Secretary Antony J. Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss at a Joint Press Availability
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ROOM
MARCH 9, 2022
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s very good to see everyone here today, and especially good to see my colleague and friend, Foreign Secretary Truss.
Liz and I have been working around the world together almost non-stop on the most immediate matter at hand, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, but on a multiplicity of other things, because our countries are joined in having shared interests across virtually every significant issue before the world now.
We were just in Brussels last week with ministers from our fellow NATO Allies, the G7, the European Union, focused particularly on continuing what has been extraordinarily close coordination and cooperation in response to Moscow’s unprovoked, unjustified, and increasingly brutal war in Ukraine.
We and our teams are in almost constant contact as we calibrate a united response, not just between our two nations, which have a long history of working hand in hand through the special relationship, but with allies and partners across Europe and, indeed, beyond. At least in my experience of doing this for nearly 30 years, I cannot remember a time where we’ve seen such unity in the transatlantic relationship, both in policy and in principle. We are united in strengthening our security assistance to Ukraine for its heroic defenders. We are united in increasing our assistance to the people of Ukraine, who are suffering grievously due to the growing humanitarian catastrophe inflicted upon them by Moscow’s invasion. And we’re united in our efforts to raise the costs on the Kremlin for waging this ongoing war of choice, which has already displaced more than 2 million Ukrainians.
Earlier this week Prime Minister Johnson announced an additional 175 million pounds in aid to Ukraine, bringing the UK’s total support during the crisis, I believe, to approximately 400 million pounds. This includes direct assistance for the Ukrainian Government to pay the salaries of Ukraine’s public sector employees, who are keeping critical services running where they haven’t been bombed by the Russians.
The UK was one of the first European countries to send defensive lethal security assistance to Ukraine. And the government has imposed severe financial sanctions on President Putin, his inner circle, Russian oligarchs, and others who enable and fuel this aggression.
Just days ago, the House of Commons passed a new economic crime bill aimed at making it easier to sanction groups of corrupt individuals, and harder for those trying to hide their money in the UK.
Yesterday, in the latest of many steps that we’ve taken together to hold the Kremlin accountable, President Biden banned all imports of Russian oil, liquefied natural gas, and coal; Prime Minister Johnson committed to ban all imports of Russian oil by the end of 2022.
We’re also united in calling on the Kremlin to immediately allow Ukrainian civilians to safely depart the cities and towns of Ukraine that are besieged by Russian forces. Every country has a responsibility to join us in pressing Moscow to do this. This is not the time to equivocate by calling on both sides to allow civilians in Ukraine’s cities to leave safely. Doing so obfuscates the basic facts around why these corridors are necessary, and who is blocking them.
Russia invaded Ukraine without justification. Russian forces now encircle multiple Ukrainian cities, after having destroyed much of their critical infrastructure, leaving people without water, without electricity, without access to food and medicine. And Russia’s relentless bombardment, including of civilians trying to flee, prevents people from safely escaping the hellish conditions that they have created.
The Kremlin’s proposals to create humanitarian corridors leading into Russia and Belarus are absurd. It’s offensive to suggest the Ukrainian people should seek refuge from the very government that has demonstrated such disregard for their lives. The civilians who were able to escape yesterday through one of those corridors from Sumy to Poltava – another city in Ukraine – shows that this is possible, but it must be allowed to happen on a much broader scale.
It is not only in Europe where the United States and the UK are working together to address threats to international peace and security. We also share a grave concern about Iran’s nuclear advances. Together we discussed our work to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the so-called Iran nuclear agreement. Either way, we are committed to ensuring that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.
On Northern Ireland, President Biden has been steadfast in his support for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which he views as a historic achievement that must be protected to ensure the peace, stability, and prosperity of people in Northern Ireland. The United States continues to support both sides’ efforts to engage in productive dialogue to resolve differences over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Before handing it over to Liz, let me just make one final point. It’s not just the British Government that’s stepping up to help Ukraine. We’re also seeing incredible solidarity and compassion from the British people, people like Khaled El Mayet in Cheltenham, who is leading a local campaign to buy second-hand ambulances and drive them, packed with supplies, to humanitarian responders at Ukraine’s border; people like Yorkshire resident Magdalena Timmin, who, on the second night of Russia’s invasion, sent a message to a Facebook group called “Polish Mums of Leeds,” appealing for donations to help people in Ukraine. Within days, she’d received enough to fill three 18-wheelers.
