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Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
September 9, 2022
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. The Secretary General and the Secretary of State will make introductory remarks, and then they’ll be happy to take a few questions. Secretary General.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Secretary Blinken, dear Tony, welcome back to NATO. It’s always great to see you here and thank you for your personal leadership and your personal commitment to our transatlantic Alliance.
Today, the NATO flag and the flags of 30 allies are at half mast to honor Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She was a strong supporter of our transatlantic Alliance, of our armed forces, and our values. She knew and worked with all NATO secretaries general, since the founding of NATO. She visited NATO headquarters and hosted NATO leaders at Buckingham Palace. I’ll always remember her wisdom, her warmth, and her strong personal interest in transatlantic security. Our heartfelt condolences to King Charles III, the royal family, and the people of our allies, the United Kingdom and Canada.
We have just concluded a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, where we addressed NATO’s strong and united response to Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. This includes unprecedented military, financial, and humanitarian aid from allies so that Ukraine can uphold its right to self‑defense. The United States is leading the way, and I welcome the billions of dollars of additional support announced this week.
Yesterday, I participated in the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Russia. We all agree on the importance of stepping and sustaining our winter support so that Ukraine prevails as an independent sovereign state.
In June, NATO leaders agreed a strengthened package of assistance with fuel, food, medical supplies, military gear, secure communications, and equipment to encounter mines and drones. We will support Ukraine in the long term and help its transition from Soviet-era to modern NATO equipment.
The war in Ukraine is entering a critical phase. Ukrainian forces have been able to stall Moscow’s offensive in Donbas, strike back behind Russian lines, and retake territory. Just in the last few days, we have seen further progress – both in the south in Kherson, and in the east in the Kharkiv region. This shows the bravery, skills, and determination of Ukrainian forces, and it shows that our support is making a difference every day on the battlefield.
In the coming months our unity and sovereignty will be tested with pressure on energy supplies and the soaring cost of living, caused by Russia’s war. But the price we pay is measured in money, while the price Ukrainians are paying is measured in lives – lost lives every day. And all of us will pay a much higher price, if Russia and all the authoritarian regimes see that their aggression is rewarded.
If Russia stops fighting, there will be peace. If Ukraine stops fighting, it will cease to exist as an independent nation. So we must stay the course for Ukraine’s sake and for ours. At the same time, we are sending an unmistakable message to Moscow about our readiness to protect and defend every inch of our territory. We are significantly enhancing our presence in the east of the Alliance, putting hundreds of thousands of troops on high readiness, supported with significant air and naval forces, and continuing to invest in cutting-edge capabilities.
All of this makes clear that our commitment to Article 5 is unshakeable. Europe and North American must continue to stand together in NATO, in defense of our people, our nations, and our values.
So Secretary Blinken, dear Tony, thank you again for leadership, for being here, and for a strong personal commitment to our Alliance. Please, start, of course.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jens, thank you so much. Thank you especially for your remarkable leadership of our Alliance in what is the decisive period of the Alliance. We’ve come out of the NATO Summit with a new Strategic Concept. We’ve faced Russian aggression in Ukraine. We’ve done it together, and that’s in no small measure because of your leadership.
Before speaking about what brings me here today, I’d like to join Jens in taking a moment just to honor the truly extraordinary life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. On her 21st birthday, then Princess Elizabeth committed to dedicating her life to serving the people of the Commonwealth. For more than 70 years – a period during which the United Kingdom and world witnessed unprecedented change – the Queen did just that, while personifying a sense of stability and continuity in turbulent times. She was a powerful, unifying force, a source of comfort and resilience to millions of people from all walks of life. On behalf of the United States, I extend our deepest condolences to our British friends, to the Government of the United Kingdom, to the royal family.
So as Jens noted, we just finished a session with our NATO Allies, where I had an opportunity to share a readout of my talks in Kyiv with President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba, and other senior Ukrainian officials. I’ll have an opportunity to speak to President von der Leyen from the European Union tomorrow to continue the strong transatlantic cooperation that we’ve had on Ukraine and on so many other things. These consultations are just the latest example of the unity and strength of our Alliance.
Yesterday, as I was in Kyiv, Secretary of Defense Austin convened the fifth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. More than 50 countries took part, including Ukraine’s defense minister as well as the Secretary General. Support from that group continues to make a decisive difference on the battlefield, where Ukraine’s great defenders are not just holding ground, they are retaking their sovereign territory in a two-front counteroffensive.
