U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson
January 7, 2022
Press briefing room
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon everyone. I am very glad to see journalists here. And Happy New Year to those whom I did not have the opportunity to congratulate.
NATO’s North Atlantic Council met this morning to discuss our coordinated response to Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine and its increasingly acute threats and inflammatory rhetoric.
I want to thank NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg for organizing our meeting.
As he recently stated at his own press conference, Russia’s aggressive actions pose a threat to peace and security in Europe.
We are ready to resolutely respond to further Russian aggression.
But a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses to do so.
This is something we will actively pursue next week with our allies and partners through the United States-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, as well as at meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
In anticipation of these urgent discussions, let’s be clear about how we have come to this point.
In 2014, the Ukrainian people chose a democratic and European future for themselves. Russia responded by creating a crisis and invading.
Since then, Russia has occupied Ukrainian territory in Crimea and created a war in eastern Ukraine – with the help of proxies it leads, trains, equips and finances – that has killed nearly 14,000 people and forcibly redrawn Ukraine’s borders.
In addition to military aggression, Moscow is also working to undermine Ukraine’s democratic institutions.
She interferes in Ukrainian politics and elections; it blocks energy and trade to intimidate the country’s leaders and put pressure on its citizens; it uses propaganda and disinformation to sow mistrust; it carries out cyberattacks on the critical infrastructure of the country.
Then, beginning in March last year and continuing into the fall, Russia carried out a massive, unprovoked buildup of military forces and equipment on the border with Ukraine. To date, the troop strength in these areas is nearly 100,000 troops, with plans to mobilize twice as many in a very short time frame.
How does Moscow explain its actions?
She claims that Ukraine threatens Russia.
That Ukraine seeks to provoke a conflict.
And that the buildup of Russian troops, tanks and heavy artillery is purely defensive.
It’s like a fox saying that he had to attack the chicken coop because its inhabitants are supposedly a threat.
We have seen this manipulation of information before.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, it claimed that Ukraine was the aggressor to justify pre-planned military action.
And today we again see significant efforts to spread propaganda against Ukraine, NATO and the United States.
This includes malicious social media operations, the use of overt and covert online proxy media, the spread of disinformation on television and radio programs, and the holding of conferences designed to mislead participants into believing that Ukraine is to blame for escalating tensions in the region, not Russia, as well as the use of cyber operations to undermine the activities of the media and conduct “hack and reveal” operations, that is, cyber hacking with the subsequent disclosure of personal data and messages.
No one should be surprised if Russia creates a provocation or incident and then tries to use it to justify military intervention, hoping that by the time the world understands the ploy, it will be too late.
The idea that Ukraine is the aggressor in this situation is absurd.
It was Russia that invaded Ukraine almost eight years ago.
It is Russia that is the military occupier of part of Ukraine in Crimea.
It is Russia that to this day is fueling the war in eastern Ukraine.
It is Russia that has not fulfilled any of its Minsk commitments, and in fact is actively violating many of them by refusing to recognize itself as a party to the conflict.
It is Russia that has repeatedly targeted democracy in Ukraine.
And it is Russia that is again sending troops to the border of Ukraine.
All of these actions are a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and a direct and extreme challenge to peace and stability in Europe.
It is also worth noting that Moscow is simultaneously propagating the false narrative that NATO allegedly threatens Russia – that NATO plans to deploy military infrastructure in Ukraine to foment conflict with Russia, that after the Cold War NATO swore an oath not to accept Eastern European countries into its ranks, and that NATO broke those promises.
Each of these statements is false.
NATO is a defensive alliance.
He exists to defend, not to attack.
That is why, after the Cold War, the NATO Alliance significantly reduced its conventional and nuclear forces, because NATO no longer needed to maintain its former defensive posture.
Since then, the NATO Alliance has not strengthened its defensive posture in Europe until Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014.
And even then, this was done in a limited and measured way to ensure readiness for further Russian military action against members of the Alliance.
In addition, the NATO Alliance has never promised not to accept new members.
This, in principle, could not be, since the “open door policy” is one of the key provisions of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, which founded NATO.
The Russian President at the end of the Cold War, Mikhail Gorbachev, was asked directly about this in an interview in 2014, and he made it very clear that NATO enlargement was not discussed at all in the German reunification talks that led to the end of the Cold War.
