Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

US DEPARTMENT of STATE

REMARKS

ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE

PRESS BRIEFING ROOM

WASHINGTON, D.C. 

JULY 27, 2022

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Full house.  Good to see.

This week, President Putin’s war on Ukraine entered its sixth month.  Costs continue to climb – thousands of civilians killed or wounded; 13 million Ukrainians forced to flee their homes; historic cities literally pounded into rubble; food shortages, skyrocketing food prices around the world – all this because President Putin was determined to conquer another country.

He’s failed in that goal.  Ukraine has not and will not be conquered.  It will remain sovereign and independent.  As this war stretches on, the courage and strength of Ukraine’s military and its people become even more evident and even more extraordinary.  They will do whatever it takes to protect their homes, their families, their fellow citizens, their country.  The United States and our allies and partners will continue to stand with them and help provide precisely what they need to defend their freedom.

In the coming days, I expect to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for the first time since the war began.  I plan to raise an issue that’s a top priority for us: the release of Americans Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner, who have been wrongfully detained and must be allowed to come home.  We put a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release.  Our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal.  And I’ll use the conversation to follow up personally and, I hope, move us toward a resolution.

I’ll also raise the matter of the tentative deal on grain exports that Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations reached last week.  We hope this deal will swiftly lead to Ukrainian grain being shipped again through the Black Sea and that Russia will follow through on its pledge to allow those ships to pass.

This has been the focus of the world’s attention for months, including a few weeks ago at the meeting of the G20 foreign ministers in Bali, where one foreign minister after another urged Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russia to stop blocking the grain.  So this agreement represents a positive step forward.

That said, there’s a difference between a deal on paper and a deal in practice.  Hundreds of millions of people around the world are waiting for these ships to set forth from Ukraine’s ports and for millions of tons of grain and other crops to reach world markets.  If the Kremlin signed this deal to look reasonable to the world, without any intention of following through, we’ll know that soon enough.

My call to Foreign Minister Lavrov will not be a negotiation about Ukraine.  Any negotiation regarding Ukraine is for its government and people to determine.  As we’ve said from the beginning, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.

Beyond these developments, now that we’ve reached the half-year mark, let’s take a step back and consider the state of the war and what we expect to come next.

In the Donbas region, where Russia concentrated its forces after failing to take Kyiv this spring, the fighting remains intense.  The modest progress that Russian troops have made there has come at huge cost in both lives and materiel.  Meanwhile, Ukraine is using all its defensive capabilities to hit back hard, bolstered by the more than $8 billion in security assistance from the United States since the beginning of this administration.

As we look ahead, what the world has heard recently from Russia’s leaders is raising new alarms.

Last week, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the Kremlin’s goals in Ukraine had expanded.  Now they seek to claim more Ukrainian territory, beyond the Donbas.

This is the latest in a series of evolving justifications and ever-shifting goals.

In the beginning, Russia said that the purpose of the war was to “denazify” Ukraine – a false charge aimed at delegitimizing Ukraine’s democracy.

They said the real threat was somehow posed by NATO, a purely defensive alliance that made efforts to engage Russia for years but was rejected, and that helped safeguard peace, stability, and prosperity across Europe for decades, to the benefit of Russia, among many other nations.

Then they said the war was to protect ethnic Russians living in Donbas from genocide, before relentlessly targeting the largest Russian-speaking city in Ukraine, Kharkiv.  The only one responsible for killing ethnic Russians in Ukraine is President Putin.

What this is about and has always been about is President Putin’s conviction that Ukraine is not an independent state and belongs to Russia.  He said it flat-out to President Bush in 2008, and I quote:  “Ukraine isn’t a real country,” end quote.  He said it in 2020, and I quote: “Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same people,” end quote.  Last month, he said that when Peter the Great waged war on Sweden, he was simply taking back what belonged to Russia, and now Russia is again looking to take back what’s theirs.

President Putin has been foiled in his efforts to erase Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.  But now Moscow is laying the groundwork to annex more Ukrainian territory.  From downgraded U.S. intelligence, as well as information available in the public domain, we can see that they’re following the same playbook that they used back in 2014.

They’re installing illegitimate proxy officials.  They’re working to establish branches of Russian banks in areas they control, set the ruble as the local currency, take over broadcasting towers, force residents to apply for Russian citizenship, sabotage internet access for local residents as well.

All of this to consolidate their power over these regions.

