serious about doing it.
QUESTION: Right. So you say the U.S. will respond with massive consequences to any Russian aggression in Ukraine. President Biden has ruled out U.S. unilateral troops on the ground. What sanctions is the U.S. willing to impose, and are U.S. troops as part of a NATO or international force on the table?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, when it comes to consequences, it’s not just us who has been saying this. The G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, made clear there would be massive consequences for renewed Russian aggression. So has the European Union, so has NATO. And we have been working very closely with all of these countries in recent weeks to elaborate those, to come to agreement on the steps that we would take together in the event of renewed Russian aggression, including things that we’ve not done in the past in the face of previous Russian aggression: economic, financial, other measures. I’m not going to telegraph the details, but I think Russia has a pretty good idea of the kinds of things it would face if it renews its aggression.
Second, we’ve made clear that we will continue to provide and supply Ukraine with defensive military equipment to be able to defend itself. And it’s also clear that in the event of further Russian aggression, NATO is going to have to further reinforce its eastern flank. And you know Jake, what’s interesting about all of this is that President Putin talks about lots of things he’s concerned about —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — and yet the very actions he’s taken have precipitated much of what he says he wants to prevent. Back in 2014, before Russia invaded Ukraine, 25 percent of Ukrainians supported Ukraine joining NATO. Now it’s about 60 percent. Similarly, after 2014, NATO felt compelled because of Russian aggression to put more forces and more equipment on its eastern flank close to Russia. So it’s President Putin’s actions that are precipitating what he says he doesn’t want.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There’s now an opportunity – if he takes it – through dialogue, through diplomacy to see if we can address any legitimate Russian concerns as well as address many concerns that the United States and Europe have over Russia’s conduct.
QUESTION: Right. Beyond this military buildup on the Ukraine border, Russian-led troops are now intervening in violent protests in Kazakhstan. They also stepped in after recent Belarus elections and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said a few years ago that what he believes drives Putin is a desire to restore the old Soviet Union. Do you agree?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that’s right. I think that’s one of President Putin’s objectives, and it is to re-exert a sphere of influence over countries that previously were part of the Soviet Union. And as we’ve said, that’s unacceptable. We can’t go back to a world of spheres of influence. That was a recipe for instability, a recipe for conflict, a recipe that led to world wars. We’re not going back to that.
QUESTION: Yeah.Do you the invasion is likely – do you think an invasion of Ukraine is likely?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, I can’t tell you whether it’s likely or not. I can tell you this: We’re committed to dialogue and diplomacy to see if we can resolve these challenges peacefully. That is by far the preferable course; it’s by far the most responsible course. But equally, we’re prepared to deal very resolutely with Russia if it chooses confrontation, if it chooses aggression. We’ll see. It is now up to President Putin to decide which path he wants to follow. We’re prepared, again —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — starting this week to talk through all of this, to hear their concerns, for them to hear ours, to see if we can make progress.
QUESTION: So Kazakhstan’s president is publicly saying that he gave an order, quote, to “open fire,” to “kill without warning” the protesters in the street. President Biden said in October that your administration, quote, “put human rights back at the center of our foreign policy” and, quote, “No U.S. president should stand by when human rights are under attack.” They’re under attack in Kazakhstan. At least 164 people were killed during protests this week.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, and I condemn that statement, and if that’s the national policy, condemn that policy, the shoot to kill.
Look, I spoke to my counterpart in Kazakhstan just a couple of days ago. The authorities in Kazakhstan should be able to deal with the challenges that they’re facing peacefully, to make sure that the rights of those who are protesting peacefully are protected, to protect the institutions of the state and law and order, but to do it in a way that is rights-respecting. We have real questions about why they felt compelled to call in this organization that Russia dominates. We’re asking for clarification on that. But what’s imperative now is that all of this be dealt with in a peaceful manner that respects the rights of those who are trying to make their voices heard.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Antony Blinken, thank you so much. Really appreciate your time today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. Very good to see folks here. And to those I haven’t had a chance to say this to, Happy New Year.
This morning, NATO’s North Atlantic Council met to discuss our coordinated response to Russia’s military buildup along the Ukraine border and its increasingly sharp threats and inflammatory rhetoric.
I want to thank NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg for bringing us together.
