Antony J. Blinken

Joint Presser with Dmytro Kuleba on the Beginning Russian Military Operation in Ukraine

delivered 24 February 2022, Washington, D.C.

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SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone.

Since Foreign Minister Kuleba and I were in Munich just a few days ago, Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and its rejection of international law and diplomacy have accelerated.

Yesterday, President Putin recognized the so-called “independence” of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, where violent Russian-backed separatists have been fighting a war since 2014. A few hours later, he gave authorization to Russian troops to enter those regions.

For weeks, we’ve been warning the world that Russia was mobilizing for military aggression against Ukraine. We’ve made clear that if Russia invaded, the United States and our allies and partners would impose swift and severe consequences.

Now that Russia has moved against Ukraine, so, too, have we moved on our strong and unified response.

This afternoon, the President announced the first round of sanctions on Russia in response to its actions. These have been closely coordinated with our allies and partners. We’ll continue to escalate our sanctions if Russia escalates its aggression toward Ukraine.

Today, we’re implementing full blocking sanctions on two large Russian financial institutions, VEB and Promsvyazbank, both of which have close links to the Kremlin and the Russian military. Collectively, they hold more than $80 billion in assets. These measures will freeze their assets in the United States, prohibit American individuals or businesses from doing any transactions with them, shut them out of the global financial system, and foreclose access to the U.S. dollar.

We’re expanding our existing sanctions on Russian sovereign debt. We’ve already prohibited U.S. financial institutions from trading in Russian sovereign debt in the primary market; now we’re extending that prohibition to the secondary market. These prohibitions will cut off the Russian Government from a key avenue by which it raises capital to fund its priorities and will increase future financing costs. They also deny Russia access to key U.S. markets and investors.

Starting today, we’ll impose sanctions on members of the Russian elite and their family members, all of whom directly benefit from their connections with the Kremlin. Other Russian elites and their family members are on notice that additional actions could be taken against them.

These steps are in addition to the executive order President Biden issued yesterday to prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by Americans to, from, and in the so-called DNR and LNR regions.

And just as the President said we would do, today the Department of Defense announced that we would be sending additional forces to NATO’s eastern flank to deter and defend against any Russian aggression directed at our allies.

We also made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline does not move forward. Today, Chancellor Scholz announced that the German Government is suspending the pipeline indefinitely. We’ve been in close consultation with Germany throughout this process. We welcome this swift and decisive and action. And we’re executing a plan in close coordination with allies and partners to secure the stability of global energy supplies, which is in all of our interests.

The United States and our allies and partners are united in the face of Russian aggression. This morning, the European Union and the United Kingdom announced a series of strong complementary actions.

President Putin’s deeply disturbing speech yesterday and his statements today make clear to the world how he views Ukraine: not as a sovereign nation with the right to territorial integrity and independence, but rather as a creation of Russia, and therefore subordinate to Russia. It’s a completely false assertion that ignores history, international law, and the tens of millions of patriotic Ukrainians who are proud citizens of a free and independent Ukraine.

Now that we’ve heard it directly from President Putin himself, it confirms what we’ve been saying: that he did not send more than 150,000 troops to the Ukrainian border because of benign military exercises, or to respond to threatened aggression from Ukraine, or to stop a fabricated genocide by Ukraine, or any other manufactured reason. His plan all along has been to invade Ukraine; to control Ukraine and its people; to destroy Ukraine’s democracy, which offers a stark contrast to the autocracy that he leads; to reclaim Ukraine as a part of Russia.

That’s why this is the greatest threat to security in Europe since World War II. Ukraine is in danger. President Putin is blatantly and violently breaking the laws and principles that have kept the peace across Europe and around the world for decades.

Yesterday, at an emergency session of the UN Security Council requested by Ukraine, the United States and many other countries condemned Russia’s renewed attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield underscored that President Putin has now torn to shreds the Minsk Agreements, which sought to end the conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine peacefully, through diplomacy. President Putin himself essentially declared those agreements null and void.

The complete abdication of Russia’s commitments under the Minsk Agreements is just the latest demonstration of Russia’s hypocrisy when it comes to the agreements that it claims to seek and to uphold. Since the beginning of this Russian-manufactured crisis, Moscow has insisted that only legally binding agreements could satisfy its security concerns. But the Minsk Agreements now join a long line of agreements, many legally binding, that President Putin has broken.