Our intelligence also shows that Russia is using filtration centers in eastern Ukraine and western Russia to detain, to interrogate, and in some cases abuse thousands of Ukrainians.  Some are allowed to remain in Russian-occupied Ukraine.  Some are forcefully deported to Russia.  Some are sent to prisons.  Some simply vanish.

Here’s what we expect to see next:  Russia-installed leaders will hold sham referendums to manufacture the fiction that the people in those places want to join Russia.  Then they’ll use those false votes to claim that the annexation of these regions is legitimate.  We must and we will act quickly to make clear to Russia that these tactics will not work.

Annexation by force the territory of a sovereign and independent country is a gross violation of the United Nations Charter.  Members of the international community that have committed to uphold the charter and international law have a responsibility to denounce these plans by the Russian Government and to make clear they will never recognize these illegal acts.  Otherwise, no one can claim to be surprised when Russia follows through on its plans – or if other countries follow suit in the future.

A few days ago, Foreign Minister Lavrov said, and I quote, “We are determined to help the people of eastern Ukraine to liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime,” end quote.

By what right can Russia claim this?  Ukraine is not their country.  The people of Ukraine democratically elect their own leaders.  The Government of Russia has no say in that whatsoever.  The right belongs to the Ukrainian people, and the Ukrainian people alone.

Despite these deeply troubling developments, we should not lose sight of the broader picture.  NATO is stronger, more united, and poised to grow.  Nearly one-third of NATO members have already ratified Sweden and Finland’s accession protocols.  We appreciate the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s swift action to advance those protocols; we hope the full Senate will act quickly to do the same.

Many countries beyond Europe have condemned Russia’s aggression and are holding Moscow to account.  The Ukrainian people are more determined than ever to defend their homeland, preserve their culture.  All of these developments refute the Kremlin.

Economically, the sanctions we’ve imposed on Russia to end its aggression are having a powerful and also growing effect.

Now, Moscow has been cherry-picking economic data to support President Putin’s insistence that everything is fine and the Russian economy is going strong.  It’s simply not true.

The Kremlin says that global businesses haven’t really pulled out of Russia.  In fact, more than 1,000 foreign companies – representing assets and revenue equal to more than a third of Russia’s GDP – have stopped operations in Russia.  Many of Russia’s best and brightest have left as well, including highly educated professionals in critical fields, like energy and technology.

They say that Russia is replacing lost imports from the West with imports from Asia.  In fact, imports into Russia have dropped more than 50 percent this year, and imports from China, for example, aren’t making up the difference in quantity or quality, especially for high-end components.  What that also means is that Russia can’t manufacture products for Russian citizens or for export, and will increasingly lose markets overseas.

They say that the government is running a budget surplus because of high energy prices.  In fact, the budget is in deficit, and Russia can’t spend the oil revenues it has acquired on the imports it wants because of sanctions.

They say that the Kremlin has plenty of sovereign wealth.  In fact, half of that money – half of that money – is frozen overseas.

They say that domestic consumption is still strong in Russia.  In fact, consumer spending has plummeted.

They say that the ruble is the world’s strongest performing currency.  In fact, the currency market is controlled by the Kremlin, Russian households are restricted from converting rubles to dollars, the ruble is trading at a much lower volume than before the war.

So, though the Kremlin is working hard to paint a picture of economic stability, the facts show otherwise.  The powerful impact of sanctions will grow and compound over time.

Though President Putin will likely claim that this war was a resounding success, the world can see that it has weakened Russia profoundly.

President Zelenskyy has made clear that the war will end through diplomacy.  We agree.  The United States is ready to support any viable diplomatic effort.  Unfortunately, Moscow has given no indication that it’s prepared to engage meaningfully and constructively, and we’re under no illusion that that’s going to change anytime soon.  If and when the time comes, we will bring the full weight of American diplomacy to bear.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to do all that we can to strengthen Ukraine’s position on the battlefield so it has the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.

From here in Washington and in all of my travels, I’ll continue to discuss all of this with our partners and allies – supporting a sovereign, independent Ukraine; resolving the food security crisis; and how we can help create the conditions for a diplomatic resolution.

Last week, as you know, I had the privilege of welcoming Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.  She came to the State Department.  I told her that the United States will not waiver in our support for the Ukrainian people.  That was true six months ago; it’s true today; it will be true long after this war, this aggression is over.

With that, happy to take some questions.

Original document, plus questions and answers here:

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

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