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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at a Press Availability
March 18, 2022

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.

Three weeks ago, Russia launched its unprovoked war on Ukraine.

With every day that passes, the numbers of civilians, including children, killed and wounded continues to climb.

Russia continues to attack civilian sites, including – this week alone – a hospital, three schools, a boarding school for visually impaired kids in the Luhansk region of Ukraine.

Yesterday Russian forces bombed a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of people had been taking shelter.

The word “children” had been written in Russian in giant white letters on the pavement outside the building, so that you could know from the air that there were children inside.

Russian forces also opened fire on 10 civilians in who were waiting in line for bread.

These incidents join a long list of attacks on civilian – not military – locations across Ukraine, including apartment buildings, public squares, and, last week, a maternity hospital in Mariupol.

I doubt that any of us who saw those images will ever forget them.

We’ve seen Russia use similar tactics before in Grozny and Aleppo.  They stepped up their bombardment with the goal of breaking the will of the people.

Yesterday President Biden said that, in his opinion, war crimes have been committed in Ukraine.

Personally, I agree.

Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime.

After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise.

The consequences of Moscow’s war are being felt around the world – in rising food costs, concerns about fuel supplies, more broadly in worries about how this war will affect the global economy and the fight against COVID-19.

These are serious issues that the global community urgently needs to address.  This war is making that much more difficult.

In this way, Russia’s actions are having an impact on every person on the planet, wherever they live.

We also feel the impact right here in this room.

There should be a seat reserved here today for Benjamin Hall from Fox News, who was injured badly when his vehicle came under attack near Kyiv.

Many of us, myself included, have gotten to know Ben very well as part of the traveling press corps.

He’s an incredibly talented reporter, always asking tough questions.  He’s a lovely person, as well.

Our thoughts – my thoughts – are with him and his family, including his three little kids.

Two of Ben’s Fox News colleagues, Pierre Zokchefski and Sasha Koofshenova, were killed in the attack.  And Brent Renaud, a reporter on assignment with Time Magazine, was killed in a separate attack a day earlier.

I know that everyone in this room, in particular, feels these losses deeply.

Being a war correspondent is vital work; they make sure that the world knows what’s really happening when armies move in and bombs start falling.

It also takes incredible courage; they go into war zones when others, understandably, are heading out as fast as possible.

So these are huge losses, of course, for families, for friends, but also for their colleagues, their profession, their readers and viewers who understand world events because of them.

Our experts are in the process of documenting and evaluating potential war crimes being committed in Ukraine.

Beth Van Schaack, whom the Senate finally confirmed this week as our Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice, will be leading that effort within the State Department.

We’ll make sure that our findings help international efforts to investigate war crimes and hold those responsible accountable.

I’d also mention that there are several other nominations before the Senate with a direct bearing on our ability to support Ukraine, including for Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration; Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation; and our Coordinator for Sanctions Policy.

So I urge the Senate to confirm these nominees quickly, so that they can get to work as soon as possible.

A few weeks ago, just days before Russia’s invasion began, I went to the United Nations Security Council to lay out what we believed was about to happen.

Again today, we have a strong sense of what Russia could do next.

We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon, and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people.

Manufacturing events and creating false narratives of genocide to justify greater use of military force is a tactic that Russia has used before, including in Georgia.

We believe Russia will bring its mercenaries from private military groups and foreign countries to Ukraine.

President Putin acknowledged as much over the weekend when he authorized the recruitment of additional forces from the Middle East and elsewhere – another indication that his war effort is not going as he hoped it would.

They are also likely to systematically kidnap local officials and replace them with puppets.

Again, this has already begun.

The mayor of Melitopol was grabbed off the street several days ago, released yesterday in a prisoner exchange.

The mayor of another city in southern Ukraine was also kidnapped; he hasn’t yet been let go.

This is a terror tactic – grab local officials, depose local governments, put proxies in their place.

After devastating Ukrainian cities, Moscow may bring in officials from Russia to serve as local government officials, and surge what they describe as “economic support” in an attempt to make the people dependent on Moscow for survival.

Again, something that Russia did in Georgia.

President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is not going to plan.

The Ukrainian people haven’t welcomed the Russian military.  They haven’t submitted.

On the contrary.  They’re fighting with extraordinary courage to protect their homes, their families, their country.

Russia has been hit by unprecedented sanctions and cut off from the global economy.

Its own economy is in free fall.

Hundreds of corporations have closed operations.

In a matter of weeks, President Putin has destroyed 30 years of opening to the world and economic opportunity for the Russian people.

Dozens of members of the Kremlin’s corrupt power base have been sanctioned; several have lost their mega yachts and villas.

President Putin has derided those sanctions, using recent public diatribes to mock Russians living abroad as too dependent, as he said, on “foie gras and oysters.”