These include the Helsinki Final Act, in which all OSCE countries, including Russia, pledged to respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity and refrain from the threat of the use of force; the Charter of Paris, which further established countries’ responsibilities to honor those pledges; the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which limits the deployment of military equipment in Europe; the Vienna Document, in which all OSCE countries, including Russia, agreed to confidence-and security-building measures to increase transparency and predictability about their military activities; and of course, the Budapest Memorandum, in which Russia promised to respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty in its 1994 borders and refrain from using force against Ukraine.

In the past 24 hours alone, with his actions toward Ukraine, President Putin has violated all of these agreements. He is undoing more than 30 years’ worth of painstaking diplomacy by Russia and the countries and institutions of Europe and the North Atlantic region to preserve stability and security for the sake of hundreds of millions of our citizens.

Every time Russia breaks one of these agreements, it not only endangers the countries that it’s threatening at the time, but nations everywhere that have been made safer and more secure by the international rules-based order.

Last week, I agreed to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this week on February 24th to discuss our countries’ respective concerns about European security, but only if Russia did not invade Ukraine. Now that we see the invasion is beginning and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time. I consulted with our allies and partners -- all agree -- and today I sent Foreign Minister Lavrov a letter informing him of this.

The United States, and I personally, remain committed to diplomacy if Russia is prepared to take demonstrable steps to provide the international community with any degree of confidence that it’s serious about de-escalating and finding a diplomatic solution. We will proceed, in coordination with allies and partners, based on Russia’s actions and the facts on the ground. But we will not allow Russia to claim the pretense of diplomacy at the same time it accelerates its march down the path of conflict and war.

There is no question what has happened here. We’ve all seen how Russia has relentlessly mobilized for war despite intensive efforts by others, including the United States, to engage them on a diplomatic path. We’ve seen through their false flags; we’ve predicted their lies. In the hours and days ahead, any further escalatory steps by Russia will be met with further swift and severe measures, coordinated with allies and partners, on top of those announced today. We’ll continue to stand with our allies and partners to support Ukraine as it faces Russia’s threats with courage and strength. And we’ll continue to defend the international laws that keep every country in the world safe from the kind of aggression that Russia is now inflicting upon Ukraine.


FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA: I’m grateful to Secretary Blinken for welcoming me in D.C. today. We -- I think we spoke -- this is our third or fourth encounter in the last four days, and this speaks for the dynamics and the quality of our relationship, but also for the urgency of the current crisis that needs to be handled. We meet at a very tense and responsible time for Ukraine, for the United States, and for the world. We all are at a critical juncture for the security of Europe, as well as international peace and security more broadly. Russian aggression has brought the world to the edge of the largest catastrophe since World War II.

Yesterday, President Putin moved to recognize two pieces of Ukrainian land as independent entities. Ukraine does not and will never recognize this absurdity, neither will the world recognize it. In fact, what Putin recognized is not the so-called Donetsk People Republic and Luhansk People Republic. He recognized his direct responsibility for the war against Ukraine and an unprovoked and unjustified war on another sovereign state in Europe, which Russia now intensifies.

 President Putin killed Minsk Agreements, and more broadly, he attacked the world order. Needless to say, Russia’s move is a grave breach of international law and a new act of aggression against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Therefore, Ukraine strongly believes the time for sanctions is now, and in this context we welcome today’s announcement of sanctions by President Biden. The world must respond with all its economic might to punish Russia for the crimes it has already committed and ahead of the crimes it plans to commit. Hit Russia’s economy now and hit it hard.

I commend immense efforts of the U.S. diplomacy led by Tony to mobilize the global coalition of allies and partners to stop Russia. The entire world stands today with Ukraine, and rightly so. Putin wants much more than a war-torn piece of Ukrainian land and people living there. What stops him is only our unity and resolve, and we can still stop him.

Ukraine continues the engagement with the United States, EU, and NATO in diplomatic efforts to ease tensions. Yet, we also stand ready for any possible development. We had a focused discussion today with Secretary Blinken on steps to protect Ukraine and our multi-dimensional resilience. One of the -- proposal that we put forward today is designing a program similar to the Lend-Lease implemented during the World War II to support the war efforts of the Allies in Eastern -- in east -- in Europe. This program will help to ensure sustainable -- sustainability and will improve efficiency in the -- in strengthening the capacity of Ukraine to defend itself.