As he said in his own press conference a short while ago, Russia’s aggressive actions are a threat to peace and security in Europe.
We’re prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression.
But a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable, if Russia chooses it.
That’s what we, together with our allies and partners, will continue to pursue intently next week at the Strategic Stability Dialogue between the United States and Russia, and at the meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Ahead of these urgent discussions, let’s be clear about how we got to this moment.
In 2014, the Ukrainian people chose a democratic and European future for themselves. Russia responded by manufacturing a crisis and invading.
Ever since, Russia has occupied Ukraine’s territory in Crimea and has orchestrated a war in the eastern part of Ukraine – with proxies that it leads, trains, supplies, and finances – that has killed nearly 14,000 people and redrawn Ukraine’s borders by force.
Beyond its military aggression, Moscow has also worked to undermine Ukraine’s democratic institutions.
It’s interfered in Ukraine’s politics and elections; it’s blocked energy and commerce to intimidate its leaders and pressure its citizens; it’s used propaganda and disinformation to sow mistrust; it’s launched cyber-attacks on the country’s critical infrastructure.
Then, starting last March and continuing through the fall, Russia began a massive, unprovoked buildup of military forces and equipment on Ukraine’s border – nearly 100,000 troops today, with plans to mobilize twice that number on very short order.
So how does Moscow explain its actions?
It claims that Ukraine is threatening Russia.
That Ukraine seeks to provoke a conflict.
And that the Russian troop build-up and the tanks and heavy artillery are all purely defensive.
That’s like the fox saying it had to attack the henhouse because its occupants somehow pose a threat.
We’ve seen this gas-lighting before.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, it claimed that Ukraine was the aggressor to justify pre-planned military action.
And again today, we see a significant effort to push propaganda against Ukraine, NATO, and the United States.
That includes malign social media operations, the use of overt and covert online proxy media outlets, the infection of disinformation into TV and radio programming, hosting conferences designed to influence attendees into falsely believing that Ukraine – not Russia – is at fault for heightened tensions in the region, and the leveraging of cyber operations to deface media outlets and conduct “hack and release” operations – that is, hacking, and then releasing private data and communications.
No one should be surprised if Russia instigates a provocation or incident – then tries to use it to justify military intervention, hoping that by the time the world realizes the ruse, it’ll be too late.
The idea that Ukraine is the aggressor in this situation is absurd.
It’s Russia that invaded Ukraine nearly eight years ago.
It’s Russia that is the military occupier of part of Ukraine, in Crimea.
It’s Russia that, to this day, is fueling a war in eastern Ukraine.
It’s Russia that has failed to implement any of its Minsk commitments, indeed is actively violating many of them, and refuses to acknowledge it’s a party to the conflict.
It’s Russia that’s taken aim repeatedly at Ukraine’s democracy.
And it’s Russia that’s sending troops to Ukraine’s border, once again.
All these actions are violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and an immediate and urgent challenge to peace and stability in Europe.
It’s also worth noting that Moscow is simultaneously driving the false narrative that NATO is threatening Russia – that NATO plans to station military infrastructure in Ukraine to stir conflict with Russia, that NATO swore after the Cold War not to admit countries in Eastern Europe, and that NATO has broken those promises.
Each of those claims is false.
NATO is a defensive Alliance.
It exists to protect, not to attack.
That’s why, after the Cold War, NATO greatly reduced its conventional and nuclear forces, because NATO didn’t need to maintain the same defensive posture any longer.
From then on, NATO didn’t strengthen its defensive posture in Europe until Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.
And even then, it was done in a limited and measured fashion, to be prepared to meet further Russian military action against members of the Alliance.
Additionally, NATO never promised not to admit new members.
It could not and would not – the “open door policy” was a core provision of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty that founded NATO.
The Russian president at the end of the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev, was asked directly about this in an interview in 2014, and said very clearly that the topic of NATO expansion was not discussed at all in negotiations about German reunification that led to the end of the Cold War.
There was no promise that NATO wouldn’t expand.
Secretary of State James Baker said the same thing.
Membership in the Alliance has always been a decision between NATO and countries that aspire to belong – no one else.
And in the Istanbul Charter for European Security, Russia itself affirmed the right of countries to choose or change the security arrangements that they have, including alliances.