I believe one reason we’re seeing such an outpouring of support from the British people is because they’ve been through something similar. The harrowing blitz during World War II inflicted colossal suffering on the country’s people, killing more than 60,000 British civilians, wounding 86,000 more. It’s impossible to see the images of people seeking refuge in Kyiv’s metro in 2022 and not think of those who sheltered in the London Underground in 1942. The grit, the compassion, the determination that Britain has exhibited eight decades ago that inspired the world is exactly what we see in the people of Ukraine today, and it’s why we need to stand with them.
With that, Liz, over to you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY TRUSS: Well, thank you very much, Tony, and it’s great to be here with my friend and ally, Secretary Blinken. And we’ve certainly seen lots of each other around the capitals of Europe over the last week, working very closely with our allies.
Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is causing immense pain and suffering. Yet he is not making the progress he planned. Since the buildup on the border, the United Kingdom and the United States have led work in the G7 and through NATO to challenge Putin’s aggression. Before the invasion, the United States and the UK called out his playbook of false flags, attempts to install a puppet regime in Kyiv, and fake provocations. We worked with our G7 allies to warn that he would face severe costs and a determined Ukrainian people.
We have surprised Putin with our unity and the toughness of our sanctions, hitting the banks, the ships, the planes, the oligarchs, and the oil and gas revenues. And the brave Ukrainian people have surprised him with their determination and their leadership. Now is not the time to let up.
Putin must fail. We know from history that aggressors only understand one thing, and that is strength. We know that if we don’t do enough now, other aggressors around the world will be emboldened. And we know that if Putin is not stopped in Ukraine, there will be terrible implications for European and global security. We would be sending a message that sovereign nations can simply be trampled on.
So we must go further and faster in our response. We must double down on our sanctions. That includes a full SWIFT ban, and the G7 ending its use of Russian oil and gas. The United States and the United Kingdom this week announced our plans to stop importing Russian oil, and the EU have announced their plans to reduce their dependency, too. We want to encourage a wider group of countries to get on board with our sanctions effort. A hundred and forty-one countries voted against Russian aggression at UNGA.
And we must continue to supply defensive weapons to Ukraine. I’m proud that the United Kingdom was the first European country to do that, and I welcome the decision of Germany, and Japan, and many others to send military aid.
Since the end of the Cold War, we took our eye off the ball. But we are now stepping up together, and we must never let down our guard again. We’re determined to keep strengthening NATO and urge all allies to increase their investment. We must accelerate NATO’s modernization, and deepen our cooperation on tech and cyber. We will end strategic dependence on authoritarian regimes for our energy and for other vital resources. And we will step up our work to build economic and security alliances around the world, including with India and the Gulf nations to further isolate Russia. We’ll keep working to bring more countries into the orbit of those who believe in the sovereignty of nation, and by playing by the rules.
The war in Ukraine is a struggle for the future of freedom and self-determination. We must not rest until Putin fails in Ukraine, and the country’s sovereignty is restored. Thank you.
MR PRICE: We’ll now turn to questions. Taking two questions per side, alternating, we’ll start with Kylie Atwood of CNN.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, or morning. Thank you for doing this.
Secretary Blinken, yes or no, do you believe it’s possible to get the Ukrainians MiG-29 fighter jets? If so, when and how?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Nothing for my friend? Okay.
QUESTION: I’ll go to you next.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, as we’ve said, the decision about whether to transfer any equipment to our friends in Ukraine is ultimately one that each government will decide for itself, and has to make. We’re in very close consultation with allies and partners about the ongoing security assistance to Ukraine, because in fact I think what we’re seeing is that Poland’s proposal shows that there are some complexities that the issue presents when it comes to providing security assistance. We have to make sure that we’re doing it in the right way.
You heard from the Department of Defense just yesterday about the particular proposal – the prospect of fighter jets at the disposal of the Unites States Government departing from a U.S. NATO base in Germany to fly into air space contested with Russia over Ukraine raises some serious concerns for the entire NATO Alliance. So we have to work through the specifics of these things going forward. And it’s not simply clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for doing it in the way that was put forward yesterday.
So what we’re doing right now is continuing to consult very closely with Poland, with other NATO Allies on this and the logistical challenges that it presents, together with Poland as well as with the UK and many of our other partners. As we’ve noted, we have provided extraordinary support to Ukraine and to those defending it from the Russian aggression, support that has been used extremely effectively by Ukrainian defenders, support that will continue in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Just yesterday, with the supplemental legislation being put forward, we have an additional $6.5 billion in security assistance that’s now on tap just from the United States for Ukraine. And that will of course include the very kinds of things that they need to effectively defend Ukraine against Russian aggression.
