SECRETARY BLINK: Good afternoon. Let me just start by saying how wonderful it is to be back in Germany for what I believe is my sixth time as Foreign Minister. There are reminders of my country’s partnership with Germany throughout this city, including here in this building. This bank managed the Marshall Plan funds that helped rebuild Germany and Europe after World War II.
We knew that a secure, prosperous and democratic Europe was strongly in the interests of the United States, Europe and the world. That was true then. That is still true today. Here in Berlin five months ago, I gave a speech on Russia’s impending aggression against Ukraine. Our intelligence revealed that President Putin mobilized for war, and to step up our efforts and prepare our partners, I explained why it would be so dangerous for the people of Ukraine, for the people of Europe, even for people all over the world.
I said that Russia aimed not only at Ukraine, but at the basic principles of peace and security established in the wake of two world wars and the Cold War, that one country could not just change the borders of another by force or subjugate a sovereign nation’s will or dictate its choice or policy. A few weeks later, the war began. Today it enters its fifth month.
Thousands of civilians, tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed or wounded. Cities have been flattened out. Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes. Across Ukraine, the global food crisis has intensified due to the war. Russia has destroyed Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure, including its second-largest grain terminal, earlier this month. It blocks Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea, and prevents crops such as grain and corn from being shipped worldwide.
Around 25 million tonnes of grain are stuck in Ukraine due to this Russian blockade. We spent some time today in the G7 meeting and then in the extraordinary session my German colleague called in on the growing food security crisis that has been accelerated by Russia’s war of aggression and the steps that countries are taking to meet it. These months have been brutal for Ukraine. They have been very difficult for countries and people around the world, and the truth is that it will probably remain so for a while.
So let’s remember for a moment what we are working on and why we are working to do so. First, we are helping Ukraine survive as a democratic, independent, sovereign state. The UN Charter promises it to all countries. Russia, as a permanent member of the Security Council, violates this Charter every single day. Ukraine is fighting with extraordinary courage.
A war that President Putin thought would be over in a few days has now been going on for several months. They are fighting not only for themselves, but for all of us, because if Russia escapes violating the basic principles at stake, it is not just the Ukrainian people who will suffer. It will take us back to a much more dangerous time, a much more unstable time. It will send a message that these principles are somehow usable, and it will make many countries around the world vulnerable to the very aggression to which Ukraine is now exposed.
Yesterday, I approved a withdrawal of up to $ 450 million in weapons and other equipment from the US Department of Defense’s inventory, including high-mobility artillery missile systems, tens of thousands of additional rounds of ammunition for artillery systems that Ukraine has already received, including howitzers and patrol boats to help Ukraine defend the coast and waterways. This is now our 13th move for Ukraine’s defense since August 2021. It brings our total military assistance to Ukraine to more than $ 6.1 billion since the war began. We give Ukraine the support it needs to defend itself. As long as it takes, we will continue to do so.
There have been recent reports that Russia’s limited military gains in eastern Ukraine are raising concerns in Europe and beyond about the course of the war, so let me be clear on a few things.
First, Ukraine is defending itself with extraordinary courage and resilience, and Russia has already lost. President Putin’s goal, in his own words, was to eliminate Ukraine as a sovereign, independent country. That effort has failed. A sovereign, independent Ukraine is going to exist much longer than President Putin is on stage.
As for the military campaign, Russian forces failed miserably in the attempt to capture Kyiv. Due to fierce Ukrainian opposition, Russia has dramatically changed its strategy. It reduced its short-term goals and focused instead on conquering territory in the east to try to shift momentum and let President Putin erroneously claim victory.
But while Russia has achieved slow, painful gains in one region, these gains have been far from decisive, and they have cost extraordinarily high costs. Public reports indicate that tens of thousands of Russian troops have been killed or wounded since the aggression began, and Russia continues to lose a large number of tanks, aircraft, ships, equipment, ammunition. Even if Russia succeeds in conquering more territory, it will inherit cities and towns whose own artillery has turned to rubble and a local population that hates it. It must settle for an increasingly confident and well-armed Ukrainian force.