Russia is now demanding that both the United States and NATO sign treaties to withdraw NATO forces stationed in the territory of Allies in Central and Eastern Europe and to prohibit Ukraine from ever joining NATO.
They want to draw us into a debate about NATO, rather than focus on the matter at hand, which is their aggression toward Ukraine.
We won’t be diverted from that issue, because what’s happening in Ukraine is not only about Ukraine. It’s part of a broader pattern of destabilizing, dangerous, and often illegal behavior by Moscow as it tries to build a sphere of influence that covers the countries that were once under Soviet dominion, and to stop them from realizing their democratic aspirations as fully sovereign, independent nations.
Let’s remember that over the past two decades, Russia invaded two neighboring countries – Ukraine and Georgia – and maintains troops and munitions in Moldova against the will of the government. It’s interfered in elections in many nations, including our own. It’s used chemical weapons to try to assassinate opponents of the Russian Government – including poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal when they were on NATO Ally territory in England. It’s violated international arms control agreements, pulled back from long-established confidence-building and transparency measures, supported violent dictators, enabled crimes against humanity in places like Syria.
Moscow’s actions have threatened to set a new precedent on European soil whereby basic international principles that are vital to peace and security are up for debate:
That the borders and territorial integrity of a state cannot be changed by force.
That it is the inherent right of citizens in a democracy to make their country’s decisions and determine their country’s future.
That all members of the international community are bound by common rules and should face costs if they don’t live up to the solemn commitments that they make.
These principles transcend Ukraine.
They transcend Europe.
They are the fundamental rules that underpin the international order that together we have sought to build, to sustain, and, as necessary, adapt.
In challenging them, Russia seeks to challenge the international system itself and to unravel our transatlantic alliance, erode our unity, pressure democracies into failure.
Diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this crisis.
We are fully committed to meaningful reciprocal dialogue with Russia, just as we’re fully committed to consulting and coordinating with our allies and partners – including the European Union – in all our discussions in all formats.
We would far prefer a diplomatic path and a diplomatic solution to a crisis that Russia has brought forth.
That’s what next week’s meetings of the U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council, and the OSCE are all about. And we believe that there are areas where we can make progress.
If Russia has legitimate concerns about our actions, the United States, our NATO Allies, our OSCE partners are willing to hear them and to try to address them – if the Kremlin is prepared to reciprocate regarding its own dangerous and destabilizing behavior.
Next week, we’ll reconfirm our readiness to increase transparency, institute new risk-reduction measures, and renew efforts to address nuclear and conventional threats to European security. But again, it has to be a two-way street. Our goal is to have a relationship with Russia that is predictable and stable, so that we can cooperate when it’s in our mutual interest and address our differences with an open and frank dialogue.
It’ll be very difficult to make actual progress if Russia continues to escalate its military buildup and its inflammatory rhetoric. And we’ve been clear with Russia about what it will face if it continues on this path, including economic measures that we haven’t used before – massive consequences. That clarity has been powerfully echoed in recent weeks by the G7 – the world’s leading democratic economies – by the European Union, and by NATO. So, we hope Russia makes a different choice.
And again, we’re fully committed to diplomacy and to seeing if we can produce results. After all, Russia and the United States have done it before, even during times of great tension. We negotiated the Helsinki Accords, we created the OSCE, we signed the INF Treaty and other arms control agreements. Just this week, we joined forces to issue a statement with all permanent members of the UN Security Council to affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won, and so should never be fought. We committed to our work together on the space station, and we’re working together to bring Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA.
We achieved these things through mutual understanding, reciprocity, and full consultation and coordination with our allies and with everyone whose interests were represented. That’s exactly what we’ll seek to do again next week and beyond.
And with that, I’m happy to take some questions.
MR PRICE: Christina.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary. You talk about some of these claims Russia has made, including that NATO has promised not to expand, and in that last of demands they put out, one of the things – that was one of the issues in there, and both the U.S. and NATO have said that’s a nonstarter. Given that list of demands and that they’ve been declared nonstarters, is there a concern that the talks next week are Russia’s building up of a pretext for, if and when they fail, using them as justification to go ahead and invade?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I think that’s certainly part of the playbook is to put out a list of absolutely nonstarter demands, and then to claim that the other side is not engaging and then to use that as somehow justification for aggressive action. But the fact of the matter is Russia knows well what is a nonstarter, but there are also areas, there are also subjects, there are also issues where we can engage. We can have dialogue. We can see if we can improve everyone’s overall security. Secretary General Stoltenberg mentioned some of them just today in the press conference that followed the session of the NATO foreign ministers: arms control, where we have successfully engaged with Russia, including by extending New START at the beginning of this administration; various confidence-building measures; greater transparency; risk reduction.