Thanks. And just to clarify, basically, what you’re saying is there is a creative way to get them these fighter jets possibly, but you haven’t figured out the pathway forward on that.
And then my second question for both of you is: With Ukrainian deaths mounting right now, what more can the U.S. and the UK do? Would either country be open to considering the possibility of a limited no-fly zone over humanitarian corridors to be set up in the country? Thank you.
FOREIGN SECRETARY TRUSS: So first of all, in answer to your question, the United Kingdom has been first of all supplying defensive weaponry into Ukraine, and in fact, we have been working with other allies across the world to help get that defensive weaponry into Ukraine, so have been supplying anti-tank weapons. Today our defense secretary announced that we will now be supplying air defense systems to address the specific issue the Ukrainians face, which is air defense. So we believe that the best way of tackling this threat is to help the Ukrainians with the Starstreak air defense systems that we will be supplying.
On the issue of a no-fly zone, of course it’s important, and I completely support what Tony has said about protecting humanitarian corridors and calling on Russia to respect those genuine humanitarian corridors, i.e., ones that don’t lead into Russia or Belarus. But the reality is that setting up a no-fly zone would lead to a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia, and that is not what we are looking at. What we are looking at is making sure that the Ukrainians are able to defend their own country with the best possible selection of anti-tank weapons and anti-air defense systems.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And I agree with everything that the foreign secretary said.
QUESTION: And you think there’s a creative way to eventually get fighter jets to —
MR PRICE: Kylie, we need to – we need to move on. Please, go ahead.
MR SWIFT: Could we have Sarah Smith of the BBC, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. After the direct strike on a children’s hospital in Mariupol, President Zelenskyy is asking you both and NATO to stop the killings – close the skies, he says – and that if you don’t, you’re an accomplice to terror. How do you explain to him that there is no possibility of a no-fly zone in these circumstances?
FOREIGN SECRETARY TRUSS: Well, as I’ve said, Sarah, the best way to help protect the skies is through anti-air weaponry, which the UK is now going to be supplying to Ukraine. That’s what the defense secretary announced earlier today. And of course the attack on the hospital is absolutely abhorrent, reckless, and appalling. And the UK is at the forefront of supplying humanitarian aid into Ukraine. We’ve already pledged 220 million of humanitarian aid. Our DEC appeal has now reached 130 million, which is the largest amount it’s ever achieved since 2004.
So the British people are foursquare behind the people of Ukraine, and we’re doing all we can to support.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And I would just add, as we already said, first, we both, our governments both, our people both, have tremendous admiration for President Zelenskyy, for his entire team, for the Ukrainian people that they represent. But the courage they’ve shown, the strength, the determination, the dignity faced with this Russian onslaught, is extraordinary, and it’s powerfully moving, I think, to people around the world.
If I were in President Zelenskyy’s position, I’m sure I would be asking for everything possible in his mind to help the Ukrainian people. And as the foreign secretary and I have laid out, both of our countries, and so many others, have done extraordinary things to make sure that the Ukrainians have in their hands the means to effectively defend themselves against this war of choice from Russia, as well as to do everything we can with very significant resources to care for Ukrainian people to the best of our ability inside Ukraine, those who have been forced to flee outside of Ukraine, to meet their humanitarian needs.
And the goal is the same. It’s to end this aggression. It’s to save lives and to prevent more ceaseless, senseless bloodshed. As part of that, we also have to see to it that this war does not expand. Our goal is to end the war, not to expand it, including potentially expand it to NATO territory. We want to make sure that it’s not prolonged to the best of our ability; otherwise it’s going to turn even deadlier, involve more people, and I think potentially even make things harder to resolve in Ukraine itself. So, as the foreign secretary said, we have exactly the same perspective on that.
Introducing, in our case, American service members in Ukraine, on Ukrainian territory or soil, or American pilots into Ukrainian airspace, whether on a full or on a limited basis, would almost certainly lead to direct conflict between the United States – between NATO – and Russia, and that would expand the conflict. It would prolong it. It would make it much more deadlier than it already is. And that would be neither in the interest of our countries nor in the interest of Ukraine. I can’t speak for NATO, obviously, but we’ve heard the same message from its secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.
MR PRICE: Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. Mr. Secretary, first for you on Venezuela, can you just tell us whether the U.S. is considering easing sanctions on Venezuela to get its oil absent of any progress on the negotiations with the opposition?
And then second, for both of you on the sanctions and the endgame, you mentioned, Foreign Secretary, that Putin must fail. So is it your strategy now to essentially exert so much pressure on the Russian people, oligarchs around Vladimir Putin, so that Russia will essentially, as Under Secretary Nuland said yesterday, might rise up and – I don’t know what – potentially overthrow him? Do you believe now that it’s simply impossible for the United States to have a productive or stable relationship with Russia if Vladimir Putin remains in power either during or once this conflict is over? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start. Nick, with regard to Venezuela, we have a set of interests with Venezuela. They include, of course, supporting the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people. They include securing the release of Americans who are unjustly detained there, and happily, last night, as you heard, two Americans, Gustavo Cardenas and Jorge Fernandez, were released. They had been wrongfully detained. They’re now reunited with their families. And it’s also true that we have an interest globally in maintaining a steady supply of energy, including through our diplomatic efforts.
So all of these things come to bear when it comes to Venezuela, as well as to other countries around the world where we have a multiplicity of interests and use diplomacy to try to advance them. And again, I have to say I’m very pleased that diplomacy brought two unjustly detained Americans home just last night. We will never let up anywhere, at any time, in the efforts to bring Americans who are unjustly detained back home.
FOREIGN SECRETARY TRUSS: We are very clear that our objective is for Putin to fail in Ukraine. This unwarranted act of aggression must not succeed, and there would be terrible consequences if it did succeed for European and global security. And the purpose of the sanctions is to debilitate the Russian economy, to stop Putin being able to fund his war machine from money gained from the oil and gas industry and from the technology that he’s been able to make available. So one of the things we’ve done, as well as putting huge sanctions on banks and on the SWIFT system, is putting export controls so that the technology that was being used to develop the military-industrial complex is simply not going to Russia.
It’s also worth saying that we’ve seen huge action from the private sector, whether it’s McDonald’s or other companies. And one of the issues in Russia is, of course, the lack of free media, the fact that the Russian people aren’t being told the truth. But they will be seeing now, by the fact that shops are closing, they’re not able to get the goods that they were able to get, exactly the implications that Putin’s aggression is – in Ukraine – is having for Russia.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you talk about that too? I mean, Under Secretary Nuland yesterday essentially said that the only way for Putin to reverse course would be for there to be so much pressure that the people around him, the military leaders, the ordinary people in Russia would rise up against him. So do you believe it’s possible to have a stable relationship with Russia if Putin remains in power?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, let me say a couple things to this. First, I think it’s important to remember that throughout this crisis created by Putin and Russia, we’ve sought to provide possible offramps to President Putin. He’s the only one who can decide whether or not to take them. So far, every time there’s been an opportunity to do just that, he’s pressed the accelerator and continued down this horrific road that he’s been pursuing.
He has a clear plan right now to brutalize Ukraine, but to what end? Because when it comes to an endgame, the big question in the first instance is: what is his endgame? We saw the failures of the initial military plan to quickly subjugate the country. That’s failed. So he’s now turning to a strategy of laying waste to the population centers, to the country. If his goal is to impose some kind of puppet regime by displacing the existing government and putting in place one to his liking, I think it’s pretty evident by the response of the Ukrainian people that they will never accept that. And if he tries to enforce such a puppet regime by keeping Russian forces in Ukraine, it will be a long, bloody, drawn-out mess through which Russia will continue to suffer grievously.
So our response continues to be to do everything we possibly can to make sure that the Ukrainians have the means to defend themselves; to make sure we do everything we possibly can to exert pressure on Russia and on Putin to change course; to do everything we possibly can, of course, to support those who are suffering as a result of Russia’s actions.
Ultimately, I am absolutely convinced that Putin will fail and Russia will suffer a strategic defeat no matter what short-term tactical gains it may make in Ukraine. As we’ve said before, you can win a battle but that doesn’t mean you win the war – on the contrary. You can take a city but you can’t take the hearts and minds of its people, and Ukrainians are demonstrating that every single day.