Russia has been locked in a war of attrition of its own production, and despite what you hear from propagandists in the Kremlin, our intelligence indicates that the Russian military continues to suffer from low morale, high damage, equipment failure and leaders afraid to tell the truth about what’s really going on on the ground.
Secondly, we are increasing the costs to Russia of bringing the war to an end more quickly through unique sanctions and export controls. Economists predict that Russia’s GDP will fall by between 10 and 15 percent this year. Moscow has so far prevented an economic meltdown by taking extraordinary measures to support the currency, but these tactics are unsustainable as the full effect of Western sanctions and trade restrictions begins to take hold. Access to credit will dry up. Production will decline. The shelves will remain empty. Unemployment will rise. Without access to global finance, technology and trade, Russia’s long – term economic potential, its ability to project military power, its capacity to deliver a high standard of living for the people will deteriorate.
Although Russia will benefit from higher oil prices in the short term, it will not over time as Europe significantly reduces oil imports and Moscow cannot replace energy production equipment due to export controls. Nor can the Kremlin spend its money on the things it really wants, such as advanced defense and space components, which are also limited by export controls.
In the meantime, we have now seen more than a thousand foreign companies flee the country, withdrawing their investments. More people are likely to make the same decision as the effect of sanctions and export controls continues to increase. We have also seen many of Russia’s best and smartest leave the country as well, including highly trained technology and energy professionals and foreign experts who used to call Russia home. Perhaps all this is the reason why the Russian government stopped publishing important economic data in April.
Our information indicates that about half of the Russians recently reported that their household economic situation has deteriorated since the war began. Finally, the Russian people will have to ask themselves: Is this war worth the price? Why do we do this? How does this in any way improve my life, my children’s lives?
Third, we are working to end global dependence on Russian energy, which the Kremlin has used as a coercive tool for far too long. The EU promises to cut Russian oil imports by 90 percent by the end of the year and to ban EU companies from transporting Russian crude oil is a strong and courageous action. We know that it will not be easy to implement. Germany, for example, has just taken new measures to save energy to help meet rising fuel prices. But ultimately, moving away from Russian oil and Russian energy means breaking free from Moscow’s grip, and it will ultimately make life better for Europe’s people.
Fourth, we strengthen our own defenses. At NATO’s Summit next week, we will support a new strategic concept to ensure that NATO is prepared to face new threats over the next decade. We will announce new force position commitments to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank and its defense and deterrence. And, of course, we will pursue Finland and Sweden’s applications to join the Alliance in light of the Kremlin’s war against its neighbor. President Putin wanted to weaken NATO with this war. Instead, NATO is stronger, more united and on the verge of expanding.
We all wish we could say with certainty when this war will end. The days ahead will not be easy. But we must and will be determined to stand up to Russian aggression and defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence. President Putin used to claim that this war of aggression against Ukraine was somehow about a threat that Ukraine or NATO posed to Russia. But that’s not what this is about; it has never been, and President Putin now admits it outright. He recently compared himself to Peter the Great and said that when Peter waged war with Sweden, he simply took back what belonged to Russia. Now, he said, Russia is again looking to take back what is theirs. He stopped pretending that this election war was about Russia defending itself against a produced threat from NATO. It’s about conquest. It’s about subordinating Russia’s neighbor. We can not let that happen.
From the beginning of this brutal war, the United States and our allies and partners have been united to a remarkable degree, and it continues. At every step there has been doubt as to whether our shared decision would last, and at every step we have proved that it would. Some doubted that we would impose sanctions that would have a meaningful impact on the Russian economy; we did. Some have doubted whether we would build a substantial coalition behind these sanctions; we did. Some doubted whether countries in Europe would provide lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine; they did. Some doubted that Ukraine could withstand Moscow’s attacks; it has, it will, and we will stand with them.
In the coming week, we will once again strengthen our unity, both at the NATO Summit and at the G7 Summit, where we will reaffirm our support for a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine; address the impact of this war of aggression on Russia on rising global food and gas prices; and roll out a set of concrete actions to continue to increase costs on Russia.
President Zelenskyy said that this war will only end definitively through diplomacy. We are ready to support any diplomatic solution. And yet Russia has shown no interest. We will continue to discuss diplomatic strategies with Ukraine, with our allies and partners. We will continue to strengthen Ukraine’s position on the battlefield so that it has the strongest possible position at any negotiating table that emerges.
As President Biden recently reiterated, we seek a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend against any further aggression. We will support Ukraine’s efforts to achieve a negotiated end to the conflict because our principle through this crisis has not been about Ukraine without Ukraine, and it will continue.
The United States is grateful to our allies and partners for incredibly close coordination every step of the way. Together with people around the world, we stand resolutely with the Ukrainian people as they fight for their country and for the principles that make the world safer and more free for all. Thank you.
MR PRICE: We have time for some questions. We start with Missy Ryan from The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr Secretary. Thank you for doing this. I have two questions about Ukraine. You first mentioned Russia’s limited military gains in eastern Ukraine, but at the same time Russia has – I guess you were referring to the fall of Sievierodonetsk or the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from that city. But Russia has also managed to take other parts of eastern Ukraine, and I just wonder if you look at the change of control in Sievierodonetsk as potentially an indicator of the limits of Ukraine’s reach or ability to the battlefield, and an indicator that this potentially sets themselves in a frozen state. conflict.
And then yesterday you mentioned the 450 million, the last withdrawal. In response, the ranked Republican in the Senate’s Armed Services welcomed the withdrawal, but also said that the administration, in his view, still fails to go far enough in offering weapons that Ukraine has requested, such as drones and tanks with longer range. What is your response to the idea that the United States and its allies, despite this enormous amount of aid being rolled out, are arming Ukraine enough to maintain a stalemate or perhaps have this slow disintegration of territory but not enough to win?
SECRETARY BLINK: Thank you, Missy. So first, what we see in the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, after Russia’s inability to achieve its goals of taking over the whole country, eliminating its sovereignty and independence – it failed. It failed largely due to the extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people. It also failed because for many, many months, well before the aggression, we had done everything we could to ensure that Ukrainians had in their hands the tools they needed, the weapons they needed to repel Russian aggression. And that is what they did so effectively around Kyiv and pushed the whole conflict to Eastern Ukraine and Southern Ukraine.
The fighting is intense in the Donbas all the way. We see an awful lot of victims on both sides, Russia and Ukraine, and what we have been saying all along is that the path to this conflict was not going to be linear. It would move back and forth. The progress we have seen Russia make in the Donbas has, as has been said, led to incredibly high costs for Russia in life and materiel. And as I mentioned a moment ago, in many cases, to the extent that Russia takes a little extra territory, the territory it has taken has literally been bombed to the ruins by Russia itself. And to the extent that the locals remain, it is – as I said, it hates Russia. So it is not a situation that suggests that there will be stability in some parts of Ukraine that Russia seizes by force.
But again, I think we focus on the tactical at the expense of looking, again, at the strategic. And it is worth emphasizing that Russia’s goal, Putin’s goal, was to eliminate Ukraine as a sovereign and independent state. It has failed. And now an incredibly destructive struggle is taking place in a part of Ukraine.
In terms of aid, what we have done at every step of the way is to make the best decision we can on what Ukraine needs and can effectively use to repel Russian aggression. And it evolves over time; which has changed over time. Some of the systems that we and many others gave the Ukrainians to deal with the Russian attack on Kyiv were different from what is needed now because the nature of the struggle has changed, the nature of what is needed has changed.
As I mentioned, this is now the 13th withdrawal we have made, well over $ 6 billion in aid from the United States alone, and of course dozens of allies and partners are participating in an effort coordinated by us – Secretary Austin in Ramstein for just a few months since gathered everyone to really coordinate this effort further. And we make decisions every day about what we think can be most effective in helping the Ukrainians deal with the Russian aggression and the details of that aggression.
Two things are needed: the equipment itself, which is being delivered very quickly, to include the latest HIMARS, to include the latest MLRS – and it significantly increases the range that the Ukrainians have in dealing with Russian artillery positions and other things. However, it is also critical that – in the case of weapons systems supplied by many, many countries, including the United States – that the Ukrainians are effectively trained to use the system, as well as have the ability to maintain them. So all this has to be put together. We do it, and again, we do it in very close coordination with allies and partners, and I think you will see, as more equipment continues to get where it should – in Ukrainian hands – that it will have an impact on the battlefield.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Mr Secretary. I have a question about food security, but if you want to indulge me in the light of the historical news at home, I would ask you – of course you may have heard that the Supreme Court has overthrown Roe v. Wade, which creates potential restrictions that would largely counteract worldwide trends. Yesterday, the court also said that Americans can – have the right to carry firearms in public for self-defense on the heels of a series of mass shootings. Of course, we know that this is not necessarily your portfolio, but the Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized its desire to improve the image of the United States abroad with allies and partners and to assure them that the United States is on the same page on major issues and principles. Does this complicate your efforts to do so?
And then I can ask you the question of food safety right away. You and your colleagues have repeatedly pushed back on Russia’s comments that sanctions are responsible for the food crisis, and there is evidence to support that, but sanctions have caused enormous challenges that cannot be denied, and so far, despite discussions with allies around though in the world, these efforts have not yet seen any significant effect so far as to alleviate some of the logistical disruptions that occur. And how can you change that?
SECRETARY BLINK: Yes, thank you. As for the Supreme Court decision, I think the president will talk about it pretty soon, maybe in the next hour or so. So I’m definitely not going to go in front of the president. I let him talk about the decision.
With regard to cereals, it is first of all very important to continue to make it clear, as I did earlier today when I stood with my German colleague, that this story that Russia has pushed out that our sanctions somehow contributes to food shortages, that it is completely wrong, and that it is Russia’s aggression against Ukraine that has exacerbated what was already a terrible pre-existing condition. We have seen increasing food insecurity in recent years, mainly driven by climate change and COVID; now we have conflict and Russia’s aggression.
And again, to be completely clear on this, from day one, when we imposed sanctions on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine, we exempted from these sanctions food, foodstuffs, fertilizers and also things that are necessary to move them out of Russia. , including insurance and shipping. And we have traveled the world every time a question is raised, a practical question about any perceived obstacle to moving food to answer these questions, and if there has been an unintentional complication, we deal with it and make sure that we can facilitate food exports.
Russia itself has played terrible games with its own food, imposed its own export controls on itself, set quotas, decided when and where to make food available for political reasons. As I said before, there is nothing to stop the export of food, foodstuffs, fertilizers from Russia except Russia itself. And the only thing stopping the export of food from Ukraine, Europe’s breadbasket, is Russia. Blockade of Odessa – as I said earlier, there are around 25 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos in Ukraine, on ships in the port of Odessa, which can not leave due to Russia.
Then again, Russia has spread this false story, we crack it down wherever we can, and if any practical problems arise, we deal with them.
MR PRICE: Fred Pleitgen, CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. I just got back from Russia; I was there for about two and a half weeks. And honestly, the Russians think they are winning. They say that their finances have been affected, but it has certainly not been crippled. They make tons of money on oil and gas. In fact, they are trying to turn the offensive in Ukraine into an employment program by offering people up to five, six thousand dollars a month to fight there, especially people from lower-income regions of Russia. And they have defined or they have called the losses on the battlefield that you say are terrible – they have called them acceptable. Doesn’t that mean that the United States will have to step up a lot in terms of economic pressure and military assistance to Ukraine if they really want to deter Russia from continuing to attack Ukraine?
I will also follow up on what Vivian said or asked, because I had the chance to talk to Dmitry Peskov and he told me that the Russians would be fine with letting goods come out of the port of Odessa, but the Ukrainians have to remove the mines and the Russians will inspect each ship. Do you have any confidence in such demands?
And finally – this is probably just a yes-or-no answer – is there any chance that you will encounter or meet Sergey Lavrov at the G20 in Bali?
SECRETARY BLINK: So let me take them in a slightly different order. Thank you.
First, with regard to Odessa, again, the only thing that prevents Ukrainian grain from leaving the Russian effective blockade of the port. When Russia says it can be prepared to release ships, it potentially creates a risk that Russian ships will enter and attack Odessa directly. So the Ukrainians must have confidence that when they do everything in their power to get their ships out of port, the Russians will not take advantage of it and let Russian ships go in and attack Odessa.
With regard to inspections, by what right or by what logic does Russia insist on inspecting Ukrainian sovereign ships leaving Ukrainian ports and going to other countries? It makes no sense. That said, the UN, the Secretary-General has worked very hard to see if some kind of agreement can be reached that will allow a canal out of Odessa for Ukrainian ships, and then food and grain. We strongly support that effort. They are trying to bring Russians and Ukrainians together. Turkey is also involved in supporting this effort. If they can come to an agreement, it would be very good, but I doubt that Russia really takes this seriously. In a way, it continues to kick the box down the road despite the best efforts of the UN Secretary-General, but we hope that it can achieve something.
In the meantime, more grain is being moved out of Ukraine by rail, overland to Poland, Romania and elsewhere. We have seen the volume increase month by month. It is still not close to where it was before the Russian aggression, but that is – it is increasing. We work to help facilitate that. One of the other big problems that Ukraine has – and the president brought this up the other day – is that because so much grain is stuck in silos, there is no place for it to go when the new harvest comes in. So we are looking at some creative solutions to that problem.
Again, in terms of sanctions and pressure, Putin has over the years developed one of the most effective 24/7 propaganda systems in any country on earth, and thus the regular diet of propaganda that Russians feed every single day without other sources. of information that Putin has tried for many years to eliminate, sometimes making it difficult for the truth to penetrate immediately. But as I said earlier, the sanctions have already had a dramatic impact on Russia’s economic wealth. Much of what it does, for example to support the ruble, is unsustainable, and I think you will see changes there.
As I mentioned, while oil revenues come in due to higher prices, export controls are such that the things Russia most wants to buy, including technology to modernize the defense sector, to modernize the ability to extract energy in different places, they can not buy it. Meanwhile, this emigration of more than a thousand companies from Russia – which also affects over time. For example, companies that have been involved in selling things that Russians want to buy, they had inventory in Russia, so even if they left or said they were going to travel, the inventory was still there, so the Russians could still buy an iPhone.
As these stocks are depleted, I think you will see that the Russian people will not be able to buy what they have been able to buy for the last 20 or 30 years since Russia opened to the world, and what Putin has forfeited among Many other things about this aggression against Ukraine are all that has been achieved in terms of Russian openness to the world and the opportunities that it creates for the Russian people. He has forfeited this with this aggression against Ukraine.
This will bite more and more and more. We see a downgrade of Russian bonds to junk status. We see expectations for Russian growth to be somewhere between minus 10 and minus 15 in the coming year, and all this has a cumulative impact. And as I said, at some point, despite the propaganda system, the Russian people will actually feel this in everyday life. I wish that was not the case. I wish these consequences of Putin’s aggression would not also cause suffering in Russia, but it is a fact. It’s a result of Putin’s aggression, and I’m just coming back to this simple question that if you could talk to Russians directly – and maybe you did while you were there – what could this possibly do to improve their lives? How is this horrific aggression that costs so many Ukrainian lives and so many Russian lives – how does it do anything to actually address what the Russian people want?
I think in time they will ask these questions more and more and more.
MR PRICE: Kristin Becker, ARD.
SECRETARY BLINK: Oh. I’m not getting ahead of it. We must – stay tuned.
MR PRICE: Kristin Becker, ARD.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr Secretary, in your statement you said that we will continue to help Ukraine as long as it takes, more or less. I was wondering that also in Germany these days solidarity is the big word, but in Germany and also in the United States you have a kind of aggravated situation for ordinary people when it comes to inflation, gas prices. So how long do you think you can maintain this solidarity? Is there a limit?
And if you allow me, just – I understand that you can not offer an official position in the Roe v. Wade case, but in Germany we have a big day today also in terms of abortion rights because Parliament voted for more liberalization on it. And I was just wondering if you could at least give me a personal note. Your ex-boss – ex-president Obama said it was an attack on “the essential [freedom] of millions of Americans”. Do you agree?
SECRETARY BLINK: Second part first, again, because President Biden will talk about this shortly, I will have nothing to say. I will – I do not want to go in front of the president.
When it comes to the sustainability of everything we do, I want to say two things. First, as I mentioned in my introductory remarks, at virtually every step of the way in this process from before Russia’s aggression to now, much doubt has been expressed about our ability to do things we said we would do, about our ability to maintain solidarity, about the willingness of allies and partners to take significant steps in terms of either sanctions or to support Ukraine, including with security assistance.
And so far at every step of the way, the doubters have been proven wrong, and our solidarity, our ability to work as allies and partners in support of Ukraine militarily, economically and on humanitarian grounds; to impose on Russia the costs of the aggression in an attempt to make it end the war faster, and as we will see in just a few days, strengthen our defensive alliance in NATO – I believe that unity, that solidarity has been unlike any I have seen in the 30 years I have been doing this. As I said earlier, we can not predict how long this war will last, and I fear it will still take a while. We would like to see that – Russia’s aggression will end tomorrow, and we will look for any opportunity to put an end to the aggression.
But what I heard today from my G7 partners was an ongoing commitment to continue to do what we have done to support Ukraine: to impose costs on Russia, to strengthen our own defenses. I know we will see more of that in NATO, and we will see it at the G7 leadership level. And I think solidarity is strong, it is genuine, and there is a real commitment to implement it for as long as necessary.
`MR PRICE: Take one last question from Carsten Hoffmann, DPA.
QUESTION: Yes. Mr Secretary, you mentioned food security today and that was the conference, but there is another major problem which is energy security. There are concerns that Germany and other European countries could be hit hard in the winter due to a lack of gas. Is there anything you need – that the United States can do? Have you talked to your partners in Europe about this?
SECRETARY BLINK: Yes, and in fact, there has been an ongoing conversation – more than a conversation, active coordination – for several months. We set up a working group with the EU to look at energy issues that have arisen since Russia’s aggression, including concerns about the availability of energy for Europe. We have directed more liquefied natural gas to Europe. We have worked with other countries, including in Asia, which were awarded a contract to take some liquefied natural gas that has been diverted to Europe. We are doing everything we can to support the transitions that Europe is making away from Russian oil in the first place, and ultimately diversify their energy sources going forward.
This is not easy at all. I mean, the dependence on Russia has built up over decades, so you can not just turn a switch and end it easily and cleanly. But it seems to me to be a real commitment in Europe to do that. And for people in Europe to continue to let Russia suffocate through energy in different countries in Europe, I think that is both unacceptable and unsustainable. And European leaders are taking very bold steps to move away from that.
I think we have always said that by standing up to this Russian aggression, the costs would be borne first and foremost by the Ukrainian people, but we would also bear the costs. And I think leaders across Europe and across Asia have made the assessment that these costs are necessary because what is at stake, the ongoing dangers posed to us all by letting Russian aggression continue with impunity, are enormous. And then there are victims who are made, but we take very active steps to try to address them, to put an end to them, to curb them where we can. And again, these would mean that you have to spend for these processes and for the rest of the world.
MR PRICE: Thank you, Mr Secretary.
SECRETARY BLINK: Thank you, everyone.
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