Meanwhile, he sits in his mansions, having accumulated billions taking wealth from the Russian people, while they stand in long lines to access cash and watch as stores close and the ruble plummets in value.

It’s no wonder that brave Russians continue to protest the war and be beaten and arrested for it.

And Russian journalists are resigning from their jobs at state media outlets, because they can’t stomach parroting the Kremlin’s lies any longer.

Still, President Putin is not relenting and in fact may be growing more desperate.

And so yesterday, President Biden authorized – announced, excuse me, not authorized – another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine.

That brings our support for Ukraine’s frontline defenders to more than $2 billion during this administration – one billion in the last week alone.

We’re grateful to have a determined and generous partner in Congress, which this week provided more than $13 billion in urgent support to Ukraine.

And we’ll continue to work with lawmakers to support Ukraine and hold the Kremlin to account.

As President Biden described, this new security assistance package includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, to stop attacking planes and helicopters before they destroy more of Ukraine; 9,000 anti-armor systems to destroy tanks and armored vehicles; 7,000 small arms, including machine guns and grenade launchers; and 20 million rounds of ammunition.

We’re also helping Ukraine acquire longer-range anti-aircraft systems and munitions, at President Zelenskyy’s request.

And I have been in almost daily contact with Foreign Minister Kuleba, coordinating to respond swiftly to Ukraine’s most urgent needs.

Our allies and partners continue to step up with their own significant shipments of security assistance.

I’ve authorized more than a dozen countries to provide U.S.-origin equipment, and dozens more around the world have provided security assistance of their own.

I’d also note that, in addition to assistance from the Department of Defense, we’re sending support from other agencies, including $10 million worth of armored vehicles from our own Diplomatic Security Service.

And yesterday I announced another $186 million in humanitarian assistance to help the more than 3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine in the past three weeks – the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II – as well as internally displaced people still in Ukraine.

This brings our total humanitarian aid since last month to $293 million.

And of the more than $13 billion for Ukraine that Congress is putting forward, more than 4 billion of that will go to humanitarian assistance.

Ukraine’s neighbors in Europe are generously welcoming, supporting refugees.  The United States will do our part to help those governments and the humanitarian organizations on the ground meet this tremendous need.

All the steps that we and our allies and partners are taking are aimed at one goal: to end the war.

The support we’re providing Ukraine, as well as our financial and economic measures against Moscow, will strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the diplomatic table.

And we commend Ukraine for staying at that table and continuing to pursue diplomacy while the Kremlin’s brutal aggression continues.

We’ll support Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts however we can.

We continue to call on all nations, especially those with direct influence with Russia, to use whatever leverage they have to compel Moscow to end this war of choice.

We believe China in particular has a responsibility to use its influence with President Putin and to defend the international rules and principles that it professes to support.

Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter – and we’re concerned that they are considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to use in Ukraine.

President Biden will be speaking to President Xi tomorrow and will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose costs.

Let me close by saying that President Zelenskyy’s message to Congress and to the American people yesterday was incredibly powerful.

He’s asked for more help, which we are providing and will continue to provide.

And he said that the people of Ukraine want the same things for themselves that we want for ourselves – democracy, independence, freedom.

No one who’s watched the events of the past three weeks could ever doubt the depth of Ukraine’s commitment to these ideals.

We’ll continue to stand with Ukraine as it fights for its future.

We’ll continue to increase the costs on Russia until it ends this war of choice.

And we’ll continue to provide life-saving aid to the Ukrainian people as they endure the brutal consequences of Russia’s aggression.

With that, happy to take some questions.

MR PRICE:  Paul.

QUESTION:  Sir, what do you think about the talks between Ukraine and Russia?  Are they making any progress?  President Zelenskyy seems to suggest there are things they are talking about.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we’re in close contact, as I said, with Ukraine’s leaders, including in my case Foreign Minister Kuleba.  We’re in close contact with other countries that have, in one way or another, been engaging on diplomacy.

And to date I have to say, on the one hand, we commend Ukraine for being at the table, despite being under bombardment every minute of that day.  At the same time, I have not seen any meaningful efforts by Russia to bring this war that it’s perpetrating to a conclusion through diplomacy.

We support Ukraine’s efforts to try to de-escalate through diplomacy, to reach a ceasefire, and of course the withdrawal of Russian forces.  We appreciate the efforts of other countries, including France, Germany, Israel, Turkey, and others.  But again, from where I sit, diplomacy requires both sides engaging in good faith to de-escalate, and I don’t see signs right now that Putin is prepared to stop.

On the contrary, if you listen to, just for example, his most recent remarks yesterday, that suggests that he is moving in the opposite direction.  But never mind the words.   What we’re really focused on is actions, and the actions that we’re seeing Russia take every single day, virtually every minute of every day, are in total contrast to any serious diplomatic effort to end the war.