So I am convinced that we will see a strategic defeat of President Putin and the propositions he’s put forward. We’ll accomplish this by backing Ukrainians in their fight, by remaining united in holding Russia accountable through the devastating sanctions, the diplomatic isolation, and other measures. And we’ve already seen that Russia’s failed it its chief objectives. It’s not been able to hold Ukraine. It’s not going to be able to hold Ukraine in the long term – again, no matter what the tactical victories it may achieve are.
Liz was just saying, economically, the measures that we’ve taken have erased 30 years of progress integrating Russia into the world. This dramatic exodus – virtually every international company from Russia – continues as we speak, and that is having a profound impact not just today but over the long term.
So I think what we’re looking at is whether or not President Putin will decide to try to finally cut the losses that he’s inflicted on himself and inflicted on the Russian people. We can’t decide that for him. All that we can do is to continue this extraordinary effort to increase the pressure on him, increase our support for Ukraine, and achieve what we all want – which is the independence of Ukraine and a defeat for President Putin – because these methods are a fundamental challenge not only to Ukraine, but to the very principles of international peace and security that our countries have fought and worked to establish over many decades. That’s what is at risk here. We’re committed to defending them. We’re committed to standing for them until we succeed in making it clear that they will hold and Putin’s efforts to undermine them will fail.
MR SWIFT: Finally, can we have David Charter of the Times, please.
QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed. First question to Secretary Blinken. Secretary, it’s been reported in The Wall Street Journal today that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have both rebuffed attempts to set up conversations with President Biden in recent days. What does this snub tell us about relations with these two important Gulf states, and what do you – what’s your message to try and encourage them to produce more oil during this crisis?
And to the foreign secretary, please, you said a few days ago that you would absolutely support individual Britons going to Ukraine to take part in the fighting, though we have reports now of up to four British serving soldiers who are in Ukraine possibly or on their way. What information can you give us about that, please, and has your message changed as far as they’re concerned? And I might just add that in your opening comments, you did talk about asking NATO Allies to invest more. Does that mean we can expect that you will push for more defense spending in the UK? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. With regard to the Gulf countries, first, we share very important interests with them, from deterring Iranian aggression and Iranian-enabled attacks – whether it’s against Saudi Arabia, against the Emirates. We share a strong interest in supporting the UN-backed efforts to end the war in Yemen. We share an interest in ensuring the stability of global energy supplies. And we’ve had very constructive engagements with those interests in mind. Just yesterday I spent a fair bit of time on the phone with my Emirati counterpart. We’re all talking regularly. I’ve regularly met with my Saudi counterpart, including in Munich just a few weeks ago. The President, President Biden, spoke with King Salman of Saudi Arabia last month in a discussion that set out a very expansive agenda, and we’re now pursuing that agenda with our senior Saudi counterparts. They set out a work plan for us; we’re moving forward on it.
And I might add, we can do all of this while doing what we said we would do from the outset, which was centering human rights in our foreign policy. These priorities are not mutually exclusive. In fact, for us, they’re very much complementary. We’re not going to separate our values from our interests. We’ve made that clear in everything we’ve done, but we’re working productively, constructively with those countries. I think there was just an announcement a short while ago, as – I’m not sure if it’s been made publicly yet – about Emirati support for increased production when it comes to OPEC Plus, which I think is an important thing to stabilize global energy markets, to make sure that there remains an abundant supply of energy around the world.
FOREIGN SECRETARY TRUSS: I have been very clear that the travel advice from the United Kingdom is not to go to Ukraine. In fact, I repeated that message at the foreign affairs committee earlier this week. There are better ways of helping the efforts in Ukraine, namely donating to the DEC appeal. What I said the other week was expressing support for the Ukrainian cause. They are fighting a just war, and we are doing all we can to support them.
On the subject of defense spending, the reality is across the West, we haven’t spent enough on defense for a number of years. And we have seen a buildup of military capability from Russia in terms of both technology and numbers. And I welcome the fact the Germans are now increasing their defense spending; we’re seeing other countries follow suit. I’m not going to pre-empt any future discussions between the chancellor and the defense secretary.
But as well as conventional defense, we also need to step up our efforts in areas like information. One of the things that the United States and United Kingdom have been doing is using information, exposing intelligence we have to call out Putin’s playbook, and I think that’s been very important. But the fact is that the United Kingdom abandoned its information unit at the end of the Cold War, and the Russians didn’t abandon their information unit.
So we need to be making sure from every possible front – whether it’s conventional defense, whether it’s technology, or whether indeed it’s information – we are able to outcompete our adversaries.
MR PRICE: Thank you all very much.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.