As I told President Zelenskyy, the support of the United States is unwavering. I announced more than $2.8 billion in additional security assistance to Ukraine and also for its neighbors. That support includes $675 million in new military aid to Ukraine. This is part of the twentieth drawdown of military equipment that President Biden has initiated, going back before the Russian aggression. It includes more guided multiple launch rocket systems, artillery ammunition, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, anti-tank systems. The twentieth drawdown now totals $14.7 billion.
That sum also includes approximately $2.2 billion in what we call foreign military financing for Ukraine, but also for European allies and partners. That will allow them to begin to begin to acquire assistance for the medium and long term that will be essential to deterring and, if necessary, defending against further Russian aggression in the years to come.
Our unity here at NATO, across our alliances and partnerships at the United Nations and other international institutions, is essential to advancing our objectives – shared objectives of supporting Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself, sustaining pressure on Russia for its aggression, ensuring that Ukraine is in the strongest position when conditions are ripe for negotiations. As President Zelenskyy has said, and rightly said, diplomacy is the only way to definitively end Russia’s war of aggression. We see in this moment no indication from Russia that it would be prepared to seriously pursue such diplomacy, but if and when that time comes, Ukraine has to be in the strongest possible position.
Now, President Putin thought that he would divide and weaken NATO. Today, the Alliance is stronger, more unified, better resourced than ever before, and I heard further evidence in our session with NATO partners today. We’ll soon welcome Finland and Sweden as new allies. We’ve approved a new Strategic Concept to meet twenty-first century threats, and more allies are meeting their pledge to spend two percent of their GDP on defense.
President Putin thought that he would divide the Ukrainian people and swiftly absorb their nation into Russia, but the Kremlin’s efforts to impose its will by force on Ukraine have only further united its people around the goal of defending their sovereignty and preserving a free and open democracy.
President Putin thought his invasion would showcase the Russian military’s might and sophistication. Instead, the Russian army is turning to North Korea and Iran for badly needed supplies, while Ukraine’s military capability continues to get stronger, thanks to its leadership, thanks to the courage of its fighters, and thanks to the robust support from allies and partners.
President Putin thought that our willingness to apply economic pressure would fade with time. Instead, we and our partners and allies have stuck together in the face of Moscow’s coercion and threats, imposing unprecedented costs on Russia’s economy. To date, over 1,000 foreign companies have quit the Russian market. Export controls on semiconductors and other advanced technologies mean that Russia cannot sustain – never mind modernize – key sectors, from automobile manufacturing to military exports, to energy exploration.
Russian imports parts and finished products, have been cut in half from a year ago. What does that mean? It means that they can’t replace the weapons that they’re using up in Ukraine, that they can’t make products for their domestic market, that their people are accustomed to buy. They can’t produce things for export, which will shrink their foreign markets.
Half a million people – half a million people, many of them highly skilled workers – have left the country. Russia’s foreign exchange reserves are estimated to have fallen by $75 billion and an additional $300 billion are currently frozen abroad. Meanwhile, Russia is cut off from the international lending market.
All of this is building. It’s cumulative. It will get to be a heavier and heavier burden, as long as Russia’s aggression continues.
And yet, even as President Putin has failed in virtually all of his objectives, the human suffering he’s inflicted on Ukrainians and other people around the world is staggering. I saw some of those consequences up close on my visit yesterday in Ukraine, including to Irpin, whose very name, like the battle of Bucha and Mariupol has become synonymous with Russian war crimes, including indiscriminate violence and the intentional targeting of civilians.
I saw the costs in my visit to the children’s hospital in Kyiv, where I met kids who will spend the rest of their lives without limbs, with enduring brain injuries, or with other trauma that may be invisible to the eye, because of atrocities committed by Russian forces. Hundreds more Ukrainian boys and girls have been killed by this unprovoked war.
It’s not just Ukrainians who are bearing the costs. As Russia falls short of its battlefield aims and is increasingly isolated on the global stage, President Putin has turned to blunter tools to try to peel off support from Ukraine. He’s weaponized energy against European countries standing up to his aggression, raising the costs on families, on businesses, on entire nations.
President Putin is betting that these actions will break the will of countries to stand with Ukraine. He’s betting that the Kremlin can bully other countries into submission. He’s already lost that bet, because the last six and a half months show a growing recognition around the world that while the costs of standing up to the Kremlin’s aggression are high, the costs of standing down would be even higher.
That’s why the United States is doing everything in its power to support people around the world who are shouldering the greatest cost of Russia’s aggression, like our comprehensive efforts to help Europeans get though a winter during which they’ll face heavy energy costs, making it hard for many to heat their homes. We won’t leave our European friends out in the cold.
It’s also an opportunity to make a decisive shift finally – once and for all – away from dependence on Russian energy, which Putin will never stop trying to weaponize to Europe’s detriment; and to make the transition to renewable sources, necessary as well to combat the climate crisis. We can – we will – emerge stronger and in a better place.
And that’s why it’s so vital that we stay the course, that we stay united – united in support of Ukraine, united with our allies and partners, united for as long as it takes. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ll take questions now. I see Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thanks a lot. Thomas Gutschker, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. My question to you, Secretary Blinken: We’ve seen this astonishing move of Ukrainian forces in the northeast of their country, pushing possibly 50 kilometers into Russian occupied territory. How do you explain that? It appears that the Russian army is hardly even fighting. Is that – is it on the brink of collapse in that area. Do you have an explanation for that? And do you see this potentially as a turning point in this war?
And the question to the Secretary General, if I may: You are constantly making the case for member states to send more ammunition, more arms to Ukraine. One of the replies we are constantly hearing from our defense ministers is that it will compromise capacities that they have pledged to NATO. So, when push comes to shove, and member states do have to make a decision on either supporting Ukraine or holding up their commitments to NATO, what is your suggestion? What’s the right decision to take?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah, so happy to start. Thank you. Let me say two things. First, what we’re seeing is that the counteroffensive that the Ukrainians have put in place with strong systems and backing from many countries is now underway. It’s early days, but it is demonstrably making real progress. It’s focused in the south, around Kherson, in that area. But we’re also seeing Ukraine not only hold the line in the Donbas and in the northeast, but as you noted, make a significant advance moving some 45 to 50 kilometers in one area past what had been the existing Russia line.
I think it’s too early to say exactly where this will go, when it will get there, and exactly where it will end up. But I think we can say that Ukraine is proceeding in a very deliberate way with a strong plan, and critically enabled by resources that many of us are providing.
But fundamentally – and I think this may explain more directly the answer to your question – why am I absolutely confident in the success of the Ukrainians in pushing back the Russian aggression, whether it’s in the northeast, the Donbas, or in the south? For one simple basic reason: This is Ukraine’s homeland, not Russia. People are fighting for their homeland; they’re fighting for their future. And while we can calculate the benefits of weapon systems and financial resources, it’s hard to put a value on that determination to fight for one’s own country, except to say that it’s invaluable and the single biggest difference maker that I think we’ll see play out over the weeks and months ahead.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: NATO has had provided unprecedented support to Ukraine with the weapons, with the ammunition and other capabilities. And of course, they have done that bolstered by reducing existing stocks. And you are right that, of course, our allies are now raising the issue of whether these stocks are depleted too much.
My answer to that is actually twofold. One is to realize that weapons, ammunitions that we are providing to Ukraine are used to stop the aggressive actions of Russia against an independent, sovereign nation in Europe which is a close partner of NATO. And if President Putin wins in Ukraine, it’s not only bad for Ukrainians, but it is also dangerous for all of us. So actually, by ensuring that Russia, that President Putin doesn’t win in Ukraine, we’re also increasing our own security and strengthening the Alliance by proving that we don’t allow that kind of behavior close to our own borders. So, the use of these stocks actually helps to increase our own security and reduce the risk of any aggressive actions by Russia against NATO Ally countries.
Let me also add that more than 80 percent of Russia’s land forces are now dedicated to the war in Ukraine. So for what happens there, not just for the total capacity of Russia to pose any threat to any NATO Ally from here.
So, my first message to the Allies is that we welcome the unprecedented support. We are calling for even more support, and we urge them to dig deeply into the inventories, to the stocks, to continue to provide the supplies that Ukraine need immediately. And we see that this is making a huge difference on the ground, because as Secretary Blinken – Tony – just referred to, there are – we see progress on the ground in Ukraine. But make no mistakes, you have to be prepared for the long haul.
The second answer to the concern about the level of stocks is of course to produce more. Therefore we are now in close contact with the defense industry, with capitals. We have established structures here at NATO on defense planning, on capabilities, to ensure that we are now ramping up production, that we are replenishing the stocks, both to be able to continue to provide support to Ukraine, but this is not only about supporting Ukraine; it’s also about ensuring that we have the weapons, the munitions, the capabilities in place for our own deterrence and defense.
MODERATOR: Okay, with Agence France-Presse.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Mr. Secretary General. Can I follow up on my colleague’s question a bit on the state of where it is? Russia has just announced that they’re sending reinforcements into the Kharkiv area. How do you see this going? Do you think this is a sign of – how do you see this as a sign in terms of the direction that Russia’s going in? And how do you see this as a – in terms of where it could be seen in Kharkiv?
Could I ask you also, since you’re talking about the Alliance and unity among the – within the Alliance, the question of Turkey. Turkey, there was some concerns raised previously on Sweden and Finland. This past weekend there were comments from President Erdoğan regarding Greece and comments perceived as threatening. How do you see the role of Turkey in this? Do you have any specific reaction to President Erdoğan’s remarks this weekend? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Shaun, thank you. On the first question, following up on our German colleague, look, the counteroffensive, again, is in its early days, so I don’t want to prejudge, as I said, where it will go and how far it will get. But the initial signs are positive, and we see Ukraine making real, demonstrable progress in a deliberate way.
But fundamentally, what we’re also seeing – and we’ve seen this throughout – even as President Putin threw as much as he could against Ukraine earlier this summer, Ukraine absorbed the blow and now is pushing back, enabled by our partners and allies, the United States.
But the single most important factor, I believe, is this: Ukrainians are fighting for their own country. The Russian forces in Ukraine, many of them have no idea why they’re there. Some didn’t even know where they were being sent. We see reports that their morale is low, and when you don’t know what you’re fighting for, that is something that’s not sustainable.
Now, Russia has significant resources, military resources. It is acting in horrific, indiscriminate ways. Ukrainians are bearing an incredibly heavy cost, as Jens alluded to. Their lives are on the line. And even on the front lines now, in and around the Kherson area – even as they’re making progress, they’re bearing real costs. But fundamentally they are fighting for their own homeland, they’re fighting for their future; the Russian forces in Ukraine are not. And I am convinced that that is the most decisive factor, and we’re seeing some manifestations of that. But this is likely to go on for some significant period of time. There are a huge number of Russian forces that are in Ukraine, and unfortunately, tragically, horrifically, President Putin has demonstrated that he will throw a lot of people into this, at huge cost to Russia, at huge cost to its future.
And let me just add something I’ve said from the beginning. How is what Putin is doing doing anything to improve the lives of the Russian people? How is this helping them? How is this assuring their own future? How is this creating opportunity for them? Not only is it not; it’s doing just the opposite. It’s cutting Russia off from the world. It’s denying opportunity. It’s depleting its resources, resources that could go to help the Russian people. In a closed information society that Putin has created in Russia, that information doesn’t get there as quickly as it otherwise might, but I believe it will. And Russians have to ask themselves why in the world they are losing so many lives trying to take another country that is not theirs.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: Just briefly on that, yes, we see some encouraging signs. The Russian offensive in Donbas has been stalled by the Ukrainian forces, and they are retaking some territory both in the east and in the south. But make no mistake. This can last for long time, and at least we have to be prepared for long haul and be ready to provide support to Ukraine for as long as it takes.
Wars are, by nature, unpredictable; and we know that Russia has a lot of military capabilities, and they are willing to use them to attack a sovereign, independent democratic nation, as we are seeing over the last months in Ukraine.
The first task is actually to be prepared for the winter. The winter is coming, it’s going to be hard, and therefore we need both to continue to supply weapons and ammunition, but also winter clothing, tents, generators, and all the specific equipment which is needed for the winter. Partly because the size of the Ukraine army has just increased so much, they need more of these kind of winter equipment; and NATO is particularly focused on how can we provide tens of thousands of, for instance, winter uniforms to the Ukrainian army.
On Turkey and Greece, Turkey and Greece are two highly valued Allies. They participate and contribute to NATO in many different ways. Any differences between them, of course, should be solved by diplomatic means. We have also at NATO established what we call a deconfliction mechanism where Turkey and Greece can engage and have used this previously to provide information to provide also ways to deconflict any dangerous situation or behavior in, for instance, the Aegean Sea.
MODERATOR: New York Times.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’d like to follow up on Shaun’s – I’d like to follow up on Shaun’s question about Turkey and just press a little bit more. You talked about the importance of unity to the Alliance. President Erdoğan in many ways, not only with this recent threat to Greece, seems to be threatening that unity. He’s talked about another incursion into northeast Syria. He renewed over the summer his threat to block the admission of Sweden and Finland into the Alliance, and then this latest issue with Greece, among others. Just can you talk a little bit more about the effect this has on the unity you say is so crucial?
And specifically Secretary Blinken, I believe I heard you say in your introductory remarks that you’re confident or looking forward to Sweden and Finland being admitted into the Alliance. Can you tell us what your basis for that optimism is given that President Erdoğan, as I said, renewed his threat over the summer to block their admission?
And if I just might briefly ask you to talk a little bit about where things stand with the Iran nuclear negotiations. They appear to have stalled out, perhaps once and for all. Can they be revived? And what comes next? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Michael, thank you. And I’m really going to defer to the secretary general on questions fundamentally related to NATO. Let me simply say this.
First, with regard to Finland and Sweden, I think it’s very clear that there is a strong Alliance consensus, strong support for their admission. We’ve seen the ratification of the protocols process move forward with land record speed, and there’s strong support in the United States, of course, from both political parties. I had the honor of depositing the instruments of ratification last month. So I’m very confident that this is moving forward, moving forward deliberately, but I would defer to Jens on anything further on that.
More broadly, I can only repeat what Jens said, for example, about Greece and Turkey – both vital, important Allies, friends of the United States. They have differences, and of course we’d like to see them resolve these differences in a constructive way through dialogue. They’ve done so in the past, and we would expect them to do so going forward.
And it is precisely because we have a fundamental challenge before us when it comes to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, a challenge that matters to every single ally and many countries well beyond the Alliance, well beyond the transatlantic area. And so, we should be making sure that we’re focusing all of our attention and our resources as necessary in supporting Ukraine and pushing back against Russia’s aggression.
Now, what I’ve heard in the room today with all of our NATO partners present was a very strong reaffirmation of that focus, of that unity – unity of purpose, unity of action. President Biden heard that very clearly in the conversation that he initiated just yesterday with many of our partners. Secretary Austin heard that and saw that at Ramstein where for the fifth time this coalition of countries has come together to further support Ukraine. So what I’m seeing as a practical matter is an Alliance that is united and is focused on the biggest challenge that many of our countries face right now.
With regard to Iran and the JCPOA, a few things. First, it’s a negotiation. It’s back and forth. We have a response from Iran to what was put forward most recently by the European Union. We’ve been looking at that along with the European partners, and needless to say, I’m not about to negotiate anything in public. In past weeks, we’ve closed some gaps. Iran had moved away from some extraneous demands, demands unrelated to the JCPOA itself. However, the latest response takes us backwards, and we are not about to agree to a deal that doesn’t meet our bottom line requirements and/or that tries to continuously introduce extraneous demands that are not relevant to the JCPOA itself. If we conclude a deal, it’s only because it will advance our national security. The President is focused on that, and what we’ve just seen again would appear to move us backward, not forward.
SECRETARY GENERAL STOLTENBERG: On differences in NATO – yes, of course, there are differences in NATO. We are 30 different Allies, 30 different democracies, and of course we don’t always agree on all issues. And that has been the case since this Alliance was founded more than 70 years ago, dating back to the Suez Crisis in ’56 or the differences on the Iraq War 20 years ago. And of course, we also see differences today. What makes NATO the most successful alliance in history is that we’re able to overcome those differences, and then make decisions together, and then implement them together.
And we saw that demonstrated at the NATO summit in Madrid just a few months ago. We made big decisions on further increasing our presence in the eastern part of Alliance. We only had 40,000 troops under NATO command as a direct response to the Russian attack on Ukraine. And we have also agreed to strengthen deterrence and defense across the whole Alliance.
We made also the decision to invite Finland and Sweden. That’s an historic decision. And all Allies agreed to invite them. And I also welcome that, so far, this has been the fastest accession process in NATO’s modern history. Up to now, 24 Allies have already ratified, in national parliaments, the accession protocols, and including the U.S. – the United States Senate.
And I also think it’s important to recognize that we have to take the security concerns of all Allies seriously, meaning that we need to address the fact that no other Ally have suffered – has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey. And therefore, I welcome that as part of the agreement in Madrid – it was a trilateral agreement between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey to strengthen cooperation when it comes to fighting terrorism. They have established a permanent mechanism to exchange more informations, to exchange intelligence, and to work more closely together.
So, I’m confident that we will move forward, and that Finland and Sweden will become members; and so, far this has been the fastest accession protocol process ever in NATO’s history.
MODERATOR: I know there are more questions; unfortunately, we have run out of time, so this concludes this press conference. Thank you.