There were no promises that NATO would not expand.
So did former Secretary of State James Baker.
Alliance membership has always been a decision made by NATO and countries that seek to join the Alliance, and no one else.
And in the Istanbul Charter for European Security, Russia itself confirmed the right of countries to choose or change their security mechanisms, including alliances.
Now Russia is demanding that both the US and NATO sign treaties to withdraw NATO forces stationed in allied territory in Central and Eastern Europe and to ban Ukraine from ever joining NATO.
Russia wants to engage us in the NATO debate instead of focusing on the real issue, namely its aggression against Ukraine.
They will not be able to distract us from this issue, because what is happening in Ukraine concerns not only Ukraine. This is part of a larger picture of Moscow’s destabilizing, dangerous and often illegal behavior as it attempts to build a sphere of influence that encompasses countries that were once under Soviet rule and prevent them from realizing their democratic aspirations as fully sovereign, independent states.
Let’s remember that over the past two decades, Russia has invaded two neighboring countries – Ukraine and Georgia – and maintains troops and weapons in Moldova against the wishes of its Government. Russia interfered in elections in many countries, including ours. She used chemical weapons in an attempt to kill opponents of the Russian government, including poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal while they were in the territory of a NATO ally in England. It has violated international arms control agreements, abandoned long-standing confidence-building and transparency measures, supported brutal dictators, and condoned crimes against humanity in places like Syria.
Moscow’s actions threaten to set a new precedent on European soil by bringing into question the core international principles vital to peace and security:
The principle that the borders and territorial integrity of a state cannot be changed by force.
The principle that the inalienable right of citizens in a democratic society is to make the decisions of their own country and determine its future.
The principle that all members of the international community are bound by common rules and will face negative consequences if they do not fulfill their solemn obligations.
These principles go beyond Ukraine.
They go outside of Europe.
These are the fundamental rules that underlie the international order that together we have sought to build, maintain and, if necessary, adapt.
By challenging them, Russia seeks to challenge the international system itself and destroy our transatlantic alliance, undermine our unity, push democracies to collapse.
Diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this crisis.
We are fully committed to a constructive mutual dialogue with Russia, just as we are fully committed to advising and coordinating efforts with our allies and partners, including the European Union, in all our discussions in all formats.
We would clearly prefer a diplomatic path and a diplomatic solution to the crisis caused by Russia.
This is what next week’s meetings of the US-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE will focus on. And we believe there are areas where we can make progress.
If Russia has legitimate concerns about our actions, the United States, our NATO allies, our OSCE partners are ready to listen and try to take appropriate action – if the Kremlin is ready to reciprocate its own dangerous and destabilizing behavior.
Next week, we will reaffirm our commitment to increase transparency, introduce new risk mitigation measures, and renew efforts to address nuclear and conventional threats to European security. But again, it has to be a two-way street. Our goal is to have a predictable and stable relationship with Russia so that we can cooperate when it is in our common interest and resolve our differences through open and frank dialogue.
It will be very difficult to make real progress if Russia continues to escalate its military buildup and its inflammatory rhetoric. And we have made it clear to Russia what it will face if it continues along this path, including economic measures that we have not used before – serious consequences. This clarity has received strong support in recent weeks from the G7 – the world’s leading democracies – the European Union and NATO. Therefore, we hope that Russia will make a different choice.
And again, we are fully committed to diplomacy and we strive to achieve real results. After all, Russia and the United States have done this before, even in times of great tension. We successfully negotiated the Helsinki Accords, we created the OSCE, we signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and other arms control agreements. Just this week, we joined forces with all the permanent members of the UN Security Council to issue a joint statement reaffirming that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and therefore it must never be unleashed. We are committed to our joint work on the space station, and we are working together to bring Iran back into line with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
We achieved these results thanks to mutual understanding, mutually beneficial cooperation, as well as comprehensive consultations and coordination of actions with our allies and with all whose interests were represented. This is exactly what we will aim for again next week and in the future.
And with that, I’d be happy to hear a few questions.
MR PRICE: Christina.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Secretary of State. You are talking about some of these statements made by Russia, including that NATO has promised not to expand, and in the last of the demands made by the Russians, there is one point in relation to which both the US and NATO have said that it is not subject to discussion. Given this list of demands and that they have been declared non-negotiable, is there any concern that next week’s talks will allow Russia to create an excuse to use them as an excuse to invade if and when the talks fail?