So we’re looking to see Russia take meaningful actions to de-escalate, to stop the violence that it’s perpetrating on Ukraine, and to engage in good-faith talks.  We will support any effort that Ukraine makes to do that.  We’re certainly doing everything we can to back them, but also to make sure that they have the strongest possible hand, if there are any real negotiations and if diplomacy does advance – hence the support that we’re giving to Ukraine as well as the pressure that we continue to put and even increase on Russia.

MR PRICE:  Kylie.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary.  There is – this department is confirming that an American has died in Ukraine today, so I’m wondering if you can share any more with us about the circumstances, about who that person is, and if there’ll be specific consequences for Russia because an American died.

And then second, earlier this week you said on CNN that one way or another Ukraine will be there and at some point Putin won’t.  But we’re watching every day Ukrainians are getting killed; their cities are being demolished.  So how can you be so confident to say something like that?  And are you suggesting that Putin should be removed as the leader of Russia?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Kylie, first, with regard to the American citizen, I can confirm that an American citizen was killed.  I don’t have any more details for you than that, but I can confirm that.

Second, it is I think not only clear to me but clear to the world that an independent Ukraine will be there long after Vladimir Putin.  And it’s also clear that this could horrifically go on for some time.  But when all is said and done, an independent Ukraine will be there, and at some point Vladimir Putin will not.  The real question is how much death and destruction is going to occur in the meantime.  And we’re doing everything we can to bring this war, perpetrated by Russia, to the quickest possible end.  That’s where the support for Ukraine comes in; that’s where the pressure on Russia comes in; that’s where the work, the coordination that we’re doing with countries around the world comes in.

But I think the world has seen this.  The world has seen the absolute determination of the Ukrainian people to hold onto their country, to hold onto their future, to hold onto their freedom.  And there is nothing that Vladimir Putin can do to subjugate that to his will.  But as I said, this could go on for some time, and we’re going to continue to work to bring it to an end as quickly as we can.

QUESTION:  And should Putin remain the leader of Russia?

MR PRICE:  Kylie, we’re going to try and move around.


QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you described what you called Russia’s terror tactics.  Is the State Department considering designating Russia a state sponsor – excuse me – of terrorism?

And then second, everything that you described, the words that the President has used in recent days – war criminal, murderous dictator, pure thug – do you think that there can ever be normal relations between the United States and Russia so long as Vladimir Putin is in power?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So our focus first and foremost is on doing everything we can to help bring this war to a quick end, to stop the suffering of the Ukrainian people that’s the result of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine.  That’s our focus.  As we’re doing that, and as I said earlier, we’re also looking very carefully at what is happening, what is being done, and in particular looking at the question of whether war crimes are being committed.

And, among other things, the intentional targeting of civilians would constitute a war crime.  You heard President Biden speak to this yesterday.  You heard what I said a few minutes ago.  So we are documenting.  We welcome the efforts of various groups, institutions, organizations that focus on this to bring all of the evidence together, to continue to document things, and then for there to be accountability one way or the other.

In terms of other designations based on actions that Russia’s taking, we are and we will look at everything.

MR PRICE:  Yulia Yarmolenko.

QUESTION:  On the second question?  I’m sorry.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I’m sorry, remind me.

QUESTION:  As long as Putin is in power, can there be normal relations between Russia and the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, our focus is on ending this war.  I don’t want to speculate about the future, but there’s going to have to be, one way or another, accountability for this war of aggression.

MR PRICE:  Yulia Yarmolenko, VOA Ukraine.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  So on possible negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, if Russia agrees to stop attacks and withdraw its forces from Ukraine, are there any security formats that will guarantee that Russia would not renew its aggression against Ukraine?  If it’s not membership in NATO for Ukraine, then what?

And another question.  President Biden said that U.S. will accept Ukrainian refugees with open arms, and so far there is no official visa or other program for Ukrainians who are fleeing war or who want to come to the United States or reunite with their families.  Is Department of State working on some special expedited program for Ukrainian refugees?  And if yes, when it might be launched?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  First, on the diplomacy, look, I’m not going to speculate on the substance of any negotiations, where that might go.  As I said, we fully and strongly support whatever the Government of Ukraine – the democratically elected Government of Ukraine – does.  We very much welcome sentiments that we’ve heard expressed for trying to bring this to a diplomatic end as quickly as possible.

I think in the first instance what Ukraine needs is de-escalation.  It needs Russian forces out of Ukraine.  It needs to have its basic freedom and independence returned, but I leave it to Ukrainian partners to work on advancing the diplomacy if that’s – if they believe that can be productive.  We will look at whatever we can do to support that.