These are all areas where, if Russia has legitimate concerns, we’re fully prepared to listen, to engage, and to see if we can make progress, just as it’s vital that Russia hear our concerns, those of our European allies and partners, based on the threats that it is posing to peace and security and act on them. If we approach this as a two-way street based on reciprocity and try to address some of the challenges that exist when it comes to security in the transatlantic and European areas, then I think we can make progress. Certainly, as I said, we go into this committed to diplomacy, committed to dialogue, but equally committed to stand up for the principles that Russia is putting at risk.
QUESTION: And the massive consequences that you’ve been foreshadowing if Russia doesn’t reverse course – they’re political, they’re economic, but they’re not military.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we’ve talked about this in recent weeks, and not only us. The G7, the European Union, NATO have all made clear that there would be massive consequences for further Russian aggression against Ukraine. We’ve talked about financial and economic measures. Certainly NATO’s defensive posture, we’ll have to strengthen even further. Assistance to Ukraine to defend itself will continue.
And one of the things that’s so striking to me about this is that – and going back to 2014 – Russia’s actions have precipitated exactly what President Putin says he wants to prevent. Before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, public support in Ukraine for membership in NATO was about 25 percent. Now it’s 60 percent. NATO, after the invasion, as I noted, had to reinforce its eastern flank, and have greater capacity there to defend against the possibility of Russian aggression. So, I think it’s fair to say looking back, and also looking ahead, that this is not the way for Russia to achieve what it purports to want to achieve.
MR PRICE: Nick.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you listed arms control, risk reduction, greater transparency, reducing nuclear and conventional threats to European security. You haven’t mentioned the word “Ukraine” in that context. Is Ukraine on the agenda on Monday for U.S. and Russia talks? And then I’ll have a follow on Kazakhstan.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Ukraine is front and center on the agenda because that’s what has precipitated this crisis: Russia’s threats against Ukraine, the prospect of renewed aggression by Russia against Ukraine. So, that has to be front and center. But there are different places for talking about different issues. We have the Strategic Stability Dialogue, which, as I mentioned, is something that came after the extension of New START as a place to see if we could make further progress on arms control and further reductions. The NATO-Russia Council will be meeting a couple of days later, and that, by the way, will be proceeded by a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. And then we’ll have the OSCE.
But in each of these areas, to the extent that there is progress to be made – and we hope that there is – actual progress is going to be very difficult to make, if not impossible, in an environment of escalation by Russia. So we will see what results, what path Russia chooses. But if it genuinely wants to make progress on issues that it says are of concern to Russia as well as on issues that are of concern to us, that progress has to be in a – in the context of de-escalation, and that goes directly to Ukraine.
QUESTION: That sounds like when Ukraine comes up on Monday, because of course it will, when Russia pushes its agenda on Ukraine, you’re going to try and focus instead on bilateral issues and not focus on Ukraine on Monday, and wait till later in the week to focus on Ukraine? Is that —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we will – we will make the point in every single one of these fora that the aggression against Ukraine will be met with, as I’ve said and others have said, massive consequences; that if we’re going to make progress on any of these issues, it has to be in the – in an environment in the context of de-escalation, not escalation. And that goes directly to Ukraine.
And I would add something we’ve also talked to Russia about, including President Biden talking to President Putin about this: The way to resolve the differences in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas, is through the Minsk agreements. And we remain fully prepared to try to facilitate their implementation. Indeed, the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Karen Donfried has met with both the Ukrainian and Russian negotiators as well as with the French and the Germans, who are leading this so-called Normandy format that brings France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia together toward implementation of the accords. And we remain fully prepared to try and facilitate that.
But Russia has to be willing to engage and to make good on its commitments. I mentioned a few moments ago there’s a long list of things that each side has to do under Minsk, and by and large, Ukraine has done or is engaged in doing most of what it was required to do. There are some things that are outstanding that are important. Go down the list. Russia has done virtually none of it. And in fact, not only is it not doing what it’s required to do, it is actively doing the opposite in many areas.