SECRETARY BLINKEN:I think this is definitely part of the Russian plan to make a whole bunch of totally unacceptable demands and then claim that the other side is uncooperative and use that as some sort of excuse to act aggressively. But the fact is that Russia is well aware of what exactly is not subject to discussion, but there are also areas, there are also topics, there are also issues on which we can interact. We can have a dialogue. We can try to strengthen the common security of all countries. Secretary General Stoltenberg mentioned some of these areas just today at a press conference following the meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers: arms control, in which we successfully engage with Russia, including through the extension of the START III Treaty at the beginning of this US Administration;various confidence-building measures; greater transparency; risk reduction.
These are areas where, if the Russians have legitimate concerns, we are fully prepared to listen, discuss and try to make progress, just as it is vital that Russia listens to our concerns and those of our European allies and partners, based on the threats that it creates for peace and security, and has taken appropriate action. If we approach this process as a two-way street based on reciprocity and try to address some of the security issues in the transatlantic and European regions, then I think we can make progress. Of course, as I said, when entering into negotiations, we are committed to diplomacy, committed to dialogue, but equally committed to upholding the principles that Russia is jeopardizing.
QUESTION: What about the serious consequences that you predict if Russia does not change course, because they are political and economic, but not military in nature.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been talking about this in recent weeks, and not just us. The G7, the European Union and NATO have made it clear that further Russian aggression against Ukraine will have serious consequences. We talked about financial and economic measures. Of course, we will have to further strengthen NATO’s defensive posture. Assistance to Ukraine in the field of defense will continue.
And one of the things that strikes me so much about this is that – and going back to 2014 – Russia’s actions have accelerated exactly what President Putin says he wants to prevent. Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, public support for joining NATO in Ukraine was about 25 percent. Now it is 60 percent. As I already noted, after the invasion, NATO had to strengthen its eastern flank and have a greater potential there to protect against possible Russian aggression. So I think it’s fair to say, looking back and also looking to the future, that this is not the way for Russia to achieve what it claims to want to achieve.
MR PRICE: Nick.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you listed arms control, risk reduction, greater transparency, reduction of nuclear and conventional threats to European security. You did not mention the word “Ukraine” in this context. Will Ukraine be on the agenda of US-Russia talks on Monday? And then I will have a question about Kazakhstan.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First of all, Ukraine is at the center of the agenda because that’s what precipitated the current crisis: Russia’s threats against Ukraine, the prospect of renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine. So this topic should be in the spotlight. But there are different places to discuss different issues. We have the Strategic Stability Dialogue, which, as I mentioned, emerged after the START III extension as a place where we can try to make further progress on arms control and further reductions. The meeting of the NATO-Russia Council will take place a couple of days after that, and then, by the way, the discussion will be continued at the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council. And then we will have an OSCE meeting.
But in each of these areas, if there are preconditions for progress – and we hope there are – it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to make real progress in the face of escalation from Russia. So let’s see what results, what path Russia will choose. But if she sincerely wants to make progress on the issues that she claims are of concern to Russia, as well as on issues that concern us, this progress must occur in the context of de-escalation, which directly concerns Ukraine.
QUESTION: It looks like when the issue of Ukraine comes up on Monday – which is inevitable – when Russia starts to actively push its agenda on Ukraine, you will try instead to focus the talks on Monday on bilateral issues, and not on Ukraine, and wait since then, when later in the week will there be an opportunity to focus on Ukraine? This –
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We will emphasize in each of these forums that aggression against Ukraine will be met, as I have said, and others have said, with measures leading to serious consequences; that in order for us to make progress on any of these issues, it must be in the context of de-escalation, not escalation. And this applies directly to Ukraine.
And I would like to add something that we also talked about with Russia, including President Biden talking with President Putin: the way to resolve the differences in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas, is through the Minsk agreements. And we remain fully committed to trying to contribute to their implementation. Indeed, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Karen Donfried met with both Ukrainian and Russian negotiators, as well as the French and Germans who lead this so-called “Normandy format”, bringing France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia together to implement the agreements . And we remain fully prepared to try to contribute to this.