And if there are issues that wind up being negotiated that require in some fashion our participation, of course we will look at that and see where we can be helpful.  We want to be able in the first instance to do what we’re doing, which is to support the Government of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, along with putting pressure on Russia.  If diplomacy finally carries the day and there are things that we can do to support that diplomacy and to support any outcomes that restore Ukraine’s independence, we will, of course, look at that and I’m sure do that.

With regard to refugees, a couple of things.  First, as I said, this is the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.  The numbers are staggering.  And, of course, what gets lost sometimes behind these numbers are the real lives that are at stake and that are being changed, maybe not forever, but are being changed in profound ways.

I saw some of that firsthand when I was on the border between Poland and Ukraine with a number of you just a couple of weeks ago, talking to people who had made the journey across the border, looking for safety in the face of this Russian onslaught.  And in many cases – most cases, women and children – the men staying behind to fight.

And we see the impact, of course, in Ukraine.  We see the impact on neighboring countries – Poland, Moldova, Romania, others – that are taking in very large numbers of refugees.  The generosity I think is extraordinary.  But the numbers are growing.  The challenge is growing.  I was on a call, a video conference, this morning with our G7 partners, and this is one of the things that we talked about – having a coordinated approach to dealing with and helping refugees coming over.

The United States is already and will remain the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.  Part of the package that is in the supplemental includes about $4 billion in humanitarian assistance, and that will go both directly to Ukraine.  It will also go to neighboring countries and others – and Ukrainians outside of Ukraine – to support them.

Second, we are working closely with UNHCR to see how we can support this effort.

Finally, we’re looking at things that we can do ourselves and do directly – for example, looking at steps we may be able to take on family reunification and other things that we can do to be supportive and to really take part in this effort.

Last thing I’ll say is this:  What – and of course, there is the refugee referral process, but that takes time.  But if people apply for refugee status and seek to come to the United States, of course we will take referrals.  But we’re looking at steps that we can take in the near term.

Last thing is this:  I think what we’re seeing, at least initially, is that so many people coming out of Ukraine understandably want to stay close to home.  They hope – we hope – that they’ll be able to return home as soon as possible.  They also want to stay close to home because, as I said, in many cases it’s women and children who have left behind spouses, husbands, fathers, brothers, and they want to be reunited as quickly as possible, so they want to stay as close as possible.  But as this and if this goes on, as the numbers increase, as the burden increases for European partners, we will certainly do everything we can to help.  So I suspect we’ll have more to say on this in the coming – in the coming days.  It’s something we’re very focused on right now.

MR PRICE:  Time for one final, quick question from Andrea.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, you’ve outlined, recounted a litany of horrific attacks on civilians.  You’ve said you agree with the President’s comment that they’re war crimes, as the UN ambassador said last week.  I know there has to be an investigation, but where will the accountability be?  What should happen to Vladimir Putin if he is found guilty, since he is the state?  What should happen to this (inaudible)?  Tell the world.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So, Andrea, a few things.  First, we’re all seeing what – and you’re showing, powerfully, on television – these devastating images coming out of Ukraine, and we are seeing the destruction of so much of the country by Russian bombs, artillery.  We’re seeing civilian sites being devastated; we’re seeing people being killed – hundreds, thousands of people, civilians.  And yes, as I – again, as the President said yesterday, in his opinion, war crimes are being committed.  I agree with that.  After all the destruction that we’ve seen, it’s really hard to conclude otherwise.

But what we’re doing is this – and I’ll come to your question – we are in the first instance supporting the very important work that’s being done, the evidentiary process to bring the evidence together, to document what’s happened, to support and to work with human rights activists, with civil society, with independent media as well as with the appropriate organizations and institutions that look into this.  So we need to go through this process of compiling the evidence, collecting the evidence, understanding the evidence.  We’ll share that – and our allies and partners I’m sure will do the same with all of the investigations that are ongoing – to support accountability using every tool that we have available.

I’m not going to get ahead of, first of all, what the outcome will be or what the consequences will be, but I can say with conviction that there will be accountability for any war crimes that are determined to have occurred.

QUESTION:  How can you say that after Aleppo and Grozny?  He does it repeatedly.  He’s a repeat offender as a war criminal.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Andrea, when we said before Russia’s aggression that there would be massive consequences for that aggression, including unprecedented sanctions on Russia, I know some people had their doubts.  I think we’ve demonstrated that we’ve been good to our word.  When we said that there would be sustained, powerful support for Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself, we’ve demonstrated that we’re good to our word.  So when I tell you that there will be accountability and consequences for any war crimes that have been committed, I hope you’ll take me at my word, but actions always speak louder than words.

MR PRICE:  Thank you very much, everyone.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks.