AMBASSADOR VICTORIA NULAND, UNDER SECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS
FEBRUARY 16, 2023
MODERATOR: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us today for this virtual press briefing. We are very honored to be joined by Ambassador Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the Department of State.
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Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. Under Secretary Nuland, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Thank you, John. Thank you, so many colleagues, for joining us. So we are, as you all know, approaching the one-year anniversary of Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine. A year ago today, the U.S. was warning the world that Putin intended to do this, and we were all concerned about how Ukraine would manage and how the world would react.
Today, we see that Putin gravely underestimated both the resolve, capability, and bravery of the people of Ukraine to defend their country, their democracy, and their freedom; he also gravely underestimated the resolve of the free world to stand with Ukraine, our allies and partners, for as long as it takes.
We are more united now than we were before this brutal invasion. Not only is Ukraine fighting bravely, but today we have 50-plus nations providing tens of billions of dollars in military support, economic support, humanitarian support. NATO is stronger. The UN community (inaudible) is united than it’s ever been. Ukraine has put forward a formula for a just peace in President Zelenskyy’s 10 points, and Russia keeps talking about a false peace. What we need is a durable peace where Ukraine can again not only survive but thrive within its international borders, and we will not stand for any kind of a false or phony peace that just gives Russia the opportunity to rest, refit, and return.
You see the war grinding in the east, in Bakhmut. Russia has declared that it is launching a new offensive. Well, if this is it, it is very pathetic, I would say. Ukraine itself is planning its own counteroffensive for later on.
Let me pause there to go to your questions. It is hard to think back that this has been going on for a year. I want to just again salute the bravery and the tenacity and the courage of the Ukrainian people, led by President Zelenskyy. Not only are they fighting on the battlefield, but they are also now withstanding this vicious escalation that Putin has launched against them in the form of attacks on energy and other critical infrastructure, indiscriminately attacking civilians and bombarding cities, and of course the evil, evil filtration of Ukrainian children to Russia. They should be ashamed of themselves. Let me pause there.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Under Secretary, for your opening remarks. We’ll go now to the question-and-answer portion of the conversation. Our first question was pre-submitted by Kristina Zeleniuk from the Ukrainian Television Channel 1+1. She asks: “What do you think Putin’s goals will be during the second year of this full-scale war against Ukraine? Will he try again to capture Kyiv? And can we say now that this war will last for years?”
AMBASSADOR NULAND: Well, Kristina, one thing that I never like to do, and I’m not going to start now, is to get into the head of Vladimir Putin. That is not a place that I want to be. I think what we’ve seen is that he is arrogant enough to believe that he can defeat Ukraine, that Ukraine is Russian, and that he will continue. I think the more interesting question is whether the Russian people will stand for this given how many of their sons they are losing – more than 200,000 Russians killed in action or wounded in action over the course of the year. They have in some categories lost more than half of their military equipment in this war and more than a million of the brightest and best Russians have left the country.
So what is this war bringing the average Russian? Nothing. Death, destruction, loss of a future, loss of the technological and economic potential that would come from being integrated with us.
So what is more interesting is whether the Russian people will stand for this, and whether the Russian army can even put up a fight when we see how it is going in Bakhmut.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to a live question. Hiba Nasr, you have the mike.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks for taking my question and thanks, Madam Under Secretary, for this briefing. After one year, I want to understand what is the end state that the United States wants there? I understand that the President said many times and the Secretary and you yourself that you will support Ukrainians as long as it takes. The Ukrainians want all their territories, including Crimea, but they are not supported with the needed means, the needed weapons to do that. What the United States want in Ukraine – wants in Ukraine? Can you please give us an idea after one year of this war?
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: The President has said, as you said, that we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. Ukraine is fighting for the return of all of its land within its international borders. We are supporting them, including in preparing a next hard push to regain their territory. Obviously this war – if Russia stopped fighting, this war could end tomorrow. Unfortunately, if Ukraine stopped fighting, Ukraine would end. So it is a Ukrainian decision how they prosecute this war. It is a Ukrainian decision how they pursue other avenues towards peace, including diplomacy. But our position remains unchanged. If you – I’m not sure what your home country is, but I can imagine that you would not be satisfied to have pieces of your country bitten off by another country and expect the international community not to stand with you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. The next question, we’ll go to John O’Donnell from Reuters. It’s pre-submitted. He asks: “How does the United States intend to step up sanctions enforcement relating to Russia, and what role can the enforcement of financial sanctions play?”
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: Well, thanks for that question, John. I think you will see around the 24th a big new package of sanctions from both the U.S. and from all of our G7 partners. These sanctions will deepen and broaden in certain categories where we have been active before, particularly in limiting the flow of technology to the Russian defense industry, high-tech equipment, et cetera, to sanctioning those individuals who are directly involved in prosecuting this war and supporting it. But we will also have a number of targets that go to the question of sanctions evasion, because we are seeing the Russians get quite clever – everything from importing laptops and refrigerators through third countries, including sometimes our own countries, which they then strip-mined for chips and other things that go into their war machine.
We are going to get those evaders, both in our own space and in third countries. We are also broadening banking sanctions. We’re going to broaden our export controls, which will capture much of the illicit trade, and particularly we’re targeting areas of concern and countries that are helping Russia evade sanctions. We’ve spoken publicly about our concerns about Iran, the DPRK, China, but there are other countries as well, whether they are witting or unwitting, who are being used for sanctions evasion. And the next round of the packages, both from us and our G7 partners, will focus very, very intently on that.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go live to the next question. Momchil Indjov from Bulgaria. Momchil, you have the mike.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Your Excellency. Do you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we hear you.
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: I do.
QUESTION: Okay. Your Excellency, everyone knows that some European countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, for example, are not keen to help arm Ukraine. What’s your message to the leaders of those countries?
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: Well, first, I would say that every single NATO Ally has supported Ukraine’s war effort. Allies do it in different ways. Many of the countries that are former members of the Warsaw Pact have Soviet-era equipment, which they no longer use, which they have been willing to donate. There is also the question of training. There is a question of support in terms of non-lethal but nonetheless highly important military – things like winter uniforms and boots and medical training. I’m not going to speak directly to what the countries you mentioned are giving except to say that everybody in the NATO family is supporting in some manner and to their capacity. And many, many other countries, including beyond Europe, other former states with deep, close ties to Russia and the Soviet Union behind – before, have made the choice to support Ukraine because of the evil and brutality of this war.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to a pre-submitted question from Andras Nemeth from HVG in Hungary. He asks: “Do you see, quote/unquote, ‘help fatigue’ after this first year of war? If yes, how do we maintain unity among the allies?”
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: On the contrary. I think based on what we saw when Secretary Austin and Chairman Milley were in Europe – I can’t remember if it was yesterday or the day before – to help stimulate the kinds of equipment that Ukraine will need to make another push this spring, we see allies from across the world providing things that they haven’t provided in the past – more sophisticated air defense, more mobile and effective tanks and mobility, long-range fire, et cetera. So far from being fatigued, we see countries around the world understanding, particularly after Putin’s escalation against civilians and against heating and water supplies over the winter, that this has to be stopped, and it’s only going to be stopped if the Ukrainians are enabled to fight the fight.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to another live question, this time from Jennifer Hansler at CNN. Jennifer, it’s your mike.
QUESTION: Hi. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we got you.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you so much for doing this. I know there’s been an evolution in the types of support that the U.S. and allies are providing to Ukraine. But, Under Secretary, do you think that this adaption has been quick enough to actually make a difference on the battlefield? And some of the things that the Ukrainians have been asking for – jets, attack – still have not been granted. Do you see those being given any time in the near future? Thank you.
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: Well, I’m not going to talk about specific pieces of equipment. As you have rightly said, what we have done is evolve our support to the needs on the battlefield and to what we see Russia bringing to bear on the battlefield. So you do see, as I said before, a new generation of tanks, including U.S. Abrams; you do see the higher-end air defenses, Patriots, et cetera, coming now.
There are – some of these kinds of equipment have long training lead times, so we’re looking at not just at what Ukraine is going to need for this immediate fight, but we’re also thinking about, with the Ukrainians, the Ukrainian military of the future. And some of the things that you are talking about, if you think about a military that will need, whenever this stops and however it stops, to be able to deter Russia from coming back again, they’re going to have to have sophisticated, enduring air defense. They’re going to have to have much stronger border defenses and the ability to ensure Russia can’t invade again. They’re going to have to have better radars and early warnings.
So we are thinking about the fight that they’re in today, but we’re also thinking about our enduring commitment to ensure that, even if this stops on the battlefield now, we don’t see a repeat, where Putin invaded in ’14 and ’15, then he went home to retrofit, and he’s back again in ’22. So that cycle could repeat, whether it’s in six months or six years, and that’s what we need to be thinking about, in addition to the current fight, and we are.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to another pre-submitted question, this time from Priscilla Imboden from Republik in Switzerland. She asks: “Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but an important financial and commodities trading center. What do you expect the Swiss Government to find, block, and seize Russia assets? The Swiss Government communicated yesterday that the seizure of Russian assets would be unconstitutional. Do you expect the government – what do you expect the government to do regarding the trade of Russian oil and coal by trading companies based in Switzerland?”
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: Well, Switzerland has been a great partner throughout the year, generally tracking with EU sanctions and EU measures to impose costs on Russia, doing things that had not been conceivable in the past, including de-SWIFTing all of the major banks, ensuring that assets are not liquid and available to go back to Russia, so freezing them; participating with us in the oligarch – in the capture of oligarch property, et cetera; and we also have the EU oil price cap. I believe Switzerland is part and party to that. So we are very grateful for the partnership that we’ve had, and we expect that we’ll be – continue to have these discussions as we are with our G7 partners including all of the EU with regard to the frozen assets. But what I will say is that we are united in believing that Russia has to pay for the hellacious devastation that it has wrought on Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to one more pre-submitted question from Thiago Amancio from Folha de Sao Paolo in Brazil. He asks: “What is the Biden administration’s position on countries such as Brazil that have not yet fully aligned with the strong condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?”
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: Well, we had good conversations with the new Brazilian Government when President Lula visited President Biden just last week, and we’ve had a number of delegations down to see the new Brazilian Government. We have asked Brazil to put itself in the shoes of Ukraine. If it had a big neighbor that was biting off pieces of its territory and invading it militarily, would it expect and hope for the support of the democratic community in withstanding that and pushing that back? So what we are upholding here are the UN Charter, the international rules of the road. Brazil now being on the UN Security Council is a very important player in that conversation.
I would also say that we have worked intensively with Brazil as we have with countries around the world from Egypt to South Africa to deal with the fallout from Putin’s war on their economy, including the fact that they weren’t getting the fertilizer that they needed. The U.S. and other partners have come – have stood up to try to improve that situation for them. So, again, these conversations will continue, but it is about defending the UN Charter. It is about defending rules of the road that have – allow our children grow up in a relatively civilized international environment and whether that will continue or not.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Under Secretary. I think we have time for one more question. We’ll go to Christian Wehrschuetz from ORF, the public station in Austria. He asks: “Having in mind the enormous challenges of the defense industry in many NATO member states, which perspective has Ukraine to – or can Ukraine receive enough weapons in time to fight the Russian aggressor? What can and must be done to diminish the problem? How is the situation with the defense industry in the United States?”
UNDER SECRETARY NULAND: Well, Christian, we’ve talked a lot about the equipment that we are seeking to get to Ukraine and that we are in fact flowing in both the U.S. and our allies, but you are right. All of us now need to work together to spin up our defense industries to replace what was needed on the battlefield in Ukraine, and Ukraine itself needs to spin up its defense industry. We also have countries around the world, like India, which are fully dependent on Russian weapons who now understand not only that Russian weapons stink – as we’ve seen on the battlefield – but that there’s not going to be resupply there. So we have an opportunity not only to ensure our own stocks are replenished, that countries like Ukraine that have a long-term defense requirement as we talked about before can be replenished, but that countries that have made a bad bet on Russian weapons have other options. And we’ll also working on that.
Thank you all for being with us today. We very much appreciate it. Thank you, John.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Under Secretary. As the – as the Under Secretary noted, we’re out of time for today. Thank you for your questions and thank you, again, Under Secretary Nuland for taking the time to join us. Before we close the call, I’ll note that we’ll provide an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and we’ll also provide a transcript as soon as possible. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the future. This ends today’s briefing.