But Russia must be ready to cooperate and fulfill its obligations. I mentioned a few minutes ago that there is a long list of measures that each side must take under the Minsk agreements, and by and large, Ukraine has done it or is negotiating to do most of what was asked of it. There are some important outstanding requirements. Go through the entire list. Russia has done virtually none of this. Moreover, it not only does not do what is required of it, but actively does the opposite in many areas.
And again, this is a test of Russia’s intentions. If it is serious about settling the situation in eastern Ukraine and resolving it diplomatically and peacefully, the Minsk agreements are the way to do it. We will fully support efforts to implement the Minsk agreements by both parties, and again, we will see if Russia is ready to do this.
MR PRICE: Simon.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we would like to know your assessment of the events in Kazakhstan and how they may affect meetings with Russian officials next week. In particular, US officials have raised questions of sorts about the deployment of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) troops in the country. What exactly is the concern about the introduction of these troops? Is there any hint that the Government of Kazakhstan did not actually invite them, or how do you view it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. First, we are very concerned about the ongoing state of emergency in Kazakhstan. We urged the authorities to respond appropriately, proportionately and while protecting the rights of the protesters. Just yesterday I spoke with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of this country. I reaffirmed our full support for the constitutional institutions of Kazakhstan, as well as the absolute importance of respect for human rights; media freedoms, including the restoration of Internet services; and responding to peaceful protests while protecting protesters, respecting their rights and complying with the rule of law.
Thus, this crisis must be resolved in a manner that respects human rights. And again, this includes protecting the rights of every peaceful protester. At the same time, we have made it clear that we condemn violence committed by anyone, including violence directed against the institutions of the State and the Government. We value our relations with Kazakhstan very much. We are following the situation with great concern. And we urge everyone to find a peaceful and constructive solution to the situation.
As for the CSTO, we have questions about the nature of the request, about why it was received. We are eager to learn more about this. It seems to me that the Kazakh authorities certainly have the ability to respond appropriately to protests, to do so in a way that respects the rights of the protesters while maintaining law and order. So it’s not clear why they feel the need for any outside help, so we’re trying to find out more about that.
We, of course, call on these peacekeeping forces and law enforcement agencies to adhere to international human rights standards in support of a peaceful settlement. And again, we hope that the Government itself will be able to quickly resolve the problems, which are mainly economic and political in nature. That is the essence of these protests.
PRICE: The last question is from Miroslava Gonzade of the Ukrainian service of VOA.
QUESTION: Gongadze. Yes. Many thanks. A little bit about Kazakhstan, because it seems that Russia is now using a different tactic, going to Kazakhstan and using other countries to join Russia and calling it a peacekeeping mission. The general who will lead the operation also led the occupation of Crimea. How would the United States respond to this, and do you think that this issue could serve as a pretext for convening a special meeting of the UN Security Council?
And the second question is about Ukraine: you said yesterday and many times before that you would not talk about Ukraine without the participation of Ukraine. How do you plan to keep that promise even in this discussion with the Russians next week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Let me answer the second part first. We are absolutely committed to the principle of “do not talk about Ukraine without the participation of Ukraine”, just as we are fully committed to the principle of “do not talk about Europe without the participation of Europe”.
At today’s meeting of the North Atlantic Council Foreign Ministers, one of the highlights that really stood out to me in all of the speeches – and that Secretary General Stoltenberg himself mentioned in his press conference – was the deep appreciation for the intense consultations that we have had in recent weeks with by all our European allies and partners about the situation in Ukraine and European security in general. And it will continue.
It so happened that just before I came here to talk to you, I was on the phone with my friend and colleague from Ukraine, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba. And this interaction will continue. This coordination, this consultation, this communication will continue throughout this process. This concerns the Strategic Stability Dialogue, which we will talk about in advance with allies and partners and have already said, as I did today, we will do the same after the upcoming conversation to inform them about the content of the meeting. And just as for Ukraine, the meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council will take place before the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. And, of course, Ukraine is a member of the OSCE. Thus, “do not talk about Ukraine without the participation of Ukraine.”
And again, with regard to Kazakhstan, I would not combine these situations. As I said, there are very specific drivers of what is happening in Kazakhstan now, which relate to economic and political issues. And what is happening there is different from what is happening on the borders of Ukraine. That being said, I think one of the lessons of recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it can sometimes be very difficult to get them to leave.
MR. PRICE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary of State.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you all.