The last point that I would like to make: Today we discussed some very specific ideas, and we appreciate very concrete steps made by the United States. These days we receive proposals from some countries to condemn Russia’s behavior, to condemn but not follow the condemnation with action. And I would like to say that condemnations are important, but it’s actions that really matter now, these days. And I am grateful to our strategic partner, the United States, for its ironclad support, including military, economic, and political diplomatic assistance provided to Ukraine. The Ukrainian people will surely remember the United States standing with Ukraine at this decisive moment in history.

Thank you.

MR. PRICE: We’ll now turn to questions and we’ll take two from each delegation. We’ll start with Vivian Salama of The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, President Biden said three days ago that if Russia invades, they will have chosen war and the door to diplomacy will be closed. Today, however, he seemed to have left the door open for diplomacy despite labeling what Russia has done as an invasion. And so even though you’ve now canceled your meeting with Minister Lavrov, can you say what the circumstances would entail to justify talks at this point absent, say, a full withdrawal? Does the actions in Donbas kind of open the door for potential negotiations?

And on that point, if you would both indulge me with two questions, President Putin today also said that the crisis could be resolved if Kyiv promised to abandon future efforts to join NATO, and so that’s been a nonstarter for the West. So what needs to happen, then, for any of these talks to actually be entertained?

Minister Kuleba, good to see you again. Quick questions for you. Does the Ukrainian Government have any plans to evacuate Mariupol or Kharkiv in the coming days just given the events that we’ve seen in Donbas?

And secondly, the United States has informed the United Nations of a credible -- of credible information showing that Moscow has compiled a list of Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation. Were you informed of this list -- your government, was it informed of this list -- and have any actions been taken to respond to it? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. I’m happy to start. First, the further renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine that has now begun means clearly that the idea of having a meeting this week with Foreign Minister Lavrov to pursue diplomacy -- diplomacy now rejected by Russia -- does not make sense. But, having said that, to the extent there is anything that we can do to avert an even worse-case scenario -- an all-out assault on all of Ukraine, including its capital, that would inflict horrific costs on the Ukrainian people -- we will always pursue that.

So we, our partners remain open to diplomacy, but Moscow needs to demonstrate that it’s serious. The last 24 hours it’s demonstrated just the opposite. It hasn’t been serious to date, including with regard to the meeting that was planned for Thursday. We made clear that in the context of a Russian invasion, we would not go forward with that meeting. If Moscow’s approach changes, we remain -- I remain -- very much prepared to engage.

With regard to President Putin’s statement about NATO and the open door, it’s very clear what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours that this has never been about Ukraine and NATO per se. What President Putin has made clear is that this is about the total subjugation of Ukraine to Russia. It’s about reconstituting the Russian empire or, short of that, a sphere of influence, or, short of that, the total neutrality of countries surrounding Russia. And so the issue of Ukraine and NATO has really been an argument -- an excuse -- to mask the fact that what this is about is President Putin’s view that Ukraine is not a sovereign country, that it does not have an existence or independence not associated in some fashion with Russia, a proposition that we not only firmly reject but so does virtually every Ukrainian.

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA: I can only reiterate what Secretary just said of NATO. NATO is a choice of the people of Ukraine. No one but Ukraine and NATO will decide on the future of our relationship, and it has never been about NATO for Putin. Putin -- it’s just an excuse. Even if we do nothing, President Putin will find a reason to accuse us of doing something.

Regarding our plans to evacuate Mariupol or Kharkiv, no, we do not have such plans. We have two plans. Plan A is to utilize every tool of diplomacy to deter Russia and prevent further escalation. And if that fails, Plan B is to fight for every inch of our land and every city and every village. To fight until we win, of course.

And about the list of extermination, no, we haven’t received it officially, but I wouldn’t exclude that such a list can exist.

MR. PRICE: We’ll turn to Olga Koshelenko from 1+1 Media.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary of State. From your perspective, is Budapest Memorandum alive or dead, and do the United States recognize any legal obligations under it?

And a quick follow-up to Mr. Kuleba: What actions do you expect from partners to be taken under Budapest? Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, in effect, Russia began to tear up the Budapest Memorandum in 2014 when it seized Crimea and went into the Donbas -- leading, backing, financing, supporting the separatists in waging war in the Donbas. I think what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours is the further repudiation of Budapest by Russia.