So again, this is a test for Russia. If it is serious about resolving the situation in eastern Ukraine, and to resolve it diplomatically and peacefully, Minsk is the way to do it. We will fully support efforts to implement the Minsk agreements by both parties, and again, we’ll see if Russia is willing to do that.
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we’d like to get your assessment of events in Kazakhstan, and how that potentially weighs on these meetings with Russian officials next week. And more specifically, U.S. officials have raised kind of questions about the CSTO troops deployment there. What is – what specifically is the concern about those troops going in? Is there an implication that the Kazakhstan Government hasn’t actually invited them in, or how do you see that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. So first, we are very concerned about the ongoing state of emergency that exists in Kazakhstan. We’ve urged authorities to respond appropriately, proportionately, and in a way that upholds the rights of protesters. I spoke with the foreign minister just yesterday. I reiterated our full support for Kazakhstan’s constitutional institutions, as well as the absolute importance of respecting human rights; media freedom, including the restoration of internet service; and to dealing with peaceful protests in a way that protects the protesters, upholds their rights, and is consistent with the rule of law.
So there has to be a rights-respecting resolution to this crisis. And again, that includes protecting the rights of any peaceful protester. At the same time, we’ve made clear that we condemn violence committed by anyone, including violence directed at the institutions of the state and government. We very much value the relationship that we have with Kazakhstan. We’re watching the situation with real concern. And we are encouraging everyone to find a peaceful resolution and constructive resolution to the situation.
When it comes to the CSTO, we have questions about the nature of the request, why it came about. We’re seeking to learn more about it. It would seem to me that the Kazakh authorities and government certainly have the capacity to deal appropriately with protests, to do so in a way that respects the rights of protesters while maintaining law and order. So, it’s not clear why they feel the need for any outside assistance, so we’re trying to learn more about it.
We certainly call on those peacekeeping forces and law enforcement to adhere to international human rights standards to support a peaceful resolution. And again, we hope the government itself can quickly address the problems, which are fundamentally economic and political in nature. That’s what these protests are all about.
MR PRICE: Take a final question from VOA Ukrainian, Myroslava Gonzade (ph).
QUESTION: Gongadze. Yes. Thank you so much. On Kazakhstan a little bit because it looks like Russia is using different tactics right now, going to Kazakhstan and using other countries to join them and calling this a peaceful protest. It’s – in the same time, the head of – or the leading general who would be leading the operation was the one who was leading occupation of Crimea. What would be U.S. response to that, and do you think this valid for the national – for the security – UN security special meeting?
And second question on Ukraine: You mentioned yesterday and many times about not speaking about – without Ukraine – on – about Ukraine without Ukraine. How are you planning to fulfill that promise even in this discussion with Russians next week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Well, let me take the second part first. We are absolutely committed to the principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, just as we are fully committed to the principle nothing about Europe without Europe.
At the meeting of the North Atlantic Council foreign ministers today, one of the things that really stood out to me in all of the interventions – and something that Secretary General Stoltenberg mentioned himself in his press conference – was the deep appreciation for the intensive consultations we’ve been engaged with – engaged in in recent weeks with all of our European allies and partners about the situation in Ukraine and European security more generally. And that will continue.
And as it happens, just before coming to see all of you, I was on the phone with my friend and counterpart from Ukraine, the foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba. And that engagement will continue. That coordination, that consultation, that communication will continue throughout this process. When it comes – whether it’s the Strategic Stability Dialogue where we will be talking and have talked, as I did today to allies and partners, in advance, we’ll do exactly the same thing after that conversation to readout what transpired. And similarly, when it comes to NATO-Russia, there’ll be a – with regard to Ukraine, there’ll be a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council in advance of the NATO-Russia Council. And of course, at the OSCE, Ukraine is a member. So, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.
And again, on Kazakhstan, I would not conflate these situations. There are very particular drivers of what’s happening in Kazakhstan right now, as I said, that go to economic and political matters. And what’s happening in there is different from what’s happening on Ukraine’s borders. Having said that, I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks.
MR PRICE: Thank you, everyone.
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