For our part, we have worked very hard over many years and especially over the last year to do everything we can to support Ukraine, to support its territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence through security assistance -- in the last year alone more than in any previous year, humanitarian assistance, financial assistance. Just about 10 days ago, we provided an additional loan guarantee of a billion dollars to Ukraine. And of course, leading the effort internationally to build support for Ukraine in this hour of need. So we stand very much behind that support, support expressed in the Budapest Memorandum and doing everything that we can to uphold Ukraine’s independence, its security, its well-being.

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA: Budapest Memorandum is not a collective defense treaty, so the truth is that never, no one promised us they would fight for us if we are attacked. This is not the subject matter of the Budapest Memorandum. But this document was concluded on the premise that, first, countries who provided security assurances to Ukraine will themselves not use force against us; and second, if that happens, they will do their utmost to stop it. So this is exactly the -- should be the subject of the consultations that Ukraine has initiated recently.

Countries who belong to this legal and political field -- space created by the Budapest Memorandum have to come together and reach an agreement on which specific action can they take to protect Ukraine. We understand that one of the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum is Russia, who, as Secretary Blinken rightly said, violated all possible international documents and agreements, but this does not waive other countries of their responsibilities to do their best in order to help Ukraine. Ukraine is a country that exists in a security vacuum. This is true. Our security guarantees are Ukrainian army and Ukrainian diplomacy. But we realize that.

But we do believe that the decisions taken in 1994 when the memorandum was -- Budapest Memorandum was concluded, they should be respected because we sacrificed a lot to -- to make a long story short, we did a lot to strengthen global security by abandoning our nuclear arsenal. It was a huge contribution. And we expect on the principle of reciprocity an equally huge contribution to ensuring Ukraine’s security.

MR. PRICE: Ben Hall, Fox News.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much both for this today.

Foreign Minister, there is a suggestion that what we’ve seen so far is a minor invasion, that there’s more to come, and so it only warrants sort of lesser U.S. sanctions. I wonder if that is your read as well.

And also, you and President Zelenskyy called for tough sanctions to be placed on Russia before the invasion. You said this would happen if not. It has happened. Are you happy with that in mind with the way the U.S. has handled this? What more would you like to see from the U.S. and from the international community to try and deter more aggression?

And Secretary Blinken, thank you. Given that Russia has invaded Ukraine, regardless of all the threats of harsh sanctions, the attempts at diplomacy, what makes you think that continuing down the same path is going to deter them any further? Do you think it’s time to change tack? Do you think diplomacy has failed? And secondly, have you underestimated Putin?

FOREIGN MINISTER KULEBA: First, there is no such thing as minor, middle, or major invasion. Invasion is an invasion.

Second, as I said earlier, we do appreciate today’s -- the sanctions which were announced today. They target Russia. They’re very specific. They are painful.

I can say frankly that yesterday, when we learned about the first executive order to impose sanctions on -- related to economic activities in the Donetsk -- with Donetsk and Luhansk -- we were puzzled, because we saw how the side that sought recognition from Russia is being punished, but we didn’t see how Russia, who granted its recognition, is punished. But we saw it today. And this strategy of imposing sanctions by waves, if I may put it this way, is something that can work if it continues in a very sustained -- in a sustainable way.

President Putin should not have a single minute when he starts to think that this is the threshold, this is the ceiling, the pressure reached its ceiling, and he will not be punished any more. This pressure should continue to be stepped up, and if that involves regular issuance of executive orders on new sanctions, we will be more than happy to see that.

I will repeat again: We can -- despite the horrific address by President Putin where he basically challenged the very -- or rejected -- he didn’t challenge it; he rejected the very existence of the Ukrainian state -- we can still stop him if we act in a very resolved way and keep mounting pressure on him. The question is that he has a certain table in his mind, which I’m not aware of, but I’m sure he has it.

And we should also understand that every next decision should be taken in a swift action. And we saw two executive orders issued by the President, by President Biden within what, less than 24 hours? This may be the dynamics that will have to be upheld if Russia continues to escalate. And it was encouraging to hear from Secretary a very simple sentence: If Russia escalates, the United States and partners will escalate sanctions. This is exactly the rule that has to be followed.

And yes, we did believe that it would be helpful for some of sanctions -- not all of sanctions, but some of sanctions -- to be imposed before the invasion begins, as a preemptive measure, for what Russia had done before. But this question becomes obsolete now, and we have to focus on a different strategy, the one that I just described.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Ben, it’s hard for me to improve much on my friend Dmytro’s answer. I’ll just add a couple of things.

First, all along we said that we were pursuing two tracks -- a track of diplomacy and dialogue to try to persuade Russia not to engage in renewed aggression against Ukraine; and at the same time, a track where we were building up deterrence, building up defense, and building a response that would have massive consequences for Russia. Russia’s clearly chosen to reject diplomacy and dialogue, and instead to pursue aggression. As a consequence, we have started to pursue the severe consequences that we’ve made clear would follow from any renewed Russian aggression.

Today, faced with the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we started high, and we’ll stay high. The sanctions that we’ve already announced go well beyond what we did in 2014 -- full blocking sanctions against two of Russia’s largest financial institutions, VEB and the military bank. These institutions hold more than $80 billion in assets. They provide key services that are critical to financing the Kremlin and Russia military. We have comprehensive sanctions against Russian sovereign debt. What that means is that we’re cutting off the Russian Government from Western financing -- sanctions on elites, on family members, and as promised, as we said all along, Germany taking action on Nord Stream 2.

And to repeat what Dmytro just emphasized, we’ve also made clear and we’re making clear today that if Russia continues to escalate, so will we. And of course, it’s not only the sanctions and other measures of that nature that are being taken. It is, as we have made clear, the reinforcement of NATO on its eastern flank, and continuing to provide and indeed increase the support that we’re providing to Ukraine against every dimension -- security, diplomatic, political, economic, humanitarian. All of that is in the mix.

Ultimately, President Putin makes whatever decisions he makes. We can do everything in our power to try to shape those decisions. But as I’ve said all along, whatever his decisions, we’re prepared either way, and we’ve demonstrated that again today in full coordination with allies and partners.

QUESTION: Have you underestimated him?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I think to the contrary, we’ve not underestimated him. We’ve actually laid out for the world his entire playbook, a playbook that he is now following and is making very clear that, for example, what the President’s laid out, what I laid out at the United Nations a week ago, is exactly what’s happening. So we’ve had a very clear-eyed view of President Putin all along.

MR. PRICE: We’ll take a final question from Dmytro Anopchenko from Inter TV.

QUESTION: Mr. Blinken, I’m interested to hear your opinion about Normandy Format. After all what happened in Ukraine last night, may one tell that it will not work anymore and should be replaced like Ukraine proposed?

And secondly, I got a question which may sound very naive, but it’s a question of my audience in Ukraine, millions of people who are really scared, and if any one of them will be in my place, they will ask you: If Russian troops will move forward, or if they will start intense artillery fire hitting Ukrainian territory, on your understanding, what will happen next and what will America do?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. With regard to the Normandy Format, I think the question is best directed at President Putin. As far as we can see by the actions that he’s taken, he’s rejected it, and he’s torn up in effect the Minsk Agreements, which the Normandy Format was designed to advance. So if Russia is at all serious about resolving the conflict that it created in the Donbas pursuant to the agreements it signed, the Minsk Agreements, it’s of course showing exactly the opposite. So the question is really for President Putin.

We’ve supported the Normandy Format all along with France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia, working to implement the agreements. And throughout, Ukraine has worked very hard to make good on its commitments. Russia has done just the opposite. But what we’ve seen now in the last 24 hours would seem to be the final repudiation of Minsk by Russia. But again, you would have to ask President Putin.

With regard to what comes next, as I said a moment ago and as we’ve said all along, if Russia pursues its aggression against Ukraine, it will face the massive consequences that not only the United States but virtually all of our allies and partners have made clear would follow. You’ve heard this from the G7, the leading democratic economies in the world. You’ve heard it from the European Union. You’ve heard it from NATO. And that includes what we’ve started with today, and that is very severe economic and financial sanctions that will exact significant costs from Russia. It includes a reinforcement of NATO and the defense of all Allies in NATO. And it includes additional assistance to Ukraine in every area: security, diplomatic, political, economic, humanitarian. All of that will follow. And again, I repeat what I’ve said before: If and as Russia escalates, so will we.

MR. PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Mr. Minister. Thank you, everyone.

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